Friday, December 5, 2014

Cameroon:News Media, Journalists and the National Communication Council

By Tazoacha Asonganyi in Yaounde.
 When trouble broke out in the past between News Media/Journalists and the National Communication Council (NCC), I wrote two articles. One was titled “Joseph Befe Ateba: Journalist on the Other Side” in which I stated as follows: “The mission of outfits like the government-controlled NCC is to check the power of the press, and by implication, society’s freedoms, to cede space for government power…Some apologists may say that there are other journalists in NCC other than its Chairman. Of course, they are there, but most seem to at least cover-up by indulging in sophistry and casuistry. Whatever the case, it is Befe Ateba that is in the dock. After all, it is usually said that the buck can be passed on but it must end somewhere. For the NCC, the buck ends with Joseph Befe Ateba…”
     In a second article titled “Mocking The Rule Of Law By Lynching Figuratively And In Essence” I stated as follows: “The rule of law abhors interferences like the ‘fifteen-days-renewable’ of administrators, suspension of journalists and news outlets by the NCC, and many other niches carved out by government for appointed officials to wield discretionary power – a subversion of judicial authority by executive power! Indeed, such government appointees virtually always work actively or passively to diminish the rule of law….Those with thin skins should not leave the impression in the public mind that the press in Cameroon fought a gallant fight against censorship in the 1990s and censorship ended up having the last laugh….”
 Things have since changed – not for the better! Following his unfortunate demise, Joseph Befe Ateba’s role is being played by … a seasoned journalist! And so the buck now ends at the feet of the new strongman. That man that stands accused following the recent highhandedness of the NCC is called Peter Essoka.
    Since the ‘60s, we have been grappling with governance based on constitutionalism that is said to separate state power into three arms: the executive, the judiciary, and the legislature. If this form were to be respected, laws would be made by the legislative arm, interpretation of laws and adjudication would be the role of the judiciary, and execution of laws would be the role of the executive arm. Our ideological differences may separate us on substantive issues of governance, but at least, there did not have to be any quarrel on procedural issues related to this set up.
    Unfortunately, in Cameroon, the executive has always exercised overbearing power, dabbling in issues supposed to be reserved for the judiciary, and giving the right of interpretation of laws and adjudication to administrative officials (DOs, SDOs, Governors) and to outfits like the NCC. And so, since independence, we have lived in an environment made oppressive by blind, incompetent, self-serving elite constituted into a cabal that is stuck with old, long discarded paradigms, oiled by impunity and an obsession for corruption and theft of the common wealth.
       These people pretend to be oblivious of the reasons for which Africa and Africans are the laughingstock of the world. They pretend not to know that the oppressive environment they create clogs our minds, and does not leave room for our indulging in the work and life of the mind that give birth to the glittering material culture that is all around us in this fast evolving 21st century. They pretend not to know that if the African mind has to function at the level of the minds of those who create these glittering things that we indulge in to facilitate our lives on earth, our oppressive environment has to be lifted and replaced with the type of environment that those other minds live in. They pretend not to know that those freedoms we all sing about are the pillars of this environment in which the sovereign individual or the citizen as ‘the legal subject,’ is at the centre of law and judicial due process. The human genome project has since given its verdict: overall differences in performance of human communities are not due to nature (genes) but to nurture (environment). We should always remember what Kennedy said to the American people: our goal is not peace at the expense of freedom but both peace and freedom. Whatever we do, we should always remember that freedom is the key to unlocking the creative spirit of society in all domains. Our man who is promising emergence in 2035, and hurrying another obnoxious, so-called “anti-terrorism” bill to the national assembly to make our environment even more oppressive, should take note of this.
     It is interesting that these people of the NCC use what they call “dispassionate, fair, accurate and balanced” reporting to punish journalists. A prominent politician in Nigeria once declared that “if the next elections are rigged Nigeria will be made ungovernable.” Nigerian journalists were divided into two camps (and more!) with one saying that the politician was sounding a warning against vote-rigging, while the other was saying that the politician was threatening to cause confusion in the country if he didn’t win. The mind of an actor like the politician in question is a domain opaque to examination and difficult to assess. How one can measure “dispassionate, fair, accurate and balanced” here is difficult to say in real life, although they will tell you they are taught in journalism school how to do so.
        This is just a simple example of the type of information and news in society that must be dealt with by journalists. It is also to say that truthful or falsehood, whether an idea, principle, value or view is valid or not, depends on changing times and changing peoples of varied orientation, minds and motives. Journalists are usually condemned to deal most of the time with a part, not the totality of an experience. They usually are forced to deal with the way things appear, not the way they are or can become. What each journalist usually ends up with depends on the entreaties of their reason and passion, of logic and experience, of their scale of values, of their intelligence. This is why they rarely ever reach definitive judgment. In the heat of the robust debate that journalism entails, journalists usually enjoy even a democratic right of error.
        A person like Mendo Ze was general manager of CRTV from 1988 to 2005. Nine years after his leaving CRTV, he was recently arrested as a suspect of malpractices during his tenure in CRTV! After all those years, in spite of the audit report that had since made him a suspect! What would Peter Essoka and his NCC court say would be “dispassionate, fair, accurate and balanced” reporting about this former CRTV big-man while the executive labored with prosecuting him at its whim? Perhaps journalists should look the other way until the executive decides to act when they like, as if they are running a private estate! A truth is unchanged by the fact that it is not known or that it is known only by a few.
      We also hear that our high priests of the NCC say journalists are guilty of “insulting” an official of the presidency! It seems that they do not also count the misfortunes of Cameroon in Kondengui prison as we all do. If they did, they would know that those high places are home to a cabal with insatiable appetite, which has replaced the general interest with self-interest, and needs to be permanently watched by the press. When we battled for the creation of “independent” structures to regulate the activities of society, we were not bargaining for kangaroo courts like the NCC. We understood “independent” to mean what it has always meant: non-attachment to any branch of government or alignment to any political interest; non-promotion of the narrow interests of any political party, or sectional group. Who doubts who is paying the piper?
     With this sorry performance of the NCC, Paul Biya can now rub his hands in glee and ask us: you say I abuse the overwhelming power I have because I am a bad leader. See what they are doing with the little fraction of my power I gave to them.
   And what would be our response, apart from seeking the answer to Geoffrey Chaucer’s question in General Prologue to his Canterbury Tales: if gold rust, what then will iron do?
Well, let me borrow the signature of one of my friends to put my own question: Peter Essoka, are we together? If we are, then answer Chaucer!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Men accused of being homosexual in hiding

