Biya’s end-of-year speech: Can he win hearts and minds? 0

For some three decades, Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, has gone down in the estimation of many of his compatriots due to corruption and incompetence that have become the hallmark of a country that was known by many across the globe as a country of the future.

In the seventies and the early eighties, Cameroon was admirably zooming towards a bright future, especially as the country’s pioneer president, Amadou Ahidjo, had laid a solid economic foundation for the country with his five-year development plans that were delivering better living conditions to the people.

Ahidjo’s education was limited, but he quickly learned the ropes and surrounded himself with honest and hardworking Cameroonian technocrats whose love for the fatherland was never in doubt.

Though ruthless when it came to dealing with the political opposition, the country’s pioneer president ensured that corruption was kept very low and any government official caught toying with state funds had to face the music.

He was merciless with government officials who dared to think that occupying a high position was a sign of superiority.

His insistence on using the youths to manage the affairs of the country was his way of ensuring continuity in the country even after him.

This explained why many of those in government today were granted top positions when they were either in their late twenties or thirties, including Mr. Biya who became the Secretary General at the Presidency at less than 35 years.

Under Mr. Ahidjo’s political program, every administrative division in the country was represented in his government.

Though he dishonestly lured the country’s English-speaking minority into a lopsided political union, he always ensured that the post of vice-president went to someone from Southern Cameroons, including the post of speaker of the National Assembly.

Mr. Ahidjo kept unemployment very low and he established a solid private sector that could help hire many young Cameroonian graduates, especially as the civil service could not hire everybody.

Under his economic program, every administrative division had an administrative headquarters endowed with all the services that could make life easy and beautiful to Cameroonians.

But this has not been the trend since 1982 when Mr. Ahidjo handed over power to the country’s current president, Paul Biya, who has ruled the country for 37 years through presidential decrees that have only delivered death and destruction to the citizens of Cameroon.

A country that was once considered as an oasis of peace in a desert of military and political chaos has now become home to many armed groups.

For three years now, Cameroon has been caught in an armed conflict that has pitted the country’s English-speaking minority against a government that has no emotional attachment to its citizens.

As the conflict progresses, light weapons are spreading like ragweed and criminal gangs that are feeding from the government’s failure to restore peace and security in those regions are sprouting and blighting the lives of ordinary citizens, especially in rural areas where the government is conspicuously absent.

The conflict has affected the country’s economy and, over the last couple of years, it has been in a free fall, with unemployment reaching unprecedented levels.

Graduates have become criminals and odd jobs, once done by the uneducated Cameroonians, have become very popular among highly educated Cameroonians.

Recruitment into the civil service has become very unreliable. Regional balance that was a reality under the country’s first president, has been swept under the carpet.

Today, most government ministers are from Mr. Biya’s region of the country, although that region constitutes less than 10% of the country’s population.

Senior administrative officers are also mostly from Mr. Biya’s region and the objective is for them to implement a vicious policy of intimidation and fear-mongering given that most Cameroonians are against a regime that has divided them and robbed them of their dignity.

Today, tribalism and nepotism have replaced competence and regional balance. Mr. Biya’s ministers have become very arrogant. They have no respect for their compatriots and this has eroded whatever respect and emotional attachment the ordinary citizen had for the government.

Cameroonians have been intentionally pauperized by their government. Many are dying of preventable and curable diseases and this has only stepped up opposition against a government run by ailing Octogenarians.

Given this appalling and unsettling economic and political picture, many observers are asking if today’s end-of-year speech by Mr. Biya will deliver any hope to a people who are already indifferent to all government actions.

The government seems to be tone deaf. The people are sick and tired of complaining. Even the international community is losing hope.

The international community has been calling on the government to organize an inclusive dialogue that will deliver peace to the country, but these calls have all fallen on deaf ears.

Instead of organizing a genuine inclusive dialogue, Mr. Biya and his cohort hastily organized a major national dialogue that has not produced any real results.

The war is still going on and without an honest effort and dialogue, the English-speaking minority may walk away from a union that was hastily stitched together by the country’s first president; a union that has spread pain and frustration among the country’s English-speaking minority.

Today, the government has hastily brought home some refugees to demonstrate that the rebellion is dying and that Mr. Biya’s strategy is working.

But observers have already qualified this as a charade that will not address any real issues. This is more of a publicity stunt by the government and this will be a key focus of Mr. Biya’s speech today.

The world is watching and it believes this is an opportunity for the 86-year-old Biya to reach out to the English-speaking minority so that a real and genuine dialogue can start.

If he changes his tone and approach, he might win lots of hearts and minds, but will that be possible, especially as Mr. Biya has a mindset that belongs to a different epoch? To him, only military violence and manipulation can achieve anything meaningful.

He is frozen in time. He has to walk away from his old mentality if he wants peace to return to Cameroon. The ball is in his court.