Today marks forty-one years since Cameroon’s President, Paul Biya, took over from the country’s first President, Amadou Ahidjo, who resigned supposedly for health reasons. Ahidjo, the man who had made Cameroon the purpose of his being, had always dreamed of transforming the country into an earthly paradise.
He had designed the educational system to enable Cameroonians compete favorably at the international level. The quality of education was good and this helped the country to make giant strides towards sustainable development. Though the country was bereft of massive financial resources, the country’s first president made up for this shortage of financial resources with discipline and determination.
Due to the lack of resources, the country did not have a good road network, but from 1977 when oil was discovered, the country’s fortunes changed for the better. Many infrastructure development projects were lined up and their implementation was marked by rigor and discipline.
But this changed in 1982 when Mr. Biya succeeded Ahidjo. Though he had served as the country’s Prime Minister under Ahidjo, he had not learned that discipline was a key ingredient in the implementation of national policies and projects. No initiative succeeds without discipline!
By 1985, the country’s economy and politics were already showing signs of chaos. Discipline which characterized the Ahidjo regime had taken French leave of the Biya regime. Mr. Biya, unlike Ahidjo, had prioritized loyalty over competence and this has cost the country a huge fortune. He brought his tribesmen into government without conducting the proper background checks and there are lots of crooks and dishonest people in the system.
Though the Centre and South regions of Cameroon account for less than 10% of the country’s population, Mr. Biya tribesmen make for more than 70% of appointed government officials, with many not having the appropriate experience and qualifications to drive major operations and policies!
Today, the country has one of the worst road networks on the continent. Each day, thousands of Cameroonians die of road accidents and, for decades, the government has not found it necessary to develop road infrastructure which will reduce both travel times and death toll on the country’s roads. Times have changed but the Biya regime is frozen in time.
Regarding the economy, things are not looking good for the country. Unemployment is high; many young Cameroonians are looking outward. Government policy regarding employment in the civil service has left many from other tribes desperate. Loyalty trumps over qualification and in certain cases, many people have been caught with fake certificates, especially people from the president’s tribe.
Universities which are supposed to serve as centers of excellence have been transformed into brothels as the culture of sex-for-marks has been fully entrenched and this is happening with the tacit approval of the country’s authorities. The country’s higher education minister, Fame Ndongo, has been presiding over this mess as he himself has been at the centre of massive sex scandals in the ministry he leads.
Mr. Biya and his ruling CPDM may be celebrating today, but they know they have brought untold hardship on Cameroonians. Most young Cameroonians want to leave the country and even retirees are relocating to countries like the U.S and Canada because their retirement incomes leave much to be desired.
The country is amongst the dirtiest on the continent with its towns and cities not going through any form of town planning. The government does not seem to have an inkling of structured existence as slums are popping up all over the nation.
Regarding security, the government is struggling. Crime rate has increased significantly, with soldiers and police officers even renting out their weapons to criminals for a fee. Even when the population reports a crime, the police hardly act. It is always a waste of time for police officers to be called to the crime scene as they will never make it.
Either there is no fuel in the car for them to use, or when there is a car, there is no fuel. Sometimes, security forces even seek to know the type of weapons the criminals are carrying. This is to ensure that they do not get into a fierce fight with heavily armed criminals. Kind police officers will even tell the frightened victims to call neighbors to help them. That is the country Mr. Biya will be leaving for future generations.
Mr. Biya has been a master at divide-and-rule. He has succeeded to pit tribes against tribe, and there is evidence that the day he exits, there will be bloodshed in the country. Currently, there are killings going on in Southern Cameroons where a fierce rebellion against the Yaoundé government has sent some ten thousand Cameroonians to an early grave and things could get worse if Mr. Biya suddenly dies.
For the public service, it is the worst the continent has. Corruption is rife and Cameroonians have to pay millions of francs to get admission into professional schools. Every sector of the public service has come up with a scheme to exploit the ordinary citizen and the country’s authorities have decided to look the other way while government officials exploit their fellow citizens.
Cameroon under Mr. Biya has been a living hell. Many Cameroonians prefer to look outwards as the government has failed to create opportunities for its citizens. 41 years in power have rolled the country back into grinding poverty and, in development terms, the country has been taken back by at least 100 years. Today’s celebrations could be described as a celebration of failure, inefficiency, greed, corruption and dishonesty. This is the legacy Mr. Biya will be leaving behind.
By Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai