By Denis A. Foretia, MD.MPH.MBA.*,
My country, Cameroon, is in the process of committing suicide. Compare the country to a large truck racing down a highway-running on flat tires, the gas gauge a hairline away from Empty, with an engine about to seize. The driver ignorant of the whys and wherefores of making the repairs.
The Anglophone crisis that has engulfed the country for the past six months, with no end in sight, has dealt the final blow to this truck. It has brought, front and center, fundamental and historical conflicts; it has accentuated the various malaises threatening to tear the country apart.
Long before the current Anglophone uprising, the country was already in severe decay. Cameroonians have no trust in President Paul Biya and his government. This lack of trust permeates all levels of the legal system, leaving ordinary citizens essentially hopeless. With no trust in the legal system, mob justice is now increasingly becoming the norm. The anger of Cameroonians is palpable in the political space. The ruling party has loaded the system to the point where nobody expects political changes to come through the ballot box. In fact, if Barack Obama were a presidential candidate against 84-year-old Paul Biya, he would lose spectacularly under the current rules. After all, this is a country where 18-year-olds can fight and die as soldiers but they must wait until they are 20 to vote.
The current crises are further exacerbated by an already dismal economic outlook. The price of oil and other commodities are not expected to rebound anytime soon. The country cannot increase its foreign reserves through exports as its currency, the Franc CFA, is too strong and its monetary policy is practically dictated by the French government. The interruption of internet services in the Anglophone regions has ensured that foreign direct investments will decrease significantly as investment decisions are postponed or cancelled entirely given the increased political risk in the country. The country, to be clear, is in perpetual crisis.
Many countries that have found themselves in a similar situation have seen violent popular uprisings. Times like these require a great degree of selflessness. When things fall apart and the center can no longer hold power, we are all called upon to act in the best interest of the country. Only a transitional government can prevent a rebellion in the very near future, and lead to the creation of a genuine foundation for social cohesion.
What kind of transitional government?
The country faces a very stark choice: continue on the current path and implode or build a new, pluralistic and democratic Cameroon in which every Cameroonian will be safe, comfortable and valued. For those of us who want Cameroon to survive these crises without plunging into violence, we must strongly fight for a real transitional government.
Such a transitional government should have a mandate for three to four years and must be led by technocrats trusted for their leadership, strong moral compass and experience. It must not have any politicians. The first and most pressing objective must be to ensure freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The second priority must be to enforce an equitable justice system. No one should be above the law and the law must be fairly applied. Magistrates and the police must uphold the law stricto sensu, strictly speaking. While a new National Constitution must be deliberated, it would be extremely important to respect the current legal frameworks. The transitional period must be the time to build trust in the country’s institutions.
There can be no elections until the central question of “the type of government” has been properly debated and resolved. A federation or a confederation. This discussion must occur in a representative Constitutional Convention but it should not and cannot end there. Cameroonians must talk and listen to each other. Anglophones and Francophones. Those from the north, south, east or west. This is the only way to build a country of unity. A genuine national discussion may convince a majority of Anglophones not to pursue separation, despite their legal right to do so.
This transitional government CANNOT and MUST NOT be led by the current President of the Republic. He has played his own role in his 55 years in senior civil service and through his presidency. No one individual is more important than the future of Cameroon and 25 million Cameroonians. At the same time, President Biya must be granted immunity from any kind of prosecution or legal action. He must be allowed to live freely in the country, like President JJ Rawlings of Ghana. Additionally, the transition CANNOT be led by the military. It must be civilian in nature. It must not be hurried. A minimum of three years will be required to put the proper institutions in place.
Such a government will remain under intense public and political pressure because the transitional president will not be from any of the main political parties. Ministers of the transitional government should also not be allowed to join the first government of the Second Republic. Obviously, no one in transitional government can be allowed to become a presidential candidate.
Will the current government accept a transitional government?
The reality is that the current Cameroon government would have no choice but to accept a transitional government. It is their best option. The country is at a total political impasse. Political miscalculations, especially the decision to cut the internet in the Anglophone regions, has plunged the regime further down the drain. It can choose to convict the arrested leaders but that would only accelerate their downfall and put the country at a tipping point. Anglophones are increasingly calling for outright separation. Without a genuine political solution, the situation will only worsen. Despite the recent reconnection of the internet, Anglophones will continue their protest for the release of the leaders of the Consortium who were unjustly arrested. They would be able to publish videos of atrocities committed by security forces in the region. Foreign investments in the country will further decrease, public revenue will drop drastically and there will not be enough resources to meet short-term liabilities which will hasten the downfall of the government. We see that the government does not have the resources to pay teachers in the francophone sub-system who were recently protesting. Either way the options are not good for the government. Only a genuine political solution can take us out of this mess.
When people decide to take to the streets to vent their frustrations, even in the French-speaking regions, no anti-terrorism law will be able to stop them. It is therefore in the best interest of this government to negotiate frankly for a new dispensation. Every Cameroonian, especially political parties, must demand this.
The Stakes are Too High
If we do not consider and implement the above, the Cameroonian people may be forced to take their frustrations to the streets in a violent popular uprising. We must do everything to prevent this response. We must build a system that is trustworthy, fair and approachable.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr eloquently said “oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself.” Let us use this opportunity to build a country where freedom, in all its forms, will fill every Cameroonian heart and transform communities into oases of hope and prosperity. This is our challenge. Can we deliver?