Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Cameroon Politics, Power Games and Manipulation of Public Opinion

By Asonganyi Tazoacha*
As every schoolboy knows, Titus Edzoa and his “accomplice” Thierry Atangana were sentenced to serve a 15-year prison term because the grand design was that they would only leave prison after Paul Biya had served his two terms of 14 years (prémier et deuxième septennats) and left power. However, as the years reduced from double to single digits and kept reducing, the prospect of actually leaving power became more and more real. Apparently, Biya has not prepared himself for doing anything else other than being head of state! He started to have second thoughts, and actually went ahead to cause parliament to change the wise decision of the 1991 tripartite conference of a maximum two seven-year mandate, to a life tenure. So what to do with the impending release of Edzoa and his mate? Simple my boy! Open other judicial files, and extend their sojourn in prison for as long as possible, since no one knows when the “big man” will finally leave power. And so they were landed another twenty years in jail! I do not know what this phrase dear to the regime “aller dire” really means in English, but that is it!

Corruption intensified in Cameroon, mainly perpetrated by the all pervasive CPDM party and its “militants.” We were told that operation “Epervier” was the magic wand that would stem it and clean up the mess, but it has only brought us shame and despair; it has only bred arrogance and defensive reactions. Victims of the operation have turned out to be mainly victims of power games. In open daylight as if to mock some of them and us, police agents seeking to feather their own nests or to settle personal or tribal scores, have added to or exaggerated information they received about suspects, while some regime barons have influenced police reports for their own personal agendas. The judiciary is usually recruited to put finishing touches. All this is common knowledge. Even Ephraim Inoni saw his humiliation as the vendetta of “the most powerful people” to use his own words.

The other day a CPDM section president whom the press described as Biya’s street fighter or Biya’s madman, took upon himself to “settle scores with Radio France Internationale (RFI) and France” for putting their mouth – so to say – in the Titus Edzoa/Thierry Atangana affair. He declared from his Mezam throne (my translation):
“I would like to end by telling those agitating for the release of Thierry Atangana and Titus Edzoa that the two prisoners are both former civil servants in Cameroon paid from the public treasury. The monthly salary of the two prisoners is 1.660.000 Fcfa (2500 euros). Paradoxically, the two prisoners who each served less than 15 years in the public service are property owners evaluated at more than 39 billion Fcfa (about 600 million Euros). Considering their monthly salaries, Michel Thierry Atangana and Titus Edzoa would have worked for over 200 years to be legitimate owners of the property they own today. That is the real debate…”

That is indeed the real debate! It is this type of simple arithmetic in the Cameroon society as a whole that led a baron of the CPDM some years ago to warn that if “Epervier” is let loose on society, the CPDM regime would collapse. Reason why it has since visited only selected households, although there is evidence of unaccounted for billions shouting at us from every corner of the society. Since the CPDM regime has carved out the country into patches of green grass on which it tethers its chosen ones – its hungry cows - based on its politics of cronyism, favouritism, tribalism and nepotism, the figures do not always add up for these chosen ones – thousands of them, who are incidentally the richest people in Cameroon! Our collective wisdom forced article 66 into the 1996 constitution to check the generalized pillage of the resources of the country by barons of the CPDM regime, but up to today, Paul Biya has been obstinate in his refusal to allow the application of that article of the constitution, making him the chief promoter of self and faction interests over general interest.  Who is fooling whom?

Turning to our opposition SDF, common sense would tell us that the election of Joshua Osih to parliament in 2013 was as important for the party as the election of Clement Ngwasiri was in 2002: Osih is the first vice president of the party; Ngwasiri was a “founding father” and the president of the national advisory council of the party. The election of such high profile persons into parliament is generally expected to lead to the movement of chess pieces around the political chessboard of the party in the House. However, in Cameroon politics, such movements are not always easy, as the case of the SDF has shown.

To preempt such expected movements in 2002 the famous “Bamenda Peace Pact” was used to “finish” Ngwasiri. After a secret meeting with the Governor of the Northwest, the Attorney General of the Northwest, the Legion Commander and some other regime people, Fru Ndi surreptitiously convinced Ngwasiri who was living under the same roof with him, and other new entrants into parliament like Tasi Ntang and Aaron Neba to attend a follow-up meeting convened by the Governor. Following the meeting, a “Peace Pact” was issued on July 12, 2002 signed by Achidi Achu, Tadzong Abel Nde, John B. Ndeh, Buma A. Foncham, Fon Doh Gwanyim III, Clement Ngwasiri, Tasi Ntang, Aaron Neba, Ngomanji Emmanuel, Mankefor Clement and Adrian Kouambo. Incidentally Fru Ndi signed a communiqué the same day to end the boycott of councils that the SDF had decreed. The “Pact” exploded in the SDF like a bomb. The chess pieces were not moved. All else is history.

Fast forward to 2013; Osih gets elected to the House. So what happens to the chess pieces? Since the SDF is always running behind the press these days to correct what the party said or did, or what it did not say or do, we shall assume that what the SDF did not correct is what they said and did. They should blame only themselves for this, not the press. The press generally abhors tight-lipped politics because it give the impression that there is something to hide, and creates a vacuum which the press happily fills with speculation to force the tight lips to snap open.

Following the election of Joshua Osih into the Assembly, everybody expected the chess pieces to be moved, so there was speculation that he would either be the SDF group leader or one of the vice presidents of the Assembly. But there was no such tectonic shift because of mutual back-scratching in the party. Instead, the party went begging their strategic partner to increase the number of vice presidents in the bureau of the House so they could give it to their vice president. Apparently, their strategic partner did not accept to do so, instead inviting the SDF to join them in government to obtain more “places” to share to their stalwarts.

Interestingly, the press is telling us again that the party is asking its strategic partner to reduce the “plethoric” government; to cut it down to about 22 cabinet ministers. Then you start seeing grandstanding to manipulate public opinion. A party that did not have the courage to readjust its bureau members because of cronyism is asking its strategic partner to readjust its government; a party that asked for the bureau of the Assembly to be expanded to serve its selfish interests, is asking its strategic partner to reduce the size of the government.

To use Chinua Achebe’s words, effective communication is the oil with which politics is eaten. Unprincipled politics has a way of mocking those who practice it. Political communication transmits political views using arguments, symbols, attitudes and practices characteristic of a political party. Political views based on best practices within a political party are usually more convincing; simple examples speak more forcefully and clearly than dozens of sermons and rallies and communiqués.

“Epervier” is not supposed to be a ritual dance in which the heads of perceived “enemies” and rivals are cut and proudly presented as trophies. Opposition politics is not supposed to be the theatrical presentation of unprincipled and incoherent positions, most of which have no bearing to the real reasons for the stagnation, laxity, generalized corruption and embezzlement of public funds, poverty, disorganization, oppression and repression, and the many other injustices that are our lot in the Cameroon society today.
 *Asonganyi Tazoacha is a  sharp sociopolitical critic and Cameroonian University Don

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