We begin our roundup of Cameroonian blogs with Dibussi Tande who takes us the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania. He discusses the myriad challenges facing the tribunal- specifically the charge that the court dispenses winners’ justice. The ICTR, he argues, means different things to different people:
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania, is different things to different people. To some, it is merely a tool to assuage Western guilt for not doing enough to stop the 1994 Rwandan genocide; to others, the ICTR is a victor’s court designed to give a veneer of ICTR Arusha2
legality and legitimacy to the Rwanda Government’s one-sided narrative of the events leading up to and during the genocide – a narrative that makes a black-and-white distinction between the Tutsi victims on the one hand and the Hutu perpetrators on the other; still, there are others who believe that the tribunal’s mandate is a just and necessary one, i.e. to prosecute “persons responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of Rwanda between 1 January 1994 and 31 December 1994”. And there are yet others who view the court’s mandate and performance thus far in shades of grey.
Whatever their views about the ICTR, most people think of the tribunal in very abstract terms, i.e., a faceless and amorphous international bureaucratic behemoth chugging ever so slowly and unemotionally towards the fulfilment of its mission. Even though I have a good number friends, acquaintances and family working in the court as interpreters, translators and legal officers, etc., I must admit that I also viewed the ICTR in these abstract terms, that is, until last week when I had the privilege to visit the Arusha International Conference Center, home of the ICTR. This brief trip to the ICTR, which included a stopover at the very vital Language Services with its huge, if not predominant, Cameroonian contingent, revealed a very real institution with hundreds of dedicated international functionaries working hard, within the limits of international law and (real)politics, to unravel the Rwandan puzzle, while laying the foundations for a more responsive international human rights law for the 21st century; functionaries who have to deal with the emotional toll of reliving the gory details of the Rwandan genocide day in day out – an experience which can sometimes be as traumatic as the real event itself..
He finishes his post by asking, “The ICTR: Was it worth the trouble?”:
Since its creation, the ICTR has faced many challenges, including the ambivalence of the Rwandan government and large segments of the Rwandan public towards the courts due to contentious issues such as “the failure to locate the tribunal within Rwanda, the lack of a provision for capital punishment… the over one billion dollars spent on the ICTR while Rwanda's domestic system struggles to try thousands of suspects.” Add to this the prevailing feeling that ICTR is dishing out victor’s justice and one can begin to understand growing concerns about the tribunal's legacy.
True, the ICTR has promised more than it delivered, but it was a necessary legal instrument, given the need to bring the architects of the Rwandan genocide to justice, and to establish the jurisprudence required to deal with similar events in future.
The chilling details of the Karemera et al case clearly demonstrate how the quest for political power and/or ethnic hegemony, particularly in Africa, can easily slide into crimes against humanity and genocide. The accused in this case were probably fairly regular folks who, in their quest for power, allowed themselves to be swept away by an ethno-political maelstrom which transformed them into architects of one of the most barbaric events of the 20th century. What is so frightening about it all is that this could be the story of any African country. This could be the story of Cameroon. In fact, some will argue that this was indeed the story of Cameroon during the “années de braise” or the “smoldering years” of 1990-1993, when hardliners unleashed the infamous “operation mygale” very similar to the ideology and politics of “Hutu Power” which culminated in the Rwandan genocide. Since this can happen anywhere, the ICTR by its mere existence, and in spite of its imperfections, serves as a warning that perpetrators of such inhumanity will be brought to book.
Even HRW, which has been one of the staunchest critics of the ICTR’s one-sided system of justice, concedes that “The tribunal's jurisprudence has been immensely important in defining the indescribably horrific crimes committed in Rwanda and creating a solid body of jurisprudence.” In my opinion, this alone makes the ICTR worth all the trouble.
Less than a year away from the 2011 Presidential elections in Cameroon, the leading opposition party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF), has been rinsing its laundry in the public sewer. In effect, the Electoral District of Douala 1 in the Littoral Region is indicting the highly opinionated and resolute SDF Strategic Committee President, Ms Kah Walla for “unilateral and opaque management of funds for the 2007 elections” and “making comments in the media against the interests of the party”.
