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The Gamble Fru Ndi Could Take 

By Clovis Atatah in Vienna

Around this time seven years ago, a group of Cameroon’s opposition parties under the canopy of the National Coalition for Reconciliation and Reconstruction (NCRR) were in a passionate quest to finally kick out President Paul Biya, democratically, after several failed attempts since the early 1990s.

The optimism at the time seemed justified, with a general consensus that despite its potent rigging machinery, the Yaounde regime was not going to be able to subdue a united opposition front.

Being one of those journalists actively working for democratic change in Cameroon, I was definitely not indifferent to the euphoria surrounding the NCRR and the promise for a new era of freedom, liberty and prosperity in the country.

But my faith in the ability of the opposition coalition holding together was shaken as often as I discussed with some of the protagonists in private. It soon became clear to me that greed, personal ambition, the Anglophone-Francophone dichotomy, and ethnic considerations, in that order, were going to be the nemesis of this noble dream.

And then to worsen matters the NCRR drew up conditions for the selection of its candidate at the 2004 Presidential Election that dramatically increased the chances of the group falling apart. The coalition listed a bunch of criteria that were to be the basis of the selection of its sole candidate, but failed to clearly define them. Each member of the coalition was to give points to each of the prospective candidates based on these criteria.

The most disastrous weakness in this approach, however, was that the NCRR gave the vote of the biggest opposition party, the SDF, the same weight as those of tiny, virtually unknown parties which could not dream of winning an election in a village, such as those headed by the treacherous Antar Gassagay and Issa Tchiroma. (Does anybody know the names of those parties?)

At the time, I pointed out to some opposition officials and equally put it down in a newspaper write-up that the NCRR was taking a wrong approach to select its candidate. Nobody listened.
On the night the NCRR selected its candidate, various English-speaking journalists huddled up in the cold outside the CDU headquarters in Yaounde, repeatedly expressed apprehensions about the selection process following disturbing information they had garnered from various sources.

Fru Ndi, the most popular opposition leader, was not going to be selected because the Francophone majority in the coalition believed former colonialist France did not want an Anglophone to be President of Cameroon.

CDU’s Adamou Ndam Njoya was eventually selected the NCRR’s candidate and the SDF, feeling particularly slighted, fielded its own candidate, Fru Ndi. The French-speaking press went into a frenzy predicting victory for Ndam Njoya, and the end of the political road for Fru Ndi. I publicly disagreed with this point of view because it was not borne out by the facts on the ground.

To cut a long story short, Fru Ndi proved, during campaigns, as well as in the official election results (even though they were allegedly doctored to favour the incumbent), that he was still by far the most popular opposition figure in Cameroon. Many had erroneously thought that if any candidate carried the banner of the coalition, he or she was necessarily going to win.

It is seven years after, and that is more than enough time for the situation on the ground to change. But my gut feeling is that any other opposition candidate in Cameroon should consider his/her campaign a lost cause if Fru Ndi is equally on the ballot. I equally believe that many Cameroonian voters will want to see a strong, purposeful opposition union, with a credible candidate.

Although various unpalatable experiences have made the SDF cynical about coalitions, it is my view that the party, which remains the major opposition force in Cameroon, should as a matter of urgency, build a new opposition alliance ahead of this year’s election. However, the party should write the rules and convince others to adhere to them. That is what leadership is all about.
Once the party decides on that move, the crucial question of who will run on the SDF ticket would still be pending. Although that is a matter to be decided at the SDF Convention, it is almost certain that Fru Ndi will be the party’s designee if he decides, once again, to throw his hat in the ring.

But should Fru Ndi run? My humble view is that he should not. Not for some of the reasons I’ve read in recent times, such as he’s been SDF Chairman for too long or he’s run out of ideas. In a free and fair poll, I believe Fru Ndi will get more votes than any other politician in Cameroon. It is common knowledge, however, that the polls will be far from free and fair.

My proposal is that the SDF should work towards creating a new opposition coalition which should campaign on the platform of a transition programme. Fru Ndi should let a credible person, within or without the SDF, to lead this transition. If the Chairman does this, the dynamics would change overnight and the political terrain will probably become too hot for the oligarchy in Yaounde.

In such a situation, any real or perceived French attempt to impose their marionette will fail as woefully as it did it Tunisia. And if anybody should try to rig the elections, the masses know exactly how a sit-tighter can be Ben-Alied or Mubaraked. The ball is in Fru Ndi’s court!

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