By Innocent Chia
As long as the Marafat epistles continue trickling from wherever they are authored, the national and international press, I suspect, will irresistibly share, as should they, the entrails of an administration that has, for over the last 20 years now, been on auto-pilot for self-destruction.
The conclusion that I part with is that there is an all out war for the hearts and minds of Cameroonians pitting Marafat versus his old cronies – Issa Tchiroma, Fame Ndongo et al of the Biya dynasty. This appeal for a popular uprising against the ruling junta, I argue, is one that had first been thrust in the public arena by the Chief Justice Dipanda Mouelle following the 1992 Presidential Elections in Cameroon.
A few days ago as I pondered the treacherous high seas in which Cameroon finds itself swimming against the tides, it hit me like an epiphany, the soul of the simple words uttered by the Cameroon Supreme Court Chief Justice, Dipanda Mouelle following the 1992 elections. “My hands are tied” Dipanda Mouelle solemnly told the people of Cameroon, much like Pontius Pilate - the Roman prefect, or governor, of Judea from 26 to 36 CE – who was officially responsible for condemning Jesus to crucifixion, though he "washed his hands" of the matter, thereby passing blame onto the Jews.
I have since preoccupied myself with making sense of the statement by the Chief Justice, seeing it to possibly mean one thing and one thing only: Dipanda Mouelle was crying out for help from populace of Cameroon. There is not a doubt in my mind that he had lived through the elections himself and was aware of the fact that Biya had lost the vote even within the confines of Presidential palace at Etoudi. He lost Yaounde in the popular count, as did he in swaths across the country. There is not a doubt in my mind that the Chief Justice had intelligence of that which was transpiring in the nation, felt the pulse of it and knew that Biya was done.
Like Pontus Pilate who knew that Christ was not guilty as charged, except that he was a threat to some political charlatans, the Chief Justice knew the real outcome of the October ballot. Like Pontus Pilate who had the power to free the Christ and hand over Barnabas the thief to the crowds for the cross, Chief Justice Dipanda Mouelle and his court had the authority to set precedence in the matter. It was probably the singular, most righteous, moment that he possibly could ever have asked for to make such a decision for and on behalf of the people of Cameroon. The eyes of the international community were in wait. Cameroonians from North to South, East to West had voted in overwhelming majority for the opposition and, by the same token, voted out the Biya regime. The population was ready for justice from the Court of Dipanda Mouelle. Instead, the top Justice told the world that his hands were tied.
“Who was tying his hands?” I have wondered. Also, “did the same authority have the power to untie his hands?” Finally, “what, if anything, did he expect Cameroonians to do once he had armed them with the knowledge of his powerlessness?”
“My hands are tied!”
Who/what was tying the hands of the Chief Justice? This is as crucial a question as it gets if one must understand Dipanda Mouelle’s cry for help. The consensual, most obvious culprit seems to be President Biya, the one responsible for Mouelle’s top Justice Seat, and himself the Justice-in-Chief, Commander-in-Chief, etc. And one may just be right to stop there because the highly centralized system of government in Cameroon gives super powers to the Head of State, who is also Head of government.
A flashback in time to the Chief Justice’s solemn reading of failure after failure of the system, of the rigging and other numerous irregularities that the justice mouthed out, testify to how intentionally measured he was and what he was doing. He was pointing his finger at the legislature for failing to change the laws of the land to reflect the multiparty environment and the new realities that were supposedly different from the one party (CNU/CPDM) setting. He was pointing in the direction of the Executive branch for instructing ballot cadres, Prefects, Mayors, Governors and others, including Ministers, and seeing to it that the ballot was rigged. Dipanda Muoelle was telling the people of Cameroon to not turn to the Court for Justice because the problems were systemic and endemic….He and his colleagues were just pawns, mere mortals that could not fathom taking such a meaningful and impactful decision.
Did the Same authority have the Power to untie his hands?
Yes! He knew that if the tin had been kicked down the road to his Court, it was not for him to decide. Rather, it was for his Court to CONFIRM, or it would have marked the end of his career. But I would also go out on a limb to say that he probably cared less for his career at that point as much as he did care for his life and feared for it.
The Biya regime could not have taken the bullish risk of letting the Chief Justice go before live TV cameras to face the nation and the world if the decision was unknown to them. They had to have had him taken care of, and he knew what the outcomes would be if he had reneged on whatever their agreement may have been. But it does seem clear to me today, more than I could ever comprehend at the time, that the Supreme Court Justice had one more trick in his house of cards that he was willing to play.
The Power of the Cameroon People or their Powerlessness:
Chief Justice Dipanda Mouelle knew what the right decision was. But by self-admission, his hands were tied by a handclapping and toothless legislature that only legislates on bills submitted to it by the President of the Republic. The Chief Justice had his hands tied by the Executive branch to who he owed his position. Yet he was ready to gamble one more time, largely because he was afraid to make a sacrificial decision for and on behalf of the people.
“My hands are tied” he said to the audience and the people of Cameroon. Let’s think for a moment. If your spouse or sibling or friend is cooking and tells you that their hands are messy when the telephone rings, what does that mean? Where I come from, it mostly means one thing: please pick up the phone for me because my hands are…
We have established that like Pontus Pilate who could have taken the decision to rightfully free Christ, Justice Dipanda Mouelle could have brought justice to the people of Cameroon. He shied away from the opportunity to be on the right side of history. But on a close read, he was really crying out for the people of Cameroon to stand up and take back their country. It explains why he listed every transgression of the system, every violation of the process. He was admitting his powerlessness, but affirming the power of the people of Cameroon to stand up against a government that was re-routing their wishes and aspirations. He was on the national podium, as part of officialdom, but he was distancing himself from the regime and asking for the rightful owners of power to reclaim it.
But we were hearing something different. And it may be true that we all are paying the price of not listening to Chief Justice Alexis Dipanda Mouelle today. The circus that is playing out with an entire cabinet in jail, and many more to follow - including President Biya – could have been averted if we had listened to the Chief Justice. But if Pontius Pilate had made the right decision and not ceded his powers to the people, the story of the crucifixion, resurrection and salvation would have been different.