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The Indomitable Lions Boomerang 

By Clovis Atatah In Vienna, Austria

On June 4, I sat alone for hours nursing a drink at a joint in Vienna’s 16th district where the Cameroonian community in the city meets once every month. The few who finally came to the meeting hours late, had been watching, on TV, the Africa Cup of Nations qualifier between Cameroon and Senegal, being played in Yaounde. Although this was supposed to be a very crucial meeting, nothing seems to be ever more pressing to Cameroonians than watching the Indomitable Lions play.

This attitude of shirking responsibility, which has been veiled in patriotism, is the result of the successful implementation of a decades-long policy by le renouveau to make football one of the convenient opiates of the masses. With Cameroon being an oasis of football talent, this policy has generally had impressive results as the regime perpetuates itself in power while the masses swirl in hallucinations of football victories, alcohol and sex.

It is no coincidence that on countless occasions le renouveau’s protagonist has used his official platform to extol the virtues of the Indomitable Lions while directly linking patriotism to not only supporting but also behaving like the national football team. He even took this a step further through a personal example by naming himself the Lion Man ahead of presidential elections.

All of these would have been just wonderful if the Lions always won, and if people could just go on being crazy about football, drinking and making love on empty stomachs. Unfortunately, that has always been a tall order. Hence the inherent danger in investing so much time and effort in a pursuit as unrealistic as building patriotism, national hopes and eternal collective buffoonery  on the continuous success of the national team.

Less energy will perhaps have been expended, and made more sense, if le renouveau had invested in building a strong economy, ensuring genuine democracy, putting the Cameroonian people first and promoting an ethic of probity, hard work and ambition. Even in football, which le renouveau has made a cornerstone of its survival, very little investment has been deployed in infrastructure and human resources development, which could have helped to make local football one of the engines of job creation and economic growth.

If Yaounde had taken the pains to ensure democracy and development in all its ramifications, rather than chasing inconsequentialities, deep-rooted patriotism and genuine support for the regime will surely have been realities. That not being the case, Cameroonians have tended to be fair weather patriots. When the Indomitable Lions are victorious, there is a national sense of pride, "patriotism" and solidarity. But when they lose, as happened on June 4, all hell breaks loose.

The vandalism that was witnessed in Yaounde after the unpalatable 0-0 result attests to the fact that the regime’s effort to construct patriotism around the Lions has been a woeful failure. It is like the scales fall out of the eyes of the masses when the national team stumbles. That was not the first time this happened, and it shall not be the last.

What is even most revealing about this case, however, is the national reaction after the deaths of several persons following the post-match riots. There has been no national outpouring of grief. The head of state did not act immediately to declare a day of national mourning, or to even publicly issue condolences.  Players of the Indomitable Lions have not issued any statement expressing regret at the deaths. Politicians have remained mute.

And as if these deaths count for nothing, no independent commission of enquiry has been announced. This is happening in a country where the head of state has claimed for the umpteenth time that the national team is a tool of "national integration". All the hypocrisy, heartlessness and general lack of compassion are conspicuously in the open for all to see.

If the management of the national football team, which is President Paul Biya’s perfect image of what he wants for the entire country, reflect the image of the regime, then it is a regime running a very incompetent and pathetic government indeed. It is an underachieving regime. It is a regime gloating in its debilitating inertia. It is a regime swimming in corruption. It is a regime steeped in cynicism and hypocrisy. It is a regime that is incapable of learning from past mistakes. It is a regime led by an inept team. And it is definitely a regime in rapid decline.

If Cameroonians must be as "patriotic" as the Indomitable Lions in addition to emulating their examples, as requested by Mr Biya, then the country will only continue to slide in reverse gear. It is a team in which the captain commands little respect amongst players. It is a team in which players no longer shake hands with each other. It is a team bedevilled by allegations of irresponsible sexual activities, gambling and corruption. It is a team crippled by rampant indiscipline. And it is a loser.

The Lion Man’s image of Cameroon is no longer tenable. It is not an image of progress, but of regression. Not of peace, but violence. Not of solidarity, but discord. Not of compassion, but of rancour. Not of victory, but defeat. Not of heroism, but cowardice. It is an image which Cameroonians need to reject with all their might.

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