Let us learn from contemporary history; in particular the war history of the countries directly involved in the war against Boko Haram. No country has emerged from war and remains the same. This was the case with the Biafra War at the end of which an armistice was signed and thereafter a profound restructuring of the Federation. Also, credible attempts to redress historical wrongs that led to the war in the first place were and are still being made. Only intermittent coups and brutal dictatorships by the Northern Military/Feudal alliance short-circuited the drive to address these historical wrongs.
This led to the Delta Niger insurgency, provoking a Northern response through the craving for sharia law perceived as a political ploy to take back and retain political power that accidentally shifted to the South when the Northern incumbents Murtala Mohammed and Yaradua died. The reality of the situation is that a comprehensive failure to address historical wrongs that brought about the war in which millions died has come back to haunt Nigeria to the extent of shaking yet again, the foundation of the Federation. Chad has been perpetually at war which commenced shortly after it attained independence from France.
A semblance of stability has been attained due to the support provided by a permanent French military base in the country. This indictment of Hissene Habre, an erstwhile rebel President of Chad by an African Union Special Court in Senegal for crimes against humanity perpetrated against his own citizens who opposed his government, is a significant development that arose directly from the cycle of conflict that has afflicted that country. Niger Republic has been at war and is still at war with its Tuareg dessert population seeking autonomy.
The inability of successive governments since Hamani Diori to comprehensively redress the situation through meaningful national dialogue led to a destabilizing war which left the country a viable attraction of terrorist infiltration. Other examples too many to discuss in an editorial of this nature, include Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Cote D’Ivoire, Central Africa Republic, DRC and Burundi as well as many more beyond our continental shores. Will Cameroon be an exception to this historical trend?
The answer to this question must be ascertained from a candid consideration of a number of troubling indicators that are perceptible from an anxious assessment of the manner the war against terror is being prosecuted and its potential enduring impact on a rudderless citizenry and polity. There is no gainsaying that the Commander-in-Chief who is the President of the Republic failed the nation by declaring the war against Boko Haram from a foreign capital, Paris.
This was undoubtedly disrespectful of our national sovereignty. However a developing story regarding a potential deployment of French troops purportedly to support Cameroon in its war effort at this point in time has created reasonable suspicion from a number of social media activists who are accusing President Biya of drafting in the French army for political as opposed to genuine military objectives.
They see no strategic military need for French neo-colonial forces to deploy at this point in time. Rather, they believe that the President is bringing them to come in and impose another neo-colonial regime that may replace him when his mandate comes to an end in 2017. The fear expressed by these Cameroonians may be well founded considering that until the UN and the AU made the critical determination to deplore forces to confront the combined ISIS/Boko Haram/Al Khadal forces in the Sahara ravaging the sub-region, France did not evince this intention. Significantly the French deployment will not be under UN or AU command. It will be an entirely Cameroon affair. For what purpose?
The Commander-in-chief is not and will likely not provide an answer. The manner President Paul Biya has handled the question of the deployment of foreign forces to assist Cameroon in its war effort has been most embarrassing. Chad for example obtained a resolution from its Parliament before deploying Chadian forces, so also Niger. President Paul Biya did not obtain Parliamentary approval or even inform Cameroonians about the deployment of foreign forces or the terms of the deployment.
Significantly, he has not addressed the nation about the war and failed to do so when the opportunity arose during his Youth Day Speech to the nation. He defined the war in very troubling language equating it to the pre-independence war against French colonial rule by the UPC and the “Villes Mortes” pro-democracy campaign. He made this embarrassing analogy in one of his rare press statements to the national press shortly before boarding his plane for the summit organized by President Obama with African leaders in Washington DC last year.
Biya has also failed to visit the troops supposedly under his command at the battle front or the wounded who are receiving medical attention. He has not paid due respects to the fallen heroes of this war who sacrificed their lives for our collective security. Rather, probably embarrassed by the perception of heartlessness and failed command capability, those intend on whitewashing his image committed a forgery by imposing his picture in front of the remains of one of the fallen heroes.
The allegations made by the Goebbels of the New Deal Isa Tchiroma that the forgery was perpetrated by supposed enemies of the President were as pedestrian and it was infantile. It took some three days before the picture could be removed and before this explanation was made. Those may accept this explanation must remember that it creates a more serious problem relevant to this editorial. It will confirm the amateurish nature of presidential close security organization and his communication network.
This poses a legitimate question about the ability of the President to lead considering that the posting concerns military communication on an ongoing war. The repeated and unexplained absences by the President from the country during this crucial period of warfare, in which hundreds of our brave soldiers and the civilian population are dying, leaves the country and the army an absent and defaulting commander-in-chief. This again questions the ability of the President to lead.
