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SDF: To End Registration Boycott Or Not 

By Peterkins Manyong

Boycott is a relevant instrument of protest. The Americans used it to good measure to achieve their independence from Britain. Arabs used it to register their discontent against Americans on the occasion of the US-led war on Iraq in 2003 and that, allegedly, had a devastating effect on the US economy. They boycotted American goods in preference to those of French origin who campaigned against the war.

The French had earlier suffered the effect of boycott of their goods in Cameroon for twelve years championed by the SDF. Fru Ndi’s party boycotted the 1992 Parliamentary Election in protest against what it termed bad laws and even after entering Parliament in 1997, continued with the boycott of sessions where decisions it deemed unsavoury for Cameroonians, were to be passed by the overwhelming CPDM majority.

Some of the boycott decisions have been effective, while others have been disastrous. But none left Cameroonians indifferent. The NEC, the decision making organ of the SDF, will be meeting next Saturday, May 7, to rule on the latest of its boycott decisions – the decision not to take part in voter registration being carried out by Elections Cameroon, ELECAM.

The decision came close to splitting the party and actually resulted in some very significant setbacks, for instance, the resignation of Edith Kahbam Walla, the Chairperson of the Strategic Committee of the SDF. Kah Walla and supporters argued that it was better to load a gun, but decide not to go for war than be with a gun without bullets on the battlefield.

In other words, militants should register and refuse to take part in elections, rather than to boycott voter registration in its initial stage and reconsider it when it is too late. Many MPs and mayors embraced Kah Walla’s argument because they foresaw their interests being compromised if the boycott decision is maintained up to 2012, when Parliamentary and Municipal elections are expected to hold.

SDF National Chairman, John Fru Ndi, and supporters stood by the 11 points the party had crafted, which would make the registration process credible. Fru Ndi first led a delegation to ELECAM head office in Yaounde where he presented the points and later, personally, handed a copy of it to Paul Biya during the latter’s visit to Bamenda. To prove just how determined the SDF was to see these points through, Fru Ndi, in spite of having shaken hands with Biya, undertook a nationwide tour during which he explained to Cameroonians why ELECAM must be overhauled.

The decision by the Biya regime to amend the ELECAM law and appoint six more members into its Board attests to the fact that Fru Ndi didn’t waste his time. The amendment is a far cry from what the SDF expected, but it is, at least, an indication that Biya is not impervious to the cry of Cameroon’s leading opposition party.

The SDF, therefore, has a strong point when it says all six new ELECAM members should be proposed by the party. The SDF argues and is sure to maintain during this weekend’s meeting that the other opposition parties were comfortable with ELECAM as it was. Since the amendment was the fruit of indefatigable campaigns, all the six members to be added should be proposed by the party.

Telling the SDF to propose two names, as the regime has reportedly done, is grossly unfair. The SDF shook the bush and any party benefiting would be acting like the opportunistic passerby who is not part of the hunting expedition, but who stumbles on game from the shaken bush, kills, puts it into his raffia bag and walks away. SDF is also expected to slate a date for its long delayed Convention. It was first slated for February, shifted to April and later postponed to an indefinite date. There is also the controversy surrounding the issue of a presidential candidate for the SDF.

Is it not an accumulation of functions for the National Chairman to be the party’s presidential candidate, some SDF militants ask? Press reports allege that Fru Ndi is at cross-purposes with those who maintain that he should retain the post of Chairman and allow another to be the SDF flag bearer in the next presidential election. And there is no shortage of persons to designate. There is his Assistant, Joshua Osih, and there is Hon. Simon Nchinda Fobi.

Both men are perfectly bilingual, charismatic and popular. The SDF Chairman is said to have disagreed with hitherto very close aides like Hon. Joseph Mbah Ndam, an Assembly Vice President and Henry Kum, Northwest Provincial Chairman. The reports say Fru Ndi has vowed that rather than give up one he is ready to forgo both.

The Bamilikes seem to think it is time for one of them to take the Chairmanship, although their recent conduct in the party does not indicate that they are as committed today as in the 90s.
But the more important issue to occupy NEC is whether it would be wise to call off the boycott of voter registration given that the exercise is ending on August 31, that is, in less than four months.

The party is in a dilemma because Biya has not yet promulgated the ELECAM amendment vote into law and has not appointed the new ELECAM members. Those NEC members, who argue that the SDF should not lift the boycott decision, have, as justification, Biya’s customary bad faith and the possibility of him ignoring the SDF’s position that all six new members should be proposed by the party.

Proponents of lifting the boycott maintain that nothing would change even if all the six are SDF since the functioning of ELECAM is the responsibility of the organ’s Director General who is answerable to the Presidency. The political future of the SDF will, therefore, depend very much on the outcome of next Saturday’s meeting.

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