Cameroon, cradle of our fathers.
The crisis in Cameroon has come to a stalemate with the government desperately trying to either intimidate the Northwest and Southwest regions into submission or bribe their elites to circumspect the issues. Both options are surprising to say the least. Every one of these attempts has only come to shock Cameroonians and reinforce the resolve to hold firm.
The president’s decree creating a commission to improve on bilingualism and multiculturalism is another attempt to circumspect the issues and change the subject. This decree is a shameful attempt to add the notorious problems of government arrogance and ineptitudes to the already too long list of things to be addressed and that never happen. In any case, it is embarrassing to talk about bilingualism and multiculturalism in Cameroon in 2016. Cameroonians have come to know commissions to be the graveyards of poignant problems. The credibility of this government is wallowing in very shallow waters.
The government says Cameroon is one and indivisible yet 20% of the country is being asphyxiated because they have the courage to carry out their civic duty as citizens of a civilized and democratic country by holding government’s feet to the fire. When you asphyxiate any part of the body, it dies off and disunites from the rest of the body. The rest of the country sits back and watches as if unconcerned, and Yaoundé is fooled. Depriving the people of the ability to communicate, even in medieval times was considered a sign of cowardice. Even more so today.
Cutting off access to the internet after the world has seen government forces treat lawyers and teachers like scum, break into student hostels and rape them while brutalizing others in the most degrading and dehumanizing ways even as the students are chanting “No violence!!!, No violence!!!” with olive branches in their hands, is an admission of a lot of bad things.
What is the government afraid of? Who wants a chicken-hearted government that draws the blinds on the rest of the world? What does a government tell the world when it is so cowed by a section of its own population that it resorts to cowardice?
We were impressed when Mr. Biya made reference to the “Android Generation”. Mr. Biya who is 84 today, has the benefit of being father to kids of the android generation, so we thought he understood this unique phenomenon that is turning the whole world on its head today. And we are sure he does. So, what is stopping him from acting appropriately?
“Cameroon is a united country and will stay that way” is a positive statement. “Discussing the form of the nation is out of bounds” is not only ambiguous. It is also foolish.
Everything in human endeavor is perfectible. The present system has failed Cameroonians across the board. It would be wisdom to sit down and do a thorough reconsideration of what worked and what did not. The present system has produced a Cameroon of no opportunities except for a coopted few. The present system has concentrated power in the hands of too few people and has enabled survival skills that have in turn fed nepotism, tribalism and all the other negative isms that have transformed Cameroon into that rare country where the civil servant is more prosperous than the entrepreneur, thanks to corruption. The present system has impoverished Cameroon by ceding its wealth to foreign entities with no returns to the country but to individuals.
The de-Cameroonization of Cameroon has gone on for so long that we are left today debating the difference between decentralization and federation, in 2016. Cameroonians are left to wonder whether their government really thinks their future. Cameroonians wonder whether their government is aware of the changes taking place in the global village that planet earth has become. They watch as far less endowed countries forge ahead and position themselves for the march toward a clearly defined future and wonder whether Cameroon is cursed. They do everything right and wonder why the results are not true to the promise.
They were promised the “bout du tunnel” 20 years ago but today, after an amazing retrogression during which the country has lost every single of its many attributes of development, a failed absentee president promises emergence in 2035.
Cameroonians are indeed “one and indivisible” in ways that the government is too busy looting the country to the ground. Young people are becoming aware that it is not normal for them to be moto-taxi drivers with university degrees in their pockets for instance. They are starting to understand that it is not normal to pay a bribe for every single right like ID cards or passports. They have had it with the humiliations of economic expatriation, escaping from a heavily endowed country to be sub citizens of strange lands if they do not drown in the Mediterranean sea. They are beginning to get it that government does exist because the people exist and not the other way round, and that the people have the sacred duty to ask their government to be accountable to them. Yes, the android generation might just be a little too “one and indivisible” for the ancient methods of the government.