By Tanji Ntonifor
Homosexuality, which is legal in some developed countries, is a crime in Cameroon despite pressure from the West on African countries   to legalize the same-sex sexual orientation.   The publicity given same-sex orientation in the developed world appears to be encouraging young Cameroonians to embrace the act.

Lorenzo Eladnyuke Ewunkem
     Before, it was rarely a subject of public interest-it was largely considered a taboo subject; but now not only is it discussed, cases of this abominable act are reported here and there, in a country where more than 51 percent of the total population is made-up of women.

In the past, those found guilty of homosexuality or lesbianism were badly treated, such mistreatment reserved for witches and wizards .And in some villages they were even banished.

    According to Section 347 of Cameroon penal code, "Whoever has sexual relationship with a person of the same sex shall be punished with imprisonment from six months to five years and a fine from 20.000Fcfa to 200.000 Fcfa"

    It is public knowledge that many young Cameroonians across towns of the country have been molested, accused, arrested, and detained or being prosecuted for allegedly being gay.

    Yet, many others are not deterred. Banking on the defense that it is their Human Rights to choose their sexual orientation, youth Cameroonians are bringing shame to their parents and communities, by attempting to practice or practice homosexuality. They argue that Cameroon is a member of the United Nations and has signed other conventions to respect and promote human rights and that sexual orientation is   human Right issue.

