Shortcomings of the Opposition
It is generally argued that the playing field in Cameroon does not militate in favour of Opposition parties winning elections. With no genuine independent/neutral persons within an Independent Electoral Commission (be it National Elections Observatory or Elections Cameroon), and with a contentious new electoral code adopted by a CPDM majority parliament in March 2012, the elections have been reduced to a two horse race between the CPDM and its French translation- RDPC.
In effect according to Dr. Tangie Fonchingong, there are a lot of exogenous factors that deprive the Opposition from starting the election race on the same block as the ruling party- disenfranchisement, nonchalant international community, low civic participation, rigging, sterile political debates occasioned by the trading of accusations of illegitimacy between the ruling party and the Opposition parties etc.
But apart from these, and as can be seen below there are failures inherent in the modus operandi and structures of Opposition parties in Cameroon that have made them more of dividers and spoilers rather than connectors and drivers of our democratic architecture hence their vulnerability to internal cracks and external shocks.
Lack of internal democracy
The first thing one notices is that all Opposition parties have as Chairmen or Presidents those who founded the parties. So for close to two and a half decades the same people who created or founded these parties are in the helm of affairs. Paradoxically, most of these Opposition members were hell bent on pushing the ruling party leader Paul Biya out of power when he was “only” eight years as President of the country (1982-1990) and “only” five years as Chairman of his CPDM party (1985-1990). The case of the SDF is a cause for concern. Apart from the tenacity syndrome of its leader, Article 8.2 of the party’s constitution raises controversy on the notions of dissent versus debate and discipline versus dictatorship. Elected Mayors have been dismissed for not complying with the caprices of the National Investiture Committee. The axe or guillotine of Article. 8.2 has fallen on militants who oppose policies or performances of hierarchy .Yet it must be recalled that the SDF was founded “to rid the Cameroonian society of a system that deprives people from being free men or otherwise punishing them for daring to think freely, associate freely, assemble peacefully and freely”. This long stay of leadership at the helm of all Opposition parties has arguably resulted in party clientelism, personality cult, and the personalization of power.
Lack of an Opposition leadership consensus
Since the creation of Opposition parties, attempts at instituting an identifiable, credible and consensual leadership and program have failed. Unlike, other African countries that have a clear leadership within the Opposition (Gabon, Zambia, Kenya, Mozambique, Zimbabwe) the case of Cameroon in which according to Dr Tangie Fonchingong, Ni John Fru Ndi would have easily stood out as the rallying point Opposition leader owing to his mass grass roots support has been met with contempt for his relatively “low academic” baggage and mistrust for his Anglophone origin. Fru Ndi’s own inflexibility and temper tantrums have sometimes not helped matters.
Broken strategic alliances
Alliances formed before elections get broken even before the elections take off. The “Directorate” “Union for Change” Allied forces for Change”, “Coalition for National Reconciliation and Reconstruction” “G7” and ‘Republican Pact’ (2012), have not been as coherent and program-focused as for example that of the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) by the Opposition in Kenya, set up in the 2002 Presidential elections, resulting in a victory of 62.2%.
Disconnect from primal human needs
Most Opposition parties concern themselves with what happens during elections and not what takes place between elections. In other words, within the five years that span municipal/ legislative elections and the seven years that span Presidential elections, the Opposition parties do not connect with the population on their contradictions of cultural liberty (power cuts, fuel price hike, inflation, water outage, unemployment, industrial action etc) and on state policies that feed into structural violence. This is compounded by the poor performance of some of the elected Opposition party representatives in local councils and the National Assembly.
Therefore to quote Prof. Achilles Mbembe, it is necessary for the opposition to define a real strategy towards a social struggle (social democracy and democratic development) that is adapted to the present Cameroonian conditions.
Lack of linkages with political entrepreneurs of civil society.
