By Francis Wache
On September 15-16, the Congress of the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, CPDM, will hold. The key item on the agenda will no longer be the designation of the party’s presidential flag bearer. Paul Biya, the Chairperson of the CPDM, as the party’s ‘natural presidential candidate’, submitted his documents to ELECAM on Sunday, September 4.
We must start by recalling that Biya has been President for the last 29 years running. Before then, he was Prime Minister from 1975 to 1982. And, even before that, he held the key position as Secretary General at the Presidency for four years. That gives you a total of 43 years that he has been exercising at the top echelons of the Cameroon Administration. For one man, that’s enormous; indeed, too much!
Before Biya convened the electorate October 9, everybody was holding their breath as the question burning every lip was: will Biya run or will he not? On Sunday, August 4, Biya put an end to the speculations and said he will run. We think he should not run. We are convinced that, as President for close to three decades, he has had more than enough opportunity to serve his fatherland. It’s now time for him to step down - honourably.
It is true that his cronies and pseudo-supporters have been sending an avalanche of so-called motions of support, calling on him to run. Rather than listening to such hypocritical, self-seeking voices, Mr Biya will do well to listen to his own voice and ponder about his legacy.
Ballyhoo/turncoats about multiparty politics dimabola
It is difficult to see what another mandate will do to enable Biya accomplish what he has been unable to perform for all these years. Because he has been in power for this long, Biya has, inevitably, become routine. Ideas have atrophied. Worse, Biya depends on other senile associates to run the State.
In order to prepare for a smooth transition, Biya must take measures aimed at curbing the concentration of power in the Executive arm of government. One reason why most leaders are toppled nowadays is because they concentrate all power in themselves. Ceausescu, for example, cumulated so much power that he became “the Head of State, the Head of the Communist Party, the Head of the Armed Forces, Chairman of the Supreme Council for Economic and Social Development, President of the National Council of Working People and Chairman of the Socialist Democracy and Unity Front.”
That is why it is imperative for Biya to start, before he leaves, with Elections Cameroon, ELECAM, the body charged with conducting elections in Cameroon. The body, from its composition, provides an ideal recipe for flawed elections. Since the membership comprises chiefly erstwhile potentates of the ruling CPDM party, it is difficult to see how those who yesterday could be seen on the rooftops vociferously chanting that Biya was God-sent could now allow some infidel to win. That would be asking for just too much.
Consequently, Mr Biya should revisit the outfit, review its composition and, preferably, carry out genuine consultations on who is neutral enough to sit on it. Cameroon teems with respected and reputed people with impeccable records for non-partisan credentials. A neutral and non partisan, that is, independent electoral commission would, indubitably, be Biya’s lasting legacy for Cameroon.
To be able to leave a respectable legacy, Biya should use all the powers at his disposal and postpone the election. During the interim, he should carry out far reaching reforms. If, for example, he were to put in place a genuine Independent Electoral Commission, he will, certainly, be remembered and revered for it. If, on the contrary, he lets ELECAM stay as it is, he should not be surprised when it turns out to be his nemesis, his undoing.
Another pressing act Biya must take before the curtain falls is to cut the bloated cabinet. While hordes of young graduates are unemployed, it is an aberration that a country like Cameroon should have about a hundred Ministers, that is, including those in the Public Service who enjoy the perks and privileges of the same rank. What, for instance, does Cameroon need Vice Prime Ministers for except to compensate cronies? Not only is the cabinet bloated, it indulges in ostentatious lifestyles that are provocative to the common people.
For instance, every Minister travelling from the capital city to the Regions is welcomed on the outskirts of the visited town by a motorcade with sirens blaring. If one totals only the fuel used on such occasions, this could put scores of young people on the job market. And this is no trifling matter because Ministers are, incessantly, visiting areas out of Yaounde. Ostensibly, they are on government business but, invariably, these occasions are exploited by profligate civil servants to earn whopping mission allowances.
Some of these missions, with a battery of state-of-the-art vehicles, are undertaken with the fickle reason of, say, installing a regional administrative minion. With Regional Governors said to represent the Head of State and Ministers in their Regions, wouldn’t it be more reasonable - and less costly - if they were allowed to perform such mundane task?
In this light, Mr Biya must take robust action to stem the prevailing State squander mania.
Biya needs to urgently take measures to tackle the problem of youth unemployment. The youth are becoming increasingly disenchanted, disillusioned. Preventive measures should be taken to stem their anger from boiling over.
Critics of the President are likely to scoff that this is too little too late. Yet, frankly, prompt action in the above areas would go a long way in diverting the popular discontent with the President. Besides, it should provide him a dignifying departure. Otherwise, the ingredients of an ignominious exit are already in place. President Biya should behave like a patient suffering from cancer that has been told by his doctor that the disease is terminal. While waiting for the fatal day, the patient uses the interlude in catching up on those things that had to be done but were ignored.
If, for the past 29 years, Biya, to paraphrase President Obama, could be said to have acted like Cameroon’s ‘strong man’, now is the time for him to ensure that he bequeaths ‘strong institutions’ to his nation. Writing about Biya recently in Focus on Africa, Elizabeth Ohene said: “But then look at Cameroon’s President Biya. Once upon a time, he was the breath of fresh air. Now 30 years later not even countless fashionable outfits from Parisian fashion houses can help him; he is wearied.”
If Biya defies conventional wisdom and insists on running, he, alone, should be ready to harvest the looming grapes of wrath. In the past, Biya has heard what he wanted to hear. Today, he must be told what he needs to hear. In his closing speech on Friday, Chairman Biya should include the portion below (let his speech writer polish my fractured French!):
“Je vous ai compris. Mais, je regrette de vous informer, chers camarades, que je ne briquerai pas un autre mandate a la tête de notre grand parti national. Permettez-moi de vous rappeler ce que je vous ai toujours dit : les hommes passent et passeront, la nation reste et restera.
C’est pourquoi après trois décennies a la tête de notre cher et beau pays, que j’ai servi avec dévouement et patriotisme, j’ai décidé, aujourd’hui, que le moment est venu pour moi de passer le bâton. Ensemble, continuons a construire un Cameroun pacifique et prospère. Vive la democratie avancee! »
Thunderous applause with rent the roof of the Congress and the speech will be immortalised in the likes of Martin Luther King Jnr’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, Barack Obama’s Accra announcements, Kennedy’s inaugural address, Charles de Gaulle’s London call to hapless Frenchmen…
I am conscious, of course, that what I’m doing is called wishful thinking. Nothing wrong with that, is there? Some nations have bloomed and blossomed because, even in the most dismal and intractable circumstances, some people continued to think - wishfully. Sadly, I doubt whether President Biya will heed this advice. But I’m convinced that history will record that I gave it.