The bravery of the army in his absence and his inability by his presence to support the army, the wounded, and the devastated affected civilian population demystifies his prior claims of indispensability. His inability to reassure a nation in search of answers to critical questions surrounding the war, the future and direction the nation is taking, also fundamentally questions his ability to lead. As the war progresses, critical fault lines on the fabric of the nation have appeared on the watch of the President, who is the constitutional supposed guarantor of national stability.
First, the memorandum of the Lekie elites against Northern elites created a potential for enduring animosity that may last long after the war. There are ongoing verbal missiles between the Beti elite and the Bamileki elite. The escalation of these tensions without him considering a need to intervene and resolve, can only be construed as carefully planned by the President and his political advisers.
Their reasoning may reasonably be explained that the fall -out from the divide and rule policy may weaken the resolve of a united citizenry to mobilize to change the political and social order to make room for a genuine political renewal and nation rebuilding. There is how ever a perception that behind the façade of the stability of the presidential more than three decades of reign, are critical signs of fatigue and genuine fear of an end of the road for the regime.
Two competing centres of power are perceptible within the system. One component still believes that President Paul Biya will rule for fifty more years or will be there as long as God blesses him with good health. There are others who have seen the end of the road and are working to step in to occupy the emerging political vacuum. These have skillfully relied on Operation Epervier to keep potential rivals under lock and key in prison.
There is Paul Biya himself who believes that he may not succeed in enthroning his successor through any form of democratic process; and this includes rigged elections. He must have considered and discounted the idea of imposing a leader as Ahidjo did. But the consequences of the conduct of Ahidjo and its enduring negative impact on the nation frighten him. Besides, the unpredictable conduct of soldiers at war towards such conduct makes this option tenuous and even potentially dangerous.
It is in this perspective that he is inviting France and its soldiers to come back to mid-wife and babysit a political process that will largely impose another French stooge to oversee French interest as opposed to those of a free and genuinely independent Cameroon. The invitation of French soldiers therefore must be seen from the perspective of a carefully planned and imposed French neo-colonial political calculation aimed as restraining the army and democratic freedom seekers from facilitating a peoples’ oriented transition.
The signing into law of the very contentious law against terror that targets civil society mass mobilization for political change and the invitation of French soldiers even as the UN, AU and regional forces are committed to combatting and defeating the terror forces must be construed within the context of politics rather than a genuine support of the war effort.
One of the most critical developments which support the resolve of the power seekers cabal around Paul Biya to escalate and internationalize the conflict to precipitate his departure for them to take over is the escalation of the Southern Cameroons problem. The attempt at abolishing the practice of the Common Law in Southern Cameroons courts, the imposition of French in its courts, the bastardization of the English Educational system, the erosion of the use of the English in public administration, in particular within the territory, and the egregious violations of human, economic, cultural and social rights of the targeted people, has alarmed and greatly mobilizing Southern Cameroonians from all walks of life to take self-preservation actions.
This escalation has alarmed the international community which is mobilizing to get into the sub-region to attenuate the frames of the ongoing conflagration. The escalation of the Southern Cameroons problem about which the African Commission, the UN and the AU strongly recommended dialogue as opposed to the use of force at this point in time when Cameroon is at war, can only be construed as an attempt by power seekers to create chaos and generalized warfare in order to facilitate their access to power.
The above painful assessment of the national condition brings to the fore a silver lining in that it has finally broken some myths that Paul Biya created over his thirty years to justify his reign of personal power. The bravery and sacrifices of soldiers at the battle front and the general mobilization of the people without him have exposed and demystified his claims of indispensability and invincibility.
The nation and the citizenry can rest assured hence that a Cameroon without Paul Biya is possible. It creates potential problems as well. Calling in the French when the scars of the French genocidal war before and after independence are still available is ill-conceived and will likely height national tension and prolong the national agony. Victims of French colonial administration are still suffering from the pains of their military misadventure and the crimes that alarmed the conscience of humanity and deprived the nation of genuine independence.
The President’s insensitivity towards the Southern Cameroons problem, which he is currently escalating, may potentially internationalize the problems provoking an international response. He evinces a resolve not to address historical wrongs to pave way for national renewal, reconciliation and reconstruction. Considering the above, no matter how one perceives or construes the conduct and actions of President Biya at this critical moment in the nation’s history, they invite legitimate concerns and questions about his ability to continue to rule.
The publications in the French paper Le Monde concerning his state of health, whether genuine or not have only compounded an anxious problem requiring an urgent solution. Cameroon Concord therefore invites a dispassionate debate and discussion of this matter. It is a critical evolving problem which no conscious Cameroonian should ignore.
Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai