By Mwalimu George Ngwane
Not that we went through any physical or structural violence after the 2011 Presidential elections here in Cameroon. But the psychological and verbal conflict that welled up before the proclamation of election results kept us tottering on the precipice of an imaginary tipping point. Calm reigned. It was in the silence of this precarious calm that President Biya thundered home his armada of promises in a tone clad in fresh energy and in a confident style reminiscent of his 1982 days when Cameroonians took him for King Midas. To some, Biya’s promises sounded like a broken record; they have heard them over and over; to others, they sounded like a revolutionary renewal.
The fundamental question that lies ahead is how come we are still grappling with becoming a ‘Grande Nation’ in spite of all the new epithets of ‘Grandes Ambitions’, ‘Grande Vision 2035’, ‘Grandes Realisations’ and now ‘Grand Chantier’?
Vast construction site
Nations are constructs of human and infrastructure development. The ingredient of human architecture lies on how much citizens derive satisfaction from the contributions that they make to the nation. Governance is a quid pro quo arrangement. Access to basic social amenities like water, electricity, shelter, education and health at affordable rates should never be seen as political privileges or worse still election compensation. President Biya’s promise of a vast construction site should not be interpreted as merely a case for physical infrastructure, relevant as it is, but as an improvement in the quality of the lives of Cameroonians.
Of course there is an inextricable link between human development and structural development because where roads, shelter and factories are provided the trickle effect produces a feel-good effect on the citizens. If agriculture remains the flagship of this vast construction site then farm to market roads, farmers’ subsidies, homegrown production and consumption behaviour as well as making the country a sub-regional economic market must be taken seriously. A vast construction site must not be mistaken for the building of white elephant projects. Statistics show that there is an upsurge in rural exodus and urban poor simply because so much emphasis has been placed on civil service employment to the detriment of the private sector and rural transformation. A lot of our reforms still rotate around consumer expendables rather than production channels.
No one can argue that Cameroon’s potentials to achieve a double digit economic growth is a reality but it takes a committed, result-oriented, collegial and visionary leadership to understand that the redistribution of wealth to those at the bottom of the economic pyramid is a panacea for a robust service economy. It is no secret that empowering people and creating partnerships with the private sector can enhance the vision of attaining a middle income economy. It is no secret that restructuring our education sector and rebranding our cultural industry should be key features in our construction site. But at the end of the day and with so many ideas that were flagged up during Presidential campaigns, President Biya may not have to ignore the fact that a vast construction site can be fully realised only when a panoply of architects are brought together to conceive and draw the design- hence the import of a forum for National Dialogue.
The Golden Reunification Jubilee
October 1 2011 was to be commemorated as Cameroon’s Golden Reunification Jubilee. Because of a number of reasons including the hype on Presidential elections no mention was made of it. Hopefully in the months ahead there will be an official statement on the dates to commemorate this event.
I was invited to a Think Tank mid this year in Yaounde to propose activities and the possible dates of the event. All of us were of the opinion that the date of 20 May 2012 should not be taken owing to its contentious historical dynamics of the two Cameroons. We were of the opinion that celebrations and festivities were very cardinal yet ephemeral and that the concrete benchmark of the event would be to brainstorm and rehabilitate the development balance sheet of the former West Cameroon which out of patriotism decided to ‘obtain her Independence by joining the Republic of Cameroon’ fifty years ago.
In this regard, the perennial ring road in the North West region and roads that link divisional headquarters in the South West region must be on the Jubilee agenda. The cultural patrimony of the former West Cameroon that has suffered neglect and man-made destruction need a cultural emergency response. A young generation would need to be reminded that aircrafts flew from Bali to Besongabang and from Tiko to New York. They need to know that domestic flights, railway transportation in tandem with bus commuting were indices of development in the former West Cameroon. They need to know that once upon a time Ndop was the citadel of rice production with all the potentials of feeding the nation and beyond, that Wum and Yoke hydro-electric power can overturn our present energy deficit, that sole entrepreneurship not contractors and industries not warehouses had been the boon and can still be revamped to add value to national transformation.
Wherever the venue and whenever the dates of the celebration are announced, no one can doubt that the success of the event will be marked by the free and frank discussions about the state of the union as well as the development paradigms that underpin the union.
The unfinished democratic business
Africa’s democratisation continues to be marred by the search for a consensual electoral architecture whose election law, election umpires and respect for the supreme law of the land meet the expectations of and are honoured by the political stakeholders. Indeed elections are fast becoming recipes for social dislocation. Cameroon’s electoral path has been strewn with complains of electoral irregularities and the last Presidential election was no exception. Power is only effective when it is clad in legitimacy. Hopefully the lessons learnt and the peace we all sought shall prepare us for the next grassroots consultations to be held in 2012.
But before this, our electoral architecture needs to be restructured that victory during the Municipal/Parliamentary/Senate elections are not predetermined by and fashioned after party hegemony and party ‘ashwabis’ but through candidate meritocracy and respect for our national flag. The piecemeal implementation of a constitution that was adopted since 18th January 1996 does not augur well with our democratic aspirations. Effective decentralisation has so far remained a rhetorical subject thereby depriving a critical mass of our population from decision making and service delivery.
Finally, the peace that Cameroonians manifested before, during and after the last Presidential elections is not necessarily a surrender of their sovereignty to the political elite. It is an indication of how resilient Cameroonians are in providing a peaceful enabling environment in which political will, democracy and development can take root. How President Biya and his new government take advantage of this climate of peace to bring about his much cherished promises of Cameroon’s Renaissance shall determine his political legacy and the state and immediate future of Cameroon. In Luke 23 Verse 43 we are told of the repentant thief who at the last minute stole his way into paradise. Even politicians can avail themselves of this opportunity.