In all the years since independence from France and the United Kingdom at the turn of the 1960s and its subsequent reunification, Cameroon has had but two Presidents: Amadou Ahidjo and Paul Biya. The latter has been at the helm since 1982, overseeing several significant and perhaps even momentous changes in the political and economic landscape of the country. Whether for good or ill though, has often been a matter of contentious debate. Some political analysts have argued that several of these changes effected in the preceding 3 decades; like multi-partism, the constitutional amendments, changes in the structure of territorial administration, the highly indebted poor country initiative, the privatisation drive and the anti-corruption “OP Sparrowhawk” campaign amongst others were arbitrary, poorly managed and sometimes even self-serving.
Contemporary Cameroonian sentiment remains fractured, with government supporters advocating stability and continuity and others eager for change in the ruling class – any change at any cost. Cameroon’s coloured opposition is even more fractured with mixed agendas and observable fissures along ethnic lines. The Arab Spring has not gone unnoticed with many wondering if similar popular uprisings could occur across the rest of Africa and Cameroon. But recent events in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and the middle East have sent mixed messages, often leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of freedom aspirants with the new leaders going on to squander opportunities for true democracy and perpetuating the ills of previous regimes while appearing inexperienced and half as capable of representing their countries on the world stage. Some of the leaders that have emerged from the latest uprisings in and around Africa can best be described as bungling Statesmen in training: desert camouflage and turban wearing coup plotters in the Central African Republic, military insignia flashing Captains in Mali, oversize Armani suit wearing liberators in Libya, leave one wondering if these events do not actually turn back the hands of time and will eventually show up as a setback which plunged these countries back decades.
The role of France
In Cameroon especially, conspiracy theorists have been quick to point to the limited maneuvering potential of the government and its leadership. Policies are supposedly remotely dictated from the Elysee Palace and President Paul Biya is often spotted in the close company of French Presidents.
There is no denying a special relationship exists between France and Cameroon with the former colonial master offering ongoing public support and assistance post independence, wide ranging and pervasive in its nature, from military through technical and cultural to financial support. Off course, France’s support is often characterised as self-seeking, pompous and opportunistic in many quarters and has even been described as hindering true progress altogether. Those that say this often point fingers to the activities and performance of French companies in Cameroon, regarding them as exploitative and one-sided: CAMSUCO, CAMRAIL, BICEC, SOCAPALM, ORANGE and dozens of others – french participation in the air and seaport authorities and in 65% of the logging concessions.
What lies in store?
Cameroon must continue to grow in every respect. There is great demand for all sorts of investment and innovation but assuming that change at the top will guarantee progress or is the most significant hindrance to progress is being too simplistic. Many a manifestation at the national level reflects the attitudes of Cameroonians at the family, community and tribal levels with corruption, violence, unaccountability and deceit being the preferred way of life. All Cameroonians remain united in a long wait to see what will happen in the near future. Unfortunately, as is the case with many other developing nations in its league, anything can happen and often does. Unless of course, France intervenes again…