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Politics Is Good For Women 

Interviewed By Francis Tim Mbom — Hon. Rachel Lyonga aka Mami Buyam-sellam, MP for Fako East says in this interview that the magic behind being an effective and successful parliamentarian is to penetrate and identify with the grassroots.

According to the MP, it is the women who can prop politicians to the top of the political ladder; hence more attention needs to be paid to them. Lyonga spoke to The Post’s Francis Tim Mbom and insists that Cameroonians should register to vote at all cost. She warns that women are their own enemies and exhorts them to join the men-folk in registering to vote. Read on:

The Post: Honourable, could we know how you came to be elected into the National Assembly?

Hon. Lyonga: I was elected into Parliament in 2007 during the Legislative and Municipal elections that year. Since going to Parliament, I have had my good days and bad ones, too. Sometimes, you are laughing and at other times you are sad because of somethings you see which are below standard. As a Parliamentarian, I think that it is a good thing for a woman to do politics. Politics is a game of numbers and when you have numbers, you have people behind you and you will always succeed.

Mostly the women. I am really sorry for those who neglect women, because, without women, you will not have a background. This is because the women can do and undo. And the women supported me so much because I supported them. That’s where I got my name as ‘Mami Buyam-Sellam’. This is because I do my politics but with the grassroots.

I don’t do politics with the hierarchy; those women who wear high heels, talons and the georgeously dressed up. I go to the market and when I meet my buyam-sellam women, I go to where they are frying puff-puff and they will be saying, “Why! Mami Buyam Sellam, you want to eat with us?” But I do eat with them because that’s where I belong. They give me the opportunity to exercise myself with them and for that, I gain their confidence. And this is what has been pushing me on.

Do you think this strategy can be conveniently used by other women, say in Bamenda, Kumba where the women have not been able to succeed as you?

It can be used everywhere, even in Limbe. Why have we only one Parliamentarian in Limbe? I think the powers that be have to increase the number of Parliamentarians. I was with the late Jacob Mbangue. I was the Parliamentarian for Limbe and late Mbangue was MP for Muyuka. Then we shared Tiko. It was very strenuous for both of us. Now that he is gone, you can imagine the load on me alone. So I feel that the women have to be educated.

When you are a politician, you have to be at the grassroots level; that’s down down there. In politics, we don’t necessarily need degrees! We don’t need PhDs! It’s just common sense and how you can gather people. And this is just what most people don’t know. Politics is how you present yourself to the people. How you submit yourself to people. Humbleness pays a lot in politics. Some people think that when you are humble, they will smash you. No! Instead, when you are humble, these women and God will lift you up.

We are expecting the biometric registration of voters to begin in September. What message do you have for these your buyam-sellam women and the men who have been voting for you?

The time for registration is coming. No matter which political party you belong to, you have to register. That is a civic responsibility for every Cameroonian. No matter where you belong; whether you are CPDM, SDF, UNDP, or in this or that party, you have to go and register.

When you register, then, we will, know how many registered voters we have in Cameroon and then we can begin to spread. But when you do not, you don’t deserve to be called a Cameroonian. So to my buyam sellams, to my CPDM militants, registration is the key. Let everybody register. You have to register before you can be called a Cameroonian. So, essentially, the key is to go and register when the time comes.

What do you say about the biometric system?

It is not a joke. When you go there you can only have one card and you cannot go back that you want to register again. So the registration is the essential thing. Let everybody; women alike, know that registration is the key. And I wish them all well and that when they go and register, they will certainly feel something tickle in them, that: “I have done my civic duty. I am a Cameroonian”

In 2007, when you won, all your opponents were men. How did you come about beating the men?

You know, as women here, we are organised. The women are very, very organised and I am an organised woman myself. You don’t need to spoil another person’s career. You don’t have to back-bite, back stab, or be in the habit of not wanting any other person to succeed except youself. The problem of women has been women themselves. You don’t want Mami Buyam-Sellam to go ahead. But will you go ahead?

No! You don’t want this car to move ahead. But can you push it alone? No! And the reason why I also succeeded is that I know how to deal with people. Sometimes, you may be angry; sometimes you scold people. It doesn’t mean that the tongue and the teeth don’t fight inside the mouth. After sometime, everything should be Ok.

