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I Told Fru Ndi I Wanted To Be SDF Presidential Candidate – Kah Walla 

Interviewed By Joe Dinga Pefok — Edith Kahbang Walla, Aka Kah Walla, President of Cameroon People’s Party, CPP, says, while in the SDF, she told the Chairman that she wanted to be the party’s presidential candidate.

This, according to her, and her disagreement with the party hierarchy on registration of voters caused her to part ways with the SDF. In this interview with The Post, Kah Walla talks about her background, education, political life and her involvement in civil society. Read On:

The Post: Some people think you hail from Bali Nyonga as your name, Kahbang (Kah) Walla, indicates. Some people even link you to Kumba. But you are said to come from Pinyin (Santa Subdivision). Can you clarify the public on this issue?

Kah Walla: I am, perhaps, a lucky Cameroonian to come from many villages. To be precise, I have links with four villages. My mother is Bafaw (Meme Division). On my father’s side, there has been inter-marriage for over two generations. My father’s mother, that is my paternal grandmother, was Bali.

My father’s own paternal grand mother was Baforchu, and his paternal grand father was Pinyin. If we follow patrilineage, then I will say that I am from Pinyin. But then I can not only follow my father’s line and forget that of my mother. That is why I am also partly Bafaw. I am linked to Bali as my name, Kah, indicates, and I am also linked to Baforchu.

Let us talk a bit about your education.  

I should say that I was fortunate to have parents who believed very strongly in education, and they made very hefty investments in the education of their children. At the time, we (the children) were growing up in Yaounde, all of us ended up in the American School. My father was an international civil servant, and represented Cameroon in Maritime Organisation for West and Central Africa.

At one point, he moved from Yaounde to be based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. We, thus, moved to Ivory Coast, and continued our studies at the American School out there. That was how I came to have four years of my secondary school education in Ivory Coast. From there, I moved to the United States for university education. I started off studying to be a medical doctor.

Following the American system, you first have to do an undergraduate decree, and then apply to a medical school. But, by my third year in the university, I had figured out that I did not want to be a medical doctor. After obtaining my undergraduate decree in Zoology, I moved to study for a Masters in Business Administration, and obtained an MBA.  

What inspired you to get into civil society?

When I retuned to the country, I worked in a consulting firm for four years, and then created my own consulting firm. We consult for development associations, the World Bank, the United Nations, German Development Corporation, Dutch Corporation, among others. These links got me to find out about development projects in the field.

The discovery of these projects, made me to realise that, while I had been complaining about business environment for formal business, people who were at an even smaller business level, and who were just trying to come together as a village to, maybe, build a well or build a school, had things more difficult than I did. I was so concerned with their situation. This field work made me to get into civil society, as I started working with these village groups, to see what could be done to improve their lifestyle.   

When did you become involved in politics?

I have to say that I have been politically active and aware, almost my whole life. I grew up in a home with parents who made us very politically aware. When I was in the United States in the 80s, I took part in protests in front of the Cameroon Embassy in Washington DC, against poor governance going on in Cameroon.

I returned to Cameroon in December 1989. It was coincidentally at the heat of multi party politics coming back into the Cameroonian way of life. I immediately joined the forces that were fighting for change. I started up working with what at the time was the Coalition for Change.

In 2007, you decided to get into party politics by joining the SDF. Why the SDF?

In fact, when the SDF, in the early 90s, took the lead in the fight for change, I was very much a part of it.

We gave advices to the SDF leadership. I remember, for example, that, in the last campaign speech for the 1992 Presidential Elections, which John Fru Ndi gave in Yaounde, I was part of the team that went to Yaounde to coach him on it. I was also involved in fund raising for the presidential election campaigns. In fact from the early 1990s, I was all along linked to the SDF.

So when I decided to go into partisan or party politics in 2007, it was just a matter of stepping over a line. The SDF was a natural choice for me, because I have always been convinced that we need to make a change that transfers power from a few, to the hands of the majority. So besides the fact that I knew many leaders of the SDF, it was also very normal for me, ideologically, to join the party.

While in the SDF, you reportedly nursed the ambition to be the presidential candidate of the party. Is that true?

I did not just nurse the ambition. I made it very clear. I stated it to the National Chairman of the SDF, John Fru Ndi, who seems unfortunately to be the natural candidate of the party. Since I saw that tendency, I thought it would be out of courtesy if I should inform him of my desire to be the party’s presidential candidate. And I did inform him.