Ms Kah Walla’s rebuttal in ICI Cemac is unequivocal and steadfast:
First and foremost I want to say that I am feeling energized and ready for the major battles we have ahead. These preliminary skirmishes are enabling us to work out our muscles and test our strength for the real fight ahead. I want to thank all of you who have already begun fighting the battle alongside with me. All of us feel energized and ready for action. With this attitude I am certain, together we are going to win this battle for change in Cameroon in 2011.
Now, for an update on the skirmishes, I would like to give you certain facts and figures to clarify the vast quantity of information that has been thrown at you in the last few days.
If anything, the foregoing only confirms what The Chia Report captures as “Battle Lines” by Philip Acha. Philip argues that the concept of incumbency in Cameroon should be applicable to the opposition as it is to the party in power. He states:
Power alternation in Cameroon among presidential hopefuls ignores a crucial observation. Incumbency should be applicable to the opposition as it is to the party in power because, since 1997, the actors and consequent results are the same. If absolute power corrupts absolutely, then absolute powerlessness surely renders imbecile. All political parties are good enough! There is no difference between UPC, UNDP, CDU, CPDM or SDF, but there is a huge difference between the people whose ideas and objectives dominate these parties.
If you bellowed “SDF!” in 1991, the response was “power to the people”. By the turn of the century, the response was “power”. Presently there is no response since there is no rally call. From “power to the people” to “power”: was that a simple contraction, or a psychological overhaul from the quest of a group, to an individual’s quest? Power is essentially speculative. We think we are powerful because we compare ourselves to adversaries, potential and actual.
Confrontation on the other hand is empirical and absolute. Only through confrontation can power be realized. Cameroon is on a collision-course to a generational confrontation whose victims are obvious. Challenging with novel ideas, plausible goals, verifiable solutions and an average age of 45years are Dr. Matthias Eric Owona Nguini, Kah Walla, Joshua Osih, Prof. Pius Ottou, Charles Ateba Eyene, Dr. Fomunyoh and Hilaire Kamgang. On the incumbent bench are Paul Biya and Augustin Koddock (born at beginning of WW2 – 1933), John Fru Ndi and Adamou Ndam Njoya (born in 1941 and 1942 respectively), Bello Bouba (born in 1947) and cronies with an average age of 70years. These are the battle lines for 2011. A whole generation may not be sacrified for the personal comforts of a gerontocracy. As in chess game, a threat is more formidable than its realization. The messages from the younger generation herald the first shot in this epic battle. Where do you stand?
Readers’ response to Philip's post:
My brother Acha i have the impression some of us are not ready.Most often we use our keyboards to analyse the political temperature and minds in Cameroon without actually knowing what transpired in the field.I am a young man of 30's,we faught hard in the 90's stood firm behind SDF, supported change in Cameroon to no avail. 20 years i had never fail to cast my vote in an Election in Cameroon called it rigged or free, fair election.
Make no mistake Acha, i want to state with a fair degree of certainty that i am not ready to vote in any Election in Cameroon in the present state of things. During the last Parliamentary Election i worked in a polling station,personally counted the votes and was shocked with the out come of the result.Am not ready for any heart break. I will tell you i rang my friend Njoya in Buea who disclosed the result of a polling station to me and quest what? The result later came out to be fake.
Acha, Paul biya ammended article 6 sub 2 of the constitution stipulating the term of office from 7 to 5 in order to stay in power, that for sure. That is where the rigging machinary started.
A bottle of Amstel beer is what you need to change young people in Cameroon!:
Phillip with a bottle of Amstel you can succesfully change the mind of a youth in Cameroon to vote for CPDM. The SDF convention will soon be up i expect people like Osih’ Nyncheu, Christoper,F. etc to challenge Fru Ndi. For your information i will never cast a single vote in favour of any fellow from the center, east,north,South. I believe the direction of hegemony has to shift.
This is what I think:
1) Cameroonians were prepared to fight to the last drop of their blood if the opposition had sent in single candidate for the 2004 presidential election. The coalition failed.
