Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Cameroon’s Lower House of Parliament: Is the Politics of Politics More Than Politics?

By Tanyi-Mbianyor Samuel Tabi*
Barrister Tanyi-Mbianyor Samuel Tabi,
Tuesday October 29th 2013 was the opening of the 9th legislative season in Cameroon. In an inaugural speech, former Governor Enoh Tanjong sitting in for Speaker of the House (in his capacity as the oldest member as there had not been elections for the position of Speaker yet), told his colleagues, members of parliament that they should not mistake their immunity for impunity. And that those who do not respect this, should be ready to face the music. 

Whether it is possible to make them face the music or not, given the present dispensation, remains a matter of wide controversial speculation, so we shall  concern here only about the fact that the statement was mentioned.
 When one considers the fact that the duty of parliamentarians is to legislate laws, one starts wondering about how relevant it was for Honourable Enoh Tanjong to have mentioned this statement to his colleagues. One would expect that someone with authority over others in a given agency, be it governmental or private, would be in a place to use impunity when dealing with his/her subordinates and not an MP whose constituency does not work directly under them per se.  

In proper democratic systems, one would expect that leaders do not emerge by accident. They have pedigree. They are cut and cultivated. They capture the imagination of the people by the way they articulate the problems facing them and seeking means of resolving such problems and difficulties. When the people cry, their leaders feel the pain and seek for means to soothe the hurt and alleviate the pain. Objective minds would agree that what happens in Cameroon does not in any way resemble this.

Out of the 180 members that make up the Lower House of the Assembly, the CPDM alone has 148, leaving the SDF, NUDP, UDC and the CDU to share the remaining 30 seats. In selecting candidates to run for these elections, the CPDM used so-called investiture committees. The duty of these committees was to go to the field and give the electorate the lists of candidates for them to vote on the day of the elections. These lists were already drawn by party hierarchy, without consultation with the grassroots and the latter were merely informed about the decision. There were no primaries. This means that 7/8th of our Lower House of parliament was not democratically elected (within their party) in the first place.  In real estate language, there is something known as the root of tittle. If you are selling the property to a purchaser, bring the document which proves that you have good title so as to be able to pass on a good title. Conversely put, if CPDM candidates for election to the parliament were not democratically elected within their party to be able to run, how democratic can such be to the members of that political party? Is the politics of politics more than politics?

While commenting on the conduct of the elections, Professor T. Assonganyi ,a noted Cameroonian socio-political critic and election observer, said that the just ended elections was a sham because no matter how well things are done, the way institutions and some laws are currently  structured in Cameroon, any elections would still leave the CPDM carrying the majority. The present dispensation has a rigging machinery planted from the very inception of the election process. 
ITEM: The electoral body, ELECAM is appointed by the head of State, it is not elected by the people. Prominent members of ELECAM were members of the Central Committee of the CPDM before their appointment into the election organizing body. In order to keep this very lucrative appointment, they had to resign from the CPDM, at least by announcing they did so. Question: where will they pay their allegiance lie? Is it to the person who appointed them or to the Cameroonian people? 
Our take is whether with the present dispensation, anyone can really take us seriously as a nation that is interested in democratizing its institutions. Wither our so called advanced democracy? Truth remains that the last legislative and municipal elections in Cameroon were  without issues because the rigging machinery has well been implanted into the Cameroon polity. It has tap roots not fibrous roots.

The manner in which 7/8th of our members of the Lower House of Parliament came to power was dictatorial. No doubt ,there was and still is plenty of discontent and bitterness amongst those who think they should have had a chance to run through the primaries so as to be sure that the electorate would or would not have wanted them to run.
 Enoh Tanjong had these disgruntled Cameroonians in mind. He was right to warn his colleagues against victimization. What usually happens is that in most cases, the less popular and less competent persons are imposed upon the peoples’ true choice. With power in their hands now as MPs, these unpopular ones clamp down on the real popular citizens in a bit to impose their authority. 

Of recent, the Cameroon political story has been a sad and sorry tale. What the leaders have going for them is the resilience of Cameroonians and their undying spirit, now obviously stretched out to the limits. Some things can only last for some times, not all times. 

What we deserve is a crop of leaders endowed with the gift of steady application, imbued with the ability to control events rather than drift with the tides. Our leaders should be men and women whose range of vision and depth of conception, towers above their contemporaries. Such people abound in their numbers in Cameroon but are choked by warped and corrupt recruitment processes, the real albatross of this country. Something after all is wrong with a process that makes a few persons, in certain offices or with some doggy connections, see it as their exclusive right to nominate people for appointment or elections to all offices of the land. Elections in Cameroon today are by appointment. When a political party for example, wins a council, the government appoints a Government Delegate to laud over the elected Mayor.

Of course the overriding consideration to these power-mongers is the political patronage which this portends. It is often an opportunity to nominate only those who are rabidly loyal and subservient to them regardless of their suitability for the office. The primary mandate of such a nominee is to feather the nest of his patron to whom he is beholden and who he perceives as his godfather. More often than not, such appointees are mere mediocres, clueless and bereft of the basic knowledge of what it takes to be in that given office. They are often inept and ill-equipped for the arduous task of nation building. The nation undoubtedly gets a raw deal when the wrong people get into offices. Even if the ages (most of them are more than 70 years old), of most of the members of both houses of parliament does not matter, what about the ages of their ideas?

Cameroonians expect from legislators, men and women who will directly impact on their lives and conditions. For many years now, life for the ordinary citizen has been generally difficult, compounded by ravaging poverty and ever increasing despondency. Cameroonians are in dire need of life-changing policies. They look endlessly to their representatives both the ones they elected and the ones imposed on them not just to legislate happiness, prosperity and life more abundant into Cameroon, but also to reflect their moods and circumstances in carriage and comportment. If they would be true representatives of the people, sobriety would be palpable in their conduct to reflect the mood of a people in despair, bogged down by poverty, unemployment, disease and want.

One does not need to be a rocket scientist to notice that Cameroon is ailing. Although those at the helm of affairs find this a bitter pill to swallow, the problem with our country is inextricably linked to the poor quality of leadership it is plagued with. Little wonder the nation’s fortune has continued to plummet just as she diminishes in stature and integrity.

Of course the dearth of quality leadership cannot be divorced from the poor recruitment processes in place. The poor choices at pools, if choices have ever been truly permitted, are the election of wrong persons into public offices. These people in turn, of course appoint wrong persons as aides. No country, after all, can rise above the level of its work force, especially at the decision-making or leadership level, hence the sorry state of our nation. Pity.
*Tanyi-Mbianyor Samuel Tabi is a Cameroonian legal practitioner.  He read law in the Universities of Yaounde and Toronto.  He is presently completing a Masters Degree in Public Administration at Walden University in Minneapolis Minnesota. 

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