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Too Sooty To Shine 

By Clovis Atatah In Vienna, Austria

For some months now, the government of Cameroon has persisted in a doomed international campaign to shine its image to foreign governments and the Cameroonian Diaspora. Senior members of the Yaounde regime are eagerly promoting this defective campaign mainly because they are reaping heaps of cash in mission allowances like no man’s business.

But the overriding motivation behind this campaign is chilling fear within Yaounde regime circles, brought to the fore after fiery youth riots in February 2008, that President Paul Biya’s unpopular plans to perpetuate his three-decade-old rule beyond the expiry of his current term in 2011 will face stiff local and international resistance.

In various meetings with members of the Cameroonian Diaspora, Yaounde regime officials have tried to equate opposition to the corrupt establishment in Yaounde to unpatriotic behaviour. At the same time, agents of the regime are being planted within various Cameroonian Diaspora communities to counter activities by pro-democracy groups.

Attempts by Yaounde to shine its image internationally are not new and date back to the discreet efforts of the early 1990s when Mr. Biya miraculously survived after being pushed to the edge of a dark, scary abyss. What is however different is the intensity and sophistication of the campaign, which is employing a multi-pronged approach of targeting governments, international organisations and the Cameroonian Diaspora all at the same time.

Also new is the duration of the effort, which has been ongoing for many months now. This international campaign is complemented by an equally sophisticated, but poorly conceived communication strategy, back in Cameroon, by the government (currently being implemented by the turncoat Communication Minister, Issa Tchiroma Bakary) which entails countering all negative information about the regime and singing its praises.

I was present at one of the ongoing international public relations forays by the regime in Vienna on September 12, 2010 when Cameroon’s Ambassador to Berlin, Mr. Jean-Marc Mpay, whose jurisdiction also covers Austria and a number of European countries, met with his compatriots. Like other regime officials, Mr. Mpay made an impassioned appeal for Cameroonians in Austria to be patriotic and positive about their country; in other words to support the corrupt, authoritarian regime he serves.

As Mr Mpay spoke, his wine and beer-sipping audience nodded in appreciation, and one had the impression that the smooth-talking diplomat had felled members of the Cameroonian community in Austria with the force of persuasion. But shortly after he left, many of those present, still happily sipping wine and beer, dismissed the Ambassador’s sonorous performance with one careless wave of contempt.

Concerned about the government’s ongoing image-cleansing campaign, pro-democracy NGO, Progressive Initiative for Cameroon (PICAM), issued a statement on November 16 titled "Cameroon Government’s International Campaign of Deception: The Sickening Reality of Democracy and Governance in Cameroon".

PICAM’s Executive Director, Eric Ngonji Njungwe, explained that the statement was meant to counter the international campaign of disinformation of the Cameroon government. "PICAM considers the subject of [the government’s] campaign to be incongruous with the reality of the Cameroonian society.

This document is an alternate presentation of the Cameroonian landscape regarding democracy, human rights, rule of law, and public accountability. PICAM notes that having government sponsored delegations to misinform the international community about democratic progress in Cameroon is not only an insult to Cameroonians, but equally a mockery of the very people the government of Cameroon wants to mislead," Ngonji Njungwe said in the statement.

After highlighting the regressive policies of the Yaounde regime, the PICAM statement concludes: "Three decades of failed political, economic, educational, social and development policies has led Cameroonians to completely lose (sic) confidence in Mr. Paul Biya and his ability to bring any meaningful change to their lives or the direction of the country.

After serving for 46 years at the highest levels of government in Cameroon, PICAM is calling on Mr. Biya to pave the way for true democracy in the country, beginning with his retirement at the end of his current and legal last Presidential term in 2011." Such repudiations of the public relations outings by the Yaounde regime are obviously important in the wider context of the pro-democracy struggle in Cameroon, and they remind the regime that pro-democracy activists are determined to carry on the fight.

However, an unanticipated consequence of the regime’s campaign is that it is exposing itself to international scrutiny, a thing which both the Ahidjo and Biya regimes largely succeeded in avoiding. Mr Biya has never really been in the spotlight of the international community, and serious human rights crimes that have attracted the international big stick elsewhere, have gone unnoticed and unpunished in Cameroon.

Ego has pushed the Yaounde regime to abandon its policy of invisibility which served Mr Biya so well in favour of more conspicuousness and arrogance. Pro-democracy forces should not only celebrate this new development, they should also take advantage of it to put Cameroon constantly in the international spotlight.

Government’s ongoing image-cleansing campaign is bound to backfire because the regime’s image is too sooty to shine. And when this happens, pro-democracy forces can "unreverse" the gear with which the Yaounde regime has been driving the country to indescribable disaster.

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