By Innocent Chia
It does not surprise many Cameroonians and avid observers - as much as it is discombobulating to the greater majority, defying commonsense and the prospect for a peaceful transition in Cameroon - that Biya is hanging on for another term in power. Barely two days after setting the date for the much anticipated 2011 elections on October 9th, Biya's team moved swiftly, depositing his registration fee into the treasury before dateline at end of business on Wednesday 8/31. The dateline for contenders to be registered is Sunday, September 4th. His mere registration as CPDM candidate and incumbent guarantees him victory - even before the ballot is cast - and hands disheartening defeat on a golden platter both to the citizens of La Republique du Cameroon who are yearning for a fresh start and, especially, to some foreign nationals of Southern Cameroons who are arguably far too eager to trade personal power for the perpetual enslavement of their masses.
Last weekend I was in Minnesota for the wake of a luminary, Emmanuel Nyanganji, that was called to the Lord earlier in the month following a bout with Pancreatic Cancer. A scene I witnessed at the wake has ceaselessly occupied my mind, weaving itself as the mother of analogies to the perfect storm that is preparing to unleash in Cameroon... It was this wonderful lady whose singing was "awful", I said to a friend, my index finger deeped into, and protecting, my ears from the screeching of the microphone. "She would definitely be in American Idol's worst voices" my friend said, leaning over towards my left unmanned ear to make sure I heard.
The two of us were still standing together when a beaming lady greeted us. "Hello" she said. "Hi", I returned. "That was wonderful, wondeful singing my dear!", my friend said. I was shocked and petrified out of my mind by the conversation and the implications. Instantly, my mind skirted off in all directions wondering how often amiable flattery breeds monstrosity in us all. When the self-ordained chorister stepped away I could not help but ask my friend what that was all about. I anticipated a shrugging of the shoulders, which I got. But my friend cautioned..."I will not spoil her day. If it makes her happy, so be it".
While you think about that for a second, let me layer this second scenario that is not necessarily complimentary of the first. I was recently introduced to an acquaintance who suffers from excessive weight - over 300 pounds - but he cannot say no to food so long as the stomach has room for it, especially junk food. Because of his obesity, he has been having issues with high blood pressure, gout, and is diabetic. Among friends, he is the funniest in the bunch and quite the man's man. When we set out to visit with him recently, my friend ordered extra large fries and extra large everything. I listened to the rest of the company make jokes about his weight. When we got to his abode, we met him enjoying a light beer while some pork ribs were getting ready on the grill. But he was starving and could not wait to open up the pack of junk food that was brought along for him. "Guys" he called out attention... "You think I lost some weight?" "You look great!" the 'guys' all said in unison.
Paul Biya has a bunch of "friends" who have been feeding him fat and out of shape with a pack of lies that he is a God-send without whom Cameroon will self-destruct - the motions of support; the constitutional changes for a life presidency; the bastardization of political parties; the incarceration of political rivals; etc etc. The President has been feasting like there is no tomorrow, completey disconnected with the reality that surrounds him from within and without. His Ministers, including the Communications handkerchief, are quick to point out that the "Arab Springs" - that have successfully ousted dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya - cannot get a foothold in Cameroon because there is "advanced democracy" in Cameroon. May be Cameroonians are that predictable. So did Mubbarak of Egypt think about his people.
Supporters and beneficiaries of the regime are cheering on that Biya is a wonderful chorister, even if all they can hear from the squeaking microphone is the cry of desperate unemployed Cameroonian youths who have been promised, time and time again, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The President promises 25,000 jobs to over 3 million graduates. But the real purpose is to raise funds to pay salaries from the backs of unemployed citizens who have to purchase stamps and pay other administrative fees worth CFA 50,000frs per candidate for a complete application file. In total, over CFA 1.5 billion CFA poured into the state treasury. How many of those 25,000 applicants have been hired? When will they receive their first salary? In Cameroon it takes an average of a year to process paperwork before a civil servant is paid their first salary.
The conundrum that Biya faces is not an easy one. While many have pointed to his last minute action to register as the CPDM candidate as evidence of indecision, other close sources have pointed elsewhere to his (in)security should he decide to call it quits. These sources consistently point out that Biya has serious trust issues with anyone. There is no one he trusts can guarantee that they will leave him alone and not call him to justice for crimes committed over the quarter century. It is told that he wants to retire in the comfort of his many mansions and to retain the freedom to fly in and out of the country at leisure, without fear of prosecution, be it posthumous. He remembers all too well that he never granted the late Ahmadou Ahidjo the same privileges.
Biya's bet at the moment is to stay in power until the final call from up above comes. That bet too is seriously flawed and revealing of the man's true character: He cares less what happens to his family after he is gone. He does not envision the possibility of Cameroonians chastising Chantal and the kids to the ends of the world; he does not envision a world where his assets will be frozen - tied up as they are in the pseudonyms and other identities in Europe and elsewhere. And what about the aftermath of Cameroon when Biya dies in power?
If there is one thing that Biya and an unflattering number of Cameroonians seem to agree on, it is the inevitability of death as the ultimate power transitioning tool for Cameroon. Cameroonians have, for the most part, thrown in the towel and accepted this to be their lot. Indeed, some will happily tell you that Biya is God's will for Cameroon. It does not take a rocket scientist that the majority of those that agree with this fallacy are, themselves, looking at the allure of power without the responsibilities that come with it.
But there is another school of thought that has lost consecutive battles with Biya. These insiders have made the argument, not once or twice, that the best gift Biya can present his docile population is to organize an open, free and fair election. Even within that school of thought, there is a division. Some would prefer for him to run as a candidate and others think he should just step away from it and ensure the success of the process without any interference. The riding logic within this circle is that Cameroonians and history will be more forgiving of him if he washes his hands like Pontus Pilate. But again, there is fear over the uncertainty that no one will grant him immunity or exempt him from prosecution.
In all of this, Biya is probably feeling like he has hit another home run with the conspicuously high number of Anglophone candidates that are willing to legitimize his re-election. It is yet more firepower and time that the SCNC and other secessionist movements for an Independent Southern Cameroons are losing. Biya would rather have the world talk about his election rigging and dictatorship than spend a minute talking about an Independent Southern Cameroons. But the scenario of Biya adding to his indefinite term is seen favorably by this fringe of Southern Cameroonians who point out that Biya was handed power by Ahidjo and Biya should hand over power to an "Patriotic Aboriginal Anglophone of West Cameroon Extraction. It is a position whose detractors not only critisize its undemocratic premise, they have pointed out that Southern Cameroons does not need a token president to right the injustices that its people have been subjected to in 50 years. Nothing short of an Independent and free nation is accpetable.