Paul Biya delivered his 28th consecutive New Year Speech to the nation on 31 December 2009. Although it sounded just like the previous 27, it reminded me of Mongo Beti’s novel, “The Poor Christ of Bomba” first published in 1956. The high point of the novel is the failure of Rev. Father Superior Drumont to properly manage and supervise the women’s camp where girls who were being prepared for Christian marriage were lodged in the mission. The failure resulted in the local churchmen using the girls for their own immoral purposes. Importantly, when the scandal of the women’s camp became public knowledge, Rev. Father Superior graciously took full responsibility for the failure in these terms: “The guilty party in this whole affair is me…the last time I set foot in the women’s camp is almost twenty years ago now…I told one of my catechists then to make the rooms more comfortable and I suppose that he had done so…”
The problem with our own Rev. Father Superior is that he never accepts responsibility for his failures. Speech after speech, he talks about inertia, corruption, embezzlement of public funds, laxity…as if his poor leadership is not the principal reason for the shortcomings. He talks about imaginary projects – roads, buildings, power supply systems, mines and industries – as if mentioning them in every of his speeches would bring them about! As Barack Obama would put it, he deploys high-flying words in the service of cynical aims, and subverts the noblest sentiments in the name of power, experience, greed or intolerance!
Much of the speech was just a listing of the ordinary things that every government does: the daily struggle to add value to people’s lives. Rather than waste time and energy analyzing the projects mentioned in the speech for the umpteenth time, it is proper to just turn our minds to an example that ridicules such pompous announcements. South Korea which in 1961 had a per-capita income of less than $100 – slightly lower than Cameroon’s that had just become “independent” – is today world leader in iron and steel production, shipbuilding, chemicals, consumer electronics, and more. This is because instead of making empty speeches year after year, their leaders went to work and quickly caused the building of giant steel mills, shipyards, factories, a superhighway system… We just need to compare their GDP with our own today to understand the shame in the pompous announcements! !
We are told that ELECAM will be readjusted! After all, ELECAM is his thing: he can do what he likes with it, when he likes! Like it or not, he says it is a big plus for our…democracy! Never mind what you understand by democracy: we have our own standard of freedom, our own standard of democracy, our own standard of free and fair elections… !
Before the speech, the Minister of communication had acknowledged the “complicated” nature of the history of Cameroon. The minister had said that the independence day of the Republic of Cameroon is registered in official documents as 1 January 1960, as if the independence day of Southern Cameroons is not also registered in official documents as 1 October 1961. Every schoolboy knows that the “complication” in our history was introduced by law n° 84-1 of February 4, 1984 that changed the name of the United Republic of Cameroon back to the Republic of Cameroon, the original name of one of the two parties that formed a united country on 1 October 1961. The change was in the hope that by a stroke of the pen, the identity of one UN Trust territory would disappear in that of another!
The minister’s noises seemed to be an effort at spin doctoring to prepare the ground for Paul Biya’s speech because it was effectively announced in the speech that 1st January 2010 is the 50th anniversary of “Cameroon’s” independence, without as much as blinking, and without as much as adding a nuance! And then he added further “complications” : 2011 will see the celebration of 50 years of reunification! What was not mentioned is that 2011 will also mark 50 years of the independence of one part of Cameroon!
Paul Biya has stated before that he hears the appeals and motions of support sent to him, and that they are the most eloquent signs of encouragement addressed to him in the discharge of his responsibilities at the helm of State. His lieutenants have since published the “motions” in a book titled “The People’s Call”. In the New Year speech, he promises to carry out many projects and to spend billions on one group or the other, including scholarship to students without adequate accompanying measures to provide opportunities for employment at the end of the studies! In the end, it all sounded like a reiteration of his intention to seek another term of office. There is no doubt that like in the past, he will consider “The People’s Call” as a nomination and exploit his constitutional amendment to turn the Presidency of Cameroon into his permanent home. And we will continue to hear the same promises, and continue to stand still as other peoples move
further and further away from us, like South Korea has since done!