Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Cameroon:Paul Biya, History and Power Politics

By Asonganyi Tazoacha
 A former French president Giscard d’Estaing with an insight shaped by being a witness and participant in the triumph of the human spirit over unimaginable odds because he fought in the Second World War, once said that history is tragic, and that there can be no response to history without effort. What is sure is that Paul Biya was not a participant in the struggle for the independence of Cameroun. That is why he probably did not understand the French journalist who asked him questions during the joint press conference he held with François Hollande in Yaounde recently. But I think the mention by Hollande of the struggles of Um Nyobe and his colleagues for the independence of Cameroun was indirectly drawing his attention to where the French journalists were coming from.

Human history is one single continuum of the march of humanity in search of liberty, freedom and rights. The British as part of the continuum shed their blood and provided humanity with the Magna Carta. The Americans in the effort to move the struggle forward, also shed their blood in the American Revolution and provided humanity with a written constitution that famously declared that “We the people…in order to form a more perfect union…and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and to our Posterity do ordain and establish this Constitution…” And the French shed their own blood during their own Revolution to take liberty, rights and freedom to their own next level.

In Cameroun, Um Nyobe and his colleagues struggled to add their own value to this human struggle for liberty, freedom and rights; to add their own quota to the continuum of human effort. Unfortunately, the French joined Ahidjo to prevent Um and his colleagues from making any contribution to the advancement of the continuum. The result is that Ahidjo and later Paul Biya understood and copied only the letter of the constitutionalism that is the outcome of this long and continuing human struggle, neglecting the spirit shaped by several centuries of sacrifice to establish rights, liberty and freedom. This is why Paul Biya thinks that the constitution is just a piece of paper that can be manipulated to refuse the freedom, liberty and rights that the constitution is supposed to incarnate; why he can freely turn the constitution from a charter of freedom and rights for all, to a charter of personal power and the liberty and authority of repression!

Paul Biya’s declaration that he has been in power for the last 33 years because the people want it to be so, is a confirmation that history is indeed tragic. He most obviously failed to understand that the question put to him was based on the spirit of constitutionalism, not the letter.
In his boastful answer, he left the impression that he is a messiah, gifted by nature above other humans. Although he is human like you and me, he thinks that he is a god; so he plays god! Since by the letter of his manipulated constitution he is the lone manager of all the powers that he considers sacred, he can play god! He has acquired absolute power, unchecked, creating fertile ground for corruption. In a way, it is his absolute power that provides the fuel for the corruption we live with today. As the wielder of absolute power, he takes liberties to bend and ambush laws and regulations to suit his convenience, desires or aims – all of which has given birth to filthy corruption. Somehow, all coopted persons – appointed officials – decided to imitate the king to the extent they could, and so corruption spread in the various centers of sub-absolute powers the king created and controls!

Paul Biya knows very well that his longevity in power is not because of the people; it is because of the inner logic of the power grid that he has purposely engineered into the fabric of our society. With the power architecture in place, he freely wills himself into power, “election” after “election.” As with all such human exclusionist effort, the state’s political and bureaucratic order has become confused with the state; and the the perception has been created that only the king-cum-chief priest-cum-philosopher and his power servants are true servants of the state. The rest of us in our various team corners doing our best in the service of the state are perceived as outsiders. These perceived “in” and “out” groups – those near the center of power and those removed from it, are also perceived to live opposite lives: the “ins”a “juicy life” and the “outs” a life “in the cold.” Small wonder that our society is what it is today, with the majority “outs” feeling alienated from the state and also constituting themselves into centers of corruption, in imitatation of the center and sub-centers of power.

Power is most obviously not a divine gift; it is a product of the human mind. Power predisposes to greater power, to the delusion of possessing a blank check - politically and otherwise. Humans can decide to aggregate power or allocate and share it rationally and symmetrically. Man uses power to serve specific purposes. This is why a major future challenge for Cameroon and Cameroonians is to think up a new power grid that disrupts the present order and the present attempt to stabilize the power grid in the interest of a cabal, a cartel or monopoly. We have to engineer a new power grid that renders politicians impotent and the people powerful - for the good of the state, and the people.The new power grid will so disperse power that no one bloc, no one person, however temporarily triumphant, can become a domineering or dominant boastful power. As it is usually the case, when we give and scatter powers back to the people, back to their greatest numbers, it will be to ensure that their genius opens windows of creativities and pours out a national abundance for us all, not only for people of power…

Corruption is the abuse of power or office; the use of office, influence or power for what it is not intended by rules and regulations. Corruption is not so much about persons; it is the system that co-opts or pushes persons, most of the time innocent, into corruption. Corruption is about power games, power grids. It is the nature and infrastructure of power distribution in society that can adequately check corruption. Therefore the fight against corruption has to be the fight for the re-engineering of societal power architecture - the distribution of power. Power needs to be democratically shared and allocated to serve the state and all of us well. By using the fight against corruption as a self-preserving weapon to arrest and imprison selected people, Paul Biya has been giving the impression that there are corruption-free “nationalists”, or even saints in his regime. By that, he has indirectly nominated himself and some of his cronies as these “saints” and “nationalists”! However, nobody doubts that they appear to be clean just because their own reputation has been placed beyond enquiry, or the aggregated powers he controls spares them for self-serving reasons.

Politicians are known for their greed. Paul Biya has been emotionally involved for over 30 years in the engineering of the suffocating power grid that we have in Cameroon. It is obvious that time has dented the clarity of his thoughts and the quality of his vision and discernment. His exit will serve the nation better than his further presence and continued assumed contribution. This is why he should not stand election in 2018. And he should leave us to choose his successor through the polls, rather than foist another unknown on us, like Ahidjo did for him.

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