Some hours before 8:00 p.m. when Paul Biya had to address the nation, I bought a copy of Marafa Hamidou Yaya’s recent book “Le Choix de l’Action” [Choice of Action]. Since I was very interested in the elections he organized, I quickly thumbed through the book and fell on p. 57 where a telephone exchange he had with Paul Biya related to the election of Jean Jacques Ekindi in 2007 to the National Assembly from Wouri Centre constituency, is reported. It left me upset and disappointed that indeed, the people’s will has always been manipulated from the summit of the state by the same person who always refers to the people’s will when he is asked why he is still hanging on for 32 years.
It is in that state of despair that I sat checking his past New Year messages while waiting for the griots to draw the curtains. So by the time he started speaking, I had just read what he said on December 31, 2011: “we now have a roadmap, the Growth and Employment Strategy Paper which sets the objectives for this decade…”; we are entering our “first phase of a ‘long march’ towards being an emergent country…” like the “new Asian dragons some 30 years ago”; Cameroon would be a “vast construction site in 2012”; “in the past, government action suffered from lack of entrepreneurial approach and the administration from inactivity. We must overcome this inertia which has caused us so much harm”; “corruption is an insidious and dreadful enemy”; there will be a “new impetus” …
On December 31, 2012 he promised victory over the energy “battle,” linking of regional capitals with tarred roads, the “agrarian revolution,” that “in a couple of months or a couple of years our country will be dotted with construction sites, dams, power plants, ports, factories and road,” etc. And the rhetorical questions of December 31, 2013: “Are we different from others that are succeeding in other places? What do we lack? What is the use of some follow-up commissions? Why does government action lack coherence and transparency? Why are there so many administrative bottlenecks…?”
Well, here we are at the end of 2014 or at the beginning of 2015. There is no way of having a structured examination of the message because it did not really have a structure. It is interesting how we believed these utterances even after some 30 unproductive years about vast construction sites, energy battles, road maps, agrarian revolutions, and … “emergence”! As expected, everything has become blurred just a few years after the “emergence” mantra entered our political discourse. That blurring has caused the tinkering of another buzz word: “contingency plan!”
When the regime engaged in a fast and loose game with its actions at the council of ministers’ meeting of December 9, 2014, there was no doubt that it was just a frantic effort to write the script of the end-of-year message. After all, a contingency plan was promised in the December 31, 2013 message, so with a few days left, something needed to be done! And so they engaged in another aimless search for “newness” by adding “contingency plan” to their evolving vocabulary of “development”: ambition, realization, emergence, and now …contingency plan! And who do we have to look over it? Not the government, not a group of hired multidisciplinary experts, but a group of ministers led by the prime minister! If such a small group of ministers can follow-up a “plan” that will get us out of the tunnel, why the large government the regime sustains?
Not to worry because the “plan” is just a plan. The regime is good at indulging in these types of games of misdiagnosis and partial diagnosis that give them outcomes beyond their comprehension, so they always package placebos and tote them around as cures! Nothing can be expected from a government run as several disjointed parts, manned by people who consider themselves “creations” of one man, whom they spend their time worshipping instead of working as a coordinated team to serve the interests of the nation. The regime is surely at its wits’ end!
Our abhorrence of repressive instruments, whether they are the 1962 anti-subversion ordinance or the 2014 anti-terrorism law is based on our distrust of a regime that abused the anti-subversive ordinance to create more problems for society. We remember Bebey Eyidi and others that were jailed as “subversives” for criticizing Ahidjo; we remember Yondo Black and others that were jailed by Biya as “subversives” just for thinking about multiparty politics. We remember how Ahidjo imposed his one-party regime and subverted the reunification agenda in a society cowed by the anti-subversion ordinance. Importantly, we remember how Law no 90/054 on the maintenance of law and order has been abused by administrative authorities to seriously reduce the societal space in which civil society and opposition political parties were supposed to carry out their activities.
