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Cameroon’s Ministers Disgraced In France: Kudos Sarkozy 

By Peterkins Manyong

In a previous analysis, we examined the vice of ingratitude, concluding that the cat family is notorious for it. The lion is the largest member of this family and, logically, is as notorious in this vice as it is great in strength and fierceness. The ingratitude of a lion towards the same monkey that rescued him from a pit emphasises this characteristic of ingratitude.

Last week, our Lion-man behaved true to type. He abandoned some members of his government in Paris after the celebration of the 50th anniversary of 14 African countries and that of the French National Day. He left his friends at the mercy of French authorities and retired to his den  in Switzerland .

According to the story, reported by a local (Cameroon) newspaper (which quoted AFP), members of the Cameroonian delegation that accompanied him, were not only left behind, they also suffered an unprecedented humiliation at the hands of French authorities. The ministers, who were still enjoying the luxury of French hotels, were told, after Biya had left, that that they had overstayed their visit and ordered them to pack out.

What the ministers seemed to have known, or might have forgotten, is that the word "colony" means farm and that in the historical sense it is Cameroon that is France’s farm, not the other way round. The humiliated ministers had to seek refuge in second rate (cheaper) hotel. They probably thought they were on one of those "brief visits" (bref sejours), which sometimes last several weeks at the expense of the Cameroonian tax payer.

Justifying the decision, the chief of protocol was categorical: "We operate on the principles and bases that govern our state protocol. When we invite personalities or friends, these individuals know before leaving their countries of origin, what they have to do and what we have to do for them during their stay… We have not violated these, with respect to our African friends who have come here to celebrate the independence of their countries and our national day."

No explanation could be more logical. The celebrated Mualimu Julius Nyerere, was unequivocal in his condemnation of this practice whereby guests overstay their visits.
"Treat your visitor as a guest the first two days. On the third day, give him a hoe to go to the farm." The French authorities were lenient. They should have told the ministers to go get brooms and sweep the streets of Paris, which is what they are most suited for.

Africans have this obnoxious tendency of taking their hosts for granted; with the excuse that hospitality is part of our culture. In a world where the survival of states, communities and individuals depends on stringent management of resources, it is an act of gross irresponsibility to spend days, weeks or months, when invited for an occasion; a marriage, birthday or funeral.

Some well-meaning traditional rulers like Fon Vincent Yuh II of Kom had to stretch their royal authority to terminate this practice of preying on bereaved persons by village "vultures" who live because people die. At the level of the state, things should not be different. Cameroon is where it is today because a few individuals have taken advantage of their right to access the state treasury and spend the taxpayer’s money with impunity in hotels and other places of relaxation.

While we may blame Biya for emulating the reckless "gainako" that abandons his cattle to predators, let us also agree, in fairness to him, that the ministers he took along behaved like a gang of reckless prodigals who should be living on husks and draff, not on expensive French foods and wines.

Biya has certainly not forgotten the bashing he received from the press recently when he and his entourage squandered hundreds of millions of FCFA for three days in a French hotel.
The same degree of recklessness was demonstrated in the case of the recently ended World Cup in South Africa. People took along their concubines disguised as members of dance groups, at the expense of the state.

By ordering those responsible to pay back FCFA 200 million of the money squandered, Prime Minister Philemon yang did the logical thing. We trust his capacity for follow-up. Such a refund would serve as a deterrent to those who think they can pillage the nation’s wealth and get away with it.

People should know when a champagne party is over or when it gets sour and leave the scene. Those Cameroonian ministers who erroneously thought the French were as unpatriotic and spendthrift as they are, got the message straight from their host in Paris.

While we may see reason in Biya’s decision to abandon his ministers to their fate, we can’t  help rebuking the President for promoting the same inertia he condemns. Why is his entourage on trips abroad always bulging at the seams with members of government who have no function to perform on such trips?

It may not be out of place to mention here that the word "minister" actually means "to serve." That is the meaning which the church rightly still maintains. But the reverse is true at the level of the state. Instead, our ministers are  demi-gods, before whom everyone has to fawn and genuflect.

In many democratic countries, Benin Republic, for instance, the head of state is barely noticed as he is driven through the streets, sometimes in a 504 PEUGEOT car. But in Cameroon, a minister’s entourage sometimes consists of more than a dozen cars, many of them PRADOs. Because they are lords here, these ministers thought they could be given the same VIP treatment in France. They got it all wrong.

The lesson we learn from what happened to some of our ministers in Paris is simple: Don’t ever trespass on the generosity of your host. Just as those in power should not wait until they are thrown out.

With our worsening economic situation, it may reach a point where we Africans would be reduced to the necessity of offering our guests newspapers to read as it transpires in the west, when they come uninvited at meal times. That would not mean loving our neighbours less than ourselves. It would simply mean we have become more pragmatic.

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