Thursday, January 2, 2014

Cameroon:Paul Biya's 2014 New Year Speech Says Little In Many Words

By  Professor Asonganyi Tazoacha in Yaounde
  As usual, I sat by my TV screen around 7:30 p.m. on December 31, waiting for the end-of-year speech of Paul Biya. To kill time, I flipped to France-24 to follow the report on the release of Father Georges Vandenbeusch that was being presented over and over again by the Channel, until I was jolted to consciousness by the image of French president François Hollande making his own end-of-year speech to the French. So I flipped to CRTV to find Paul Biya already at the stage of congratulating ELECAM. This did not worry me because I knew I would follow the beginning of the speech from the background voice of the journalist that would read the English version of the speech at the end of his performance.
    At the end of the speech, without really knowing what I expected from it, I felt disappointed or dissatisfied, and decided to flip to other channels to avoid the 'griots' that were preparing to “dissect the speech” for us commoners. Although it was already past 9:00 p.m., I fell on RTS and found Macky Sall still addressing the Senegalese people. I found his own quite engaging, but had no time to sit through it, so I decided to go get the speeches from the internet. At around 10:00 p.m., I found the French versions of Biya’s and Sall's on the net but not the English version of Biya's.
    The two speeches were interesting in the way they differed from each other. Sall’s was about one-and-a-half times longer than Biys’s. As for figures - excluding dates and timeframes; figures that report government action in concrete terms - Biya’s had just four (3 reference hospitals, 4.8 % growth rate, 6.1 % projected growth rate, and 50% level of consumption of investment budget); for Sall’s I counted some fifty six in all domains of Senegalese society! Sall’s allows government action to be scientifically evaluated periodically; Biya’s does not because it is based on generalities and is really unfocused.
    Paul Biya says correctly that it is time for Cameroonians to engage in serious and objective debate of issues dear to them. To him these include purchasing power, employment and living standards. Important as these may be, Cameroonians need a pre-requisite, a constitutional framework acceptable to all. Like framers of the American Constitution that stated that “we are not giving our people the best constitution, but the best one they can accept,” we have not yet given the people of Cameroon the best constitution they can all accept. The present constitution is basically just rules and procedures to regulate the affairs of those who have power, and to help them to keep power in perpetuity. It is a constitution that serves the interests of a faction; it puts all the powers of decision in the country in the hands of one man!
     Another urgent issue that deserves “serious and objective” debate for urgent resolution is related to double citizenship, which Biya did not address. When Mongo Beti returned to Cameroon in the early 1990s, he wanted to run as the parliamentary candidate of the SDF in Mbalmayo in 1997. His candidature was rejected on the pretext that he was a French national. More recently, there is a polemic on the “American nationality” of Ndedi Eyango who recently won election as the “PCA” of the Cameroon society for music and arts. Judged by what is practiced in Cameroon generally, it seems that the issue of “double nationality” is treated with levity by the Cameroon regime; turning a blind eye here, and opening their eyes wide, depending on who you are and the interests at stake!
    Yet, the issue of double nationality is an important issue long resolved by many countries. Taking Ghana which many people consider as a “good example” of liberty and democracy in Africa, after the country reached its own “tipping point” in 1980s and actually tipped into chaos and disorder for some time, they got their axe together, so to say, and made a spectacular turnaround; they crafted a constitution in 1992 which laid down limits within which government power would be exercised. In 1996, to ensure that Ghana and Ghanaian citizens exploit all avenues opened up by globalization, article 8 of the constitution was amended to introduce dual citizenship as follows: “A citizen of Ghana may hold the citizenship of any other country in addition to his citizenship of Ghana; without prejudice to article 92(2)(a) of the constitution, no citizen of Ghana shall qualify to be appointed as a holder of any office specified in this clause if he holds the citizenship of any other country in addition to his citizenship of Ghana: Ambassador or High Commissioner; Secretary to the Cabinet; Chief of Defense Staff or any other Service Chief; Inspector General of Police, Commissioner, Customs, Excise and Preventive Service; Director of Immigration Service; Any office specified by an act of parliament…”
     Back to the speech, Paul Biya said in many words that the Vision-2035 crafted by his government is a mirage. Indeed, the poverty reduction strategy Paper (PRSP) that came before the Vision did not work, and the revised version now called the growth and employment strategy paper (GESP), which we are told, will address the first 20 years of Vision-2035 will not work too for the same reasons. In short, the manner in which we are governed today provides no hope for the famous Vision.
    In this other speech, there are still rhetorical questions Biya keeps asking himself, since he is the one at the foot of the proverbial wall. Are we different from others that are succeeding in other places? What do we lack? What is the use of some follow-up commissions? Why does government action lack coherence and transparency? Why are there so many administrative bottlenecks? And so on! Well, speeches and questions, however well framed, however good or impressive, cannot on their own change anything; only institutional politics can. As John Maxwell would tell him, the attitude of the people is a reflection of the attitude of the leader; or better still, those closest to the leader determine his level of success or failure.
    As Karl Marx would also advise him, the human world is open to human actions because it is a creation of man. What obtains in the Cameroon society today – the stagnation, the corruption, the domination of self interest, generalized laxity – is generated by human action or inaction with Paul Biya as a willing accomplice in their perpetuation during the last (over) 30 years. He is mired in a routine that seems to be impossible for him to break. Added to that, his own party people have become confused and settled on empty slogans like “grandes ambitions,” “grandes realizations,” none of which has content nor implies a politics of existence, like “socialism,” “liberalism,” Marxism, Leninism, Maoism did. He has put in place an absolutist infrastructure that sees all “new” action as a dangerous rupture with his routine of facility and “order.”
     He keeps telling us that we are advancing in “democracy” because we are organizing elections. Fareed Zakaria would tell him that for countries like ours, democracy and liberty are not the same. He always pays little attention to how much elections are undermined by crooks, thugs, party zealots, fanatics and ethnic bigots, all elements that block progress in all domains of our society. Indeed, laxity and generalized failures of our society have led to an unstable equilibrium that is constantly used as justification for the existence of the regime; as a measure of the “success” of the regime. Those who complain about the failures of the regime are always asked to look across our borders to see that there is chaos outside, and "peace" within. In this, Paul Biya and his acolytes do not seem to buy Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping point” – the magic moment when a “peaceful” society gets to a point and tips into chaos. We have witnessed such tips in Ghana, Kenya, the Arab world, South Sudan, Central African Republic, you name them. They are jointly testimony to the fact that societies like ours - under the cloak of  electoral fraud, longevity in power, corruption, abuse of human rights, ethnicity, nepotism, use of government institutions and powers to impose social unity and cohesion, and all other abuses - are close to the brink. 
   Paul Biya has been around for quite some time because this was his 32nd New Year address to Cameroonians. Like the many rendezvous’ he missed with the people during 2013, he obviously missed this one of December 31, 2013. Since he still talks about “un délai raisonnable” [a reasonable time] for putting in place the constitutional council that was supposed to have been in place since 1996, time does not seem to be his problem, although it is not on his side. The speech, like past ones, left us with much uncertainty, even if we are certain that the next New Year speech of the President of the Republic to Cameroonians will be either the first or the 33rd.

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