H.E. Biya and First Lady welcome the Pope
What comes as a surprise is that after twenty years (since 1990), Cameroon’s opposition has not learned anything from the Biya game. One would have imagined that before taking the decision to go into this election, opposition candidates had something up their sleeves.
The Social Democratic Front (SDF) after twenty years of combating Biya’s Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) was unable to develop a convincing plan that could convince Cameroonians of its seriousness to dislodge the country’s dictator. The party had no active Diaspora counter-action and unlike other serious opposition parties across the continent, seemed unable to create any visibility or diplomatic support abroad. The party has unfortunately been quick to compare itself to Biya’s CPDM instead of looking for commendable models across the world. Consequently, its perspective has been dismally inward and one-dimensional. Why would you participate in an election whose result is already known which has all the elements of fraud and manipulation?
Given that the words ‘free and fair’ do not exist in the Biya vocabulary, one would have expected Cameroon’s opposition to have a plan outside of the election. The problem so far is that Cameroonians have continued to play Biya’s game. One in which he organises, arbitrates, determines the rules and is a central player. What is sorely lacking is leadership and vision in changing the game all together and forcing Biya to play along with a new game and new rules. Cameroon’s present crop of opposition leaders lacks the acumen to do that.
By choosing to participate in this year’s presidential election, opposition candidates made the choice to legitimize Biya and seven more years of stagnation for Cameroonians. There was no indication that any candidate had a workable counter-strategy to Biya’s rigging machinery. It seems they all adopted an approach that says, we have no strategy, but we maintain our right to be the leaders. We have made no plan, but we are going to take a chance and win - Yet it is well documented that Biya has rigged every single election in Cameroon since coming to power.
As Cardinal Tumi argues, Cameroon has never known free and fair elections – not even during the days of the One-Party system. While at his weakest and least effective, Biya was still able to steal Fru Ndi’s victory in 1992. There was therefore no gainsaying that with an extremely weak and visionless opposition, the rigging machinery would be at its finest. In a related article last March I elaborated on the weaknesses of the SDF and Fru Ndi in particular. I also argued that his meeting with Biya was indicative of a drowning man clutching at straws. But most of all, I stated that the only action that could save Fru Ndi’s career and credibility might be to step down as leader of the party and main contestant to the presidency for the opposition. That would have brought in a new dynamic to the power tussle and a real fighting chance for the opposition. That too would have curbed the apathy presently plaguing the country. His decision to hang on and contest the election could easily be translated as an indirect endorsement of Biya.
According to the AU Observer Mission Chief of the election, Former Malian Prime Minister, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the election was credible, free and transparent. His report states; “In the strict measure of observation, and over the covered parts of the national territory, the AU mission judges that the presidential election of 9 October 2011 respected all the necessary requirements. Hence, it considers the election as having been conducted in a free, transparent and credible manner.” Early results of this ‘free and transparent’ election indicate that Paul Biya will ‘win.’ In fact certain news media have already declared his victory as history shows that Biya ‘wins’ every election he organises. Fanny Pigeaud in an article “Paul Biya, roi fainéant à perpétuité” wrote on Monday 10 October;
Au pouvoir depuis 1982, le président du Cameroun briguait hier un sixième mandat lors d’un scrutin sans enjeu dans un pays miné par la corruption et verrouillé par la repression.
Biya has ‘won’ the election (even though the final result has not been compiled.) It was an election with no real stakes (absence of a credible opposition). That is how easy the contestants made it for him to manipulate and rig the elections. In fact one might be forgiven for thinking that they deliberately decided to endorse him with their participation. As some have argued, Biya will spring a surprise and step down – God Willing!!!
For many of these candidates, this election served as a platform for many things except a serious contestation for the Etoudi seat. Amongst the many reasons are some of the following easily discernable ones:
1) Greed for money: One of the requirements for eligibility to run for the presidency is a deposit of CFA 5 million frs. Once approved, candidates are disbursed about CFA 25 million frs, as campaign funds. So in short, many of these so called contestants were able to make a swift profit of CFA 20 million, riding on the misery of Cameroonians.
2) Personal Ambitions: In a country where high ranking positions are incumbent on one’s affiliation to the ruling party, there has been some worrying trends over the years. Even some of the most acerbic critics of the system have recently joined in the manipulation with the intention of either keeping their positions or being promoted to higher positions. In higher institutions of learning for instance, rectors are appointed to defend the ruling party and look out for its interests. For many of the contestants of this year’s election, personal ambition has triumphed over principle and the biggest loser remains the Cameroonian on the street.
3) Chieftaincy Mentality: In the 2004 election, John Fru Ndi of the SDF refused to endorse and walked out on the leader of choice, selected by a majority of coalition opposition leaders. His argument being that he was the most popular leader and therefore should automatically have been the candidate of choice. It is noteworthy that he was the candidate chosen and supported by other leaders in 1992 when he ran on a Union for Change ticket. While I do not think that even such a coalition would have made much difference to the rigging machinery, that episode was indicative of how leaders such as Fru Ndi have become a impediment to the change that Cameroonians desperately need. Interestingly, major opposition leaders in former Yugoslavia put aside their personal ambitions and united behind a hitherto unknown minority party leader who eventually became president, thus bringing an end to a ruthless dictatorship.
4) Political Deception: The likes of Bello Bouba Maigari, Issa Tchiroma and Frederic Kodock have played this game of being opposed to the Biya’s CPDM only to turn around at the last minute and throw their weight behind in order to get ministerial position. Others like Jean-Jacques Ekindi have never really belonged and would flirt with the highest bidder. His recent statement that he was willing to enter a coalition with Biya is indicative of his commitment to real change.
5) Party Label: Many of the parties stop being active and go into hibernation as soon as the election is over. For them participation is an occasional thing that happens every once in a while when they get their share of the Biya booty and then go back to their day jobs. A candidate like Albert Ndongang seems to re-surface during elections and after that goes back to slumber, after having collected his booty.
Would the result have been different had these men and women not participated? Most likely not! But Biya would have lacked the kind of credibility that he gets from their participation. According to the African Union team, there was a “weak presence of opposition party representatives”. How is it that an observer mission is able to cover more ground in a country’s presidential election than the serious contenders in the opposition?
What was the alternative for these leaders?
The 1996 Constitution limited Biya to two seven year mandates. In 2008, amid opposition from Cameroonians, he amended the constitution and removed the restriction. While Cameroonians lost their lives in pre-emptive demonstrations, opposition leaders did very little to resist. Many Cameroonians have been calling for a united front that should have forced Biya to step down usher in a transitional government. With the exception of Chris Fomunyoh who rightly labelled the election a ‘charade’ this participation will helped to validate Biya’s claim to legitimacy. In other countries like Egypt, we saw how sustained pressure finally resulted in Mubarak succumbing to the demands of the Egyptian public.
Opposition Leaders an Impediment to real Change
Though having a plethora of aspiring candidates, the only party capable of giving Biya a run for his money in a free and fair election would have been the SDF. With a compromised leader, it is certain that the party was going into the election from a position of weakness. But by so doing, it also denied more vibrant and creative leaders both within and outside of the party the chance to put real pressure on Biya. In fact contesting this election was a mistake and unfortunately, it is the Cameroonian masses that will pay the price.
As we await the result, there should be no holding of breaths. Biya shall be proclaimed ‘winner.’ There will be lacklustre protest from the opposition. A few people may even take to the streets. But after that, things will quieten and everyone shall return to business as usual. This would not be Biya’s fault, but that of the country’s visionless opposition.
By Fon Mndere.