OF BIYA, THE MILITARY AND GBAGBO


ByTIKUM MBAH AZONGA

(I wrote this piece in 2011 when the Ivorian civil war was biting hard. At the time, during social interaction on FACEBOOK, some contributors waged a “Paul Biya Must Go” campaign. Some even expressed the strong wish to see the Cameroonian army rough handle Paul Biya the way the Ivorian army handled Gbagbo. In the article I have therefore reproduced below, I argued that such a scenario was unlikely in Cameroon and gave my reasons for that assertion. I drew my strength from my experience in the many world countries I had been to as an international journalist.)
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My answer to that question is: No, Biya is unlikely to be treated by the Cameroonian military the way the Ivorian military treated Gbagbo. The Ivorian president was not in control of his military; Biya is in control of his; Gbagbo did not have a good synergy with his military, whereas Biya enjoys one with his. Besides, the armed forces of Cameroon are well treated and respected, compared with those in a good number of African countries.

And in any case, Côte d`Ivoire`s first president never really gave his armed forces the importance Ahmadou Ahidjo gave his own here in Cameroon. While Houphouet Boigny was rather laid back on the issue, Ahidjo took time to build a robust army, within African standards. Perhaps it was because Ahidjo`s action was guided by the guerilla war that threatened his country at the time. But Houphouet was definitely not interested in building up a strong army.

Comparatively, in the Cameroonian armed Forces, hierarchy is more respected, the “army culture” is deeply rooted and deeply engrained and cohabitation of the disparate and heterogeneous elements has been more or less harmonized. Today`s president, Paul Biya, has also been quite favourable, not just to the army but to the armed corps as a whole. Furthermore, he has mastery of his country in terms of knowing what is going on at all times, practically, in a way far higher than that of Gbagbo. On the contrary, the beleaguered Ivorian leader was very much a stranger in his won country. He committed the political sin of referring to Alassane Ouattara who had actually served as prime minister of his country as “a foreigner’ in the country.

Another point in Biya`s favour is that his country men and women on the whole have enough to eat within the country. The same cannot be said of Gbagbo`s Côte d`ivoire. Again, comparatively, Cameroon has enough to eat within the country. The problem may be with an inability to get a meal into every needy mouth. But within the country, there are supplies. Our country even serves as the bread basket for neighbouring countries. Cameroonians have also always had their beer whenever they needed it, even in the thick of the economic crisis. And they love. So when a man had\s something to eat and to drink, he is naturally less inclined to take up arms. Such conditions are not common in many African countries.

The talk that “Biya must go” does not stem from any solid foundation from those who purport it. It is only an expression of emotions and wishful thinking. It is mere rhetoric. It is talk, just talk and empty talk. Proponents of that thesis must ask themselves some tough questions and find answers for them: How will he go? When will he go? Who will make him go? Why should he go? What does the constitution say? 0r does the constitution not matter?

An apt illustration here could be that of the football coach whose team is losing. He needs to maintain a level and objective head and plan a strategy for reversal. It is surely not by shouting slogans, chest thumping and sabre rattling that the expected goals will be scored. Another point is that it is not even because someone expresses angrily his wishes for a president to go that he will go. Anger will not solve the problem.

Contrary to what some people think, the so-called Arab spring that has swept presidents off their feet in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, may not necessarily be replicated in Cameroon, even if both groups of people want their leaders out.

For Biya to go, he must either voluntarily step down like Ahidjo did, or the constitution forces him out simply because his wish to stay on conflicts with that of a constitution. However, as things stand, the constitution does allow him to rule until 2018. So, instead of shouting from roof tops, those who seek his departure can follow the democratic path. They can either form their own political parties and stand against him, or they merge their existing parties to outnumber him, if they already belong to a party. Those who are unable to form their own parties can join one of the existing opposition parties. That is the way forward. And that is my view.

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FOOTNOTE

This article was first published on my blog http://tikumazonga.blogspot.com/2011/06/on-biya-military-and-gbagbo.html, under the same title, on the 16th of June 2011.

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