By Francis Wache
On November 6, 1982, Mr. Paul Bathelemy Bi Mvondo Biya replaced Mr. El Hadji Ahmadou Babatoura Ahidjo as the President of Cameroon.
Ahidjo’s resignation on November 4, 1982, stunned the nation. This was because the act was as sudden as it was unexpected.
As soon as the news broke, there was a flurry of mostly nocturnal consultations trying to discourage “the Father of the Nation” from stepping down.
All attempts to dissuade the authoritarian Ahidjo failed.
The outgoing Ahidjo and the incoming Biya were a study in contrasts: Ahidjo came from the Moslem North while Biya was a native of the Christian South.
Ahidjo spoke with a stentorian baritone while Biya’s voice was a raspy cackle. While Ahidjo was a primary school level leaver, Biya was a University graduate. Ahidjo exuded the aura of a patrician Lamido; Biya conveyed the self-effacing and unobtrusive mien of a former Seminarian.
With such fundamental differences, some observers argued that the leadership style between Ahidjo, the mentor, and Biya, the student, was bound to differ.
Biya, himself, did not hesitate peddling that myth. He came into office hammering that he was here to usher in a New Deal that would be characterised by rigour, integrity and moralisation.
Every opportunity they got, Biya and his cronies and his lackeys chanted from the rooftops about the intoxicating slogans of rigour and moralisation.
The April 4 gunshots would drown these buzzwords forever.
A clash over authority quickly ensued following Ahidjo’s resignation. The majority of Cameroonians indicated that they were for Biya. They had had enough of Ahidjo. Good riddance, they appear to have concluded.
At the close of the power tussle between Ahidjo and Biya, the former emerged bruised. Ahidjo the vanquished fled into exile while Biya, the victor, ensconced himself at Etoudi.
Biya was now the lone cock allowed to crow in the Cameroon political arena.
The broken hearted Ahidjo would die and be buried in Dakar in 1989 – unmourned.
With Ahidjo crushed and out of the scene, Biya’s early years were greeted with euphoria and great expectations.
Unfortunately, the ecstasy was short lived. It did not take long for the excitement to peter out. The tides turned. On April 4, 1984, the soldiers struck. A deeply shaken Biya jettisoned the noble and intoxicating slogans of rigour and moralisation and embarked on consolidating with his kinsmen, in particular, and bootlickers, in general, screaming behind the scenes, egging “their own man to gore the miscreants.”
In less than a year, what was seemingly an idyllic transfer of power transformed the erstwhile friendly Ahidjo-Biya duo into mortal foes, using lethal arms to (re)conquer power.
The greatest challenge to Biya and his New Deal – or what was left of it – came in 1992. That year, during the October 11 presidential election, Biya sneaked through with only 39.9 percent! His critics even say he ‘stole’ the victory. Whatever the case, it was nothing more and nothing less than a “Sanction Vote.”
Enter Anglophone Crisis
The most recent crisis that has given Biya sleepless nights is the so-called Anglophone Crisis.
After five decades of what Anglophones describe as their marginalisation, domination and subjugation by successive Francophone regimes, they decided to publicly demonstrate their grouse over what they refer to as their second class status.
The Anglophone paroxysm has gripped the nation for over a year with hordes of Anglophones arrested, maimed, imprisoned, killed or missing.
Political scientists have written about the Problem. Historians have written. So, too, have knowledgeable and seasoned administrators. The clergy have not been left out. Diverse groups of the civil society have added their voices. All have diagnosed the Problem and prescribed therapies.
Yet, Biya has used his most effective tool – silence – as his response.
Most commentators agree – including Biya’s ventriloquists – that there is an Anglophone Problem. Biya, the only person who can authoritatively address the issue has remained eloquently mute. As he has done in the past in similar circumstances, he has allowed the people to speculate on whether – and when – he will react to the crisis.
Still, the people are thinking aloud and wondering, for instance, whether he will convene protagonists, as it is generally expected, and jaw-jaw in a genuine dialogue so as to settle the matter.
Indeed, as the Anglophones seethed and swore, Biya, the maestro in diversion tactics, created the nebulous Commission for Bilingualism. The presidential act was meant to soothe the angst of the Anglophones. It did.
The Cliff Hanger
In February 2008, the streets filled with demonstrators, mainly young people, expressing their anger and social malaise. Biya reacted the way he reacts best to crisis, by cracking down on the misguided youths and keeping silent and bidding his time. The storm passed. Biya, the cliff hanger, went on ruling.
Biya has ruled – and reigned – over Cameroon, for good or ill, for the last uninterrupted thirty five years.
The good – or bad – news (depending on which side of the fence you are sitting on) is that President Biya has not said his last word – yet.