By Asikason Jonathan
IN the battleground of politics, Africa has a short list of successful strong men and considering the evolving political climate in Cameroon, President Paul Biya may against all odds make the list. If successful, President Biya will join the gargoyles of Hastings Banda and Umar Bongo now of unblessed memory and José Eduardo dos Santos who recently announced his retirement. If unsuccessful, he will join Robert Mugabe, Yayah Jammeh, Blaise Campaore, Abdoulaye Wade, Hosin Mumbrack, etc who are still nursing the regret of being forced out of power.
The names above perfectly defined the ills of African States. They are African strong men and in the spirit of king Louis XVI famous dictum, l’etate c’est moi, they became their States writ large as the line separating Commonwealth and personal wealth were smudged. They understood what power denotes and connotes — hence they don’t joke with it.
Robert Mugabe reportedly chastised President Gbagbo of Ivory Coast for being soft with power. ”He caused his own downfall. You don’t allow the electoral commission to rig yourself out of power,” he joked.Though Mugabe was himself forced out of power in a coup in all but name, his electoral advise rendered in joke must have been beneficial to President Biya. His country’s electoral umpire recently declared him the winner of the October 9 presidential election and has subsequently been sworn in for the seventh term against the backdrop of the massive irregularities that marred the election and the opposition declaration of winning the poll.
If things go as they would likely to go, Paul Biya will rule till 2024. He will be ninty-two then and might retire or even contest for another term. Megalomania is the stock in trade of a typical African strongman— Paul Biya represents that perfectly well.
Succeeding Ahmadou Ahidjo, after the latter’s surprise resignation, in 1982, President Biya has remain the posterboy of France— his country latter-day colonial master. He seems to have signed a pact with France: protect our interest and we will protect your presidency. Do you still wonder why international sanctions have eluded Biya?
We are in the realist world. National interest defined in the terms of power, Hans Morgenthau will tell you is the be-all-and-end-all of international politics. As long as Paul Biya remains an agent of neo-colonialism, he is in the eyes of the West, a democrat. And since Fukuyama’s declaration of “The End of History,” the West has taken it upon itself to transporting democracy to the nooks and crannies of this world. The beautiful democracy in Cameroon is what they cannot afford to lose. By any standard, it begs question as to what motivates Biya’s re-election. What will he do the next seven years he has not done in his thirty-six years in the saddle?
This is a man that has been dubbed ‘absentee president.“ Unlike other African sit-tight presidents who exercise power to its fullness, President Biya entrusts the day-to-day running of the government to the Prime Minister, Philemon Yang, who holds monthly gatherings of a “cabinet council” while he holidays with his beautiful wife abroad. Yes, under his watch— as his spin doctors have argued, Cameroon has survived an economic crisis and moved from being a one-party state to multi-party politics. But it has also been marked by endemic corruption and reversal of democratic gains, leading to the abolition of term limits in 2008, which allowed the octogenarian to run for re-election in 2011and this year. Also, his government has for so long marginalised the English speaking region of the country, a factor that triggered off the chains of centrifugal forces that culminated into the declaration of the independent state of “Ambazonia.”
Since the struggle began in 2016 both the Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Consortium United Front, SCACUF and government force have recorded considerable lost of human capital. And the toll continues. But President Biya, like any other dyed in the wool African strong man, doesn’t swerve. In the dictionary of African strong men, might is right. So in his 2018 inaugural address, he sent strong message to the separatists: ”These war-mongers who are jeopardising our national unity and preaching secession should know that they will face not only the full force of the law, but also the determination of our defense and security forces. I am calling on them to lay down their arms and get back on the right track. I am appealing particularly to youths who got involved in a futile adventure.”
Barack Obama had in his speech to the Ghanaian parliament in 2009 observed that “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” While that message was clear, it is important to state here that Africa’s problem is not the problem of strongmen but that of unpatriotic strongmen. Lee kuan Yew ruled Singapore with iron hand but the transmogrification “From Third World to First World” is there for all to see. China is what it is today because of the way Deng Xiaoping reformed it. Both were not just harsh in administration but they had the interest of their countries in mind.
As President Biya continues to enjoy the patronage of his neo-colonial masters, he should remember that Chinwizu Ibekwe in his controversial The West and Rest of Us expatiated the contributions of the black slavers and African elite in the slave trade and colonialism. This is what he is doing and history must surely judge him for that.