The letter of the anti-terrorism law may not be to repress social liberties, but the above self-serving abuses inform us not to trust a regime that has orchestrated those abuses in the past. In an age when humans sentence themselves to death by acting like suicide bombers, the political and social consequences of the death sentence should always be well considered to avoidoutcomes like those that followed the execution in 1995 of leaders of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), including its founder Ken Saro-Wirwa, or the execution of Boko Haram founder Mohamed Yusuf in 2009, to name just those two cases. It is also appropriate to sound the warning again: in applying the anti-terrorism law, we should beware of McCarthyism!
On top of these worries, when an instrument meant for the protection of citizens and their properties is used to breach the rights of citizens to their individuality, the emergence of citizen responsibility is blocked. In the absence of such responsibility, there can be no solidarity. And in the absence of solidarity in society, no force can fight against the monster of modern terrorism. Citizen responsibility is like the responsibility of a family member for the behavior of other family members. From past experience, we fear that the spirit of the anti-terrorism law may endanger citizen responsibility because it seems to be more about the safety of the Biya regime which most Cameroonians no longer want, than about the security of the nation which all Cameroonians want and are anxious to support.
On December 31, 2013 Paul Biya said that the constitutional council would be put in place in “un délai raisonnable” [a reasonable time]. There must be some mystery about the Constitutional Council, not the simple putting together of people from different structures in the manner prescribed up to 19 years ago by the Constitution of January 18, 1996. If the regime agonizes over a simple matter like this, more difficult actions needed to unleash the nation’s potential in manufacturing, in services, and indeed in all sectors will take it a very long time – if ever! This toying with simple actions is indeed a metaphor for the laxity that we keep hearing about from its champion.
The problem of Cameroon today does not seem to be the lack of budgetary allocations because each year, annual budgets are under-spent, and much of the budgeted money is embezzled. The problem is therefore not about cutting costs and charging more taxes or spending scarce resources on the fight against terrorism. The problem is government systems and procedures that do not just work. The problem is the way we have done things during 30-some years which cannot produce different results. The problem is an environment bounded by repressive laws that inhibit the free flow of ideas, obstruct interactions between people with different perspectives, and lock up citizen potentials. The problem cannot really be said to be the absence of “peace” because we cannot convincingly say that our achievements during the last 30 year of “peace” – before Boko Haram et al. – can be described as “positive.”
The problem of our society is roads that are built without a maintenance infrastructure (periodic, routine or rehabilitation) so they become weak and dilapidated with age like we witness all over the country. The problem is that we are unable to appropriately streamline our investment projects along our two seasons of rain and sunshine. The problem is the absence of a transparent and efficient anti-corruption program which is not itself mired in corruption. The problem is that too many decisions in the country are in the hands of too few and too same people. The problem is that those at the summit of the state still have a one-party mindset, and treat those who criticize or differ with state authorities like enemies.
A government must have an overall strategy of service delivery to society. Government departments should be run by people who consider themselves business leaders, capable of continuous innovative and strategic thinking and action. Such strategies and innovations should be discussed, evaluated and fine-tuned in regular ministerial council meetings. Ministerial council meetings are not supposed to be a monologue. The president who constitutionally presides over the meetings should use the forum to draw from the collective expertise of each participant, not for staging the shows that give the impression of a haughty master in a kindergarten classroom.
It is amusing after reading the exchanges between Marafa Hamidou Yaya and Paul Biya as indicated above, to hear him say that our democracy is “working well!” There is obviously a serious disconnect between the people and the regime of Paul Biya. At the end of the day, development is a human product. However many “plans” or much money is thrown into the process, when the people are not in the right mood, only the same results of failure and end-of-year rhetorical questions will keep repeating themselves.
The fact that the outcomes of government actions do not produce desired services for so long a time is an indication that government is stuck in an unproductive routine. Perhaps the some university dons or other experts need to carry out some human-sciences-based analyses on both government and the society it serves to find insights that can be translated to productive initiatives, different from the decorative “plans” that always end up in failure and the enrichment of regime barons through corruption and embezzlement. But such insights may be beyond the comprehension of a gerontocracy. That is precisely why the need for change in Cameroon is so urgent.