By Kangsen Feka Wakai (Originally published in Pambazuka News)
This is the problem with Cameroon: All power in the country rests in the hands of one man, the President - Paul Biya.
He is the commander-in-chief-of the armed forces, the Fon of Fons [Chief Monarch amongst all monarchs], the chief magistrate of the land, head treasurer and of course chief legislator.
Truth be told, most of those passing for legitimate legislators and representatives of the people, and they know it, owe their seats to his benevolence. To say the least, Cameroon is a one sophisticated scheme of a neo-colonial entity.
In Cameroon, the president decides when elections are held and who participates in them. He initiates, writes and executes the rules of the contest. And as the sole architect of Cameroon’s nascent democracy, he has the executive privilege of appointing an impartial electoral commission to run the elections. During presidential elections he funds his own campaign and those of his rivals. His appointees declare and certify election results. By the way, in his 25 years in power, he has never lost an election. His party has never lost an election either. Besides, he is his party. His youthful image adorns party uniforms. He is his party's official mascot.
One of the problems facing Cameroon today is that the President has too much power. He knows he has too much power and like most rulers of his inclination uses that power to his utmost advantage with impunity. Biya is accountable to no one and uses that twist of misfortune as a means to serve his ends even if it means drowning an entire nation of over 16 million people in the process.
He is drunk with power but skillful and tactful in his execution of it. And like any effective dictator employs a team of illusionists and reality crafters to perpetuate the lie that has is his reign. The national radio, television and press corps combined form the core of his personal public relations firm. They are a much disciplined regiment and have been loyal to their paymaster.
In Cameroon, the national media is not an instrument of nation building. Its sole purpose is to glorify and celebrate a man whose sole preoccupation has been his own entrenchment in power. The idea of building a viable nation that can compete with other nations in the global economic and political realm is frightening to such a man. It is alien in his worldview and counterproductive to his motives.
So, every decree and decision is meant to tighten his grip on his subjects. The thought of a citizenry confident enough to demand what is theirs by right: freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not compatible with the Biya agenda. The idea of empowering Cameroonians threatens his reign; it is a thought that renders him sleepless. It is a pebble in his shoes.
This is where the issue of fear comes into play in the rusty machinery that runs Cameron. For Biya and his cohorts, fear is a reliable ally in their scheme to impose themselves on the country. It has become their weapon of choice in their assault on the collective psyche of Cameroonians. They employ it will face no judge or jury. In Cameroon, the men and women in uniform are above the law. In fact, they are the law. They arrest, judge, prosecute and execute.
Earlier this year, another instance of the brutality and excesses of the Cameroon police took place in Limbe, South West Province. A Cameroonian citizen but a resident in Germany was visiting relatives when one day he had an encounter with the local police. It would be his last encounter with anyone. A few minutes after a few words were exchanged he was lying in his own pool of blood, murdered. He had been beaten to death on the side of the road in broad daylight. No one intervened. No one can intervene. No one was held accountable and no one will. That is Biya’s Cameroon.
In Biya’s Cameroon riot police shoot live bullets at peaceful protesters.
In Biya’s Cameroon let it be noted for the record that in 2008, civilians can still be detained and beaten to death for verbal infractions with the police. How is this possible in this haven of peace and stability? It is possible because the man who has preponderance of power over all levels of power, Biya, has created the kind of police officer and soldier that serves his and only his interest, not the interest of the citizens they are supposed to serve and protect. The role of the soldier in Cameroon is to serve and protect the President’s interest. The military perpetuate his misrule and are paid generously. They are the first and last lines of defense against freedom in the battlefield of opinions and ideas in Cameroon.
It is their role, the military, to stuff the leechlike gods lording over Cameroon with the carcasses of protesting youth in this season of feasting. Their belches can be heard resonating from the damned walls of Etoudi across a landscape blighted with abuse of power, brutality, corruption, intolerance, lies, misrule and tyranny. They carry the laughter of the remorseless tyrant and his cohorts.
Their laughter is demented and nightmarish, one that rewards evil and celebrates vice. It is making exiles of a people. It is making beggars of a people. It is making thugs of a people. The stench of their vices is putrid. It is nauseating to the human soul. In their shortsightedness, the rulers of Cameroon pollute an entire people’s collective future as a compliment to an already tainted and bloodied past.
Geo-politically, Cameroon is within the French sphere of influence and enjoys some of the privileges that come with being a member of that unenviable fraternity. Biya has friends in high places. He owes his survival to those friends in high places. Like his brother, Idriss Derby in Chad and Omar Bongo in Gabon, he knows if push comes to shove, his friends at the United Nations Security Council will come to his aid—a booster in his toxic tonic.
Therefore it comes as no surprise that recently in Douala, forces of law and order in keeping with their oath reacted with brute force at peaceful protesters demonstrating against unjustified fuel price hikes, the banning of a popular radio stations and against an unpopular government bent on imposing itself on yet another generation of Cameroonians.
Between Saturday, February 23rd and Monday the 25th, five people have been killed in Douala and scores have been wounded. According to news reports, there was widespread looting and chaos in certain parts of the port city.
This time around no one is being fooled. Cameroonians are very familiar and intimate with the Biya agenda. They are fed up with it. Kenya is branded in their consciousness. They know that no constitutional reform in Cameroon could be intended to strengthen non-existent democratic values or institutions. They are not blind. They also know that reforms initiated by an unscrupulous regime could not be in their interest. They know it is only meant to keep Paul Biya and his cohorts in power. They are not numb and will react appropriately.
It is time for the Paul Biya era to be vanquished from our collective memory!
*Kangsen Feka Wakai is a Houston based writer and journalist. He is the author of Fragmented Melodies, a collection of poems available on amazon.com