Paul Biya: Opium of the Cameroon Youth


One of the most oft quoted phrases by Karl Marx comes from the passage in which he derides and praises religion at the same time. While the title of this post already indicates that I intend to equate Biya’s role in the life of the Cameroon youth to what Marx considers the effect of religion on people, I will want to make it clear ab initio that every negative thing that Marx said about religion’s effect on human consciousness can hold true for Biya’s effect on the life of the Cameroon youth. However, there is none of the positives that Marx attributes to religion that could be attributed to Biya.  Marx calls religion  the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation.  I will look at these different attributes one after the other.

Unification Monument

The Sigh of the oppressed creature

Marx is of the opinion that religion’s purpose is to create illusory fantasies for the poor, while socio-economic realities prevent them from finding true happiness in this life,  and so religion tells them that this is fine because they will find true happiness in the next life. For over 32 years, this is exactly what Biya has been doing to Cameroonians, especially the younger generation. Every year on the 10th of February, he makes a speech in which he exhorts the youths to hope and strive for better things to come. Names such ‘grandes ambitions’ [greater ambition], ‘grandes realisations’ [greater achievements], and ‘grande chantier’ [vast construction site], are all too popular with Biya’s never realisable visions for Cameroon. February 11 happens to be the day the Plebcite was held in 1961 to decide to fate of Southern Cameroons and today it is being celebrated as Youth Day but the best description would be Le jour de grands discours non réalisés – [The day of great unrealisable speeches]. 

The logic of the celebration is still hazy but nevertheless Biya has so succeeded in making it a tradition in Cameroon whereby every young person thinks the apogee of success is to get a meagre job in the civil service. The list is endless, of young people who waste their lives working towards one goal only – entering the Cameroonian Civil service. But unfortunately, since the service is so poor that it cannot employ every Cameroonian, the result is a comatose economy where youth unemployment is on a steady rise.

The Spirit of the Spiritless Condition

Marx is of the view that religion is irrational. His argument is that religion is a delusion and a worship of appearances that avoids recognizing underlying reality. In one of my posts on Biya, I already showed how delusional he is. This would not have been a problem in itself but just as Marx says that religion negates all that is dignified in a human being by rendering them servile and more amenable to accepting the status quo so does Biya strive to achieve the same of young Cameroonians.

For example, in the 32 years that Biya has been president of Cameroon, Cameroonians, especially the younger generation have grown accustomed to his rather atypical pattern of governance that defies every convention. Biya announced on December 31, 2011 that the 50th anniversary of Cameroon’s re-unification would be celebrated in October 2012 in Buea, the Southwest Regional capital. The significance of this could have been because Buea is the former capital of Cameroon or perhaps because he simply wanted to get a reason to visit this part of the country that is almost forgotten by his administration. This notwithstanding, it is clear that there is no rationale for such a celebration because British Southern Cameroon and French North Cameroun got their Cameroon is Unitedindependence (which is still debated in certain quarters with regards to the case of the Southern Cameroons)  on 1st October 1961 which is exactly 52+ years afterwards. That Biya finally made his appearance, after several adhoc cancellations, on February 20 of 2014, and yet no one questioned the illogicality of the celebration is reason enough to weep for the future of Cameroonians.

I have just watched how people came out like sheep to celebrate the reunification monument erected during this visit, even when the question of there been a united Cameroon still remains unanswered. It is sad to see that few dared question if it was still a 50 year celebration when it was actually taking place after over two years later for unexplained reasons.It is even sadder to have noticed from the pictures that the streets of Buea were given a facelift and whitewashed just to give Biya an impression that all was going on well whereas it is not the case.

In all this, the only winner is Biya, because when a people have been so oppressed and depersonalised that they live in awe and fear of a leader who adds nothing but misery to their lives, an opportunity to go out and see him becomes a cause for celebration.

 The heart of a heartless world?

Although Marx feels religion is the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through himself, or has already lost himself again, he credits religion with being the heart of a heartless world.

However, Marx feels that the abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness and this perhaps may have inspired Biya’s decision to order the closure of nearly 100 Christian churches in key cities of Cameroon sometime in August 2013, claiming that the activities of pentecostal pastors was a threat to National security. How this is the case beats any sound imagination.

While it may be true that there are many unscrupulous ‘men of God’ and Churches which pose a threat to any people’s conscious efforts to fight for their betterment, the real question should be what makes people vulnerable to religious scams. It is not a secret that the most poor people and the most religious, hence, the proliferation of palliative doctrines can only have an effect where there is much hopelessness. The heartlessness of the religious world could be very true in some countries but Cameroon is really not one where religion as yet poses a security problem. Biya, rather than blaming the Churches should ask the right question: Why are people going to these churches if they pose a security threat?

The Real Threat

The real threat to Cameroon’s security is no other than Biya and his system of governance. Every year, he makes speeches in which he promises jobs. What he does not say is that these will be only in the public sector, through the recruitment of soldiers, professional school leavers such as teachers, warders,
nurses and magistrates who for the most part had stayed at home for years after their training. The fact that little is done in the private sector can account for the stagnation of the Cameroon economy. That is a threat to security.

There is no gainsaying the fact that if nothing is done to curb the downward trend in Cameroon, the country stands the risk of loosing its best and brightest young men and women to either foreign citizenships (for those lucky enough to obtain this) or to despondency and lack of vision (for those who are unfortunate to be caught in the web of Biya’s dirty politics). This is the biggest threat to the future of Cameroon.

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