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Opinions of Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Columnist: The Median Newspaper

Biya regime: Coping with end-time signals


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Paul Biya deserves praise for keeping Cameroon together in peace so far. But no one can be sure of peace anymore in the next few years of the end of the Biya-era.

The absence of rules of succession within the CPDM will almost for sure push powerful ambitious bureaucrats to acts of disaffection and sabotage to gain ascendancy. Biya’s treatment of this powerful class of ministers and GMs has only prepared them to pounce on him as soon as the opportunity comes.

The only way out for Biya to save his head and that of his young and beautiful family is to renounce his own ambition to continue after 2018, and allow free and fair elections within the CPDM on the one hand and at national level on the other hand.

Peace is the one thing that Cameroonians, divided as they are, easily concede to the Biya-regime. It is still a miracle that Cameroon escaped a civil war, given the desperate opposition confrontations with the government in the early 1990s and Cameroon’s history of acrimonious elections.

But that peace can no more be guaranteed with the approach of the end-years of the regime, ie up to 2018. The problem is succession. Paul Biya is working on two possibilities neither of which is welcome particularly by the powerful bureaucrats who constitute the pillars of his regime.

The President longs to stay in power in defiance of his age and longevity in office. The second scenario is to impose a hand-picked successor from the ruling CPDM and ram him down the throats of Cameroonians at the presidential election of 2018. Either possibility promises trouble for Biya, real big trouble indeed. The opposition and the international community are opposed to his continuing in office with the manipulation of the constitution.

Potent as the international community is in halting the President, it is within the regime itself that Biya will have some of the most unpleasant surprises, betrayals and back-stabbing.

Powerful bureaucrats

The class of powerful bureaucrats that control both the ruling party and the government will most probably prove to be Biya’s greatest nightmare!

The second force that the president must reckon with is the wide-spread dissidence within the rank and file of the CPDM. It is this group whose outright abstention from successive elections the President should be wary about. They are waiting for him at the turning.

Three factors make the powerful CPDM bureaucrats potentially deadly to the president. First, there are no rules of succession within the party allowing for a free and fair contest by which a democratically chosen candidate would emerge as the party’s flag-bearer in the 2018 election. This absence opens the way for all forms of intrigues and sabotage against the regime by interest groups to gain ascendancy over other competing groups.

Second, the relationship between Biya and his aides and subordinates is not always wholesome or self-respecting as with partners functioning at different levels. The president is often high-handed and too much of a chief who sometimes enjoys subservience from collaborators.

Biya keeps a good distance, partly due to his refusal to receive public officials. His rather punitive and unpredictable use of his appointive powers and other aspects of his style combine to create fear for him rather than encourage trust and loyalty by his collaborators.

The danger of this pattern of relationship between the Head of State and his subordinates is never apparent until perhaps when there comes a crisis. The chief then suddenly realizes that he stands alone, with collaborators whose loyalty he could swear by having defected.


Feeling of betrayal

Former Zambian President Frederick Chiluba suddenly realized that he was all alone when he tried to manoeuvre for a third term against the provision of the constitution. In his feeling of betrayal and loneliness, he reached out for Levy Mwanawasa, a former colleague whom he had long fallen out with and relegated, to succeed him. That choice has since proved fateful for him.

When the 28-year regime of the Duvalier family (Papa and Bebe Doc) in Haiti collapsed in February 1986, long time pillars of the regime disavowed it with the utmost vehemence. Many swore that they had not had anything as such with the regime!

The same was the case with the Caucesceau regime in Romania in December 1989 as soon as its end was in sight. Needless to recall the lonely and violent end of President Caucesceau and his wife.

In balance and for the records, it was surprising how the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein hung together unto captivity and death.

The third and clearly obvious way in which Biya has turned big powerful people who should be his faithful allies into enemies is the very antagonistic manner in which he is handling the corruption issue.

The treatment of the one, they say, serves notice to the ninety-nine remaining! These men are all friends and partners of the president in the enterprise of the regime. The drama of all that humiliating arrests, detention, long court trials and imprisonment is politically very prejudicial to Biya’s true interests, to say the least. Why didn’t someone tell him that?

Public Money

What the president should have focused on is coaxing individuals to turn in public money stashed away in foreign back accounts. American and French ambassadors offered the help of their governments for this. This could be achieved without making enemies of these men.

The idea is not so much that people must not be punished but that the issue, explosive as it is, could have been handled with a lot more political tact. Recovering public money should have been at the centre of Biya’s anti-corruption strategy, not theatre and humiliation.

Biya has the knack of sleeping over problems. It is no wonder that he didn’t give enough thought to this matter! He now has himself to blame. The damage is done!

Filthy rich men

These men are filthy rich, if some of the cash values carried by the press can be trusted. Add to all the foregoing reasons, the ambition of these men to access the commanding heights of power. And why not?

Problem is that in the absence of rules to govern individual aspirations anything can be expected and should be expected. This is not good for peace and security. Other countries went to war over minor matters. It is unsafe to always think that we will always escape it.

What Biya must accept is that all this is the house and regime which he has painstakingly built over 33 years. It does not stand as well as it could. A collapse could be catastrophic.

There is absolutely no question that he could suddenly start undoing things to correct the edifice at this vary late hour. What he can still do is to adopt courses of action to avoid the very worst of consequences.

The first productive step on that road is for the president to consider and accept that 2018 is goodbye to politics. The alternative is better imagined than described here. Biya has a young wife and still very young children that must come into consideration when thinking about his future.

Free and fair elections

The next important step is to completely free the electoral system at both the national level and within the CPDM so as to allow the peoples’ free choice to emerge at both levels.

Free and fair elections in 2018 will be a great legacy he would bequeath to Cameroonians who will in turn more easily forgive him for his many shortcomings.

And if for nothing else let him do this to save his head and that of his very young and beautiful family.

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