One of the most important groups in the pro-democracy movement is the activist elements in civil society, which to quote Prof. Claude Ake include the human rights lobby, minority rights groups, movements for the empowerment and participation of marginalized groups such as women and youth, students and labour the Church and the media. The Opposition in Cameroon built organic linkages with these political entrepreneurs in the early 90s but the relationship has strained due to so many reasons. Yet it was the youths that gave power to succeeding Opposition leaders turned Presidents in Senegal like Abdoulaye Wade in 2000 and Macky Sall in 2012; it is the feminization of power policy that Paul Kagame of Rwanda survives on, the former Opposition leader and former Prime Minister Morgan Tswangirai of Zimbabwe fed on workers union (himself a product of it) and on the church. The enigmatic Julius Sello Malema of the Economic Freedom Fighters party in South Africa has within a short period made inroads into South African politics through his robust and populist civil society engagement.
In my opinion the real battle for the sustenance of democracy in Cameroon lies on what happens around the 2018 Presidential elections. Politics is the art of the possible and no one can rule out the possibility of the incumbent CPDM party Chairman’s voluntary disengagement from the 2018 Presidential elections. Were he to do so then the party would have to be jettisoned into searching from their pack a moderate yet benevolent disciplinarian leader whose mission should be to walk the talk of balanced development, equitable resource allocation and the open West Cameroon real or perceived identity of systemic victimhood.
On the other hand, the “successor-ship” hypothesis provides the Opposition with a beacon of hope. That is if the successor does not draw enough party consensus, it may force some of the Opposition of proposition militants in the CPDM to join camps with the Opposition of liberation, Opposition of cooptation and activist elements of the civil society to win fresh elections. If the successor does not command some charisma and aura, he (party successor) may lose elections to the Opposition Presidential candidate like it happened in Sierra Leone in 2007.
Were the incumbent CPDM Chairman to turn his back on the 2018 elections, he would have to assume a neutral statesman status (something which has been recurrent in his recent speeches) and not interfere with the electoral process. He has always wanted to be remembered as the person who brought democracy to Cameroon and it would be in his interest to leave the scene with that legacy. With a law that was adopted by Parliament in 2011 giving the President immunity from criminal procedure after office, the fear of quitting office and being pursued for criminal offences might have been allayed. Ahmed Tedjan Kabbah of Sierra Leone, in spite of his lackluster performance as President of Sierra Leone for over ten years has been praised for his non- interference in the 2007 electoral process which brought the Opposition to power. Mathieu Kerekou of Benin and Ould Ahmed Taya of Mauritania are of this same democratic school.
The second condition would be for the President in collaboration with all political beneficiaries to reform or reexamine elections in Cameroon.
Thirdly, the electoral law needs to be revised to allow Independent Candidates to run for Presidential elections without the infamous 300 signature clause. Related to this would be the need for a second round or run-off electoral process to be introduced during future Presidential elections. Still in this connection late statesman N.N Mbile was assertive to declare that the civil service, the judiciary and the army must be depoliticized.
Fourthly while the elite should resist the peddling of compensatory development advantages by parties, the Cameroonian electorate would have to rise above its present inertia blind party adherence and refuse to be cheaply bought over by allurements and material inducements (bags of rice and bottles of beer etc). The youth in particular must see the long term advantage of building a sustainable development policy for Cameroon rather than trivial immediate interests that border on greed and gluttony. This means constant political education should be provided by activist elements of the civil society with funding assistance from Development Agents.
In spite of all external odds, the Opposition in Cameroon still survives, albeit waning in numerical strength, controversial in ideological focus and riddled with leadership questions. This is symptomatic of the liberal democratic choice most African countries adopted rather than a peculiar disease with the Opposition in Cameroon. From all indications, the green tree of democratic entitlement has not yet yielded the yellow fruits of economic emporwerment. May be a new democratic transition bringing all active forces together in an ALL Cameroonian Congress may help chart a new course that would go beyond routine elections and usher in bold, creative and indigenous development programs that resonate with human and infrastructural development. But before then it would be necessary for the Opposition in Cameroon to shed off their embedded shifting political predatory metaphors of grievance, greed and griotism to embrace a new political patriotic dispensation of values, views and vision. For indeed the endgame of any political activity is not only to help citizens cross the Red Sea of oppression but to accompany them in their long journey of freedom until they reach the Promised Land of democratic development.
*Mwalimu George Ngwane is presently pursuing a Fellowship on Peace and Conflict studies at the University of Chulalongkorn, Bangkok, Thailand