    Amnesty International has repeatedly condemned Cameroon for prosecuting persons perceived to be homosexual or lesbian, and called on the Government to repeal the law making same-sex sexual orientation a crime, but Cameroon is yet to do that. And there are no signs that Cameroon will legalize it.

    Reports say many young people are increasingly becoming gay for occultist reasons-to become very influential, wealthy and powerful in their localities.

Last November - a young man Lorenzo Eladnyuke Ewunkem, born on December 14, 1990, resident in Buea was almost lynched because he was accused of being a homosexual. It was thanks to the intervention of security agents that he survived.

Nyongapsen Gilbert Sema
    Lorenzo Eladnyuke Ewunkem was accused of engaging in the same-sex relations with an even older man,Nyongapsen Gilbert Sema ,born on November 25,1988. Gilbert was said to be his “wife”

   Although the two accused argued that they were not gay, they later disappeared as investigations were going on and some witnesses reportedly promised to disprove them in court

    It would be recalled that two young men, Jonas Kimie and Franky Ndome, perceived to be gay, had spent more than a year in prison following their arrest outside a nightclub in the capital Yaoundé in July 2011, but were later acquitted by the Appeals Court .It is true that same-sex relationship is in vogue in several Western countries, but opponents in Cameroon think it is not every thing that must be copied from First World countries.

How a smart activist earned his freedom from detention

                                      By Ntonifor Tanji
     A radical Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) activist, Tabe Ferdinand Tanyi, is still in hiding after he failed to honor a commitment he had made, which caused his release from detention.
     Mr.Tabe, born on May 18, 1976 in Mamfe is said to have negotiated his release with a pro-government agent to the effect that, he would publicly denounce the SCNC, which is fighting for the restoration of the Independence of Southern Cameroons.  
But upon his release Mr. Tabe did not fulfill his promise as he was expected to do and could not be found ,prompting a plan for his re-arrest.
     Mr. Tabe who has four children is husband to Belinda Tabe Ayamba,an adopted daughter of former SCNC National Chairman Chief Ayamba Otun,who died last June 14.
      Influenced by the philosophy of his father-in-law,Mr.Tabe started manifesting his open support for  the SCNC since 2007 when he reportedly persuaded and got many university students in  the Bonamousadi vicinity in Yaounde enrolled as members of the separatist movement.  Later same year, he went to his native Mamfe and converted more people especially unemployed youth to supporters of SCNC, considered by the Cameroon Government as a big threat to national unity.
     Seen as a security risk as he embarked on a massive enrollment of SCNC activists across villages of Manyu Division, Southwest of Cameroon, Mr.Tabe- who in 2008 was appointed as Propaganda and Recruitment Agent was severally arrested and detained, but his father-in-law Chief Ayamba would bail him out. 
     For trying to resist arrest by security agents, Mr. Tabe, nicknamed as SCNC Tabe was sometimes reportedly tortured to submission.
Mr.Tabe was not only persecuted by security forces but also by local chiefs who are auxiliaries of the Government and some overzealous members of the ruling CPDM
     When Chief Ayamba died on June 14, 2014, the SCNC announced they would give their deceased leader a “state burial”, an announcement that left the Government frightened and forced it to militarize Mamfe,where he was to be buried .The near state of emergency in Mamfe led to the arrest of several SCNC officials on the eve of Chief Ayamba’s  burial including Mr.Tabe.
     Mr. Tabe was only released early October 2014 from detention on condition that he would henceforth denounce the SCNC, according to reports.  But upon his release he did not publicly denounce the SCNC as he committed himself to do. That was considered as a betrayal of trust by the pro-government politician who negotiated his release.
     Hinted of a plan to re-arrest him Mr. Tabe is said to have gone into hiding last November and police in mufti are reportedly hunting for him.
    The SCNC, which was formed in 1994 as a protest to what is considered as gross marginalization of Anglophones, had as its pioneer National Chairman Barrister Sam Ekontang Elad.
     SCNC has as objective the “restoration of the independence of Southern Cameroons” and as motto “The Force of Argument, Not the Argument of Force”.
    Many Anglophones who are supporters of the SCNC have been harassed, molested, tortured and prosecuted, a situation that has forced many others to flee abroad for safety.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Cmaeroon National Symbols, the State and the Nation

