All eyes are now on the Cameroons, to see if an African president at 86 would be willing to take the fall or make a major compromise in order to save his people and his country. Or if he begrudgingly believes only God can remove him to rephrase Robert Mugabe.
For a small and poor country like the Cameroons where many people depend on the government, the president is perhaps revered as God’s representative on earth. Even Cardinal Tumi seems to have conditioned his Christians into that way of thinking.
We do not need to look further than his words in the 2018 disputed elections.
“I would say only one thing: let’s take everything as God’s will, because no one wields power on earth which doesn’t come from God. Those who govern us will render account of how they governed us to God. So, let’s not create problems for them. Let’s accept (the results) and wait for another occasion to choose another person,” the cardinal said
Cardinal Tumi is perhaps one of the most respected religious leaders in the Cameroons if not the most respected. Tumi has never been known for his political acumen so it must be a great challenge trying to navigate the political crisis in the Cameroons.
Tumi is a very religious person and so there is no doubt about his belief that leaders are sent by God. That may also mean stealing elections is also the will of God like Jacob stole Esau’s blessings. Protesting to challenge authority may not be the will of God and the list goes on.
We can only imagine the effect the many years of inculcating such beliefs have had on the Cameroonian psyche. It is no surprise that the country has moved from one dictatorship to another with the country completely paralyzed and unable to mobilize for change.
Mr. Biya probably by now knows he won’t be remembered as a great leader by any stretch of the imagination. His people will always remember him as a dictator. One that was willing to go to any length to stay in power. Even if that meant destroying the very foundations of his country.
He has one chance to put his name in history as the one dictator who finally chose to follow the will of his people when he realized how determined they were even in silence to see change.
Like every dictatorship, Mr. Biya is well known for using the brutality of his security forces to achieve unpopular ends. Whether that is rigging elections, quelling protests over the rise in prices of basic goods or legitimate strikes by labour unions for better pay.
Cameroon is not a very rich country and that depends on who you ask. The country’s main export is oil and that amounts to 40% of all exports. How much oil is actually pumped is a national security secret, classified they say. One of many secrets that help fuel corruption in the country.
With the government heavily dependent on natural resources and its people dependent on the government, few are willing to stretch their imaginations beyond what the government offers.
Here is where the concept of small government will go a long way in transforming the people into a creative force to be reckoned with. And here lies the irony, the people want big government to solve all their problems and to blame it when it can’t.
The government is under a mountain of debts and has to borrow a lot more to make badly needed investments in infrastructure, education and a whole host of other sectors. Seeing the country mired in conflict must give everyone pause as to the trajectory of the country.
Mr. Biya’s regime has so far failed to respond positively to the demands of the people in the Southern Cameroons, choosing instead the force of the barrel as a solution.
After months of resisting dialogue, Mr. Biya now seems to understand the importance of dialogue. He has called for a national dialogue primarily to address the conflict in the Southern Cameroons. A conflict he has always termed a fight against terrorism.
There is much pessimism about what the national dialogue can achieve given that the separatist leadership fighting for a free Ambazonia is still in Biya’s jail. Biya made clear in his call for a national dialogue that these are not the people he intends to dialogue with.
The regime says it wants a national solution. After abandoning the much talked about Swiss dialogue to announce its own national dialogue, many believe the government’s ulterior motive is to do nothing as always. Such beliefs are not unfounded as the regime only announced dialogue under the threat of sanctions.
Having been president for almost 4 decades, most Cameroonians have come to know Paul Biya simply as the Head of State. A title seemingly implying permanency. To many Cameroonians, Biya is more of a Head ‘off’ State as he has always been away from the State.
Mr. Biya has spent most of his time abroad at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva doing ‘business’ for his people. Most of whom still live in abject poverty as he lavishes abroad with an entourage often in the hundreds.
A month ago, protesters had to literally chase him out of his hideout in Geneva, his first home. Biya hurriedly boarded his plane the next day and headed back to his second home, the Cameroons.
These days he has been holed up in Yaounde, trying to figure out the mess he has left behind in the last 4 decades as president.
Perhaps, at 86 now, Mr. Biya is having seconds thoughts for being president. He took over a vibrant country. He is saddled with one on the brink of collapse.
Will he resign if that will bring much needed change and save his country? For someone who has known only how to dictate, he might have to be chased out of his palace before he dictates his own resignation to his people and save them.