By Innocent Chia
As the World celebrates the sanguineous unwinding of Muammar Ghadaffi’s 42-year old dictatorial regime in Libya, chants of “Biya must go” in Cameroon are increasingly becoming a preface to “Eto’o for President!” Eto’o Fils, world acclaimed 30 year-old goal-scoring soccer wonder-boy from Cameroon just signed a contract with a little known Russian club to make him the highest paid world soccer player at over half a million dollars a week, according to the AP!The Chia Report looks exclusively at why an Eto’o Fils candidacy could be so right, it will practically dwarf the field of pretenders who are lining up to become runners-up to the 29 year-old incumbency of President Biya…
His name recognition - The Eto'o Brand
Biya has to organize concerts like he recently did at his Mvo Meka ranch to pump up support from the world of largely mendicant musicians whose miseries they can trace right back to the door steps of the bankrupt policies of the Biya regime. But Eto’o has, without question, has been at the forefront promoting art and music in the artistically blessed land that is home to Jazz Legends Manu Dibango and Richard Bona; the afro-jazz/blues singer Henri Dikongue; Bikutsi greats such as Les Tetes Brulees, Nkodo Si Tony, k-Tino; unforgettable Makossa players like Black Style, Petit Pays; folklore mesmerizers Ali Baba, Anne Marie Ndzie, Prince Afoakom… Eto’oo has been a financial messiah for some of the musicians who express open appreciation in their lyrics. Indeed, the same Eto’o has gone as far as putting up bail for one of the finest contemporary Makossa musician, Longue Longue on charges from his estranged wife of allegedly raping her niece.
It is not only that the name Eto’o easily conjures the most recognition and positive vibe among Cameroonians at this critical junction. The truth is that his competition is mostly unknown outside close circles of family, friends, some non-card carrying supporters and sympathizers from the Diaspora and social media – Facebook and e-groups. At a recent grand wedding at the Mont-Febe Hotel in Yaounde, it was painfully clear in conversations among the predominantly Northern elite guests that one in a hundred (1/100) guests know the name Kah Walla or that she is running for the position. This can be particularly disheartening for a candidate that takes her candidacy as seriously as Kah Walla. One can safely bet that Eto’o has as much name recognition as President Biya, and perhaps more.
The Money – It is so beaucoup…
The net worth (take home salary after taxes) of Eto’o before his pending out-of-space contract with Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala stands a hair over $40 million (18 billion CFA Frs). If he successfully completes the medicals, the deal signing will increase his worth by close to $30 million a year with the Russian Club…You go figure for yourself that his big heart may just lead him to sponsor the campaigns of the other Presidential pretenders like he spent $1.3 million on designer watches for each of his teammates on the Cameroon Indomitable Lions national team after they qualified for the 2010 World cup in South Africa.
Eto’o will not need to shuttle across continents like Kah Walla in hopes of raising $10,000; Ayah Paul to raise any bit that is better than what he does not have; Jean Jacques Ekindi a.k.a, le chasseur du Lion… the Lion hunter (supposedly hunting down Biya) whose little personal wealth has withered to ashes since government decided to crack down on his businesses. The only other likely local candidate from the field of pretenders may be Osih Joshua, Vice President and talking head of the SDF. But his net worth - like that of his peers - is unknown and certainly pales in comparison to the $40 million of Eto’o Fils and certainly chop change for Paul Biya’s estimated net worth of $200 – 300 million.
His education and experience
Papa Ahidjo was a primary school leaver and post office worker who had never travelled out of Cameroon prior to his ascension to the Presidency of the Republic of Cameroon. He was green to the ears in several areas, including politics…or so… his opponents pitched. But the country today, in general, agrees that President Ahmadou Ahidjo certainly had a vision for the fatherland where the much more educated Biya has shown little to no vision and leadership. Ahidjo handpicked and handed over power to Paul Biya in 1982 with a positive balance sheet. President Ahidjo had 5-year development plans that were evaluated and re-evaluated as need arose. Biya and his clique have mastered the art of off-the-cuff leadership, and decisions are made at the spur of the moment. It is a reactionary leadership with no sense of discipline or direction. It therefore must not surprise anyone that Biya has most of his closest aides locked up in the country’s maximum security prison or hiding away in faraway lands for any number of reasons, including charges of corruption, mismanagement of state funds and outright ambition to seize power from Biya.
Samuel Eto’o does not have any of the fancy education of President Biya, who became President of Cameroon when Eto’o was just a little over one (1) year old (Eto’o was born March 1981). Kah Walla, Hon. Paul Ayah, J.J Ekinde, Osih Joshua and the rest of the pretenders have probably spent as many years in school as Eto’o has on soccer fields. But there is no denying that while they all attended and graduated from the life of school, Eto’o Fils has been accumulating medals and accolades from the school of life.