By Asonganyi Tazoacha
We shall never tire of reminding us that the nation has two components: society and the state. The sovereign people are in society. It is the sovereign people that delegate their power to the state, and government’s role is to regulate the activities of society using what is usually banally described as the authority of the state. The relationship between the citizen and the government is usually conflicting because government always seeks to expand its power by encroaching on the freedoms of the sovereign citizen.

I say all this because I watched a person who was described on Canal 2 International Television as “Maitre Laurent Bondji” say that national symbols like the flag and the national anthem are the preserve of the government (or the state) or something of the sort. In other words, according to him, those who sing the national anthem at their political party meetings or village meetings or other occasions, to express the fact that the effort they are engaged in, is for the good of their country, do so in violation of some sacred code. In fact, during his declarations, pictures of political parties singing the national anthem at their party meetings were shown, probably to send the veiled message that what they were doing was not right.

Just before the World Cup in Brazil, Samuel Eto’o Fils, as Captain of the National Football Team, refused to take the Cameroon Flag from the Prime Minister. At that time, I said that the refusal - in protest - was a supreme act of political expression. This is because the flag is not an expression of state authority; it represents much more than that. Since the declarations of “Maitre Laurent Bondji” appeared to bear the stamp of the law because they were utterances of a “Maitre” (a lawyer), we shall borrow from the legal milieu to make the point that “Maitre Laurent Bondji” was wrong in stating that our national symbols are the preserve of the state and not of the nation.

Gregory Lee Johnson burned the American flag during the 1984 Republican national Convention in Dallas as a sign of his criticism of government and the Republican Convention’s actions. That started what has come to be known as the “flag burning” case in the US. In lower courts, he was convicted of violating a Texas law prohibiting any person from desecrating the American flag in a manner that would greatly offend others.

The conviction was appealed up to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled against the conviction on the ground that the flag (like other national symbols) reflects the principles of freedom and inclusiveness; it is a symbol for certain national ideals. Only treatment of these symbols that sends a message that is contrary to these ideals (of freedom and inclusiveness) is reprehensible.

The Court decision led to outrage especially in Republican circles, and Congress was pushed to enact the “Flag Protection Act of 1989.” The Act was promptly challenged in 1990 through a test case known as United States v Eichman (1990). The Supreme Court ruled that the Flag Protection Act was unconstitutional because it suppressed expression out of concern for the message expressed.  The venerable Justice William J. Brennan Jr. is fondly remembered for these rulings of the Supreme Court.

The protected freedoms include speech, press, religion, assembly, association, and petition for redress of grievances. The US Supreme Court was indeed saying that even burning the flag was a form of protected speech; it was also sending a strong message that although government can regulate the exercise of these freedoms, it has no power to prevent them.  This is because sovereignty is of the citizen, not of the government.

Wikipedia tells us that national anthems are national songs that are patriotic musical compositions that evoke and eulogise the history, traditions and struggles of its people. They are played or sung in various contexts, including during national events. National anthems are among the national symbols of a country. They belong to the nation which is owned by the sovereign people, not to the state or government which is an emanation of the people. Nobody can separate the national symbols from the sovereign people without devaluing the reason for which they exist.

