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Asking Biya To Commit Suicide 

By Clovis Atatah In Vienna, Austria

For those who are usually quick to jump to conclusions, this writer does not wish the death of President Paul Biya. In fact, I wish him a very long life so that he could eventually answer, to the Cameroonian people, all the vexing questions relating to his reign.

The issue I’m addressing here is whether Cameroonian opposition groups seriously expect Mr. Biya to consciously commit political suicide. This question, as silly as it may sound, is not so dumb after all when we look at the posture of those purporting to want to see the back of Mr. Biya less than seven months before October’s presidential election.

It is a question that also grows in significance in the context of criticisms that followed Government’s recent bill to amend some provisions of the law on ELECAM. Various opposition politicians and presidential candidates expressed disappointment with a bill they knew was imminent, but did nothing to effectively influence. What we witnessed were memoranda, opinion essays and calls on Mr. Biya to establish a level electoral playing field, as if the President could, with alacrity, do something that is not in his best interest.

Nothing could be more pathetic than the leading opposition party, the SDF, submitting to the partisan ELECAM, which it even considered illegal, conditions for its participation in the electoral process. If ELECAM lacked legitimacy, that SDF memo and a visit by a high-powered delegation of the party to the electoral lame duck body, to a large extent, bestowed it on it.

There is little doubt that ELECAM, created reluctantly by the Yaounde regime following national and international pressure, was designed to ensure that Biya and his ruling party dictate the results of all elections in which they participate. And there is nothing particularly odd about that. Except for a few exceptions, the actions of politicians are motivated by the quest for, or the consolidation of, power. Hence, the rhetorical question: Would Mr. Biya commit political suicide?

Make all the calls you want for the creation of an independent electoral commission. Write copious memos on conditions necessary for free and fair elections. Criticise the electoral process with all the energy you can muster. Mr. Biya will not be impressed one bit because doing so will be an act of political suicide.

And my guess is that despite his advanced age of 78, the Lion Man still sees himself ruling Cameroon for yet a very, very long time. I suppose he considers himself a virile 78-year-old young father who is capable of doing things which some of those passing around for youths are incapable of. Junior and Brenda Anastasie are living testimony!

This is, therefore, not a man who has any intention of leaving power. The 2011 presidential election will consequently be no exception to the rule of massive rigging in favour of CPDM candidates that has applied to previous elections in the country. Yet, opposition politicians are behaving as if the Yaounde regime could be convinced, through handshakes with Biya, memoranda and "calls", to organise free and free elections. These impotent approaches have become ridiculous and only expose much of the Cameroonian opposition as having capitulated in the long drawn-out battle with Yaounde.

Recent uprisings in Africa and elsewhere against sit-tight leaders have already given Cameroonian pro-democracy groups free templates which could be modified to suit the country’s specific context. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak pleaded with the people to allow him have just a few more months in power after massive protests rocked the country.

The people rejected Mubarak’s plea and he was forced to go. Mr. Mubarak would never have condescended to beg the masses if they didn’t force his hand. We are also witnessing the ongoing uprising in Yemen which has pushed President Ali Abdullah Saleh to pledge to leave power after his current term expires. Protesters have rejected his offer.

If Mr. Biya suddenly announced that he would stand down at the end of his current term, my guess is that there will be non-stop celebrations in the streets of Cameroon for at least one week. But since the Lion Man is very unlikely to voluntarily make that move, it is incumbent on pro-democracy activists to work towards forcing his hand. It is, of course, easier said than done. But with consistent attempts by people of conviction, there is the likelihood that the struggle for change could explode into an inferno that even the fire-fighters in Yaounde would be unable to put out.

I wrote before the February 2011 protests fiasco that pro-democracy activists need to move beyond wishful thinking and Facebook romanticism, and I’m repeating that now. Mr. Mubarak was not brought down in a day, nor was any of the other sit-tight leaders in recent history.

It is a strong statement about the resolve of some segments of the Cameroonian opposition movement that after the failure of the one-day action in February, no serious attempt has been made to canalise the anger of the millions of frustrated Cameroonian youths, who are best placed to use the streets as a theatre for political action. Yet, many expect that with this attitude Mr. Biya will somehow be forced out of power before October this year. That’s not how it works. Much more work has to be done. Much more work!

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