Interview conducted by Father Epie and based on the Visit of Paul Biya to Bamenda (Published in Cameroon Panorama of January 1, 2011)
1. The Meeting between Paul Biya and Fru Ndi in Bamenda on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Cameroon’s Armed Forces was acclaimed by many people both at the National and International levels. What do you say about this meeting?
Form the point of view of thawing the political ice that had loomed over the two personalities for the last twenty years, it has opened the doors for dialogue that hopefully will be based on policies rather than prebends. As politicians and this is a general phenomenon, interested in making electoral capital, it is Mr. Biya who has had the better end of the stick because he met the Chairman in his own terms probably more as a North West Elite than the Leading Opposition. If Mr. Biya met him as an Opposition Leader then it comes at a time when the Chairman has lost considerable grounds and a time Mr. Biya himself has lost some partners either through jail or through death.
2. Among other things, the SDF chairman, John Fru Ndi said H.E Paul Biya had requested to meet with him, but for some of Biya’s collaborators who hindered this audience. If you were President, how would you deal with such collaborators?
It is very simplistic to hear leaders laying their inadequacies and under achievements on the doorsteps of their collaborators. Astute leadership requires a high degree of extricating oneself from the coterie of sycophants that pretend to be collaborators. And I must add that most visionary leaders prefer to lead by proximity, that is getting close to state action and personal contacts and decisions rather than leadership by proxy were he or she lays back and expects his or her so called collaborators to think and act on the leader’s behalf. Of course, I am aware that the magnitude of the responsibility that President Biya and the Chairman Ndi have does not warrant them to take all decisions without consulting their close aides, yet they both must be able, having been in political business for a longtime, to know when to consult and when to directly connect. In fact, is it not ridiculous at this age of robust communication advancement of the internet and cell phones to accuse one’s collaborators of standing in the way of matters of state interest? That is why it bothers me to hear some Cameroonians link President Paul Biya’s constant cabinet reshuffle to the fact that his collaborators are not performant when it is clear that constant cabinet meetings presided over by the President himself are an exception rather than a rule.
3. For some people, the visit of Paul Biya to Bamenda on the eve of the Presidential elections is merely a campaign strategy. What do you think about this assertion?
It is an argument that has its weight because we are living in a continent that produces politicians who think more of the next elections rather than states persons who should think more of the next generation. President Biya would have rubbished such an assertion if his contact with the regions were regular, routine and rooted in the oath of office as a Head of family. People who make these assertions definitely watch other television channels and see President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria stopping over in states without fanfare, they see Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal paying condolence visits to bereaved families outside Dakar, and they see Yaya Boni of Benin engaged in development tours across the country a long way from electoral calendar. I am sure these people want to see President Paul Biya more often and even their members of Parliament who appear only before electoral campaigns.
4. As usual, the president made some promises like revamping of the Menchum falls, creation of a state university in Bamenda, among others. Given that promises are hardly fulfilled, some people did not take the head of state seriously. Any comments?
I think the Head of State shall walk the talk this time but the issue of development packages is not as important to me as the manner or procedure in which they are delivered. I am not comfortable with the idea of submerging strong state institutions under the weight of a paternalistic Executive. A country’s development strategy like Vision 2035 that we have, should serve as our journey with maps giving equal opportunities to all regions no matter how enclaved or accessible, no matter how hostile or hospitable and without recourse to Executive physical presence. Otherwise, we shall be practising the same Western development paradigm which is one with strings or one with conditions. I have read through Cameroons Vision 2035 and it is a good document that would foster development in the short, medium and long term in our country. But if the President must highlight some development priorities in some regions, then it would be best to periodically use a state of nation address to do so. Secondly, if Cameroon is to attain its emergent economy ambition in 2035 then it must draw a line between expendable and sustainable development. In the case of the North West Region, I would have included in the President’s checklist revamping the Ndop rice factory, a potato and tomato industry, an art and craft industry anywhere in the North West, indeed, items that point to the fact that industrialization and employment have become the backbone of economic growth today.
5. The fact that the members of ELECAM are predominantly of the ruling CPDM party is still a big worry to many Cameroonians. How do you see ”Elections Cameroon”?
I do not need to tell you how I see ELECAM because the mere fact that its members keep courting public sympathy to be given a chance is testimony that they are suffering from a crisis of legitimacy.
6. What advice would you give Cameroonians, especially Christians on the up coming elections?
Let all Cameroonians of voting age register irrespective of their apprehensions or misgivings about ELECAM and I am saying Cameroonians not Christians or non-Christians or CPDM militants or non-CPDM militants. I repeat, we need to register because it is a civic right, to vote because it is a civic right and to boycott the polls if need be because it is also a civic right. Let me remind you that in people-centred democracies, the credibility of an election is also founded on the percentage of voters’ turn out.
7. Some Cameroonians feel reluctant to vote, because in their opinion, there is no serious opposition party any longer in Cameroon due to the internal wrangling that weakened the SDF. What advice would you give such people?
Cameroonians are losing faith in party politics in general and this can be understood. First, Cameroon’s constitution places national sovereignty on the people not on political parties. If we elected to reintroduce multiparty electoral democracy in the 90’s, it was to use party platforms as conduits for power alternation and the articulation of mass interest based on development agendas. Has that been the case in Cameroon? In fact, the Opposition in general and the SDF in particular, have become victims of regional interest, intra-party clientelism, leadership tenacity syndrome to office and the rent-seeking behavior of their elected officials.
As an Independent political writer, I have hardly been bothered with the party system or even political dispensation that African countries choose. After all, I have witnessed cases of great economic growth under a one party system, a no party system and even a military rule. So, democratic development does not begin and end with the proliferation of parties.
That is why I shall continue to militate for the nullification of those draconian conditions that bar Independent candidates from taking part in elections in Cameroon, especially at the Presidential level. I shall continue to advocate for elected Governors in our regions because elected Governors are laboratories for tertiary leadership. Since we have chosen to stay with party politics, the bottom line is that, we need credible primary elections to leadership change within our parties, a national level playing field to be managed by either a non-party or all-party membership electoral organ, and a vibrant national development vision that goes beyond elections. Short of this, political parties may relegate themselves to colourful ‘ashwabi’ associations and elections may become a routine stage-managed to placate international opinion, and a façade to perpetrate the pornographic personalization of power, the primitive accumulation of wealth and the predatory criminalization of society.
8. Any last words for our readers?
Yes, let me wish a Happy New Year 2011 to your numerous readers but also remind Cameroonians that 2011 marks the Golden Jubilee of the Reunification of the defunct West and East Cameroon. Such a Jubilee provides us all with an opportunity to assess how much water has flowed under the Mungo Bridge.