In all societies, the judiciary has authority that surpasses all other levels of power. Even in a banana republic like ours, Ahmadou Ahidjo used to remind Judges of the Supreme Court that: “Yes, I, the President (am) the guarantor of your independence, but that independence belongs to you not to the President…” This is why, as we see for the “flag burning” case and its spin-offs in the US, test cases and other types of lawsuits are usually used to bring about social change in societies where the sovereign citizens are alert and combative. We expect our “Maitres” to help us to achieve such social progress, not try to give ownership of national symbols to anybody other than the sovereign people.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Strongmen in Africa: Burkina Faso and Others

                  By Tazoacha Asonganyi 
Tazoacha  Asonganyi
Africa is weighed down by regimes of “strongmen.” They are virtually all over the continent, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. They are characterized by the centralization of power in the hands of one man who, alone, decides on the fate of all state institutions and activities. In general, such state institutions are weak, and play all types of games in the interest of the strongman. 
           Strongmen use all types of ruses to maintain their power: they organize regular, cosmetic elections; are the guarantors of the “independence” of the judicial power in the place of the constitution; ensure that judiciaries are prone to using technicalities not substance to judge “political” conflicts; have absolute control over the legislature which exists only to rubber stamp laws they propose to protect their power; proclaim themselves guarantors of “peace and stability”; make corruption a strong weapon of control; and organize periodic  meetings/dialogues/tripartite/consultations with the “opposition.”
          Following the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, the tensions that developed between the opposition and the strongmen led to the organization of a tripartite conference in Cameroon in 1991 and of an “Inclusive dialogue” followed later by the meeting of the “college of the wise” in Burkina Faso. In Cameroon, although the tripartite recommended 5-year presidential terms, the constitution that was later adopted had article 6(2) which limited presidential terms to 7 years renewable once. In Faso, presidential terms were limited to five years renewable once. This was virtually the same story for most other countries in Africa. However, the strongmen accepted the changes only as a strategy of survival. As their second terms were running out, the articles of the constitutions started being amended from one country to the other, to allow the strongmen to continue to reign in perpetuity.
        When the strongman in Cameroon announced his intention to amend article 6(2) of the constitution, there were popular, uncoordinated uprisings of protest. The strongman turned his repressive machinery full cycle and used a willing army to pound the angry youths to submission. Once there was calm, he hurried the bill to the national assembly and it was voted “overwhelmingly.” And so he is cruising into his third 7-year term, past his 32 years at the helm of the state.
         The Faso strongman was not that lucky because his opposition and civil society are more organized and focused. As he was toying with the effort to effect the change before his second term runs out in 2015, he invited his opposition for consultations for “political reforms,” which failed because the opposition refused to accept any meddling with article 37 which provided for the term limits. The opposition also opposed the creation of a senate which the strongman wanted to put in place and use for his designs. So he started dabbling with the idea of organizing a referendum for the “sovereign people” to decide. When he discovered that the opposition had worked hard to convince the “sovereign people” about the wisdom of their refusal of the change, he turned to bribery and corruption to get the required proportion of parliamentarians who would support the change. What happened on the day parliament had to meet to adopt the bill is now history!
       Following the “independence” of African countries in the ‘60s, constitutionalism was adopted as the form of government for the management of society. The constitutions created institution that were weak and malleable, and reserved overwhelming power to strongmen who would capture the presidency and barricade themselves in it, using all forms of repression. Constitutionalism as the soul of the modern state was fought for and gained with the blood of millions in struggles that spanned centuries. The English Magna Carta of 1215, the American Revolution of 1776, and the French Revolution of 1789, all culminated in constitutionalism and law with enormous sacrifice of human life and effort. Constitutionalism has therefore become a sacred culture of humanity.  There is no doubt that our failure to acknowledge and share in the historical consciousness that constitutionalism represents, is the principal cause of the serious problems constitutionalism is causing to Africa. Strongmen are allowed to prevent the taking of the bold, giant steps that Africa is supposed to take, to emerge from backwardness and international ridicule.
       Africans have to recognize that a double heritage – a dualism - dwells in their breasts: the pre-colonial and post-colonial heritages; the traditional African cultures and the colonial/neocolonial cultures overlaid on it. Who can count the millions of people Africa has also lost to be where it is today: in slavery, in colonialism, in neocolonialism? The two heritages both belong to Africa, as of right. As aptly stated by Franz Fanon, each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it. Some Africans argue for the establishment of “the African way,” usually comprehending it to be a rejection of our colonial/neocolonial heritage. I argue that this is wrong, and that the mission of the African intellectual of this generation is to synthesis the good in our two heritages, and produce working constitutions that represent our own commitment to the ideal of human dignity protected through law; to produce constitutions that end the habit of concentrating state power in one centre, in one man, that manipulates the sovereign people at his whim.
      It is people who incarnate institutions that are usually weak, not the immaterial walls or immaterial texts on pieces of paper that delimit them. The strongman of Cameroon succeeded because parliamentarians and the opposition are weak and powerless. The strongman of Nigeria failed because parliamentarians and the opposition were strong. The Faso strongman failed because the opposition was strong. There will still be many successes and failures of strongmen in Africa, so long as the culture of strongmen continues to endure.    
      The people of Faso should ensure that another strongman does not climb to the ramp to bring back their revolution to square one, because the same weapons that the disgraced strongman used during the last 27 years, will still be available to any other strongman. We need to end the culture of strongmen in Africa, once and for all!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Night Attack on Cameroon’s 2011 presidential candidate: Was it an attempt to eliminate Hon Ayah Paul?

