By Clovis Atatah In Vienna
It is confounding that Cameroon’s major opposition political parties and pro-change groups have not learnt their lessons after failing on every single occasion since 1990 to either dislodge the autocratic regime in Yaounde or to significantly weaken it. Rather, the regime grows stronger after every major confrontation with the opposition.
Cameroon’s biggest opposition party, the SDF, perhaps shoulders the most responsibility for the inability of change-hungry Cameroonians to see their dream of a new day come true. Recent postures by the leadership of the SDF on the electoral process have only buttressed the party’s strategic blunders during the last two decades. For nearly 20 years, the SDF has either boycotted elections or threatened to do so until the eleventh hour, when it was already too late to generate the enthusiasm among their supporters.
Whenever that happened, the CPDM went on to have an electoral field day despite vows by the SDF that hell would break lose if elections were rigged. It has often been argued that change did not happen in 1992 because the Yaounde regime rigged the presidential election, and then deployed trigger-happy troops to intimidate, arrest or gun down opposition protesters.
It is now a widely accepted fact that those elections were rigged, but few people within the SDF are courageous to point out that the Yaounde regime survived in 1992 because the party did not anticipate President Paul Biya’s post-election moves. That kind of lack of anticipation has continued to bedevil the SDF, which seems to be permanently engaged in the Bafia Dance, if you know what I mean.
Fast-forward to 2011
The SDF has announced that the party will boycott next year’s presidential elections if some pre-conditions it submitted to Elections Cameroon (ELECAM) – admittedly a puppet body dancing to the tune of the Yaounde regime – are not fulfilled. While it is plausible that such a posture would mount some pressure on the Yaounde regime, it is difficult to see how it will move Cameroon forward.
Over the years, the Yaounde regime has demonstrated dogged resilience, and its arrogant determination not to bow to opposition pressure has become one of its trademarks. Whenever the regime appears, or rather pretends, to make concessions to the opposition, it only digs its heels farther into the ground of obstinacy.
Every observer of the Cameroon political scene is aware that Mr Biya’s reluctant creation of ELECAM was in response to a campaign initiated by the SDF and other opposition groups in the country, and later taken up by the Commonwealth and other international partners, for an independent elections management body to be set up in Cameroon.
But Mr Biya snootily created a body that is worse than the discredited interior ministry that had hitherto organised elections in Cameroon. The president even failed to make the small concession of appointing independent personalities into the lame duck electoral board of ELECAM.
It therefore does not require a crystal ball to see that the SDF’s threat of boycotting the 2011 presidential election will not impress Mr Biya and his cohorts. Rather, they will secretly rejoice, knowing that the SDF will make a volte face at the 11th hour and legitimise an election which the party is bound to lose.
After that, what next?
Even if the SDF were to make good on its threat to boycott the 2011 presidential election, that would have no serious impact on the Yaounde regime. The coterie of miscreants in Yaounde have lorded it over Cameroon for decades now without legitimacy, and it is unlikely that they will in future have sleepless nights because of illegitimacy.
It is the firm belief of this columnist that the SDF is once again making a strategic blunder by discouraging its militants from participating in voter registration. My hope is that the party will change the strategy and encourage its militants to storm voter registration offices and insist for their names to be put on the roll. Only those who vote can truly feel the anger of their ballots being stolen. Even in case of boycott, the action carries more weight when registered voters decide, en masse, to shun a process they regard as flawed.
It is also dangerous to have only CPDM militants on the voters’ roll. Let us take a hypothetical case: Mr Biya is incapacitated or has simply expired. (He is not immortal, you know). The political playing field would become radically different. But for the opposition to be able to take advantage of that, they will need their supporters on the voters’ roll.
Well, back to reality. It is obvious that any election organised by ELECAM with Mr Biya as candidate will be rigged in his favour. But we must be aware that the collective action of millions of angry voters, after rigged elections, can be very poignant. There are several recent examples of how "people power" changed the fortunes of various countries, including some in Africa, after flawed elections. If it happened elsewhere, it can happen in Cameroon.
It is high time Cameroonians turned away from cynicism and take their destiny into their hands. Next year’s presidential election is a propitious occasion for Cameroonians to "unreverse" the gear with which le renouveau has been driving us to disaster.