2) Cameroonians would still be ready to fight Biya if the SDF tables the candidature of one of its resourceful militant. They could even project 2 candidates ( excluding Fru Ndi ) as a new political orientation
If you surprise an SDF supporter in the street by asking him what Fru Ndi stands for, he would probably be dumbfounded before giving a vague answer such as – improving the lives of Cameroonians or shifting power to the people. If they could clearly define their economic and political agendas, people could have logical reasons for being behind them.
Biya's obvious failure is a fantastic opportunity for Anglophone politicians to make political gains in favour of the Southern Cameroons’ struggle. They have preferred to handclap at the fake assembly and others think Democracy can place them in Etoudi.
Neba-Fuh posts an article that was originally published in 2008, which argues that Southern Cameroon has no independence day:
If historical facts are indisputable, then October 1 is a day no true Southern Cameroonian would like toFlag_2 ‘celebrate’ positively. 1st October 1961 was the worst day in Southern Cameroons history! It's the day Southern Cameroons was ‘forced’ to become part of La Republique du Cameroun. It was that day Southern Cameroonians became slaves under a regime which was a by-product of colonial brewing. Southern Cameroons was annexed on 1st October. Southern Cameroons never gained independence on October 1!
Therefore, activities of October 1 are suppose to be somber, reflective, and resistive! It is suppose to be a waking call to those lukewarm skeptics who have always tried to situate the Southern Cameroons struggle in a closet, unconvincingly distorting historical facts and myopically refusing to leap beyond the blame game involving Foncha,Endeley, Muna,Mbile and Co. in the 1960s British- UN fiasco.
The Southern Cameroons issue is not an idealistic battle, it is a realistic one ! Historical facts intimidate the Yaounde regime. La Republique pretends to despise the struggle but spends sleepless nights planning to forestall any move concerning the cause. They downplay the cause but secretly admit its inevitability. If only the Yaounde oligarchy were wise enough to face the Southern Cameroons problem head-on, we won't have been where we are now.
It should be recalled that the All Anglophone Conference(AAC ) of 1993 primordially had limited secessionists’ tendencies on its agenda. At that time when Southern Cameroonians had braved through sub human treatment from La Republique, when their common heritage had been hijacked , and their commonwealth plundered; ‘secession’ was still looked upon as a last resort, even though the radicals thought otherwise.
1993 was a missed opportunity for La Republique to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the think tanks and even the Southern Cameroons players of the 1961 fiasco who happened to have been still alive then.
No other time has the Yaounde regime been so panicky than now. They are losing control! That's why basic human rights are at its worst now since the early nineties. There is increased censorship, meetings are banned, intimidation is a daily tool, the regime is facing its greatest opposition from inside its own house. Generals are suspects. Insecurity is on its highest-banks are robbed even in the presence of an abundance of military men- these same men who will not resist to release their triggers on innocent unarmed citizens. The centre is no longer holding!
Destiny of time is calling the struggle to be more engaging. We cannot control what happens in La Republique, but we can coordinate what happens in our land. That's our unalienable right. The route to freedom is never an easy ride. If you are scared of the ride, then the freedom seed has not been planted in you. Freedom's hurdles are always the next stepping pads for a higher goal in the quest of it , and except we reach that top, we will call no day our Independence Day!
Finally, Bill Zimmerman writes a post about the metalworkers of Maroua in Northern Cameroon:
On the outskirts of Maroua, the capital of the Extreme North of Cameroon, is a place quite unlike any other in the country. Here a community of les forgerons—blacksmiths, or metalworkers—practice their craft in the relative cool of a tree grove. Several dozen men with specialized skills are gathered here for a single purpose: to transform piles of scrap iron into finely finished tools, stoves, replacement parts and other useful implements for sale to the local population. Young apprentices learn the craft while operating bellows or shaping wood for tool handles. The production here is performed entirely by hand and on a scale which must be seen to be fully appreciated. The finished goods here include agricultural tools; hoes, rakes, pick axes, shovels, wheelbarrows, John Deere-green painted plows, pry bars and machetes; household items such as cook stoves, sieves, pans, watering cans, buckets and cutlery; down to the smallest personal items, like precision tweezers.