By Christopher Ambe
Hon. Ayah Paul
Hon.Ayah Paul Abine ,who  ran for Cameroon’s 2011 presidential election under the platform of People’s Action Party(PAP) and emerged in the sixth position  last October 22, between 2 and  3 AM  had his fenced residence  in Buea attacked by hoodlums.
    The hoodlums who were trying to break into the residence through the main gate only escaped in their vehicle when they heard the sound of another vehicle, carrying PAP members whom Hon.Ayah had alerted about the attack, fast approaching the scene. Also alerted, armed policemen in two police vehicles, The Recorder gathered, also arrived 30 minutes after the escape of the attackers.
     It is not clear whether it was a gang of assassins or burglars especially as Hon Ayah had before complained about anonymous threats on his life.
      But critical observers of Cameroon’s political scene have quickly dismissed the claim that the attackers  came for money, arguing that it is public knowledge (both nationally and internationally) that Hon.Ayah has gone past one year without monthly salary even as he is yet to go on retirement in two years time. A few Months ago the media widely reported the plight of Hon Ayah without payment.
Hon.Ayah, a former Member of Cameroon’s National Assembly for ten years, is currently the Secretary-General of People’s Action Party (PAP) and an iconic critic of the Biya Regime.
     This career magistrate of exceptional class despite returning to the Ministry of Justice from Parliament has had his salary withheld without explanation from the Cameroon Government. He only survives now thanks to support from his family.
Following is Hon Ayah’s write-up about  the attack on his residence:

    Hon ayah went to bed unusually early at 1.30 AM on the morning of October 22, 2014, when internet had failed. He most likely fell asleep half an hour later at 2 AM. His wife nudged him about 2.30 and Ayah awoke to loud strikes against the main gate to the compound. He immediately put on the security lights as the dog was racing round and barking fiercely. Ayah went on to call a number of people, reporting that his family was under attack.
   Calls began to flow in from far and near, including the Northwest Region. Within the half hour, several members of ayah’s political party – PAP – were at the compound together with three armed policemen in uniform from the Central Police station of Buea. After hearing sideAyah out, the policemen left, promising to keep some of their elements around. PAP members and some neighbours stayed on till after 4 AM.
     Some neighbours recounted this morning that the attackers first came in a car which they parked some distance at the upper end of ayah’s compound. They moved on to the compound on foot and split into two groups of two men each. The group attacking the compound comprised one huge man and another of average size. The other group took cover at Musole valley, waiting for the gate to be ripped open … When the security lights were turned on, the two groups sped off in different directions …
     The morning has been rife with speculations as to the object of the attack. Thieves never attack until they have had dependable information about the availability and quantum of some possible booty. As a parliamentarian for eleven years, Ayah had kept 8 million francs a year for some period for micro projects. And CRTV sang songs about the payment of the money weeks before and weeks after payment. At no one time was Ayah attacked by thieves. How would thieves attack Ayah after the widely circulated publications that ayah is in the 13th month today without a salary?
    Another puzzle is that Ayah’s son’s residence was burgled in Yaounde in broad daylight on October 2, 2014, with the thieves taking and carrying away everything, including his children’s school equipment, cooking pots and cutlery. What rare coincidence would it be that some three weeks later thieves would come to burgle Ayah’s residence in Buea? That thieves have suddenly awaken to the existence and richness of the Ayahs?
Only a question! Glory to God on high!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Governor Okalia Bilai: Epitome of jungle justice in Cameroon

