On 6th November 2009, President Paul Biya of the West African state of Cameroon celebrated his 27th anniversary in power by writing a letter to his citizens. The letter was issued to Cameroonians via daily newspapers in the country of nearly 20 million inhabitants.
Paul Biya‘s message to his compatriots stressed the importance of the country's peace and stability in a generally turbulent continent as a major achievement. But Voice of the Oppressed did not quite fancy this argument:
Without much to showcase to languishing Cameroonians, Biya had no choice but to hide under the canopy of inert and sometimes illusive concepts like peace, unity and democracy to present as his hallmarks for the past 27 years, as if a hungry man knows peace or the thwarting of the constitution to enable him rule ad infinitum was a democratic precedence.
The fact that he highlighted the deprivation of basics like food, health, shelter, and education to a majority of Cameroonians, confirms the intensity of the failure of Biya and his Stale Deal policies. He just didnot want to belabour the points on persistent power cuts, water shortages, bad roads and dilapidating infrastructure, which are characteristic of his failed policies, aggravated by the extreme egocentric manner in which he and his associates embezzle state funds
However, Christopher Ambe Shu in a post on the blogzine –the Entrpreneur – thinks it is unfair to dismiss Mr Biya’s 27-year stay in power as wasted years because “his successes in the political, social, economic and diplomatic domains are there for any person of good faith to appreciate”:
Politically, to begin with, when he assumed the presidential office on November 6, 1982, the country was a one-party system. Democracy was barely practiced within the party. But in March 1985, he transformed the lone party – the CNU – into CPDM, introducing democratic reforms within the party. He reintroduced multi-party democracy in 1990, against protests from some learned Cameroonians.
Today, Cameroon has over 200 political parties, with citizens free to belong to any of their choice or even to form more. With the multiplicity of parties came greater freedom of expression. Cameroonians under former President Ahmadou Ahidjo did not actually enjoy freedom of expression.
Since 1992 elections – notably presidential, municipal and parliamentary – have been organized for Cameroonians to democratically choose their leaders and representatives. It is true complaints of electoral fraud and rigging have been alleged by mostly loser-opposition parties such as the SDF, but the Supreme Court has always adjudicated on such complaints.
As if to buttress Christopher's views a Cameroonian who claims to a supporter of Mr Biya's ruling Cameroon Peoples Democratic Movement (CPDM) party, posted some of the President's achievements since 1982 as a comment on Gef's Outlook:
“When president Biya took over in 1982, the coffers of the country were depleted. Thanks to his reasonable foresight and sharp economic acumen, Cameroon pulled herself from the grim situation majestically. In the BEAC regional block, we have the highest standard of living. Citizens of neighboring countries flock to our shores because the country is economically buoyant.
(5)President Paul Biya took over the leadership of Cameroon with very few all the year roads. But today, even the most far off lands like Akwaya are being dis-enclaved.
(6) On the diplomatic front, President Paul Biya used his great diplomatic prowess to secure an invaluable piece of real estate for the country, the Bakassi Peninsular. This is wonderful. He has instructed his legal team which, I am a member to sue the Biafras, for the return of the Obudu Cattle Ranch as well. We go for peaceful solutions even though we are tough as the lion.
(7) Cameroonians are freer and more secure within and beyond their borders than before. This is a real achievement.
But his views were countered by Louis who had a direct reply for the President:
“Dear Mr President,
I do appreciate your efford as president of the Republic of Cameroon. But your effords have consistently been proven not good enough. 27yrs of leadership is more than enough time for Cameroonians to be smiling instead of knocking heads. Your leadership and management skills are way below the bottom line of a development framework. Mr president, we all love our country more than you are telling us in your letter to.
All what we want is a leader who can motivate us by applying the values of leadership, management and governance. A leader who can build the “yes we can” spirit among us. Many cameroonians living abroad including myself are very willing to come back home and do something remarkable and benefitial for the country, but lawlessness and insecurity are big hindering factors.
Sorry Mr president but leadership and governance has been proven not to be your descipline. Give up men! If you really love us, then consider this crucial moments as the perfect time to sacrifice power for the happiness of your fellow citizens.
Present day Cameroon was created in 1961 by the unification of two former colonies, one British and one French. The country’s official languages are English and French but over the years many voices among the minority Anglophones have accused the Francophone majority of marginalization and this has since led some Anglophones to call for a separation of the country.
The debate over Paul Biya’s letter on Gef’s Outlook mutated into passionate, (sometimes) harsh arguments exposing the latent Anglophone versus Francophone quagmire in the country:
Reacting a comment describing Anglophones as nonentities Rene Mbuli commented thus:
Mr Alain Dipoko I have been following your interventions on this network with keen interest and I must commend your consistency in backing the FAILED REGIME of Mr Biya and his veteran team of incompetent, corrupt and uninspired officials. How i wish your intelligence and dedication could be used for a much better course like the Independence of Southern Cameroon which devoted SCNC members like us are reflecting and battling upon. As a devoted supporter of the Anglophone cause , i must tell you that Anglophones are not “nonentities” and we are not being “tolerated” by the regime.We are actually the regime's nightmare. The desire by the Biya regime to ignore the Anglophone problem is a silent tactic to limit the rippling effects of its recognition.
The above presidential address sounds like a broken CD. In order words, its a deja vu version of the 1985 in-glorious memories and a lamentable attempt to recoup the disintegrated particles. We are sorry for this dying dictator who tries to gain currency by selling dreams of what he still hopes to do , while on a dying bed. As a piece of advice . which probably could help the rest of the Francophone people who are tired of their Beti brother but who lack the bile to air their views like the Anglophones; Biya needs to start making a balance sheet of his confused years in power and try to groom a successor who will do the image cleansing instead of hoping to squander more years at the helm of La Republic du Cameroun.
Alain Dipoko responded as follows:
Mr. Mbuli Rene, why are you people so evil? Why do you take delight in showing ingratitude? Mr. Biya has ruled Cameroon with diligence and conviction. We are a respected country every where in the world. You are able to write fine English better than an African Americans in America, the richest country in the world because, schools are free in Cameroon and they are not in the US. What else do you want?
You express yourself openly than Americans do in America because the Patriot Act forbids them to do so. What do you really want? I have written a letter to the leadership of the SCNC, that moribund, focus less, and mundane assembly of TrollVille illusionists trying to sell the Federal System to them but I am yet to receive a feedback.
Let me warn you Mr. Mbuli, you the Anglos are stretching our patience. Did you hear what happened in Guinea? You want that to happen to your wretched lives here? It is easy to do it. We are sick and tired of these ungrateful brats. Let me make myself absolutely clear, if you the Anglophones don’t like it here then go to the Biafras. You shall spare us the inconvenience of squandering our money on ungrateful sycophants like you.
Paul Biya is Cameroon's second President. Cameroon's parliament in April 2008 passed a controversial amendment to the constitution scrapping limits to the terms in office. This means Biya can run for a third term of office in 2011. He succeeded late Ahmadou Ahidjo who resigned on 4 November 1982 after nearly 25 years in office.
Cameroon’s foremost blogger Dibussi Tande chose to take visitors of Scribbles from the Den down memory lane with video images of the peaceful handover of power that was quite uncommon in Africa at the time.