Cameroon:Preserving Peace in the Post Biya Era
By Hafis Rüefli
In the course of his long stay in power, President Biya has taken pride in describing Cameroon as an oasis of peace in a troubled sub region. Indeed when one looks at what is transpiring in Central Africa today and what transpired in countries like Congo and Equatorial Guinea yesterday, Cameroonians have every reason to thank the stars. Over the years however, the peace in Cameroon has grown more and more fragile and there is apprehension on what will happen when Biya eventually leaves power.
When President Ahidjo decided to hand over to Biya in 1982, there was panic in the country.For some twenty two years, Cameroonians had known no other leader but Ahidjo. However, there was a clear cut constitutional clause which indicated that in the absence of the President, it is the Prime Minister who takes over. Been the sitting Prime Minister at time of Ahidjo’s resignation, the choice of Biya was obvious despite the behind the scenes calculations that Cameroonians do not know.
There have been tales on what prompted the abrupt resignation of President Ahidjo but there are credible accounts which indicate that his logic had always been for a Christian from the South to take over since he was Muslim and from the North. Driven by the national cohesion and peace that he worked so hard to build, Ahidjo’s intention was for the country to remain firm and united.
Despite his age and the realities of the country, it is unfortunate that President Biya is surrounded by praise singers in the government and ruling party who continue to give the impression that he will remain in power for ever. Succession is taboo talk .Challenging the President within the ranks of the CPDM is something that is avoided. President Biya is considered the natural candidate of the CPDM at Presidential elections.
But at one point or the other the inevitable is bound to happen. President Biya will no longer be there. Is everything in place for a smooth transition as was the case in 1982? Are the institutions in place strong enough to for a hitch free transition? One is not so sure about this and there are reasons to be apprehensive of what will happen should the President not be there.
Some months back, Professor Hubert Mono Ndzana, a former top official of the ruling CPDM party came under fire for insinuating that after over thirty years in power, it might amount to a declaration of war if someone from President Biya’s ethnic group were to succeed him. Mono Ndzana who hails from the same ethnic dispensation as President Biya was speaking to Thierry Ngongang on STV. He came under acerbic attacks notably from top CPDM officials who hail from the same region as he does.
Far from just letting things continue to drift along with no control, the succession debate is one that Cameroonians must have and take it serious. It is vital for continuous peace and stability in Cameroon. We saw how a wrong transition set the stage for the successive events that culminated in civil war in Ivory Coast, we have seen a similar script play out in a number of countries as well and should learn from that experience.
There have been stories in the media about strong behind the scenes battles to succeed the President. Wikileaks quoted Ahmadou Ali as saying that there told President Biya the Grand North regions will support him for as long as he stays in power but when he is not there , there will not support anyone from the South.
Former Minister of Territorial Administration Marafa Hamidou Yaya was also quoted by wikileaks as saying that he was not shy about expressing his Presidential ambitions to Paul Biya when he leaves power. Marafa is today in jail on corruption charges though many see political ambitions as part of his undoing.
Unlike the Cameroon that President Ahidjo served, the Cameroon of today is very different. Mentalities have evolved and there are growing conflicting power centers. Despite his victories at successive elections, it is common knowledge that the CPDM has very few true and committed militants. It is not founded on any firm ideology or vision. The party is more or less a coalition of people with self centered and conflicting agendas. So what will happen when Biya who is the glue which keeps the party together leave? The civil war that will erupt within the ranks of the party may destabilize the polity.
Already within the government there have been signs of acrimony. Recently there was a standoff between the Minister of Culture and Prime Minister Philemon Yang.
The Minister of Culture was in open defiance of the authority of the Prime Minister. There are reports of other Ministers been insubordinate to the Prime Minister. At the Ministry of Economy and Finance ,all is not well with the Minister Alamine Ousmane Mey been challenged by the Director of Customs .In the military it is also known that the elite Rapid Intervention Force –BIR, receives more attention and perks than those in the regular army.With President been in sole control of everything and everyone looking up to him, the fear of these subtle conflicts eventually blowing up are real.
Constitutional provisions indicate that in case of vacancy, it is the Senate President who assures the interim. The Senate President, just like those who run other institutions have never made any bones about serving Biya first and foremost before the country. Will he be up to the task?
Getting nervous is also about the governance style of the President and the tribal nature of his administration. Most top military and security officials are from his region. The security portfolios in government are led by people from his region.While this guarantees loyalty to him, where will their loyalty go when his not there?
In the midst of tough questions and trying to balance complex equations, the solution may lie in the Cameroon people. If it were for the political class especially those in power, the country will already be in shambles.It is thanks to the ordinary Cameroonian that peace has prevailed and
while it is imperative to be active in the debate on the future of the country, there must be encouraged to remain strong and unity.
Short comings of the Biya years have affected everyone. From bad infrastructure, to unemployment, from the poor state of our football, Cameroonians have all been affected. When you see moto taxi drivers in Douala struggling to earn a living, there are from all walks of life.When you find thousands of Cameroonians writing public exams which will eventually only select a handful of candidates, the frustration is shared by Cameroonians.
Without peace nothing can be achieved, without peace, Cameroonians cannot aspire for a better future after Biya. The peaceful cohesion that exists between Muslims and Christians must be maintained.The peaceful cohabitation of people from different backgrounds in our towns and cities must be sustained. The people must be vigilant enough so as not to be used as political pawns in the succession battles. There must however be active in deciding who eventually rules the country after Biya and which direction there want the country to take.