Monday, February 23, 2015

Cameroon:The SDF Crisis

By  Professor Asonganyi Tazoacha*
Professor Asonganyi Tazoacha
 Many people are anxious to know my take on the goings on that are making news in the SDF now.  Rather than write a statement as would probably be expected, I prefer to help interested persons to discern my feelings by including below, information that may be useful to them for their analyses. This includes the statement I made on the constitutional changes that have brought more confusion in the party, the parting statement I made at a press conference indicating that I would no longer run for the post of Secretary General, NEC’s decision that expelled me from the SDF - in other word, I never resigned as SG of the SDF; and a reflection I wrote for The Guardian Post Newspaper, on their request, on “Where the SDF has gone wrong.”

Siga Asanga was the Secretary General of the SDF from the declaration of the party at the DO’s office in Bamenda in February 1990 to March 1994 when he was tried and removed from his post. The problems that led to his destitution and eventual exclusion from the party were related to fuzziness and imprecision in the definition of terms like “anti-party” activities. The problem of Siga Asanga bordered on serious differences in the understanding of the mission of the party by him and some stalwarts of the party, including Fru Ndi.

Since Siga Asanga did not share the views of Chairman Fru Ndi on some core issues in the party, some members seemed to see him as a sort of rival to Fru Ndi. To quote one member at that time, Siga Asanga felt that “power at the head of the party was shared by the Secretary General and the Chairman; I therefore personally campaigned for the destitution of Asanga…”

Of course, if Asanga thought that power at the head of the party is shared by the Secretary General and the Chairman, he was right; power at the head of the party should not only be shared by the Chairman and the SG, but by other officials of the party. Since many members unfortunately did not share this view, Asanga was removed from the post of Secretary General.

It is clear from the above that Asanga’s problem derived mainly from a turf war with the National Chairman. He was the ideologue of the party. He believed firmly in the ideology of social democracy propounded by the party, and in the values of freedom and human rights that were the bedrock of the party.

And so by the time I became Secretary General of the SDF in 1994, there was already a strong, conservative core in the party, made up of those with a dogmatic adherence to the letter, to the exclusion of the spirit of the constitution of the party, and who seemed to be bent on shutting the door in the face of rationality.

The saga of the SDF as I lived it is treated in a book to be launched soon titled “Cameroon: Difficult Choices in a Failed Democracy – A Memoir” (also published in French:- Cameroun: Choix Difficiles  Dans Une Démocratie de Faҫade) ISBN 978-0-9916615-2-7, NGT Publishing, USA, 352 pages.

Here are the documents.

At an SDF Youth Forum that held in Yaoundé on 07 April 2005, I commented as follows on a proposed constitutional amendment of the SDF Constitution - this led to other comments from Nyo'Wakai, Ngwasiri, Kale and others:
 I draw your attention to the emergence of political currents, geared towards the establishment of a leader-centred culture in our party! I stumbled on what is called a proposed amendment of the Constitution of our party just two days ago. The mover of the amendment paints the “leader” as all-knowing, and the people (the militants) as naive, ignorant, and gullible. Dissent is presented under the cloak of quarrels. The consequence is that the proponent proposes that we only vote the “leader” and the “leader” will know best who to choose into the National Executive Committee! Interesting, it is said that nearly all socialist parties do this. If only he knew that the Labour party (UK) and others use all the militants of their party to elect their NEC members!
If such thinking were to gain currency in our party, I fear that the whole philosophy of the SDF will be turned upside down, and the party will lose its raison-d’être. There will be absolutely nothing to differentiate the SDF from the failed Cameroon state that has been ruined by this “leader-centred” mentality or from the CPDM where one man calls the shots! It should be remembered that the Constitution of the party makes provisions for replacing absentee members of an executive, or for filling vacant posts!
Checks and balances in our party are ensured by a robust NEC, a robust Advisory Council, and the devolution of power to lower party structures. This appointment-jittery fringe in the party should ponder the fate of the National Advisory Council, which is supposed to be a counter-balancing force, but which is virtually non-existent because its members have to be…appointed. Those who are supposed to ensure the existence of the important institution are reluctant to establish the very institution which will check the arbitrary exercise of their own power! Let us not fall in the same trap we sought to get out of through the creation of the SDF...

On 27 September 2005, I made the following statement to announce that I would no longer run as SG at the upcoming elective convention of the party:
As you may be aware, the Primaries for the renewal of the National Executive Committee of the SDF were launched on 05 September 2005 in conformity with the texts of our party. The ritual has always been observed, especially since I became Secretary General of the SDF on Sunday 19 June 1994. Since then, I have worked selflessly for the SDF, and have always put party and national interests before self-interest; and of course national interest before party interest.
This time around, with the launching of the primaries for NEC, I have decided no longer to present my candidature for a post in NEC.  I thought that I should invite you, our good friends of the press who have been effective companions in the struggle for change in our country all these years, to inform you about this. I know that you will be interested to know why I have taken such a decision.  Well, there are several reasons for it.