What was Fru Ndi’s reaction?

I think he was surprised. As I said, I think there has developed, unfortunately, a tendency in the SDF that he is the natural candidate. So, I think he did not expect this declaration. He was not hostile in his reaction. He listened to what I had to say, and gave me his own reasons as to why he thought I should not be the party’s candidate for the presidential elections. To him, it was not yet time for me.

You were Chairperson of the Strategy Commission in the SDF. But you left the party after being a militant for barely three years. What brought about the division?

The division between the SDF and I was really a division at the heart of the party, and things got so tense by August 2010. The division was that though we were then just a little over a year to the presidential elections, I did not see a Social Democratic Front that was going to elections. I was Head of the Strategy Commission at the time, and I felt that, strategically, we (SDF) should have held our national congress.

But there were feet dragging on the issue by NEC. The second problem was that the hierarchy (NEC) of the SDF took a decision for the party not to have a position as regard voters’ registration. The decision was that the SDF was not asking people to go and register, and was not also asking people not to register.

This, I felt, was ambiguous for a party that had to go for general elections (presidential elections) in less than a year. The decision by the SDF, not to ask people to register and be ready to vote when the time comes was, to me, a political suicide. I made it clear to the National Chairman that I felt strongly as an individual, that I must come out as being for voters’ registration.

Fortunately, I was in a non partisan association, Cameroon O’Bosso, which has as objective to create political awareness in citizens. So, I went and made the declaration supporting voters’ registration, under the canopy of Cameroon O’Bosso, so as not to give a direct opposition the SDF’s line of action. But, unfortunately, that still did not go down well with the party’s hierarchy.

And so you decided to quit the SDF?

I did not leave the SDF spontaneously. It was something that I thought over for months. I was waiting for key decisions to be made in that electoral period. So, by the time I left the SDF, I had thought of what I was going to do.

I knew that out of the over 200 political parties in Cameroon, only about six were in reality active. So, I did not see the need to create a political party. I thought there were political parties out there that I could join, and that would be interested in having me as a presidential candidate. I resigned from the SDF on October 23, 2010, and only joined the CPP on April 30, 2011.

I spent close to five months without a party. During this period, I declared my candidature for the presidential elections. Also, the Kah Walla Campaign which had been created, was growing so fast, and had already become bigger than many political parties. We were all over the country. We were contacted by close to 15 political parties. We had discussions with them, and made the final choice on CPP.

Why did you choose CPP?

The CPP had several elements, one of which was that they were social democrats. So, we were on the same ideology. Also, the CPP was ready for a transition. They had a President who created the party, and who now wanted to handover the leadership baton. The third point, which was a key condition set by the Kah Walla Campaign, was that for us to join a party, the party had to fully integrate the entire group.

This, of course, meant that we were going to take over the rein of the party, because we were in the majority. So that is what happened with the CPP. We merged together. We have a National Council that is made up of the old CPP members, and the new CPP members (the Kah Walla Campaign). So that is how we made the transition, which has been quite good.

What do you think accounted for your brilliant performance (the 5th out of 23 candidates) at the October 9, 2011, presidential elections?   

I do not think that the official score was a brilliant performance as such. You are definitely aware that we contested the official results. Whatever the case, if we (CPP) made a very strong national and international showing, despite the flawed elections, it was due to several factors, one of which is that Cameroonians in general were happy to have a new voice, from a different generation, on the political scene.

While most political leaders in this country are of the same generation of 70 years and above, I am 48 years old today. I think another factor was that I got a lot of attention as a woman. Cameroonians were not used to seeing a woman running for elections at that level. But, I think there was also my performance in debates. I do not recall a face-to-face debate where any of my adversaries was able to hold water.

But, I think the key factor was that we did our groundwork. When I supported John Fru Ndi, I also learnt much from him. His strength has always been his grass root work. You have to be close to the people, and empower them to take over the movement for change. We have groups in all the 10 regions of the country, and I was also one of the rare presidential candidates who visited all the 10 regions.

Another factor which helped us (CPP) at the presidential elections was that we used our strength. I have a very young team of close collaborators. It means that they can respond or adapt very quickly. They also use modern technology. In fact we made a very strong use of technology at the election campaign, which gave us a presence with the Diaspora that most other candidates did not have.

First published in The Post print edition no 01439

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