Mwalimu George Ngwane*
The resignation of Dr. Elizabeth Tamanjong as Secetary General of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) on 12th February 2015 is not a novelty in the DNA of Opposition party politics in Cameroon. And that is where the problem lies. The resignation risks especially as she is the third Secetary General to resign since the party was founded on 26th May 1990 to be interpreted through the myopic lenses of a déjà vu, nuanced with spatial conversations of conscience or conviction buying or blighted by the current social media rebuttal of real or imaginary ruling party destruction intentions of the SDF.
Be that as it may, this resignation goes beyond the tip of the iceberg to buttress the urgency with which the SDF, which shall be clocking twenty-five this year and which still is the leading numerical Opposition party, needs to address the root and proximate causes of these serial resignations and defections as well as the imperative for political observers to initiate an appreciative inquiry discourse around the state of Opposition politics and the future of liberal democracy in Cameroon.
In a political treatise I wrote in 2004 captioned “Cameroon’s Democratic process, Vision 2020”, I argued among other things that for more than a decade, the goals of multiparty democracy still elude the masses and within the present political context of unbridled demagogy, multiparty may remain a façade and charade, promising much but delivering little. In short, democracy must be content-filled. The circumstances that led to the emergence of Opposition parties in Cameroon were predicated on the twin phenomena of challenge and change. Challenge was based on the need for the establishment to reform itself and give access to alternative voices while change was the political agenda that meant to reverse the ruling oligarchy in favour of a new dispensation of duty bearers (regime change).
Initially, like in most African countries, the resurgence of Multipartyism in Cameroon was borne out of the hunger for change hence the liberation theology preached by most Opposition parties became the democratic mantra. Liberation theology according to Opposition parties in Cameroon meant that change could come to Cameroon only when the incumbent President Paul Biya was removed from power. To them Biya the person was the stumbling block to democratic development in Cameroon. The slogan “Biya must go” was used by Opposition parties as a template for acceding power. But even the most radical of the Opposition failed to go beyond what Celestin Monga has termed “slogans in line with populist illusions”. In other words transforming the liberation theology into a structural ideological philosophy became a problematic among Opposition parties. As observed by Prof. Adebayo Olukoshi since the quest for political pluralism is reduced to Multipartyism, Opposition parties are expected to be distinct from and autonomous of the ruling party.
Other opposition parties in Cameroon on the other hand believed that real problem towards change went beyond Biya the person (liberation theology) to a complete cleansing of the system which Biya had come to incarnate. To them structural ideological philosophy hinged on constitutional reforms and the putting in place of vibrant democratic institutions. Therefore even with no clear constitutional provision on the status of Opposition parties in Cameroon (unlike a country like Mozambique where the Opposition is treated as a government in waiting) Dr. Tangie Fonchingong argues that Opposition parties in Cameroon have through various electoral processes given themselves a political identity.
The Opposition of liberation
It was the SDF initial approach that focused on a zero-sum arrangement. Referred to as “external” opposition, this category of Opposition is formed outside the ruling constellation and often within the background of deep-seated disagreement, conflict and protest. It sees itself as a symbol of change and fights to the end for a radically alternative system. Its political mindset is based on “Biya must go” strategy.
The Opposition of cooptation
It is characterized by the desire to share power and the prebends or spoils of power with the ruling party. Attracted by the negative peace notion of broad based governance or government of national unity, this category of Opposition poses no fundamental challenge to the regime. It shores up the regime and seeks mainly to ensure its own share of the spoils rather than presenting radically different proposals. The mind-set of such opposition is based on a win-win situation. All through the electoral process in Cameroon, the NUDP, MDR, MLJC and UPC (the latter being the only Opposition of liberation in Cameroon since 1948) and quite recently the Front for the National Salvation of Cameroon are Opposition parties that are of this nomenclature. Its political paradigm is based on “Biya must share” strategy.
The Opposition of proposition
It is characterized by a strong ideological outfit, working more on ideas rather than revolutionary propaganda. Emerging from the mass base within the same party, the Opposition of proposition seeks mainly for a redress of grievances either in terms of party policy or party performance. It may sometimes break away as splinter group but more often than not stays within as mainstream members disagreeing at their own risk and peril, with party focus. The case of the Progressive or Modernist wing of the Cameroon Peoples Democratic Movement (CPDM) with its lists of grievances presented in “The White Book” written by Chief Milla Assoute was a clear example. The postures by the CPDM Parliamentarian Honorable Adama Modi Bakary and the erstwhile CPDM Parliamentarian Honorable Paul Ayah now leader of People’s Action Party (PAP) to break ranks with apologists of a liberal peace system and hegemonic power structure (irrational obedience to party ideology) are cases in point. The political mindset of this group is based on “Biya must change” strategy.
In sum it has been easy to determine the Opposition of conviction from the Opposition of convenience within the democratic process in Cameroon with the latter always taking a strong numerical rise albeit with a weak ideological stance over the former. In the end we have witnessed an Opposition that has over the years become vehicles for the maximization of the interests of political opportunists and not frameworks for mobilizing popular forces for genuine change. This has had a toll on our democratization which according to Prof. Francis Nyamnjoh has served mainly as a face powder, used to justify reactionary propaganda by the ruling party and its acolytes and revolutionary propaganda by the Opposition.
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*Mwalimu George Ngwane is presently pursuing a Fellowship on Peace and Conflict studies at the University of Chulalongkorn, Bangkok, Thailand