I feel strongly that the leadership of the party of which I am an important member has so far not succeeded in turning the formidable SDF machine into an effective catalyst for change in our country. Indeed, based on the resolutions of the 1999 Yaoundé Convention which empowered NEC to look for all other avenues to bring change to Cameroon, the outgoing NEC was not able, or was unwilling to create real opportunities to bring change to our country. I feel that this failure was due to lack of  a shared vision within the leadership, since we failed to clearly identify and prioritise the different circles of “self,” “party,” and “country.” 

As you will agree with me, these differences in vision and internecine quarrels have dominated the life of the outgoing leadership. Some of these were due to the emergence of a personality cult, which has as corollary the emergence of the all-knowing chief. When this happens in a group, all criticism, even the constructive is considered as a crime against the chief. In such an atmosphere, sincerity, solidarity and friendship are replaced by suspicion and calumny. A team that does not show love, friendship and solidarity within itself is not well placed to promote these values either in the party or in the country at large.

Further, there is persistent rumour that the leadership of the SDF not only has regular, secret contacts with the CPDM regime but also receives substantial secret funding from the regime. Of the substance of such rumours, I am completely innocent and ignorant. This seems to have greatly compromised the effectiveness not only of the SDF but also of the opposition in Cameroon. Unfortunately, the divergent visions and quarrels within the leadership have blocked the possibility of discussing and adequately evacuating the rumours.

You know that in all democratic organizations, the majority carries the day. Unfortunately, with the treatment of some disciplinary files in the party, I have started questioning the use of discipline as an effective instrument of promoting democracy in our Party. Some of the disciplinary files have been glaring examples of abuse of proceedings to stifle debate, deny members their basic democratic rights or have a go at perceived opponents of the leadership. Indeed, coupled with these abuses, issues of reconciliation in the party, long ruled on by the 1996 Buea Convention, and hesitantly brought to fruition on 8 September 2004 at the SDF Reconciliation Forum, continue to be treated in a self-protective manner by some of us.

As a member of the outgoing leadership, I fully share responsibility for these failures and weaknesses and strongly feel that new blood should be given the chance to oil and run the formidable SDF machine, and provide a new image of leadership and of the party.  I do hope that such new leadership will wipe out some of the perceptions about the present leadership and create a healthy atmosphere for the functioning of the SDF machine, rekindle the flame of militancy and the full embrace of the SDF vision, put the machine in harmony with other genuine opposition forces in the country and thus convert the SDF into a true locomotive of the forces of change. I also hope that such new leadership will be less self-protective and more aware of the reinvigorating role not only of reconciliation but also of proper disciplinary procedures within the SDF, and so turn the machine into a real catalyst for change in our country. 

Finally, I also have the strong feeling that no one should hold an elective or public office for perpetuity. It is needless to say that I will continue to play my full role as Secretary General until a new one is elected at the upcoming Convention of our party. After the convention, there will be a proper handing over, according to our rules.  Further, I will remain a strong, active and vocal militant of the SDF. I will be fully available to the leadership that will emerge following the 7th Ordinary Convention of the SDF in February 2006.
Thank you very much for coming.  I look forward to our continued cooperation. I know that some of you will like to ask me some questions. I will be pleased to answer them. Once more, thank you very much.

On 06 February 2006 I was served the following document in French (my translation) by a Bailiff Mah Ebenezer Paul:
Social Democratic Front. Meeting of the Disciplinary Council of 28 February 2006. In the year 2006, and on 28 January 2006, meeting in extraordinary session at the Presbyterian Church Centre Ntamulung in Bamenda, the National Executive Committee, meeting as a Disciplinary Council, ruled on the affair of Tazoacha Asonganyi Michael, suspended Secretary General of the party, and deliberated as follows:
-          Considering the constitution and internal rules and regulations of the party, as subsequently amended:
-          Considering rules of discipline of members;
-          Considering resolutions of previous NEC meetings;
-          Considering the statements made by Prof. Tazoacha Asonganyi Michael during a press conference on 27 September 2005 in Yaoundé;
-          Considering the different submissions in his disciplinary file;
-          Considering the different opinions expressed during the debate;
-          Considering the result of the vote to determine the sanction;
Unique article: With effect from 28 February 2006, takes note of the loss of membership of the SDF by Prof Tazoacha Asonganyi Michael in conformity with the provisions of section 8.2 of the Constitution. Done in Bamenda, 28 January 2006, The President of the Disciplinary Council, Etienne Sonkin.

Where the SDF has gone wrong
This title is suggested to me by the Editors of the Guardian Post Newspaper who asked me to participate in a reflection on the life of the SDF.
Political parties are like war games. The ebb and flow of events provide patterns on which to construct a narrative. The key events are obvious; winners and losers are also generally obvious; and outcomes can be traced back to specific decisions and trends. Outside watchers may usually not have clear markers to indicate exactly what happened, except perhaps what they tease out of recorded declarations, critiques, and official party texts.
Within this context, I will address four of the many problems that beset the SDF and led to its weakening.

