By Innocent Chia
Following the pre-ballot victory of President Biya at the October 9th elections, the octogenarian, entering his 30th year of autocratic rule in the banana Republique du Cameroun, reshuffled his cabinet. One week after the Ministerial appointments, political pundits and many interested parties are dumbfounded, finding neither rhyme nor reason to the 34th cabinet. The Chia Report takes note of the black ink on white paper and steps further afield, even as three women win the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, to look at Biya’s consistent message to his daughters and women in general – study Women’s affairs and /or culture. It a message in dissonance with what the late first lady, Jeanne Irene Biya stood for as a nurse practitioner.
The Message to women
Over and over again, beginning 1982 when former President Ahmadou Ahidjo succumbed to French trickery and handed over the mantle of power to his Prime Minister, Paul Biya has averaged about 1.25 female Ministers in his cabinet. About a third or more of his 30 years as President, Mme Yaou Aissatou was Minister of Social and Women Affairs (1988-1997). While she was arguably well qualified for position, she was not the exception of educated and qualified Cameroonian women. Nevertheless, her fossilization in the same position – becoming the longest serving Minister in the same position and a close second to Sultan Njoya for Ministerial longevity – certainly concretized in the minds of many a Cameroonian another stereotype: just as the place of the woman in the house is in the kitchen, the place of the woman in Biya’s society is in the Ministry of Women Affairs. How she survived the testosterone flavors by herself all those years is another matter. But there certainly is no serious departure from this logic if one examines closely the other token female Minister, Tutu Muna of the Ministry of Culture. (We will not digress into her ability to enter secret societies – ngomba/manjong/nyamkwe etc).
The fact of the matter is that the number of women in Biya’s cabinet belies the truth, reinforcing, as it were, aforementioned stereotypes that are countercurrent to what the United Nations and the rest of World are recognizing in female leadership across the globe. There are more females at the beginning of each academic year across the combined public and private Universities in Cameroon. Over the last couple of decades, campuses are seeing more female students at every commencement, if not more, across several disciplines as their male counterparts. Where there is a disproportionate and questionable ratio of men to women is in the professional schools that have served, and continue serving, as nurseries for public officials and administrators, few of whom have risen in rank to become Ministers.
I have a flashback, this minute, of a defining moment from an innocent conversation that a few of my friends and I were having some 20 years ago while at the school of journalism in Yaounde. It was about where each one of us preferred to work upon completion from school. When it was Annie’s turn she said it did not matter to her because she was going to become a happy housewife. I cannot describe the shock on Mireille’s face, or her disbelief. She was one of two ladies with whom we were chatting, and one of seven in a class of 32. Up to this day, I do not know whether Annie was the clairvoyante amongst us. She may have seen the writing on the wall and accepted her role as an exemplary housewife. She could have been rejecting the notion that Biya and his government were not going to pigeonhole her aspirations to that of Minister of Women Affairs at best, much like we were asking her to prognosticate on her future as a journalist…
The World is steadfastly moving away from age-old ways that have relegated women to the soot of firewood kitchens by day, and nests for chauvinistic men whose heads are between thighs at night. Leadership can no longer be a preserve of men in any economic, political or social enterprise that wants to succeed. Cameroon cannot be stuck to its ways when next door Nigeria has seen a woman come and steer, as its Finance Minister, the destiny of the largest African country and economy. Cameroon cannot continue throwing bones at the female population when Liberia just voted President Sirleaf for a second term in power, and she is doing more to her country than Biya’s supporters can ever hope of their joker. By not appointing women in serious positions, Biya is telling his daughters, sisters and women in general, that he finds little value in them or their education.
The Northern Star
The reshuffled cabinet affirms, if any doubt there was, where the true levers of power are in Cameroon. The North is firmly in the pilot's seat and the South is co-piloting. It is not only a matter of the number of Ministers that are of Northern origin, it is also about the strategic positions that they are in. If anything to anybody that pays attention to politics, Biya’s government shows his hand as in a weak bargaining position where he had to appoint these Northerners or face his worst fears.
By now, the elections of October 9th should have told any doubting Thomas that Biya cares about one thing and one thing only – stay and die in power …well, I guess you can argue that makes for two things– staying and dying. But it is really all about power. All the tales about Biya being forced to stay in power against his will are good stories for the bars. This is one clear example where this saying is indisputably true: “Actions speak louder than words”. He submitted legislation to his National Assembly that changed the law and made him eligible for another Presidential term. The new law also voided term limits, consequently crowning him king of an economy that he has singlehandedly steered from prosperity into abject poverty.
But the Northerners know all too well how deep Biya has buried the economy. These are people that generally dig very shallow graves for the dead, and are facing the prospect of taking over an economy that sunk at feet greater than the Titanic in the Sea, and an unraveling political climate that has seen the toppling of Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Muammar Khadafy in Libya – all Muslims, as are most Northerners of influence in Cameroon.
