35 Years in Power: Democratic Dividend or Decoy of Bellycracy?

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Monday, 06 November 2017 121 Views 0 Comments
35 Years in Power: Democratic Dividend or Decoy of Bellycracy?

Since November 6th, 1982, Cameroon has been ruled by one President. Today, November 6th 2017, marks 35 years since Paul Biya became Cameroon’s second President. As you’d expect, there are those who see in Paul Biya a man whose special qualities it might take Cameroon another hundred years to see in another person. This lot will join the ruling CPDM trumpeters in celebrating 35 years of Paul Biya’s tenancy at the Unity Palace. I couldn’t help question the motives for such a celebration.

From my eating experience, I have learnt that you don’t spit a sugarcane bite before chewing all juice out of it. And sometimes, when the bite is too big, it is safer to keep chewing until it is thinned out enough not to injure the corners of the mouth on exit. My eating experience also taught me that one should keep the hand that feeds one clean and one must be careful not to bite it lest they face difficulties eating. In effect, the “philosophy of the stomach” (as I call it, or “bellycracy” if you like) is the only reason Biya’s 35 years in power is celebrated by some. They want to render the sugarcane they eat juiceless before they can drop it; and they judge it immoral to bite the hand that provides the sugarcane. Perhaps, there are more reasons to celebrate.

For them, Cameroon can have no alternative to Paul Biya to lead them forward in their development agenda. They see everyone else as a bunch of incompetents, only fit in lower positions and to be led. Their response to anyone who says otherwise seems to suggest that it would be easier to search for a grain of salt in sand than to find anyone with presidential qualities among Cameroon’s 23.3 million people. According to them, Biya is not Moses that is supposed to hand over to Joshua to lead Cameroonians to Canaan; he must deliver them into the era of Vision 2035. At that time, Cameroon will be a place of pilgrimage. Fear of blasphemy makes me hesitant to compare, but I mean something like Mecca in Saudi Arabia or the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Our duty, they presuppose, is to not interfere with his great plan for us but rather humbly admit that we are misguided in thinking that any living Cameroonian can drive us towards a better future.
In the face of this lunacy, the possibility of a bright future for Cameroon looks ever more remote. Many other Cameroonians at home and in the diaspora are demanding political transition and democratic regime change, instead of celebrating 35 years of underdevelopment and bad governance.

Often described as “Africa in miniature” because of its unique cultural diversity, Cameroon is endowed with significant natural resources, including oil and gas, high value timber species, minerals, and agricultural products, such as coffee, cotton, cocoa, maize, and cassava. Its modest oil resources and favorable agricultural conditions provide the country with one of the best-endowed primary commodity economies in Sub-Saharan Africa. The country also boasts one of the highest literacy rates on the continent. The conditions on the ground that favor the emergence of the country as the face of Africa abound. Yet, this is nothing more than a very good dream. The actualization of its potential is hampered by persistent problems characteristic of bad governance.

In the early 1990s, a democratic tide swept over Africa. Many hoped democracy would change the way many African governments operated. However, the democratic advance soon suffered many setbacks. Even when the gains have not been lost in Africa, it is doubtful it will affect the way the Cameroon government operates.The one-party multipartism in Cameroon gives the Biya regime too much latitude to abuse power.

The one-party multipartism in Cameroon gives the Biya regime too much latitude to abuse power. The executive arm of government is led by the same old faces who often exercise discretionary power over their department’s affairs, and particularly its budgets unencumbered by any formal means of auditing. In such conditions, these politicians make uninformed, often false, statements at press conferences about the state of the nation without blinking an eye. The legislative arm of government itself, is made up of parliamentarians and senators who seem not to know well that they represent the voices of the people, rather than the voice of “Popo”. The integrity of the judiciary and other institutions in the country is inherently flawed as they operate at the beck and call of the President himself. Cameroonian courts have a reputation for slow dispensation of justice, but more so for its rarity in ruling justly.

Public offices are made up of understaffed, poorly paid and often poorly qualified civil servants working with insufficient resources and outdated equipment. The country can barely keep up with the demands of the basic needs for sanitation, policing, schools, transportation, electricity and water supplies. It can do even less for the rural area that provides it with most of its revenue. In any event, corruption and abuse of power are so widespread that many Cameroonians now regard their state with suspicion at best, hostility at worst. They do what they can to leave the country and seek greener pastures elsewhere or, for lack of these opportunities, settle for the peanuts the state can provide.
Independence in the 1960s had promised freedom, schools, jobs, and clinics. Now, the Cameroonian state offers its people decreasing security, economic well-being, opportunities for education, and the most basic healthcare. People are turning their backs on the state and this further undermines the state’s legitimacy and its ability to play an effective role in development.

A popular response has been to turn against the state, evidenced by increasing government opposition in the form of regionalist movements in the North West and South West regions calling either for a review of the system of government to consider federalism or real decentralization, not as the ideal solutions, but merely the best of a set of undesirable options including secession, a coup d’etat or a descend to civil war. Whatever various aggrieved groups seek, the hope is to shorten the gap between the administered and administrators: the delivery of services and mobilization of people in support of development may rise, government scrutiny will increase and the actions of public officials will be closely monitored. In turn, people can have an increased role in influencing policy and will more likely be involved in development programs and thereby make these programs more effective.
But political largesse has dried up at just the moment demand for it has risen. Unsurprisingly, we see the state using its military, unschooled in human rights observation, to intimidate innocent Cameroonians crying for better than their government currently offers them. As such, arbitrary arrests of political opponents and indiscriminate killing of civilians has become the order of the day. This has not only served the purpose of further questioning the regime’s style of governance, but also its legitimacy. No wonder, this has opened a window of opportunity for rising political elites to challenge for the presidency come 2018.

A state so short of leadership and so distant from its citizenry can do little to spearhead development. If anything, it may actually hinder development. In fact, for more than three decades, the country has been progressively transformed into a rotting limbo of underdevelopment to the extent it is now stinking of nothingness.

And Mr Biya, and his sycophants, still don’t seem to think more than three decades in power should be enough.

Nuff said.

Hubert Kinkoh

Hubert Kinkoh

Hubert Kinkoh is an independent research consultant from Cameroon . He is a holder of an MA in Peace Studies and International Relations from Hekima Institute of Peace Studies and International Relations, Nairobi-Kenya. He enjoys reading, traveling, cooking, sports and making friends.

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