By Asonganyi Tazoacha
Early in his reign in Cameroon, Ahmadou Ahidjo set aside the legislative arm of government – Parliament – to rule by ordinance. The dozens of ordinances he signed dealt with issues like state of emergency, military tribunals, repression of subversion, etc. All the ordinances were meant to strengthen the hand of the executive branch - the administration - to use the “law” to silence the people. The ordinances: 1) instituted tight restraints on freedom of expression and association, 2) allowed the security forces under the command of administrative authorities to act with impunity, and arrest, torture and send citizens to prison, 3) established new offenses termed “subversion” or “rebellion” which all prohibited free expression of opinion, making it a crime for anyone to oppose or criticize any government action. All this served to intimidate those who might voice dissent. It set the stage for the dictatorial one-man rule that characterized Ahidjo’s reign.
With the advent of Paul Biya in 1982, some cosmetic changes were made, resulting in the 1990 “liberty” laws, which were in effect the consecration of the overriding dominance of the administration over the judiciary that the ordinances had since established. As expected, the “liberty” laws did not work; freedom of association (Law No. 90/053), and freedom to hold public meetings and processions (Law No. 90/055) did not operate like in most democracies because of the overbearing influence of administrative authorities. Maintenance of law and order - arrest and detention of “bandits” (Law no. 90/054) - became arbitrary arrest and detention of opposition and civil society militants. In general, the laws were not different from the ordinances of Ahidjo of the 1960s because they were ‘promulgated’ at the pleasure of an individual or a cabal to serve personalised power, and were equally repressive. “Working within the framework of the law”became a singsong of the cabal.
The electoral process was of course affected by the “freedom” laws. For example, during the rerun of parliamentary elections in Nde Division in 2002, an SDF team led by me went to Nde Division to monitor the elections. Filbert Etoundi was part of the team. We sent him to head the sub-team to Tonga, and for reasons not very clear to us, he was arrested on the morning of Election Day before the polls opened. Samuel Tchwenko and I spent a good part of the morning struggling to get him released from the Gendarmerie where he was locked up on the orders of the DO of Tonga. This caused us to miss the crucial opening of polling stations. The DO caused Etoundi’s arrest using powers vested in him by the law on the maintenance of law and order. These administrative officials interpret “banditry,” and “law and order” regulated by the law subjectively. They regularly invoke the law before, during, and after elections to block the activities of opposition political parties, to leave the field wide-open for the CPDM to score electoral and other victories.
Further, the first council sessions after the municipal elections are usually held in the presence of the SDOs who preside over preliminary business until the oldest councillors are identified to chair the sessions. Following the 1996 Municipal elections in Yaoundé, the SDF shared the Yaoundé V (Essos) Council - where I was residing - with the CPDM: the “official” results showed that the SDF won 5 seats while the CPDM won 30, making 35 councillors since no party scored an absolute majority. On the day of the first council session, instead of allowing the oldest councillor (SDF Councillor Père Bebbey) to preside over the session, the SDO Ename Ename Samson took over the session, read the 35 names on the council list of the CPDM, declared them installed as Councillors of Yaoundé V Council, and asked them to proceed to elect their executive. The 5 councillors of the SDF were excluded with a wave of the hand of the SDO, and that was it! No effort to change that “decision” during the 5 years of that Council yielded any fruit.
A similar impunity occurred in Yaoundé II (Tsinga-Mokolo-Madagascar…) after the 1996 elections. Following the meeting of the Yaoundé II Council Supervisory Commission, the SDF was declared winner of the Municipal elections in that council area. The minutes of the meeting were signed by the members of the Commission and distributed to the parties concerned. By law, that brought the role of the commission to an end. Interestingly, twenty four hours later, the same SDO Ename Ename Samson illegally convened another meeting of the Commission, claiming that the results of a ballot box that had just been discovered were not taken into consideration. Some members of the commission met again and added the votes and of course, the results changed: the CPDM was the winner by absolute majority! And so a second set of minutes was signed by those who attended the meeting, and that became the “authentic” result of the 1996 Municipal elections in Yaoundé II!
In Yaoundé VI council, the SDF list also won the 1996 elections, but the CDM produced concocted documents to say that the Electoral District Chairman of the SDF, Tchoungi Marcel Owona who was the head of the council list of the SDF was a CPDM militant! And so the SDF list was rejected by a commission in which the CPDM was prosecutor, judge and jury, after it was clear that the SDF had won! In the process, the representative of the SDF in the Council commission was knocked down unconscious to end his resistance. He only regained consciousness in the “Sapeur Pompier” clinic in Mokolo. After all these electoral feats, Ename Ename Samson was later promoted to the position of Secretary General of the National Assembly.
In another act of ruthlessness in Alou Council in Lebialem Division after the 2002 Municipal election, SDO Joseph Otto Wilson reconvened the Council Commission to change its report in which the SDF had been declared winner of the Council; with a doctored result sheet from a certain “MohLah” polling station that arrived several days after the closing of the polls, he caused the commission to write another report that declared the CPDM winner of the Municipal election in Alou Council. This happened not without the SDO ordering the Gendarmerie to brutalize, arrest, and detain many cadres of the SDF. It was all going on under the watchful eyes of NEO officials that allowed the SDO to have his way! The SDO was one of the governors meeting in Yaounde recently to prepare for … the upcoming elections!
These brazen acts were legion in the past. We can only hope that they are all history and can no longer be re-enacted today, although we are reading in the press that some divisions in the South region are “no-go” areas!
The Governors that met recently to discuss the upcoming elections did so not under the impulsion of ELECAM, but of the Ministry of territorial administration and decentralization. Overall, the administration and other stakeholders should play a big role in ensuring transparency of the electoral process. Administrative authorities, the bar council, associations of journalists and their media houses, civil society activists, religious leaders and others are all supposed to be fully involved in ensuring transparency of the electoral process through providing and promoting citizen engagement, voter education, citizen election monitoring groups, media insights and perspectives, security plans around the elections, etc. These are supposed to happen under the impetus of the Electoral commission – ELECAM – at whose doorsteps the buck of electoral transparency ends. ELECAM is supposed to be in synergy with all these stakeholders, and provide for the election period, written and well publicized directives or working rules for administrative officials, security services (police, gendarmes, etc.), journalists, citizen election monitors, election observers, and others, so that we can all work in harmony and deliver free and fair elections together.