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ELECAM /SDF Meeting – A Question of Neutrality 

By Peterkins Manyong

Last week the leadership of the SDF did something significant. It dropped the undeclared policy of non-collaboration with Elections Cameroon, ELECAM. Ni John Fru Ndi, SDF’s National Chairman, personally led a delegation to ELECAM’s Yaounde Bastos headquarters. This visit substantiated the hackneyed saying that "in politics there is no permanent friend and no permanent enemy".

The visit came on the heels of a heated NEC meeting in which members were divided on whether to take part in the ongoing voter registration exercise or not. The party finally resolved that collaboration with ELECAM was possible only if government accepted11 points the SDF had advanced as the only way to make ELECAM credible and effective. Fru Ndi’s announcement that he would be leading a delegation to meet ELECAM’s top officials was, therefore, highly commendable to those who cherished the idea of registration.

Prior to the visit, Fru Ndi had told this analyst that the invitation was not channeled through the party’s headquarters, but handed to the SDF Chairman during the funeral of Rev. Michael Bame Bame at Weh, in Menchum. Whatever was the manner of conveying the invitation, it is important that ELECAM did so. After all, most long lasting relationships, including marriage, result from chance meetings.

The Visit To ELECAM

Nothing dramatic, however, took place at the meeting. Fru Ndi’s press briefing at the end conveyed the same mistrust and suspicion that characterised the SDF National Chairman’s reaction at the birth of ELECAM. The difference here is that Fru Ndi quoted ELECAM officials as admitting that they were not neutral. This pronouncement of the SDF chieftain reignited the debate of "who is neutral".

To begin, when the creation of ELECAM was announced, with its predominantly pro-CPDM composition, SDF cried wolf. Even after the resignation of the CPDM components from the ruling party, the SDF was still unimpressed. The party and its sympathisers reasoned that a snake does not become less venomous by shedding its old skin. ELECAM’s Board Chair, Samuel Fonkam Azu’uh raised no polemics about it.

He simply called on fellow Cameroonians to give the outfit a chance. That no longer appears to be the case. ELECAM’s top brass is tired of defending its neutrality and thinks it is time to dish through a few jabs at those who don’t buy the idea of registration. Dr. Fonkam reportedly told the SDF there are 240 political parties in Cameroon: that ELECAM is like a train which has already left its station and will arrive at its destination whether the SDF is on board or not.

Talking about neutrality, those who have witnessed elections in Cameroon since 1992 would agree with Fru Ndi and all those who criticise ELECAM as a CPDM out fit that we need a truly independent election managing organ. But Fonkam and supporters are not acting without logic of their own. For instance, they argue that John Fru Ndi campaigned to enter parliament in 1988 on the ticket of the CPDM and lost to Simon Achidi Achu (Reason probably why the two have remained political adversaries ever since).

But since then Fru Ndi has not resigned from the CPDM. But nobody doubts the fact that he is in the opposition. Those who say he is SDF by day and CPDM by night are simply being mischievous. The bitterness with the New Deal regime is unmistakable. If the SDF Chairman who till date hasn’t resigned from the ruling party officially can be accepted as truly opposition, why won’t he believe that those who have done so can be neutral?"

When the SDF was told to propose names of personnel to man ELECAM, the party gave the names of Joseph Owona and Cardinal Tumi. Everybody knows Owona the ultra of the ultras, when talking of CPDM support. Cardinal Tumi’s declarations since the launch of the SDF have never concealed his contempt for the Biya regime.

He may be right, but politics is not morality, no matter how bright and sanctimonious Ben Muna and his supporters perceive it. Politics is about grabbing power and keeping it. Bishop Albert Ndongmo, late Bishop of Nkongsamba, who was clearly an opponent of the Ahidjo regime and the forerunner of the New Deal, described the campaigns for civil disobedience launched by the opposition in 1990 as Machiavellian. .Ndongmo like Tumi spoke morality, not politics.

If Biya had to set up an "independent" election management body with the bishop of Nkongsamba still alive, there is likelihood he would have included Bishop Ndongmo in it, if possible, as its chairman. The point being advanced here is that politicians perceive neutrality from the viewpoint that it should be beneficial to them. The journalist like the soldier is supposed to be neutral. But like other citizens they have a right to vote.

The politician who calls for neutrality is pleased to learn that each of these neutral individuals is on his side. Such a person is described as patriotic and objective if the politician knows that he voted for him. Fru Ndi, for instance, thinks it scandalous that anybody, including soldiers and journalists, should not be a hater of the Biya regime, while Biya thinks it an act of betrayal if a soldier should not vote for the regime that that pays his salary.

The Biblical idea of the children of Israel as "the chosen people of God" suggests that in a referendum on the Middle East question, God would vote against the Palestinians. But God, being the Father of all, would not do that. This therefore suggests that whoever gave that appellation to the children of Israel acted more out of emotion than reason.

We should therefore be cautious when using the word "neutral" in politics which is, all things taken into consideration, is a profession where personal interest overwhelms the universal one.

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