Here is President Paul Biya literarily rising from the grave, 17 years after he gave his last unscripted interview to Yves Mouroussi of Radio Monte-Carlo. Even though in his characteristic enigma, he answers only the questions he wants to answer and ignores the rest, let us be thankful for small mercies.
Thanks to the Internet living up to its reputation as the most democratic medium for the dissemination of information, many Cameroonians are able to peek into the recesses of their enigmatic leader's mindset for the first time.
Apparently, it takes an interview by a foreign media to muscle Biya's hand to react to important issues, or to announce political changes when he is under intense international scrutiny and scathing criticism. What does this say of the instinctive imagination of the Cameroon press? They fail to hold Biya up by the leg, like a midwife holds up a newborn baby, tapping its tiny butt to emit its first cries announcing he is alive!
Biya comes across fundamentally as a man living a prosaic life in a jiffy-bag in suburbia. A prehistoric man ahead of his time; his time being the Mousterian era with other cavemen. He is so out of touch with reality, gripped by delusions of his own intelligence. He actually thinks that for a leader not to grant interviews, but to keep a collection of his own speeches in some hidden corner is great thing. What a load of tosh!
While he covered his views on Sarkozy’s controversial Dakar speech with more verbiage, he tackled every other questions regarding Cameroon with less detail. It does not occur to him for instance that he epitomizes the kind of parochial and unimaginative African that Sarkozy describes, even though he is quick to agree with him.
However, Biya admits that “giving interviews means keeping abreast with the changing times.” If a live interview is the motivational fulcrum from which to elicit grand political revelations and magnanimous gestures from Biya, then our Press has failed woefully to use this platform and be socially responsible.
On that premise let us now analyze the interview going on a point-by-point basis on some of the more momentous revelations.
Biya admits that there is an issue with corruption in Cameroon, and that there are spirited steps taken to tackle that. On that score, Cameroonians and the world should be able to judge Biya on what he says, by the concretization of such a reality. Here is what he said globally, when he was asked if he is determined to stamp out corruption in Cameroon:
“Corruption is a scourge not unique to Cameroon. We are resolved to stamp it out. We are making progress through these bureaus; the national anticorruption commission and the agency for combating money laundering…”
The interviewer put it to him directly that he should be careful about making such public utterances as he is under scrutiny now from the parties with vested economic and diplomatic ties with Cameroon; principally France and the European Union. Biya gave an example using the Cameroon Ports, where the Government has started realizing more revenue since the launching of the anticorruption initiative, which was a mandatory condition for the cancellation of the debts.
He also talked about how salaries have been somewhat homogenized between civil servants so that some do not received too much more than others. This, according to him is part of the initiative to redress the economic and instill some moral rectitude.
The SDF representative Monsieur Jean-Paul Tchakote missed a great opportunity with the distinct lack of focus in his question, by failing to put Biya in a corner. He started well, but tangled himself in a forest of propaganda—I felt that was a missed the opportunity to ask Biya directly about his heavy-handed approach towards the opposition.
Whether constrained by his time slot or galvanized by his political leanings, he compressed a loaded question and put it to Biya in a bundle. Biya used the multiplicity of the questions to obfuscate and preach about the successes registered by his own party, and scored a point against Fru Ndi by pointing out that Fru Ndi chose the venue for their meeting but he was a no-show.
Calixthe Beyalla’s poignant all-embracing questions were responded to with the most ridiculous copout, i.e., that Cameroon shouldn’t be greedy if its presence in international organizations has declined! Blah blah. He then tackled the less risqué question and as usual used spurious generalizations to refer to issues that are relevant and uniquely applicable to Cameroon.
Louis Keumayou, President of the Panafricanist Press Association was forthright, very well put! Very important question. If there is truth in the rumour that Biya plans to change the constitution in order to perpetuate his stay in power.
Biya’s clearly does not see himself as one of the pillars and primordial prehistoric dinosaurs of a past we are anxious to get rid of, completely out of touch with the reality of globalization of which Sarkozy speaks. He is not familiar with irony or sarcasm.
Most of the questions thrown his way were greeted with his customary ubiquitous “c’est un débat intéressant” which we have often known him to use. He simply ploughed through with his answers like a farmiliar ritual. On this issue, the Cameroon constitution should be a point of reference. But he tried to wiggle out of the succession question with a noncommittal response, keeping his options open, and actually admitting that the constitution is not cast in stone. If he plans to suspend the constitution in 2011 to perpetuate his stay, we have this to refer to.
Let us wait to watch the aftershocks of these initiatives, and see where the chips eventually fall. If this is just one of Biya’s apocryphal platform performances, then we have a point of reference.
That is left for us to ponder over. If it’s going to take us another twenty-five years, then it will be our tragedy not of Biya’s making.