Problem Number one: Founding Fathers.
Some operations are fated to go wrong from the start. The SDF was created to win power and govern. Its birth was facilitated by persons who later branded themselves “founding fathers.” By the constitution which they helped to write, they were supposed to play a central role in the nurturing of the “baby” they had helped to deliver.
But the baby they had helped to deliver belonged to society; it was not theirs! They were midwives that helped Cameroon society to deliver a “baby” from its pregnancy. In a way, like all midwives, their hour on stage had to be short and fretful. Like Marx’s proletariat that defines his goal as its own elimination as an exploited, alienated class, the birth of the SDF was supposed to cause the disappearance – so to say - of the midwives from the stage.
Unfortunately, instead of vacating the stage and allowing society to move forward the “revolution” – the “baby” - they helped to engender, the “founding fathers” attempted to act like Marx’s “communist” who had the theoretical advantage over the rest of the proletariat; who had an insight into the condition, the path and the general result of the proletarian movement. So the “founding fathers” imposed themselves as the “selfless servants” of the truth whose conservation they sought. They assumed that since they were “first” in the world of the SDF, they had precedence to generating an all inclusive thought system in the party. Most had a totalitarian view of politics and saw dissent as a betrayal; most saw antagonistic ideas as embedded in people who must perish with the idea in them through the famous Article 8.2!
The birth of the SDF was supposed to become at once a result and a catalyst for the step-by-step amelioration of the party. This was necessary since there is no preconceived or eternal form that can define once and for all the form of society that fits society for ever, or a form for a political party that can fit the party for ever. New ideas were not supposed to be seen as a rupture with one’s previous political engagements; rather, they were supposed to constitute a way of adjusting one’s goals; a way of thinking anew the relation between ends and means. Like Marx would put it, the human world is open to human actions because it is a creation of man.
Instead of providing the checks and balances they thought they would provide to the SDF, the “founding fathers” turned their “baby” into what Ngwasiri described to Nyo’Wakai in a correspondence in 1997 as follows: “Those of you who are the Chairman’s close associates have built him into a powerful monster and a dictator who has been trampling on democratic ideals with impunity...The SDF is today a party without history because its history is that of one man.”

Problem number two: Article 8.2 and the disciplinary process.
The SDF at inception adopted trial by jury as the means of finding guilt and punishing its members. But the procedure had weaknesses in the four components of trial by jury – judge, jury, prosecution, and defense. The major weaknesses were: 1) there was no sitting "judge" (with good knowledge of the intricacies of the rules and regulations as well as ideals of the party) to preside over the proceedings; the president of the jury played that role!; 2) the legal advisers (who were usually the main prosecutors) were the ones who usually dealt with points of law that arose, not the “judge"; 3) the prosecutors and defence counsel vote as part of the jury if they are NEC members; 4) members of the jury usually questioned the accused as if they were part of the prosecution; 5) prosecution and defence witnesses who were members of the executive that was sitting as the jury participated in the decision of the jury; 6) decisions of the jury were most of the time not based entirely on evidence adduced from the prosecution and defence during the trial.
In jury trials, the jury is supposed to take its decision in the absence of the accused, the "judge", prosecution and defence counsels, and the witnesses. This was not the case in the SDF. Further, “loss of membership” through the Article 8.2 fiat was much abused. Many people have called for its modification although the leadership once said that if article 8.2 goes, they would go with it!
 Article 8.2 can be modified as follows:
1)      Section 8: Loss of Membership: Membership shall be lost through the following circumstances:
2)      8.1 By death, mental and/or other incapacity resulting in loss of reason;
3)      8.2 By expulsion from the party as provided for in section 16.1.a.i;
4)      8.3 By resignation from the party as determined by a document duly signed by the member to that effect or a bailiff, with acknowledgement of receipt.

Problem number three: Interference of NEC in decisions of lower structures.
Checks and balances in the SDF were supposed to be provided by a robust national executive committee (NEC), a robust national advisory council (NAC), and the devolution of power to the lower structures. This was subverted by the ad hoc treatment of NAC, and the permanent interference of NEC in the affairs of the lower structures. NEC regularly sent “NEC Commissions” to conduct elections in structures, rather than supervise the conduct of the elections by the sub-commissions that delegates at elective conferences put in place as provided for by the SDF constitution. This led to abuse, demobilization, and generalize in-fighting.

Problem number four: Leadership.
It is usually said that leadership is finding a parade and getting in front of it. That creates the tandem of leadership and followership. None can exist without the other, but, importantly, the parade was there before the duo emerged. Only the leadership can fail the parade, not the other way round; the parade was there for a purpose. In case of failure, as is evident all around us, those who turn around and say things like “Cameroonians are not serious,” “Cameroonians do not care,” “Cameroonians are cowards” and others in that sense are in effect painting the picture of inadequate leadership.  There may have been parades and people who rushed to get in front of them, not knowing that leadership is serious business!

I hope these documents and more will help in the analysis of what is going on in the SDF today
Thank you.

*Professor Asonganyi Tazoacha, who is a noted social critic, was one-time the Secretary-General of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), Cameroon’s leading opposition party.

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