By Asonganyi Tazoacha 
Southwest Governor Bernard Okalia Bilai/Recorder Cmr
At least, over in Yaounde, our God-send, Grande-camarade-bis, goes around noisily, with drones of excited security agents always present to keep the rest of us at bay. The impunity that usually reigns within the ranks of the excited security charges is indescribable.  Power is centred around one point in Cameroon - around one man; it is not like neighbouring Nigeria where power is effectively decentralized, and each centre of power at the state, the local council or even the village level – Governor, Council Chairman, Chief – goes around noisily with their own escorts, and convoys.
    If it were so in Cameroon, Dieudonne Meh, a truck driver in Buea, would not have suffered the humiliation he is said to have suffered in the hands of Okalia Bilai – Governor of the South West Region – because he would have seen, heard, and known that the big-man was coming, and given way as is usually done in Yaounde.
       No doubt, as a driver in Yaounde, I usually feel that if I had the “power,” I would descend from my car and cane some drivers before I arrogantly climb back into my car and drive off. But those are just feelings which are supposed to be impotent – contained and constrained – under the rule of law, whatever “power” I have. The humiliation of Dieudonne Meh by Okalia Bilai is a metaphor for how the rule of law is daily mocked and diminished on a daily basis in Cameroon, debasing us all to a jungle where the unconstrained raw feelings of the powerful take over from the rule of law.
      Ask Michel Djotodia about the undisciplined forces he took into Bangui; he may be honest to tell you that his “boys” took the law into their own hands and carried out self-serving “justice.” It resulted in a reaction that led to the collapse of the state, and the whole nation – in broad daylight! Ask Dominique Strauss Khan about what is meant by the law being the religion of America; if he is honest, he will tell you what befell him when he tried to act like a big-man there! Our own souls are still troubled by the disquieting news about Guérandi Mbara – news that further saps the credibility of our justice system; and here comes Okalia Bilai who is supposed to enforce the rule of law, adding insult to injury. All because of our Orwellian “liberty laws” – the ‘fifteen-days-renewable’ of administrators; Dieudonne Meh must be a “bandit” – like it or not!
       We ordinary people need more respect than administrators usually show us in Cameroon. Some human beings – administrators and some of us - are usually vain, trotting around with bloated egos; others are usually fallible, weak-willed, and lack competence. In spite of these, societies usually live in harmony because the law corrects these weaknesses and compensates for the indecency of morality. The omnipotence of the judiciary gives it an authority that surpasses all other levels of power – even in some banana republics.
       This is why the legal system, through lawsuits, is usually used to bring about social change. Every law has a purpose and a mischief it is intended to address. It is usually the interaction of the law with society that brings about effective civil liberties. What is usually described as plural and democratic society is founded on the rights of the individual.  These rights can only be realized by all individuals in society together. The judicial system cannot do its job of promoting social justice well without the initiatives of a population habituated to freedom. The common disposition of the men and women in a society, and what lies in their hearts that guides the behavior of people like Okalia Bilai, or the response of society to such behavior, defines freedom in a society.
      True, the adversarial process and the rules and rituals in courtrooms may usually obscure reality. The enclosed world of the courtroom where judges wear black robes, lawyers wear Whigs, and witnesses are sworn to tell the truth, may indeed make it difficult to discern reality. After all, the rules of evidence in court are different from the rules of science, since doubt or uncertainty is treated differently in the two worlds. In spite of this, it is mainly the settlement of disputes that maintains the sanity and solidarity of society.
      The absence of rights and freedoms is still our lot in Cameroon. The much hope that was generated by what was announced as the civil procedure code has since been betrayed, and things have settled down to what they have always been. In the end, what counts is not the rules and procedures on paper; it is the thousands of small and big deeds by people like Okalia Bilai that go unnoticed or unaddressed that count for much of the backwardness of our society. The sanity and solidarity of each society is the handiwork of people – their daily acts of commission and omission, small and big.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Cameoon:Guérandi Mbara and 1984

