In the concept of how states came into being, there is a theory of roving and stationary bandits. Whilst roving bandits stole and left, stationary bandits, stayed on by establishing a system to collect taxes which funded their criminal activities and lifestyle. In today’s world, the curse of stationary bandits is still a sad reality. These stationary bandits have designated territories with internationally recognized borders. They have an established defense force, police force, and a system to collect taxes from their victims/citizens. From the outside, it is easy to erroneously assume that it is a functioning nation-state where all citizens are ripping the benefits that come with living beyond the state of nature. One of the most notorious of these 21st century stationary bandits is the world’s oldest dictator, Paul Biya of Cameroon.
Cameroon is a nation in the Gulf of Guinea with a population of over 25 million according to the country’s 2018 census. It has been ruled with an iron fist by 87-year-old Paul Biya since 1982. The country is blessed with enormous natural resources but has been plagued by “Dutch disease” for over four decades. “Dutch disease” is when good news for one sector of the economy, such as the discovery of natural resources, results in a negative impact on the country’s overall economy. La Republique du Cameroun (to use the country’s real name) is notorious in international circles for constantly extending deep begging bowls to international organizations like the World Bank and IMF. Internationally, the country has been noted for being one of the most mismanaged and its annual budget is hugely dependent on foreign aid.
The country is bedevilled with extreme poverty, high child mortality, a non-existent health care system, extremely poor infrastructure, an appallingly inefficient public sector, a pathetic tax system, a fantastically corrupt police force, a brutal and repressive military, a war in the north against Boko Haram and a war in the south against Ambazonian separatists. Political commentators would not be far off the mark if they referred to La Republique du Cameroun as another basket case in a continent of many basket cases. La Republique du Cameroun is indeed the most corrupt nation in the world (See Transparency International).
Paul Biya took over in 1982 in a peaceful transfer of power. He has never won an election. He has never had a mandate from the people despite clinging on to power for four decades. His legacy is one of repression, economic mismanagement, and incompetence. A common assertion from those who know him is that he tends to agree with the last person who spoke to him. Over the last few years, as age is taking its toll on him, the person who spends more time with him now is his wife. As the “last person” to always speak to him these days, she is wielding considerable power in Yaoundé. This is a huge worry as she is ill-equipped to run a grocery shop.
The coronavirus pandemic has been a fantastic time for Mr.Biya and his acolytes. The IMF and World Bank have released emergency funds to facilitate his criminal pursuits against his people. On 21 October 2020, the IMF Country Report No. 20/294 on Cameroon read “The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) today approved a disbursement of about US$ 156 million, 40 percent of quota) under the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF). This is the second emergency disbursement to the country since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing total IMF emergency support since the outbreak of the pandemic to about US$ 382 million, 100 percent of quota). The new emergency disbursement will help Cameroon meet its urgent balance of payments and fiscal needs.”
The IMF statement went on to state that “the authorities have been proactive in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and are stepping up their efforts to contain the spread of the disease, boost health and social protection spending, and provide temporary support to affected businesses and households.” The local population has benefited from less than 1% of these funds from the IMF and other international organisations. Defense spending has been shamelessly bolstered to crush political opposition and millions of dollars have been directed to private bank accounts in Europe and other tax havens. Many dreadfully impoverished villages received single 20 litre plastic buckets, a few hand-sanitizers, and half a dozen bars of soaps as contributions from the head of state to help fight the pandemic.
The gulf between the poor and Paul Biya’s loyalists is appallingly immoral. Poverty and inflation are rife and the country’s leaders are clueless about what to do. With regards to creating an effective tax system, a manufacturing economy to wind Cameroon off IMF and World Bank loans, Mr. Biya has done zilch. He has no incentive to reform his country if the IMF and the World Bank are available to offer long term loans. When it comes to human rights, he knows that France will shield him from international condemnation, so he has been prolific at perpetrating abuse against political opponents.
Power without responsibility has been Paul Biya’s motto. A common excuse from his aids and apologists is that he is a good man but the people around him failed him. The principal prison in Kondengui, Yaoundé is packed with ex-ministers, amongst them ex-defense minister, Edgard Alain Mebe Ngo’o, former secretary-general at the presidency, Marafa Hamidou Yaya, and former Prime Minister, Ephraim Inoni. The list is extensive and shocking. He has shamelessly concentrated power around himself and political opponents are eliminated or imprisoned under dubious charges. A former senior member of the CPDM, his ruling party, opined recently to Cameroon Concord News Group that “the curse of our generation is that he was president during our lives.”
According to Amnesty International in a statement published on 9 December 2020, “The arrests, arbitrary detentions, and prosecutions in military courts of opposition members who were peacefully gathering are the latest example of Cameroonian authorities’ crackdown on dissenting voices since late September, Amnesty International said today.” These arrests are the tip of the iceberg. Cameroon probably has more political prisoners than North Korea. The prisons in all the regions of the country are packed with political prisoners while the corridors of power are littered with looters.
Mr.Biya somehow forgot that the gods always punish arrogance. The Ambazonian war was commissioned by the gods to expose all his flaws. Few of his strengths have been demonstrated over the last 38 years but all his weaknesses have been exposed over the last three. A man who spent his life ducking from making decisions to advance his nation has suddenly been confronted with a war against determined Ambazonians. Over the last three years, his monopoly of violence over the territory he claims to rule has been challenged by Ambazonian separatists who are giving him sleepless nights.
Anyone familiar with him knows that he is sneaky, lazy, and vindictive. It is worth asking how a man so patently unqualified for leadership managed to capture a nation for almost four decades. How can it be that in the twenty-first century, one man could be allowed to wreck so many dreams and lives? Today is 24 December 2020 and as Cameroon Concord pen these words, the thought keeps coming to us that he has contributed nothing to Cameroon except misery and embarrassment. His legacy is certain. A prominent and successful FAILURE!!!
Paul Biya, a 21st-century stationary bandit has a choice to make in 2021, he can continue to heap misery on his people with state brutality, embezzlement, and poverty or he can summon the courage and exit the stage so his country can start the long and painful recovery.
By Isong Asu
London Bureau Chief