Even a passing observation of the government of Cameroon reveals some very troubling trends and signals. By its own actions the government demonstrates a strange unwillingness to work for the common good. There are no signs of being proactive except for actions and policies that feed the growing rapacious instincts of a corrupt elite class. Somebody once described Cameroonians as living in their own country as if they were just passing through. The determination to bleed the government as dry as possible is evident at first sight in every facet of the administration. Ministers brag about having paid tens of millions to be given the job. Contracts that would be beneficial to the country are not signed unless more than half their costs are handed to civil servants in the form of bribes. In the books, Cameroon is full of roads and bridges even though travel in the country is a nightmare because of the absence of roads. The government is paying back foreign debt that didn’t go to work for the country and everybody knows this, including the president.
Cameroonians believed in Paul Biya when he took over the country in 1982. The 1984 failed coup reinforced their allegiance to this intellectual who had promised to steer the country on to greener pastures. The times however have proven them wrong. The country has only gone from one failure to another and nobody sees any real efforts to re-direct the ship. Instead, Cameroonians have learned to accept and get used to the president’s protracted and regular absences from the political scene and even from the country, leaving his power-hungry and corrupt entourage to stage witch hunts and chew each other up. Dignitaries have been locked up for long prison terms for embezzlement but nobody has been asked to refund any such embezzled funds.
The imprisoned personalities have merely been replaced by more determined corrupt officials. The civil service has very quickly become a group into which people would kill to join as an easy and shorter avenue to enrich themselves and their families. The ordinary people are left to themselves as the country is auctioned off to France especially, and now to the Chinese who come in droves and take over even the traditional occupations of the people. Every time the people complain, a commission of inquiry is created with promises of looking into their plight and nobody ever hears mention of anything anymore.
The tradition of impunity has driven the lower echelons of the public service to fall in line, only performing their duties on the strength of the bribes they collect. The public servant has slowly become the public master. Every once in a while people show signs of discontentment and take to the streets and the government comes in with a proven method inherited from colonization: come down on the people with very heavy hands, kill and maim a number of them and then single out community leaders and bribe them to kill the issue along with the commissions constituted to find remedies. Every single action of this government has come as a reaction to popular discontent, never as a thoughtful action of a working government.
Cameroonians are a smart, hard-working and peace-loving people. They realize the system of management of the country has to do with their plight. In 1996 they stepped out to complain and got a number of themselves killed, maimed and imprisoned but obtained from the government a new constitution that decentralizes power in the country. The people are convinced this would take away power from the handful of actors in Yaoundé and let the regions elect their own leaders and manage portions of their welfare. 20 years later, this constitution is still not implemented and things have gotten pretty worse, almost to the point of the country becoming unlivable. Then something strange happened.
The “Anglophone Problem”
The French colonial system was completely different from the English model. The ‘Jacobin’ principle it rested on was one of total assimilation through a showing of friendliness to take away any native apprehensions and then a brutal and exemplary crackdown in case of a revolt or even attempts at revisionism. This is how the francophone African came to revere and fear authority. This is how he came to believe that his life depended on the whims of government.
The African francophone believes that survival is thanks to the magnanimity of government and it is unwise to challenge or even criticize. Suspicion is guilt until government determines your innocence. 80% of Cameroon was raised in this culture. The Africans who took over at independence took this system a step further; they deified power, God and the president share the same pedestal. So the francophone learned how to be subservient to survive. He learned how to be a yes man, a bootlicker and a back-stabber to grow in the favors of authority and thus in the world. 34 years in power is enough time to forget nearly 60% of the population to envisage life this way.
The Anglo-Saxon model on the other hand was different. It was far from being a bed of roses but the colonized were not to be assimilated to the noble British culture. They were to be left to be who they are. They were to be trained to manage their own affairs in their own contexts but following the norms that govern life in the civilized world; government is to be respected and not feared and it should be accountable to the people. Guilt is only determined when it has been proven. The police force is a civilian force that enforces the law with the tools of the law and nobody is above the law. The military has nothing to do with civilian peace-keeping except in specific and extreme cases and soldiers do not live in the midst of civilians but in barracks. The difference between these two models shines as the difference between English-speaking and French-speaking Africa to this day.