|Ngolle Ngolle: I see chemistry between Biya and Fru Ndi|
|Written by Eugene N. Nforngwa|
|Wednesday, 09 February 2011 18:43|
We have seen an unusually active president Paul Biya over the last two months. What do you make of this?
I think that any objective citizen and observer of Cameroon would agree that the president has in the last two months been very active, as far as his presidential agenda is concerned. I think that intensification of the presidential agenda is a reflection of the way the president sees the country moving. I think the president is quite optimistic and hopeful about the country’s future. He is very happy that in spite of all the global constraints, Cameroon is moving on the right path. What we have seen in the last two months is a demonstration of the president’s commitment to make of Cameroon an ideal republic: a republic in which all Cameroonians, whether they are from the village or region, regardless of their religion or even political affiliation, should feel like they matter.
This is what I would refer to as “signs that do not deceive”. These signs mean a republic in peace. This is why, you cannot believe that in spite of the fact that twenty-something odd years have passed since the president and the main opposition leader of the country discovered each other. In less than two months, they have already met – publicly – three times. I have had the privileged an honour of being around to see this happen. I was at Ebolowa, when the president visited the stand, where Mr Fru Ndi, as a farmer in Cameroon not as a political leader. Mr Frtu Ndi had the good will to receive the president to see what he [Fru Ndi] was doing as a farmer. I could see the president and the first lady lean over to touch, with their bare hands, Mr Fru Ndi’s cow. That was “a sign that does not deceive.”
You could see that there is chemistry and that this country is returning its roots and foundation that the founding fathers intended. These founding fathers never knew themselves before. They came from all over but they had obe thing in mind: they wanted one Cameroon. They had only little education, they did not have much of an army, they did not have money. What they had much was the spirit to be one Cameroon, no matter where you are coming from. Cameroon was founded and designed to be an ideal society and that all Cameroonians must consider themselves as being useful and important enough to contribute. Regardless of tribe, language, party affiliation, the president wants Cameroonians to commune with one another and he is showing it by example.
I think that we would see this intensive agenda continue throughout this year because, as the president said, the year would not be such an ordinary year. Two major things would happen. We are going to celebrate another 50 years of a milestone, the reunification, and we have elections.
The president looks very much like a president who is trying to reconnect with a people to whom he has been apparently alienated...
I would not see that he is reconnecting because he really never disconnected. He has always been a man who has stayed very close to what the people think and want. But he used different methods and styles to stay connected to the people.
What we see today is a new style. For example, all of us discovered for the first time that the president is highly IT conscious. For the first time, the president sent New Year messages to virtually the whole republic. It shows first of all that he is in tune, with the development of the global society. In the past, he used other styles.
I have just said that in the last two months he met with Mr Fru Ndi at least three times, publicly, at least. He has met political leaders of the opposition in the past. It is not something new for him to meet with opposition leaders in Cameroon. From all that we have read about him, the president is a very, very magnanimous and open person. He believes that it is a Cameroon of openness, where everyone interacts with everyone, that the founding fathers intended. And I have the strong conviction and belief that that is the Cameroon he wants to bequeath to future generations. That is why we are seeing a new style to interact, relate to everyone, including even those who some sceptics thought would never happen. The president is not a sceptic, he is a pretty optimistic someone and he strongly believes in the Cameroon of our forefathers.
Are we living the last days of the opposition?
I don’t see this relationship with the SDF as the death of the opposition; the president is a genuine democrat. If you read the original discourse from when the president came to power, the tone was different, the language was different. It was more promising, more futuristic. With president Biya in power, a new era was ushered in, an era of openness, more inter-activeness, an era of liberty and freedom. And that is what we are seeing in Cameroon. I was then a PhD student at the University of Denver (USA) and I read all the reports that were written about Cameroon at that time, in 1982, and everyone of us said wow, there is a new generation of leadership in Africa. And so by virtue of his convictions and beliefs which he announced as early as1982, we see that he is a genuine democrat. And as you know, there can be no genuine democracy without an opposition. The president would be the last person to kill the opposition in his country because that [would be] against his belief.
