At the dawn of the 90s, when the bloody launching of the SDF set off the democratization process in Cameroon, a National Conference was viewed as the panacea for a new direction for the country. The clamour for the National Conference was backed by the all powerful National Coordination of opposition parties, it was backed by the civil society, and the private media buoyed by exciting political developments amply articulated the case made by proponents of this forum. The response from President was “sans objet”, a National Conference will serve no purpose is a loose translation of his laconic response.
His response could be understood because in the Republic of Benin, where the first National Conference took place in the continent, President Kerekou sat helpless and
watched as he was stripped of all the dictatorial powers he had. The experience in Zaire now the DR.Congo had not gone well at all for President Mobutu. In lieu of the National Conference, President Biya organized the Tripartite Talks which did little to address the concerns of change thirsty Cameroonians. Over two decades later, there is every indication that Cameroon needs that National Conference more than ever before. Infact the urgency becomes fiercer considering the subtle viciousness of the raging succession battle within the ruling establishment which is overheating the polity. A lot of ink has flowed since the arrest of former Prime Minister Ephraim Inoni and former Territorial Administration Minister and Politburo member of the CPDM Marafa Hamidou Yaya. In a couple of letters Marafa by fate or by design may have finally jump started the National Conference.
Whereas the other high profile detainees have largely remained silent, Marafa has put the regime in panic mood with embarrassing revelations contained in letters that have left the country only yearning for more .As the country watches in awe, as the CPDM is pinned to the wall unable to defend their Party Chairman cum Head of State, as the SDF joins the fray providing a high profile team of legal advisers to defend Marafa, and with the CPDM dominated parliament reportedly backing a demand for a commission of enquiry into kickbacks paid to former Minister of Transport and now Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma as revealed in one of Marafa’s letters, the former Secretary General at the Presidency and Minister of Territorial Administration may have launched that National Conference.
There may be no reason to believe everything Marafa says , but if the Government and the ruling party are running helter skelter, then there should be elements of truth. That the ruling establishment is unable to articulate a coherent response can only add up to guilt. Rather than answer the charges , the regime thinks casting doubts on Marafa’s character and vaulting ambition will sweep the issues under the rug. But what about the facts he has used in making his arguments? Why has the regime not provided facts to the contrary? Issues raised by Marafa have bordered on his doubts on the ability of ELECAM to organize free elections, advise to Biya to step down, instances of corruption brought to the attention of the head of state, his opposition to violent crackdowns in Douala et al. Most of these issues would probably never have occured had the National Conference taken place to lay a strong foundation for a country serious on meeting 21st century challenges.
A National Conference will possibly have vouch for separation of powers with checks and balances. It may have made it possible to have strong institutions instead of a strong man in power. It would likely have come up with the kind of electoral reforms that will make Cameroon the envy of other countries. The CPDM backed Biya in rejecting in. It possibly would have come up with reforms that would have quelled the institutionalization of corruption. Today there is a whole government in jail for crimes not clearly spelt out, with facts that are hazy though no one doubts the magnitude of corruption within the regime. It never took place and the result is a faulty constitution whose provisions have never been fully implemented since 1996. It never took place and since 1990, Cameroon has not known a single election that is free and fair election.
The National conference may have addressed concerns of Southern Cameroonians who have since continued to be humiliated and stretched and now want nothing but a restoration of their statehood.
Hard to make an exhaustive list of what a National Conference will have addressed but it is right to say the issues have been multiplied many fold. Even President Biya and his CPDM who “saw no merit” may rethink their stance if the clock could be turned backwards. While his collaborators in jail must have tasted the poison they helped serve Cameroonians, the President cuts a pathetic figure. In power for circa thirty years is Mr Biya proud of his legacy as it stands today?
For the National Conference, dialogue or whatever it is called to be successful, people must speak their minds, people must unburden secrets, people must be ready to listen and as hard as it might be forgive. Marafa has fingered Issa Tchiroma, Fame Ndongo and even the President himself. In the absence of a formal gathering, his letters serve a purpose. Cameroonians may love to know about election rigging and its techniques, there will love to know how proceeds from oil were managed when he was Chair of the National Hydrocarbons Company. How about shedding light on the operational command in Douala? What if someone tells us what really happened to money contributed by Cameroonians during the Coup de Coeur for the upkeep of the embattled lions ate the 1992? How about Minister Fame Ndongo answer the charge from Marafa on his role in siphoning funds for some bogus satellite program at CRTV? Already former CPDM Central Committee Member Chief Milla Assoute is adding flesh to the corruption charge levied against Issa Tchiroma for on a contract for the maintenance of Cameroon Airline planes in the mid nineties.
While it is laudable that the SDF is pushing for a Commission of Enquiry on the compensation of victims of the 1995 plane crash, one must ask why the MPs of the leading opposition party did not ask for one on the Albatross, or for one to review the modus operandi of Sparrow Hawk. Hopefully Marafa’s barbs can fire up others within the ruling party, the opposition, civil society, the progressive forces in the Diaspora et al to step up the fight for change. The country needs that National Conference or some genuine form of National dialogue. On it may depend whether the country makes or mars. On it depends genuine reconciliation because beyond the façade of peace lies a badly fragmented polity. Genuine reconciliation starts with dialogue, shedding light on issues not to reopen old wounds but to better understand each other and chart a better way forward. From the 1984 coup, the repatriation of the remains of former President Ahidjo, national recognition of heroes of the independence struggle like Roland Moumie, Ernest Ouandie, etc. South Africa had its truth and reconciliation with sordid tales that hurt but helped to heal the wounds of apartheid. Nigeria after Abacha tried the something similar. Cameroon needs its own and Marafa’s missives though inadvertently may be leading the country towards this ultimate eventuality.