November 6, 2009 marks twenty-seven (27) years of Mr. Paul Biya as the President of the Republic of Cameroon. Prior to becoming the President of Cameroon on November 6 1982, Paul Biya served in various positions under the regime of his predecessor, President Ahmadou Ahidjo. In 1964, he was appointed Director of the Cabinet of the Minister of National Education and then Secretary General of the Ministry of National Education in July 1965. In December 1967 he was named Director of the Civil Cabinet of the President and later Secretary General of the Presidency (while remaining Director of the Civil Cabinet) in January 1968. He gained the rank of Minister in August 1968 and Minister of State in June 1970, while remaining Secretary General of the Presidency. Paul Biya became Prime Minister of Cameroon on June, 30 1975. In June 1979, a law designated the Prime Minister as the President’s constitutional successor, and following Ahidjo’s resignation on November 4, 1982, Biya became President on November 6, 1982.
Without doubt, Paul Biya took over the highest authority of the country with an impressive resume. However, his 27 year old grip on power has been a complete disaster in the eyes of almost every Cameroonian. Decades of failed political, economic, educational, social, and development policies have led Cameroonians to lost confidence that the current system can bring any meaningful change to their lives or the direction of the country. PICAM recognizes that Cameroonians are tired of the mediocrity, corruption, tribalism, nepotism, and embezzlement that have characterized the almost three decades of President Paul Biya’s grip on power in Cameroon. PICAM is therefore calling on the President to allow Cameroonians the possibility to reconstruct their future and that of the country.
PICAM recognizes that the result of hosting only two leaders in its 50 years post independence history is that of a highly centralized power in Cameroon’s government which concentrates on retaining influence through almost any means. The leadership of the first president of Cameroon, Ahmadou Ahidjo shares many similarities with that of the current President, Paul Biya. Emergencies in the first few years of each Presidency allowed the leader to make amendments which gave them more control and led the country further away from its democratic beginnings. In Ahidjo’s case, Cameroon became a one-party state with serious brutalization of political opponents.
PICAM notes that President Biya took another route and secured his position by surrounding himself in government with mainly members of his own ethnic group and political party, while utilizing divide and rule tactics to exhibit complete control of the country. A sense of entitlement felt by public officials of Mr. Biya’s inner circles has led to a lack of accountability and a culture of corruption, manipulation, cronyism, and bullying in politics. Today, positions in government and the public service are determined through a combination of party loyalty and ethnic or regional background, rather than educational qualification, experience or competence.
Therefore, while Cameroon’s modern history from independence is dominated by repressive regimes yielding centralized power, the government since 1982, under President Biya, has erected further barriers to power in an effort to retain influence and control. Human rights of Cameroonians, which were already lacking, have suffered further as a result of this extension of influence. President Paul Biya has taken full advantage of the centralization of power to manipulate the legislative and judicial branches of Cameroon’s national government to prevent the development of an active and viable civil society that would certainly threaten or end his political ambitions. Political oppression and persecution in Cameroon has led to a social environment of increased fear of public criticism. PICAM notes that the administration has in the past authorized the armed forces to shoot at peaceful demonstrators (especially youths and students), and to sweep entire neighborhoods leading to illegal arrests and detention of people who are opposed to government policies and excesses.
The misdeeds of President Biya and members of his governments have deprived Cameroonians of basic rights such as freedom of speech and expression and the complete absence of development initiatives and employment opportunities. The once prosperous nation of Cameroon has been transformed into a corrupt, seemingly lawless kleptocracy. As the government continues to strengthen its hold on power at the detriment of Cameroonians, there is little hope that the situation will self-improve without motivation, increased local and international scrutiny, and concerted international pressure. Without the institution of democratic reforms, Cameroon would eventually fall into the chaos of civil war, a fate that has befallen many similar African nations.
PICAM is therefore calling on the international community and the people of Cameroon to coordinate their efforts in a concerted attempt to starve off disaster and rectify the situation of human rights and democracy in Cameroon. Such efforts should include support for democratic infrastructures and persistent criticism of the record of the Government of Cameroon. Meanwhile, for democracy to take hold and be sustainable in Cameroon, Mr. Biya must allow democracy loving Cameroonians to take the lead.
A courtesy of PICAM, www.picam.org