Presidential elections in Cameroon or the triumph of political cynicism
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On October 7, 2018, Cameroonians went to the polls for presidential elections in a context that was dominated by the Anglophone crisis that lasted for more than two years. This challenged the stability and unity of Cameroon. The results were announced on 22nd October 2018 by the Constitutional Council and declared Paul Biya as the winner. He is 85 years old and who has been in power for 36 years. The big question is whether Cameroonians did indeed reelect Mr Paul Biya? I argue that these elections were yet another dramatization of political cynicism in an anti-democratic atmosphere.
Let us recall that a total of nine candidates took part in this election which, like many others in the recent history of Cameroon, was in no way transparent and fair. Speaking of fraud, the most obvious indicator is the many miscalculations contained in the final results document, which have been publicly criticized by other candidates. But the Constitutional Council, whose members are singlehandedly appointed by the ruling regime, turned a deaf ear to the pleadings of the body of lawyers deployed by the opposition to denounce the masquerade. Here is another curiosity that justifies skepticism about the reliability of the final results: they claimed that Paul Biya scored about 80% in English-speaking regions which have been rebelling against his regime for the past two years. That is the height of political cynicism. The Archbishop of Douala and President of the National Episcopal Conference, bishop Samuel Kleda, has not not failed to point out these incongruities in his post-election interview, which was similarly skeptical about the reliability of the results of this election. But in a seemingly cacophony within the Catholic hierarchy in Cameroon, Bishop Mbarga, archbishop of Yaounde, went out of his way a few days ago to declare that Bishop Kleda was not voicing the mind of the Bishop conference, but only his personal opinion. This is not surprising as when it comes to politics in Cameroon, the Bishops’ conference generally sings in different and confusing tunes.
But in fact, the result of this presidential election was predictable for several reasons: first, the electoral system is one of the worst in Africa; secondly, Biya’s regime controls the entire electoral process from Elections-Cameroon, the structure that runs the elections, to the Constitutional Council, which is entirely appointed by Paul Biya; thirdly, Biya regime has passed a number of draconian laws in recent years which are now used to violate human rights, especially the freedom of expression and the freedom of demonstration; all this is done under the guise of the fight against terrorism. Fourthly, in the face of this fraudulent machine, the Cameroonian opposition leadership has lacked a collective strategy to dismantle the ruling system. They are instead fighting each other. In short, under these conditions, it was difficult to envisage a regime change.
What can be the consequences of the results of this election on the future of Cameroon? First, it does not herald a better future in the search for solutions to the Anglophone crisis that Biya regime has failed to resolve for the past two years. On the contrary, since the announcement of the results, there has been a resurgence of clashes between rebel groups and the national army. The last hope lies with the General Anglophone Conference scheduled for late November and spearheaded by Cardinal Christian Tumi and a few other religious leaders. But it remains to be seen whether Biya regime will cooperate with the organizers now that they have retained power through force and fraud.
Secondly, since the announcement of the results, one of the candidates, Professor Maurice Kamto, a university lecturer and renowned lawyer, who claims to be the real winner of this presidential election has refused to concede defeat and has just announced a plan of resistance against what he portrays as an electoral hold-up. It remains to be seen whether this standoff will last and whether it can push the francophone side into instability and revolt. Personally, I doubt! The repression machine of Biya regime is in place and few are French-speaking Cameroonians who are willing to risk their lives to support the demands of an opposition leader.
It must be said, however, that even if the alleged victory of Biya is indeed fraudulent, the Cameroonian opposition has not at all shone by political rationality. After failing to agree on a single opposition candidate, they could at least have strategize to make sure that they the opposition was represented in all the polling stations. They didn’t. They went to the elections in scattered ranks. The consequence is that although it is certain that Biya regime rigged the elections, the opposition does not have all the means to prove it. That is the tragedy and the paradox of the Cameroonian opposition that defies any political rationality. If you add to this irrationality the ethnic politics that polarized the electoral campaign, one cannot but conclude that people have the leaders they deserve. The way to a sane democratic culture and game in Cameroon is still very long.
Ludovic Lado SJ