Cameroonians are going through their longest day today as many are looking forward to hearing from the country’s president, Paul Biya, who has not been forthcoming about how he intends to deal with the numerous crises that are tearing the country apart, especially the Southern Cameroons crisis that has given the government a bad name and left the country in the throes of a disastrous economic crisis.
The Yaounde dictator is expected to deliver a long televised statement today and many inside sources that have contacted the Cameroon Concord News Group have indicated that he will be talking about the formation of a commission which will kick start talks on the country’s future.
The sources add that the president had secretly met with Christian Cardinal Tumi, the retired Archbishop of Douala, who has been calling on the government to pursue the path to peace regarding the Southern Cameroons crisis.
The Southern Cameroon’s crisis has been playing out for three years and there is no end in sight, as both factions have continued to double down. Southern Cameroonians want their total independence from a regime that has been, at best, inefficient and, at worst, cataclysmic to Cameroonians.
The Southern Cameroons crisis that has claimed more than 3,000 civilian lives has brought the country’s economy to its knees and the chaos is still playing out. Major state corporations in the two English-speaking regions of the country have gone under and this has reduced the government’s ability to prosecute a war it declared on innocent Southern Cameroonians.
SONARA, the country’s lone oil refinery was recently gutted by a huge mysterious fire whose origin has not been established by the Biya regime which lacks the tools to conduct such an investigation.
SONARA has for more than three decades been the government’s major source of foreign exchange and government officials have been using the state corporation as their personal piggy bank and this has robbed the nation of vital development resources.
Cameroon’s oilfields are located in the country’s Southwest region, but the region is one of the most underdeveloped, with thousands of children not attending school while women are still living in abject poverty and squalor.
Ever since the oil refinery went up in smoke, the Yaounde government has been having nightmares that will not be ending anytime soon. The beleaguered government has been sending delegations to international development finance institutions for loans, but their efforts seem to be falling flat on their faces.
Last month, a seven-man delegation was in Washington, D.C. to seek resources for the reconstruction of the bedeviled refinery. Each member of the delegation was granted CFAF 14 million for a first-class ticket, per diem, accommodation and subsistence while in the American capital. The discussions with the World Bank did not go well and the delegation is expected to return to the American capital at the end of September to help push the government’s case through.
The government had already contacted other institutions like the African Development Bank, the continent’s leading development finance institution, for a large loan, but given Cameroon’s economic record and its history with sovereign loans, the African Development Bank Group might not be able to meet Cameroon’s financial needs as presented by the government.
But it is not only SONARA that is the government’s nightmare. The Cameroon Development Corporate, the country’s second largest employer, is also facing major difficulties. The Southern Cameroons crisis has also dealt the state corporation a severe blow that has left it on the ropes for months. Most of its facilities in the Southwest region are down and many will surely be found obsolete when the crisis ends. Only a huge cash injection into this corporation will help to resuscitate it.
PAMOL, another state corporation, has also been hit hard by the crisis. PAMOL has always stood the government in good stead, especially during tough financial times. Its shutdown has been bad news to the government, as this revenue stream will not be flowing for a very long time.
The government is down on its knees and this might have contributed in making Biya, a notorious warmonger, to have a change of mind. This, coupled with unrelenting pressure from the international community, could be the reason for this much-awaited address from a man who has no emotional attachment to his own people and country.
The pressure has been on for a long time. The 86-year-old Biya felt he could withstand it, but mounting financial troubles and decreasing confidence in state institutions have caused him and his team to buckle down to negotiations as a clear military solution in Southern Cameroons is not in the offing.
The same sources, which have elected anonymity, have also suggested that the ailing Biya might put paid to the Kamto saga that is sucking out a lot of oxygen from the government. Much time and resources have been wasted on a project that has no legal basis.
The numerous arrest and false imprisonment of many government opponents has only placed Cameroon among the worst human rights abusers in the world. Chaos has taken root in the country because of poor governance and the Diaspora is ready to give the government a run for its money. The Brigade Anti Sardinard (BAS) has just been doing that and their latest action that led to Mr. Biya’s repatriation from Switzerland should have informed the diaper-wearing Biya that Cameroonians will stop at nothing when it comes to leaving him with a bloodshot eye.
Times have changed, but the Yaounde regime is still locked in an old mentality where state institutions are abused to keep the president in power. The regime has not understood that the globalizing world is different from that which existed in the 60s. It is hard these days to manage a people like cattle.
The advent of the Internet has reduced government’s indispensability. Globalization has reduced dependence on the civil service and many Cameroonians now have alternatives. They can work in any part of the world to sustain their families and this makes it easy for them to challenge a corrupt government like the one Mr. Biya has presided over in the last forty years.
Mr. Biya has lost a lot of legitimacy and credibility over the years. His mismanagement of the economy has left many young Cameroonians bitter and frustrated. His rigging of elections has stunted Cameroon’s democracy and this has put the country in reverse mode, both politically and economically.
His penchant for bizarre appointments and his legendary corruption make it hard for Cameroonians to trust him. Whatever he says tonight, will be taken with a pinch of salt. He has never been as good as his world and the word negotiation is a foreign concept to him.
However, this is a great moment for him. He can choose to put the train back on its track by apologizing and reversing some of his obnoxious policies or continue with his war rhetoric in the hope that time will solve his problems for him. Southern Cameroonians have also developed a tough mind like him and they will be watching to see if he will be holding an olive branch or a gun that has served as a symbol of his military brutality.
Human beings have a way of forgiving. If he chooses the right words, he might witness a radical change in the way Cameroonians see him. To forgive is divine, but to avoid errors is godly. Mr. Biya has erred against his people. He has brought untold hardship to a people who trusted him and who had pinned their hope on him. His arrogance has alienated millions and nepotism that has become the hallmark of his regime has made millions of Cameroonians to head out of the country for greener pastures.
Biya has to speak well today if he wants to soothe the minds of his people. War has never addressed any issues. Killing your own people because of arrogance does not make you a good leader. It takes a noble mind to accept that times have changed and that new methods must replace the old ones.
Today is that day that will either make or mar Cameroon’s future. Biya should know this. Addressing the country out of the normal official schedule implies that something special is happening. In 37 years, Mr. Biya has done this only twice. In 1984 when he missed being killed in a coup d’état. In 2008 after the food crisis that led the military to killing thousands of innocent Cameroonians. Today will be the third time and this might be the last, as Mr. Biya is running out of time. He must know this and he must choose the right words to make a positive difference.
By Kingsley Betek and Linda Embi in Yaounde with contributions from Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai at the Cameroon Concord News Group’s global headquarters in the United Kingdom.