The best you can say now is what does the opposition do in the face of a leader who is so open to everyone, including the opposition. It is left for the opposition to decide what kind of reaction and how they would relate back. To say this is a design to kill the opposition is a misreading. The opposition is here to stay. The opposition is an indispensible element of the democracy and the president is the number one promoter of that democracy. No one has heard so far where its said that the president’s renewed and intensified presidential agenda is tantamount to pocketing or bribing the opposition.
I try to watch body languages; I try to do psychoanalysis of political gestures. To be very candid, what I have seen is a genuine gesture on the part of the president and a genuine reaction on the part of Fru Ndi. I have not seen any pretentiousness, I have not seen any grandstanding or playing to the gallery. I believe that on both sides, there is genuine, natural, human reciprocal interaction. I think it is good because that is something to bequeath to future generations. God made us to always disagree to agree. We are condemned to be children and grandchildren of the same society. If we tear the society apart, which other society shall we have? Our forefathers gave it to us and we have the duty to make it better.
How is all of what is happening related to the next election?
I personally believe that the president has set the agenda for a Cameroon of great promise and a brighter future. That great agenda is couched in what we now know as the Growth and Employment Strategy Document. In the next 25 years, Cameroon is bent on and committed to be an emerging country. The elements of this vision are lots of infrastructure, high levels of hydro-industrial production, specialisation and introduction of technology, good governance, the fight against corruption and above all else, a democracy where people do not tear each other apart and where elections are conducted freely and fairly and the results are acceptable to all. All that the president is doing is to make sure that that agenda is doable. And that is feasible. The president is making sure that the enabling environment is there: social distances are made shorter; disagreements on issues are made much easier for people to agree on. The president is open to whatever efforts or proposals people make to make things better. I think openness is an asset.
The president is likely to run for president this year. Your party, including you, has formerly asked him to do so. When you look at the last 28 years that he has been president, what kind of campaign is he going to deploy?
The people want him to run. I think it would not be a difficult campaign; neither would it be easy, because nothing easy is good enough. Everybody knows that the president is a workaholic. I think that the campaign would be premised on the president’s policy record. That policy record is simple. If your take the Cameroon before 1982 and take any development parameters you want to take [you will see that] Cameroon has changed for the better and the change has occurred in an irreversible manner. Who is the proponent of that change? It is the president. So, if there is someone that we should refer to as the man of change it is the president. If indeed the campaign has to be based on change, the campaign would be based on a candidate who is the embodiment of change. If anybody wants Cameroon to change, you are better off betting on the person who is carrying the mantle of change rather than the person who doesn’t have the record to show. The others tend to make the noise that they want Cameroon to change. But desire or wish is one thing. Making decisions on whom to lead you should not be based on someone who wishes, but on someone who has a record to show. Between the president and those others, most Cameroonians know the president’s policy record and most Cameroonians do not know the policy records of the others.
The others have made a lot of announcements. That is fine. The fact that decisions are made by one person or by a group does not mean that those who are not in position of decision-making are foolish. Ideas are not the monopoly of those who make decision. It is good to listen [to those who are not in position of decision-making) because they may have something useful – you can borrow from them because a good idea that has to be considered by a decision-maker can actually come from a non-decision-maker. That is what makes the republic a republic.
You say the president has a record to show. But critics say that given our resources and potential, we should be way ahead of where we are now. Isn’t that a fair assessment?
It is a fair criticism. But that criticism is not limited only to Cameroon. At any level you take, say an individual, you can ask the question couldn’t you have done better that where you are today, given your intelligence, given your education, given your background? What I do believe is that - we leave in societies of rationalism, where two plus two equals four. We live in societies where things are measured. If you rationalise your potential and the objective factors [like] human resources, exports, agricultural production etc, your potential is not enough. If you think that your potential is this, therefore you can be this; I think it’s the wrong way to go. In every society in the world, potential is not a determinant of the level of development. The level of development is a function of different objective, measurable and rational factors, I spent 11 years in the United States where I started as a 21 year-old students and until 32 years I was still there. If you study the history of the US, you will see that before 1776, there is no record that placed the United State among the developed societies. The potential was there. Today, 200 and more years, the US is a developed society but before 1778 it was not. In other words, what happened that the Indians did not make it as we know it today, because the potential was there? Therefore, potential is not a rational measurable determinant of the level of development. The level of development depends on other objective and rational factors. Take DR Congo. Look at its potential. Take the case of South Africa. It has the potential but more than three-quarters of its population are not where they would like to be. Why? Because there are other objective, measurable, rational factors that could explain that. Now that those factors are no more there, we see South Africa taking off a new leaf and moving towards where they want to be. That is why the president [Biya] strongly believes that in 25 years, using the objective factors that are in place Cameroon would get to where it wants to go.