By Tazoacha Asonganyi in Yaounde
      It is not difficult to design a thought experiment, pondering what would happen if 1984 in Cameroon were today, not 30 years ago. Hindsight has a way of clarifying the past, and would make the result of such an experiment edifying.
      Guérandi Mbara was a principal actor in a key event in 1984. If one were to go by the rumour about his capture and elimination, and the cold blooded, casual reaction of the Biya regime, it would be irrefutable proof that the regime seems to glorify its past, pride in its present, and look forward to an unchangeable future! This would be a tragic scenario for Cameroon, to say the least.
     A classic Cameroonian understatement is, “not bad.” This is offered in response to casual social enquiries like, how are you, and many others. Yet, for a long time, we are aware that it is not good! Since the tragic events of 1984, there has been a deep feeling of a great divide in the country’s conscience, caused by the action of one national group that had just left the helm of the state, and the overreaction of another that had just ascended to the helm. There has always been an overwhelming feeling that for the good of the country’s future, we need forgiveness and reconciliation. And we all knew who and what to forgive, which made the task relatively easy. If Guérandi’s alleged capture and execution is true, it would confirm the saying that forgiveness is usually harder to summon than the desire to settle old scores.
    Of course, society as a whole shares responsibility for the leadership, culture, and environment it has.  How the policeman does his work, how the teacher performs in the classroom, what laws come from the elected legislator, how much the rule of law holds sway, and much more, all have influence over our lives and that of the future of our society. We may all have individual guilt, citizen guilt, moral guilt, or metaphysical guilt; in the end, national solidarity renders each of us co-responsible for all the wrongs and all the injustices in the country, especially for crimes which took place in our presence or of which we are aware. This is why the casual response of the regime to the “rumour” about Guérandi is abhorrent.
     For sure, artists see the world differently. So too do journalists. So too do politicians. So too do many others. After all, even the Judeo-Christian Bible, and the Quaran are open to different interpretations, but most of the time, this leads to peaceful co-existence, even if we are today exposed to the banality of evil that individual human beings can come to represent. In spite of that, politics requires that we enter into negotiation with such evil men - and we do - for the sake of national solidarity, national security, and national prestige. Politics is the art of confronting difficult choices, and of reaching legitimate compromises; it is not charity or the expression of compassion, but the exhibition of solidarity.
    Corruption has always been the oil that greases the wheels of longevity in power, laxity, impunity and all the evils that are daily wrought on us ordinary citizens. If the Guérandi script is correct, it worked perfectly against him. Guérandi may come to be a symbol of how the post cold war world can still be cruel and unforgiving. Like for Moumié that suffered virtually a similar fate abroad, it brings home forcefully to us the reminder that the fight for freedom can usually be a lonely one because freedom’s enemies are usually brutal and determined, while freedom’s friends are often unreliable. Luckily, freedom has always had the last word because it is the inextinguishable desire of liberty in the human heart.
   Our Orwellian “advanced democracy,” and other very Cameroonian sound bites that make “democracy” and corruption coexist in perfect harmony in our society, can only serve power vanity; they cannot land any legacy.
    At this stage of our history, we need acts that bind national wounds, not inflict more wounds on the national psyche.