The New Year seemed to have begun on a good footing, until I was unfortunate to come across Paul Biya’s New Year address to Cameroonians. Naturally, I would have gone by without paying attention, but my curiosity was piqued because this happens to be one of the few times he actually gets to spew garbage to Cameroonians. For the most part, Cameroonians who care to listen only get to hear him twice a year (February 10 and December, 31). Every year, the speeches seem to be the same with just some minor variations. But as it is often said that ‘half a loaf is better than none’, Cameroon, a nation that never sees their president give an ordinary press conference, cannot help but hope that something new (like perhaps a resignation) could be included in one of these traditional speeches. So against our best inclinations, we find our selves listening to these speeches every year, for the past 32 years. But what did he say new this time?
‘Cameroonians are satisfied with 2013…’
For a split moment I thought he was talking about a different country and not the Cameroon I knew. When he began by saying that 2013 gave Cameroonians reason to be satisfied, he got my undivided attention. Then as the speech progressed, he asked some ‘reasonable questions’
“Would we be unable to do what some other countries comparable to ours have done or are doing? I do not think so. We have talented, resourceful, well-trained and enterprising men, women and youth, who are capable of meeting these challenges. We have abundant and diverse natural resources as well as modern and democratic institutions. Our country is peaceful and stable. What then do we lack?”
Since Biya apparently failed to properly answer these questions, I am apt to join Biya in asking – what does Cameroon lack – so as to be able to suitably attempt an answer.
What Does Cameroon Lack?
Reversing the question to WHAT DOES CAMEROON HAVE may make certain things clearer? First I will agree with Biya that Caemroonians are talented, resourceful, well trained and Enterprising, but what he does not say is that a greater part of these resourceful, well trained and enterprising Cameroonians are either in Diaspora or looking for opportunities everyday to escape the entrapment of poverty that his government has visited on them. The few who do not think of leaving are using their talents to scavenge from the carcases of the nation or are very enterprising as scammers selling non-existent Yorkie puppies over the internet.
It is a shame that Cameroon has been named African in Miniature because of the natural resources and diversity it inhabits, but what Biya does not mention is that the resources are fast depleting and there is nothing yet to show for it in terms of growth and infrastructural transformation in the country. The East Region of the country for example, with vast tracts of forests, is called ‘the forgotten province’ as it has no major highway linking it to any other part of the country, while Limbe, the ‘town’ that hosts the country’s lone refinery is nothing more than a glorified village.
When Biya mentioned that Cameroon has modern and democratic institutions, it became obvious that he either did not understand what he was reading or he had plugs in his ears. He talked of the formation of a senate as an achievement, but anyone familiar with his kind of politics will rightly guess that of the 100 seats, only 70 are elected and 30 appointed by him (the president). I begin to wonder how modern and democratic this senate is was when the President of the Senate Marcel Niat Njifenji who happens to be the constitutionally designated successor to the President of the Republic in case of a vacancy in the latter office is now 79 years old. In Biya’s dictionary, gerontocracy has certainly become a modern and democratic form of governance.
So far, from the things Biya mentioned, I am yet to see one thing that Cameroon has…. oh I almost forgot. Biya said Cameroon has peace and stability. Maybe that is one thing we can be proud of, or can we?
A Chimeric Peace
I am sure Biya and his speech writer would have thought differently if they had ever come across the Einstein quote that “Peace is not merely the absence of war but the presence of justice, of law, of order – in short, of government.” Understood in these terms, then we can all agree that Cameroon is one of the least peaceful countries in Africa. The illusory notion of Cameroonian peace and stability is best captured in this video.
I wish Biya had watched it before his charade of a speech. But maybe I am being unnecessary hard on Biya because he claims that in past decades, living conditions have improved and threatened only by tense politics, economic crisis and threats to peace… perhaps quickly forgetting that he has recently been attacked in public by Cameroonians in France who were asking to be liberated.
Uneven Democracy – The Biya Model
One itsy-bitsy of truth in Biya’s speech is the acknowledgement of the unevenness of what he calls ‘significant progress’. Not minding the fact that these ‘significant progress’ mentioned in the area of health only talks of yet-to-be referral hospitals and the help that international donors have been able to provide or have promised a country which he acknowledges earlier, lacks nothing.
Even if these projects had been realised, they only reinforce the fact that Biya thinks Cameroon is made up of not more than three Regions, given that seven are completely left out in almost everything. One might even be tempted to say that Biya is a president not of Cameroon but one who lives abroad and visits the capital of Cameroon. Shocking as it may sound, Biya’s visit to Bamenda (the 5th largest city in the country) in 2010, was the first time in about 25 years that he was visiting that part of the country. Little wonder that close to a year of preparations were put in place just to welcome him.For close to two years preparations have been ongoing in Buea, (the former capital of Cameroon) pending a visit from Biya. Businesses have suffered, the atmosphere has been tense, even the graduation ceremony of the University of Buea (held every December) was put off just because of a visit that never took place. The agony continues for the people because until that visit eventually takes place, the preparations must go on. Sadly, no one knows the date Biya will make his visit. Alas, his sycophants will continue to whitewash the tombs that are called towns and cities, till the day of his arrival.
Out of Touch with Reality
Perhaps in all fairness to him, he Biya really believes all he says in his speech and lives by the saying that ‘ignorance is bliss’. In this light, BIYA IS CLEARLY OUT OF TOUCH WITH A COUNTRY HE PURPORTS TO BE GOVERNING. To say that most tourists who visit Cameroon probably know more about Cameroon than Paul Biya who claims to be president would be a fair statement.
The Bible rightly says that ‘if the fool holds his tongue, he may pass for wise; if he seals his lips, he may pass for intelligent”(Prov. 17:28). If Biya just keeps quiet, Cameroonians may never get to know how shallow he really is. Making these traditional speeches only confirm that if one were to look up the word DELUSION in a dictionary on leadership, they will most certainly find the name PAUL BIYA written there as its synonym.