There is been much talk about friction at the summit of the Biya administration. How tritely strong is President Paul Biya within the system he has built?
From what I have had the privilege to observe and read, the president is the master of his own agenda. It is his character – we have read a lot about his character from his latest book Biya Code. The president is by nature a person who does more than he talks. As proof, the Cameroon that he defined as part of vision in 1982, that is the Cameroon we are seeing. He set the agenda and he believed that this is the kind of Cameroon that is needed to take us what we now know as an emerging Cameroon. He said so in 1982. He has a mastery of his own vision and the system that has now come to be known by the Biya label. Most observers would describe Cameroon today, as opposed to Cameroon before 1982 as being more democratic, more open, more developed. Sometimes, people point to unemployment, crime, etc. If it is about crime, have you looked at crime in places that are more developed? There is more crime in developed societies. There are many developed societies where the unemployment rate is pretty high.
We are better off since 1982. Before 1982, no Cameroonian had even the right to ask the question, “Are you better off or are you not?” If you did raise your voice, you were considered a danger to the state. The Cameroon before 1982 was a Cameroon in which you had no right to know whether you were better of or not. But today, you have the right to know. If you want to know how much petrol gives to Cameroon you know. But you dared [not] ask that questions before 1982.
Take any parameter. I used to dream when there would be a road that links Douala and Younde. Thank God. When I returned from the United States, I saw as a gift, that a road was built between Douala and Yaounde. Today we can connect all the way to Bamenda, Bafoussam.
We are moving. But of course there is an Oliver Twist in everybody. There is nothing wrong in being Oliver Twist. A lot of people as for more roads every day and the answer is, “Give it time.”
If you took President Paul Biya out of the equation, how would the regime hold at the centre?
I have read the International Crisis Group and the others. As a political scientist and professor of Political Science at the University of Yaounde II, and precisely at the International Relations Institute, I have the honour and privileged to be an earl witness of the metamorphosis that took place in the early 1990s. I happened to one of the few people that were given the honour to take part in the famous and historic tripartite conference of 1991. I was there with the john Fru Ndis, the Cardinal Tumis, the Fotsos... the who and who in Cameroon.
That tripartite meeting was not only a milestone but was a turning point in the life of this country, since the Foumban Conference of 1961. For those who were not in the tripartite, it is easy to be an agent of gloom. I give you one resolution that was taken at the tripartite after weeks of everyday discussions. I recall a lady from the West region, may her soul rest in peace, who at some point took the peace plant and started saying to the delegates in tears “What is wrong with you my children? Do you want to give yourself the right to tear apart the house that was built by your parents? It is unAfrican, it is even ungodly. Does it mean that book [education] has become a curse? You people know more book that your parents who with no book were able to build a house called Cameroon. Do you want to destroy it with your book? My children, God will not forgive you.” The atmosphere in the tripartite changed. “No we cannot destroy the house that our parents built.”
President Biya strongly believed in what he was doing because that was his will, to have that conference. He applied and implemented what the tripartite conference decided to the later. The tripartite conference recommended a new constitution, we have it. The tripartite conference recommended that there should be a decentralised state, we have it. People know that the tripartite conference demanded that every political party should be given a chance to equal rights, equal time on television, we have it.
When I see people making noise like this I say well it is because some people were not privileged witnesses the conference. The president believed that the Cameroon he wanted would be given some meaning by having the tripartite.
You notice that at the agric show, the president decided to go himself stand after stand to see how the ordinary people are living. He went and shook hands with every ordinary persons because he believes in ordinary Cameroonian and what the ordinary Cameroonian is doing everyday. He strongly believes that it is a collective genius, a collective intelligence of these ordinary Cameroonians, that make the Cameroon that we all desire to became a reality. That is why he did not start with the elite side, he started with the ordinary people’s stand: from stand to stand for five hours. It tells he strongly believes in the ordinary genius of the ordinary Cameroonian. He believes that that will take Cameroon to where we want to go to and I think that is good.
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