No, they would rather seat this out and have Biya continue sullying himself and his Southern brothers. What else explains that those who are languishing in his jails are predominantly from the South and Center provinces? Would anyone with a sound knowledge of Cameroon say that Operation Epervier (Sparrow) has caught no Northerner in its trap? Forgive me, but I find that hard to believe, especially when one starts digging deep in the infamous Albatross presidential plane affair that is keeping Mebara and several others behind bars. But the Albatross affair is one that we will soon be revisiting in greater detail.
Rebuffing the South
As the number of Northerners in his government has grown, so has the number of Southerners from his native Center-South Regions – and East – diminished. While it is certainly true that it speaks to his weak hand in dealing with the Northern alliance, it also unveils a major cavity in his South-South relationships which have grown sour and bitter. With the exception of the griot Minister of Communication, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, Ministers from the North are generally from influential, royal and interconnected families.
President Biya has had a hard time, because of their united front, in sowing the seeds of discord and disunity that he has sown with reckless abandon in his native South. What has strengthened them has left him vulnerable and isolated. It explains why he has to be going by to frolics like Bidoung Kpatt and employing the revolving door. When he has not pitched Siamese twin against the other, he has thrown the light of the village into the prison depths of despair and thrown away their key to freedom. He has bred hatred for himself.
Inconsequential Southern Cameroons
On the same day that the cabinet was reshuffled I attended the wake of the valiant son and leader of the Northern Zone of Southern Cameroons, the indefatigable Hitler Mbinglo, whose sons and daughters are close friends of mine in the Chicago area – Shuffai Ahlen, Peter, Paul, Vera, Lilly. At the wake, I was saying, I not only felt sorrow for the family bereaved of their father. I was reminded that Pa Mbinglo had left this world having fought the fight as best as anyone could for the people of Southern Cameroons, but that there was more fighting ahead. Why?
Well, at some point of night, a young man asked me what I thought about the new cabinet. With a calm voice and smile I asked what was new about the cabinet. “Did you expect anything from it, I asked?” “Well, Yang is still the Prime Minister”, the young man said. A third person, who obviously had overheard us, joined the conversation. “And who is in the cabinet from the South West (Region)”, he asked. “The Minister of Forestry” retorted the young man who had engaged me in the conversation….
The conversation between the two of them carried on for a little longer. The more they talked the more I asked myself what part of the picture was not clear, or has not been made clear, to the Anglophone Cameroonian from the North and South West regions. What part of your “stranger” status is not clear? What part of your “enemy within the house” status do you need clarification on? How many times does a man need to call you a bastard before you understand that you are not his child?
Does it matter that Philemon Yang is as miserable as a man can be since he became Prime Minister. Does the man need to come and cry out for salvation? Look no further than the other Anglophone Prime Ministers who have preceded him: Achidi Achu thanked the President for saving his life because Biya supposedly wrote a check to cover his hospital bill when he was last hospitalized in Europe. Think about how much wealth Achidi purportedly has? But he was thanking Biya for saving his life. That is nothing less than telling the world that he left the position broke or that he is broke.
Or shall we look at Peter Mafany Musonge and his successor, Ephraim Inoni. It is no news that Musonge had become isolated and could not cope with the cold shoulder from his own people. He had nothing to show his people as evidence that Biya had given him the only spear and asked him to go hunt. He went back pleading for Biya to put him to work doing anything. Idem for Ephraim Inoni, whose wife has found post-power life in Cameroon hollow. Word on the highway is that she is globetrotting for greener pastures. We remember that this is the lady whose friendship to Chantal Biya supposedly served as the umbilical cord for the former PM. Otherwise, Madam Njeuma was guaranteed the position, but she went out dancing without music; celebratory gowns were sown prematurely in anticipation of the announcement by the Head of State. Biya decided she was not ripe for Prime time.
What is all of this to say? Southern Cameroons must wake up and smell the coffee and join the band wagon, believing like Southern Sudan, the youngest country in the World, that freedom comes at a price that is never too high to pay. The fight does not start when everyone jumps on board. It never happens that way. That does not diminish the value of the course or the valor of its believers. It should be understood that like the positions that women hold in the Biya government, Anglophones have no real tangible value that they bring to the table. ANd they should not because that land is not their own.It is all an illusuion, a mirage that is readily explained by the fact that a PM does not win in his own Region and is maintained as Premier. Think of it as a token for the right to exploit.
We must be armed with the knowledge that a prisoner is always in the company of his watchman; the watchman is invariably a prisoner. If Southern Cameroons is not free, La Republique du Cameroun cannot be free, will not be free and never know sleep. Our freedom, the freedom of Southern Cameroons will liberate our captors and brothers of La Republique du Cameroun.