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Unreverse Gear: We Are All Trapped 

By Clovis Atatah In Austria

In a world where cynicism has been holding sway for a while, the recent spectacular rescue of 33 miners, who had been trapped deep in the bosom of the earth for 69 whole days, gripped humanity in a riveting moment of wonder, inspiration and hope. Even more inspiring was the fact that the rescue operation was initiated and managed by the state of Chile, a developing nation.

As I stayed glued to the TV screen witnessing a potentially heart-pounding operation that had been transformed to an entertainment spectacle by international TV channels, I couldn’t help wondering whether the government of Cameroon would have acted in a similar fashion, if there had been an identical situation in the country. I will, however, come to that later.

In some respects, Chile is similar to Cameroon. Like Cameroon, it is a developing nation in the south, and has varied climatic and vegetation types. Its population is about 17 million, against 19.5 million for Cameroon. Both countries are mineral rich. Some decades ago, both countries had a similar per capita income and suffered under bloody dictators – late General Augusto Pinochet in the case of Chile and Cameroon’s El Hadj Ahmadou Ahidjo.

These two dictators were, however, credited with significant economic development in their respective countries, although they left power when they were most unpopular. After peacefully stepping down, both men were pursued for various crimes and subsequently died in humiliation.

The similarities between Chile and Cameroon probably end there. While Chile proceeded to become a stable democracy after Pinochet’s 17-year rule, dictatorship saw no break in Cameroon after Ahidjo’s 22-year interregnum.  Although Cameroon’s President Paul Biya was later forced to open up to multi-partyism, he paradoxically tightened the authoritarian noose on his compatriots, and now holds absolute power in his country.

Successive Chilean governments have built on the economic foundations of the Pinochet regime and the country is now one of the economic success stories of South America. Life expectancy in Chile is 76 years (men) and 82 years (women). Per capita income is US$9,400 (2008 World Bank figure).

On the contrary, Paul Biya’s regime destroyed the economic fabrics weaved by Ahidjo, reducing the economy to a tool in the hands of a tiny band of the president’s cronies. Life expectancy has been dropping steadily, and is now 50 years (men) and 52 years (women).  Per capita income is US$1,150 (2008 World Bank figure).

While many factors contributed to the success of the recent mine rescue operation, it is obvious that the Chilean government was partly motivated by patriotism and electoral considerations. In Chile, a candidate has to actually win credible elections before she/he can become president. In Cameroon, elections are simply rigged.

Patriotism and accountability and Cameroon’s leadership are clearly not bedfellows. That is why it is unlikely that the government would have gone through any lengths to rescue compatriots in an identical difficulty. One or two examples would suffice:

After the 1986 Lake Nyos gas disaster in which nearly two thousand persons died and thousands more injured and displaced, government officials shamelessly swindled international assistance destined for victims. The awful living conditions of the survivors of that disaster, 24 years on, is ocular testimony of the callousness of those who claim to be governing Cameroon.

On several occasions, neighbouring countries have deported thousands of Cameroonian migrants after detaining and torturing them. Instead of rushing to the rescue and standing up for compatriots, the government would rather claim these Cameroonians are in illegal situations, despite evidence to the contrary.

In February 2008, thousands of youths went to the streets to cry to "Papa Paul Biya" that they were hungry. And what did "Papa" do? He unleashed his dogs of war who devoured about 100 of the hungry youths. Nearly three years later, "Papa" has not even as much as said sorry. The recent cholera epidemic in the north of the country is another case in point.

A government that throws money around during so-called electoral periods like unwanted grass in a CDC plantation is unable to mobilise resources in time to rescue dying compatriots. That attitude of the government is akin to the callous swindling of international aid destined for the fight against malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Tens — if not hundreds — of thousands have died as a result.

Apart from the few conmen sitting at the regime’s corruption dining table, Cameroonians resident in the country are all trapped in Mr Biya’s huge prison. But unlike the Chilean miners, we will have to rescue ourselves. We will have to "unreverse" the gear with which this regime has been driving us to disaster.

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