Riding the Tiger: Cameroon’s Rule of Men Regime. Part I. By Tatah Mentan, Theodroe Lentz Professor of Peace and Security Studies


Historical hindsight instructs the attentive world that the Biya regime cannot be accused of being interested in developing a democratic ethos to promote democratic as well as transparent institutions that are answerable to Cameroonians. Instead, the regime is still immersed in that whacky repressive culture intent on controlling, co-opting, containing, or simply coercing or cowing the populace into submission. Besides, logistically and militarily supported by France, that has extensive business “partnerships” with the regime, Biya has until now never been officially accused of crimes against humanity, although several heavily documented reports have been published on the mass human rights violations and massacres that took place in, for instance, February 2008. France is covering him, Switzerland is covering him, as well as others within the international community. They are therefore accomplices to gross human rights violations as well as crimes against humanity in Cameroon.
These foreign umbrellas covering Biya has combined with an ethnic-prone militia called a “national army.” The “security forces” have been trained to kill and to torture. Like ferocious animals they can only be content by shedding the blood of their own people. Human life has absolutely no value in their eyes. They are the best and most obvious symbol of Biya’s age-old bloodthirsty regime. Hence, President Paul Biya has seen no need to offer his vassals the luxury of establishing the rule of law. What is important to his village tyranny is the rule of men, implying the arbitrary use of political authority for the greedy interests of ruling cliques and their starving table companions at home and abroad. .Nemesis of this political myopia has caught up with the President. And, he is spectacularly arresting and jailing those with whom he leagued to bleed the country dry in the name of “embezzlement of public funds” today and organize electoral façades whose results are tabulated before any scheduling of the socalled elections. If Biya cared about the rule of law or the legal maxim whereby governmental decisions are made by applying known legal principles since he claims to have been ruined by legal studies in France, Cameroon would not have degenerated to this nauseating level of corruption. His religion-the rule of men-may not save him in the not too distant future.
Rule of Men vs. Rule of Law
All of the governments that mankind has instituted in the history of the world can be divided into two categories. Any and every state can be categorized into either rule of law governments or rule of men governments. History has proven that any nation founded upon the shifting sands of the whim of men will always degenerate into oligarchy and tyranny. However, a nation of virtuous, educated people, which is founded upon and holds to the bedrock of a rule of law system will maintain prosperity and freedom despite the natural occurrences and challenges of history. This elementary yet strikingly relevant dichotomy is misunderstood by many Cameroonians. And, this misunderstanding is one of the many reasons why Cameroon has been mistakenly led away from a rule of law system toward something that was not intended, rule of men or lawless tyrants.
First, it is important to define the two systems. A governmental system ruled by men is any system in which fallen man directs the course of the nation. This includes not only dictatorships and oligarchies where one man or a select few call all of the shots, but also democracies where majority opinion rules without any restraints or protections for minority opinion and individual liberty. In the case of America, for example, according to its Founding Fathers, democracies were as dangerous as any form of government. Benjamin Franklin defined democracy as “three wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch,” and explained that true liberty is “a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.” In sum, any rule of man system, whether mob rule or rule by the elites, is destined for failure. Liberty and property will not be protected under such systems, and the nation will ultimately suffer under tyranny.
A rule of law system is quite the opposite. In a rule of law system, the country possesses a set of guidelines usually in a constitution, which sets the terms for governing. Only according to those blueprints for governing, then, can any men write and execute additional laws. The constitution is the law of the land, and everything else must be measured up against it. A constitutional republic is such a form of government. The constitution is written to assign tasks to the various branches of government and to assure the God-granted liberty and property rights of every citizen. Then, representatives of the people govern according to the constitutional limits of power with a constant concern for individual liberty and constitutional integrity.
Unfortunately, many Cameroonians have become confused regarding these two drastically different systems for governing. Cameroonians have been taught in school, by the media and by politicians that democracy is good, and that the more democracy we have, the better. This mistaken view is not simply a semantic error, as some might assert, but it is a dangerous misunderstanding. Most Cameroonians actually believe that the majority ought to rule; they do have a correct understanding of democracy, but they mistakenly advocate it because that is what they have been taught to do.
The biggest danger in the bizarre Cameroon brand of democracy is that the very things that government is instituted to protect (liberty and property) are in constant danger to the whim of the President and his kleptocrtic ethnocrats and mealy-mouthed sycophants. In a democracy, when a crisis occurs (whether real or manufactured), the majority calls for government solutions. Then, when politicians answer that call and government grows in size and influence over peoples’ lives, there is an equal and opposite decrease in the amount of liberty and property maintained by the people. 21st century Cameroon history is supposed to reflect this process in action. Interestingly enough, as the government gains more and more power, the majority actually begins to lose its voice and the country descends into oligarchic anarchy and, ultimately, senile and barbaric tyranny.
The only alternative for citizens who want to keep their liberty and property unmolested by majorities or oligarchs is the constitutional republic rule of law system. All governments pretending to be democratic are intended to be such a system. The Government has a job description laid out clearly and concisely in a few-pages-long document, in case any Cameroonian didn’t catch it on the first read through the Constitution. It reminds Cameroonians that any powers not given to the Government are reserved to the people. The obvious central concern of the Constitution in including this emphasis is to limit the amount of power that the native tyrants in government would be able to wield, regardless of what man might say.
The constitution is not meant to be read as a collection of mere suggestions for governing. It is not a piece of paper that can be discarded at will as indicated by Andze Tchoungui years ago. The literal rigidity of the document itself is described well by Thomas Jefferson when he exclaimed, “Let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” The proverbial chains of the rule of law are meant to bind men down from their wayward tendencies.
Once upon a time in the then Southern Cameroons, citizens and politicians alike had a constant concern for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights; laws were written and executed according to its mandates. Those were days when government was limited in its function because the politicians knew that their job description was limited indeed by the expressed powers of the Constitution itself. Those were the days before the “elastic clause” had been stretched to the moon and back by the gangsters of the Cameron Republic. And, those were days when the liberties of the citizens were top priority. Today, we would do well to remember that the law of the land ought to rule and that people (politicians or majority opinion) could only act according to that rule of law. If Cameroonians continue to move simultaneously toward democracy and oligarchy they will be disappointed to see that their future belongs to tyranny. Some day each ignorant citizen will wake up to these realities and will lament, as Woodrow Wilson did years after the creation of the Federal Reserve System in America, “I have unwillingly ruined my government.”