In politics, you have to be hard. You have to stand on your feet. You have to say this is what I want. When you have these qualities and you know how to serve, how to deal with people, how to be at the grassroots, then everything will be fine. And that’s what made me to succeed in 2007. And again, I know that God will continue to help me and to enable me succeed in the next election.

Is it easy for a man to be a Parliamentarian in Limbe which has enjoyed the female dominance for a long while?

You know men have always been saying that the women are dominating in Fako but some of them don’t know the history of politics in Fako. We had, first, two male Parliamentarians: Mr. Lifio Carr and Mr. Motomby Woleta. They were the first Parliamentarians in Limbe. So, when the say the Parliamentary seat here has been dominated by the women, then let them try. It is not easy to become a Parliamentarian. Now there is an FCFA 3 million caution as deposit.

And when you pay, the money is gone. That’s if you end up not having a good percentage, the FCFA 3 million is gone. How many of these people who are making noise can afford FCFA 3 million. If every 10 people combine to give you a loan of FCFA 3 million, you will have to pay back. We have only FCFA 8 million in the Assembly for micro-projects but this money is not one’s money. It is the people’s money.

People think that there are very few women in Parliament. They hold that if there were more women, they would constitute a bigger and stronger force to fight for women’s issues. I am of the same opinion. There are very few women in Parliament. We were 25. One became appointed as the Minister of Basic Education and we are now 24 out of 180. For the CPDM, we have one in Limbe and one in Buea. The SDF has just one.

The UNDP has two. We are too few for our voices to be heard. It’s only that we are so united that at any time when we stand up and say we want this, the men do give us the chance. But if we could be many, let’s say 50, then, we would do wonders. The men in Parliament are not ignoring us. But within our own constituencies, that is where we do not have the respect as Parliamentarians but when we are in the Assembly, the men support us, they respect us.

That’s one thing I like about our Parliament. In Parliament we are not despised but in Fako East, where I am, that’s where the problem is. Some feel I am not fit. But I have been in politics since 1971, since the days of the CNU. I have been in it for 41 years. Hon. Burnley did three or four mandates as a Parliamentarian. No other woman here has done it.

This is because, when you succeed and go up, the same women tend to drag you behind. So the problem is the women themselves and not the men. They invariably give more opportunity to the men. In this wise, we cannot succeed and that’s why the women Parliamentarians are so few, just because we have not learned to support ourselves.

What would you advise fellow women who were aspiring to become Parliamentarians?

To aspire is not bad. My advice is that they should forge ahead. But they should not do so by taking another person’s name or an opponent’s name to drag in mud just because you want to succeed. Allow everyone else to try and see for herself what she can do. Help her, try to talk to her and that’s how the political arena should be.

Politics without women is not Ok. We are in the majority and when you push women away, we cannot have a successful Cameroon. And that’s is what the Head of State himself, even the First Lady, is saying that he wants more women in politics. Let us not shy away. Let us try to go a head and to make change.  So, to my fellow women, I give them the courage to go ahead.

Anybody, even in Limbe, if you can try; if you want to fight Mami Buyam-Sellam, it is Ok. It is not my father’s job. I understand that as I came in, so too, one day I will have to go and another person will have to take my place. But, as I say, it is not good to sabotage; everybody should have the right to try.

But do you think the FCFA 3 million will be an impediment to the women?

Of course, it will be, because the Parliamentarians, maybe the women, our salary is too small. To remove FCFA 3 million; you don’t even have a million a month, so, how are you going to do it? We have to approach family members, friends and others who can support us to raise this money. FCFA 3 million is too much as caution for Parliamentary candidates. Then, those for Senate have but FCFA 100,000.

It is too much for the women and I think that this is where the Government has to see that that FCFA 3 million as caution is not a piece of cake. I can say that the business people or contractors can afford it but what about those of us who are not business people? If it were put at a million or FCFA 1.5, it could have been better. But since we want and have to forge ahead, those who can make it, I wish them all the luck.

First published in The Post print edition No. 1367


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