As there are many who argue that Biya is a good guy who has surrounded himself with bad guys, there is an argument to be made for the quality of men that Eto’o has surrounded himself with. He has been surrounding himself with men and women that have their eyes set on the goal at all times, making sure that he keeps scoring goals and bringing victories/titles/championships to the clubs that he plays with. Better still, Eto’o has arguably interacted with more men and women of power, authority and influence than the field of Pretenders put together. These networks will be key in an Eto’o presidency as he should be able to open his rolodex and invite vested Cameroonians at home and abroad, as well as international partners, to return and invest in Cameroon. Markets and businesses love stability. But venture capitalists, both foreign and local, who are interested in investing in Cameroon, predict nothing but uncertainty and chaos should Biya win. Eto'o is a businessman in his own right and understands this.
His philanthropic efforts on his dime
Apart from the questionable action of spending over $1.3 million in designer watches for his Indomitable Lions teammates and management, Samuel Eto’o has shown that he walks his talk. Five years ago he created a Charity known as Fundesport, a non-for-profit organization that ambitions to train soccer players and leaders in all spheres of life in Cameroon and the World. Earlier on this year, the skipper added the construction of a Pediatric Hospital in Douala, the economic Capital of Cameroon. Students at the University of Yaoundé have equally benefited from the man’s magnanimity. He has awarded scholarships to help financially distressed students, as well as those who have shown excellent academic promise. His generous spirit and forethought are not limited to the territorial borders of Cameroon.
He was recently in Libreville Gabon with President Ali Bongo, inaugurating the Eto’o Foundation. Like in Cameroon, the Star declared that he will be partnering with other soccer stars - including Didier Drogba of Cote d’Ivoire - to construct soccer facilities that would give kids the same opportunity he was offered by a complete stranger at the age of 14 years. These initiatives speak volumes about his philosophy on leadership and government – creating conditions and opportunities in which citizens can become all they want to be. He is showing it on the field of play and through his networks that he genuinely cares for people everywhere, beginning with his native Cameroon.
Critics will point to the law of the land (Article 6, Section 5 of the 1996 Constitution) that lays down the age limit of candidates for President of Cameroon at age 35 and above. But this is a country that changes statutes for no good reason than to please incumbent Biya and the few privileged that orchestrate and sustain his Presidency for egotistical reasons. Look no further than the recent law that eliminated term limits in favor of life terms for the incumbent. It is not only in total disregard for the populace, it is a showmanship of power that defies common reason, current geopolitical developments and outlook. Indeed, the current leadership in Cameroon looked at its children and grandchildren and said: “Screw you”!
Only the people of Cameroon have the power to tell the dictators that “It isn’t so. Power belongs to us”! Biya and his parliament just opened Pandora’s Box by decreeing a new law that allows the Cameroon Diaspora to vote in some select embassies. With elections slated for an unknown date in October and beyond, the people of Cameroon can equally force the legislature and executive to make the same exceptions to the law as they did to the Presidential life term. Cameroonians must have learnt just how powerful they are when they took to the streets in February of 2008 and forced the Biya regime to make modest changes to the prices of some basic food commodities and gas prices. There is plenty of time left for Vox Popoli, Vox Dei – The Voice of the People is the Voice of God – for the people of Cameroon to decide that Eto’o has what it takes to be the President that they deserve.
Soccer Stars that ventured in this area in Africa have known little, if no success. Liberian Soccer golden boy, George Weah may have conquered hearts and minds in European stadia and soccer fields across the African continent, yet he was humbled in a second-round run-off loss to the lone female African President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf during the 2005 Presidential elections in Liberia. Critics will hurriedly point to this loss of George Weah and make parallels with an Eto’o run as frivolous and doomed because it is too late in the game for Eto’o to strap his pair of boots. But that is all foolish talk from a place of fear that seeks to protect Eto’o.
The truth of the matter is that Eto’o has never run away from any challenge. Indeed, he has said in several interviews that he loves taking on new challenges, including his new 3 year contract at $568,000 a week with the Russian club, Anzhi Makhachkala. Yet, the signing indicates one who is not only looking at established and strong clubs in Europe’s prestigious leagues to play in. He is fishing for challenges - and making beaucoup d’argent in the process – including clubs that he will carry to the finish line. Much definitely, the signing of the contact puts a dimmer on the projections for a Presidential run. Whatever his final decision comes down to, there is no denying that an Eto’o presidency will attend to the needs of Cameroonians.
He is one who slept in poverty, dreamt of his future and woke up in pursuit of his dreams to be the best at soccer. He has achieved it and is a role model to millions of Cameroonians who have been reminded on national television by Biya that they are not as good as other nationals. Eto’o will be there when planes crash on the country’s run ways; he will be there if another Lake Nyos incident occurs before Southern Cameroons becomes independent. You can bet that he will not disappear in transit from business trips to China only to reapper a month later without explanation. He will not spend luxury vacations paying $30,000 a night on the taxpayers dime in Europe or anywhere else. Eto'o is the man for the Presidency of Cameroon. It is his to win if he elects to run.