By Tazoacha Asonganyi in Yaounde.
Many countries have their “Democracy Day”- a day that most symbolizes the advancement of democracy in the country. Nigeria for example established May 29 as a public holiday to mark Democracy Day - the day the country returned to civilian rule by the swearing in of Olusegun Obasanjo as the first civilian president after a long period of military rule. In Canada, there is Democracy Day to celebrate Canadian democracy by encouraging participation and education. An International Day of Democracy was established in 2007 by the United Nations General Assembly to be celebrated each year on September 15.
And so on September 15, 2015 Jean-Marc Bikoko and some other civil society actors organized a colloquium at the Yaounde Sports Center on governance and democratic alternance in Cameroon. During the meeting, they were brutalized by security forces, arrested and locked up.
It was Margaret Thatcher who famously declared that there is no such thing as “society” because only families and individuals who ought to be taking care of themselves are found there!
Society is the conglomeration of the people of a community, a country. It is where social activities of the democratic polity are carried out.
The power exercised in a country is produced from within society. It is produced through the interactions of political, communicative, and economic activities. It is such activities that lead society to discover the form towards which it tends. The power exercised in a country draws the resources for its own actions from the movement of society. The creation of awareness, of political consciousness, of receptivity, of citizenship depends on such activities in society. Those in society with heightened awareness, consciousness, and receptivity become “civil” (well bred, courteous, polite, obliging, etc.) society. Civil society carves out itself to become the voice, eyes and ears of society, and to provide the people with continuing education and advocacy. The actions of society generate the political issues on which the politics of government is based.
A Republic as appropriated by Cameroon is a constitutional form that guarantees that the public (society’s) political forum remains always open. It is the political framework that permits and legitimates the action of society upon itself. Republican politics implies the presence of an open space for self-critique; a space where the tensions that emerge due to activities in society crystallize into political problems that cry out for solutions. Such problems and their solutions ensure that the citizens feel themselves part of the collective project of nation building.
In principle, the politics that provide solutions to the political problems that crystallize in society are guided by the state. The state is the Institution created by society to rule society. A government runs the state in trust for society (the people) to guide its political actions. Classical thought since antiquity has warned that this set-up opposes permanently the freedom of society to the power of the state. Power and freedom always get locked up in perpetual confrontation; power seeking always to expand at the expense, and with the complicity of freedom. This is why in order for activities in society to be democratic its political structure – the state - should also be democratized. That can only happen when society exercises power that it uses to invent, nourish and constrain political power. The power of society is based on the continuing education that is generated by its activities.
Unfortunately, the Cameroon state has refused to democratize. After taking power by the force of arms in 1960, Ahmadou Ahidjo signed an ordinance relating to subversive activities which was a sort of warning to the Cameroon society that if you publish or spread any information about me or my government or my henchmen which is true or false but that embarrasses me, my government or my henchmen, you are guilty and will be punished. The track of the Ahidjo regime that lasted until 1982 is littered by victims of this ordinance.
The advent of Paul Biya in 1982 changed nothing. He used the ordinance until 1990 when he repealed it (law no 9/046 of 1990) but surreptitiously transferred the contents to the penal code (law no. 90/061 of 1990). And so the recent brutalization of Jean-Marc Bikoko and other society actors in 2015 is a replica of the arrest of Yondo Black and other actors in 1990, under the terms of that warning! The so-called Rights and Freedoms Laws of 1990 were only weapons to reinforce and execute the “warning.”
The implication of all this is that the Cameroon state has carved a place for its “Head” that is beyond good and evil; that is above and beyond the truth even about himself. Any enquiry into the reality of national governance is banned. And so the police, administrative officials and other elements for the maintenance of “law and order” will not let anybody to commit a crime. Since publishing or spreading any information that embarrasses the regime is a crime, they will not let you commit the crime. With this mindset, society is totally controlled and repressed by the Cameroon state, and the only voice to be heard is that of the state!
It is incredible that government and henchmen that miss no opportunity to tell the world that their hero is in power because it is the will of the people want the very people to remain just hearers and believers of the voice of the state. They want their hero to be the “god” of our beliefs. They rob the people of their freedom and of the opportunity to receive education from society, because they want their all-knowing hero to be a “god” with a congregation – the people - as ignoramuses, as idiots, so that they can keep believing! With that, their hero becomes the people and he becomes the nation! His will becomes disguised as the peoples’ Will!
The violence of the Cameroon state on society is the handiwork of the henchmen of a state that has reduced the exercise of power to the function of command and coercion, and repression. The state is run as if it is separate from society; it acts on society as if it is an outside force! The Cameroon state ignores the fact that organizations like the Red Cross, Doctors without Frontiers, Article 19, Democracy Watch, Amnesty International, NDI, Transparency International and many others are emanations of society. There are thousands of such around the world that empower democracy and keep societies open and vibrant. State repression has reduced the Cameroon society to facing challenges like Boko Haram with sterile marches, haphazardly formed “vigilante” groups, and motions of support to a fabricated “god.”
In spite of all this, the Cameroon society should never give up! Even in more repressive states like the ones we had in the USSR and Eastern Europe, societies remained active. After all, it was the civil society that emerged underground that finally came to a head with the repressive states in those countries; their militant actions are symbolized by their bringing down the Berlin Wall to end 70 years of obscurantism.
Jean-Marc Bikoko, right on brother! Right on!!