Pertinent questions left unanswered have a nagging way of haunting you. Here is one, worth posing – anew: will we soon see a change of guard at the helm of Cameroon’s main opposition political party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF)?
Why is the question popping up again? Well – 24 hours ago, SDF Chair, Ni John Fru Ndi, admitted publicly for the very first time that his best efforts at ousting the Biya regime have come to nought.
“It was incumbent (on) me to inform the public of the struggles of our MPs in parliament… We have fought so hard to change things in parliament, but failed,” the SDF leader is quoted by the online news portal, Cameroon Journal, as telling reporters at a press conference Thursday in Yaounde .
Mr. Fru Ndi added, in what has to be a rare moment of frustration-tainted honesty: “I have done my best”.
I agree – two hundred percent – with the SDF Chair! The French have this great rhetorical question to stress that one could not agree more: “qui dit mieux?”
Let me say that again: I agree!
Lately, it has been hard for me to find one issue of SDF governance with which I agreed with the SDF Chair. Not that I matter, though. However, this is one point on which we agree. Again, not that I matter!
It would be hard to find people who would argue that Mr. Fru Ndi has, indeed, done his best… “lie no sweet!”
No Champagne Yet
Mr. Fru Ndi’s admission of failure Thursday may tempt Biya supporters into taking the champagne out of the cooler. Wrong move!
Electing a new leadership team will strengthen, not weaken the SDF. An SDF Chair Emeritus, who presides such a democratic transition at the helm, emerges an even stronger political force. On condition , of course, that it is free and fair; and void of the kind of backdoor “scratch my back, I scratch you back” deals of the kind which wanted Biya in charge so Ahidjo could remain boss.
The SDF leader is no spring chicken. Part of his sneak attack at the regime Thursday is evident in his effort to convince fellow citizens – whoever they are – that just anyone of them has what it takes to lead a revolution.
When he led street protests in the past (at great risk to his life), Mr. Fru Ndi is quoted as saying, it was not because “I had obtained some magical powers for protection”.
Probably at the risk of being charged with terrorism , Mr. Fru Ndi added: “If citizens feel disgruntled with the regime, they should lead a protest march and I will support them”.
Despite much wear and tear, the SDF leader remains a formidable and much-liked politician. Since the 1992 presidential election, though, all other elections, including the first-ever senatorial polls, have seen the regime try ever more desperately to paint Mr. Fru Ndi as a growing electoral liability for the SDF. Even diluted, Mr. Fru Ndi and the SDF have held firm as the political alternative of choice. That says a lot about how hard Fru Ndi has worked the electorate.
Who Said Power Corrupts?
Woe betide anyone within the SDF ranks who gets the idea that power is up for grabs. The SDF is still not as open as it could be. Mr. Fru Ndi on Thursday was neither throwing in the towel nor waving the white flag of surrender.
Want proof? Then, read his preliminary statement to the press (as prepared for delivery and posted elsewhere on this eGroup by Aaron Nyamnkwe). Sure – the speech could have packed more punch. It bears faint resemblance to the visionary lines delivered by the old-time SDF. His written remarks, although more hard-hitting than the off-guard, spin-free answers he provided in response to questions from journalists, had the disadvantage of hemming him into a box.
Obviously, no one should read too much into one statement one. Not especially now that the SDF seems to be speaking from both sides of its mouth. Want examples?
On the anti-terrorism bill alone, a first media outing by the SDF five days ago, came in the form of a strongly worded statement, lambasting the Biya regime, delivered by SDF MP Jean-Michel Nitcheu. Before we could digest it, an interview featuring the SDF parliamentary group leader, Mbah Ndam, embarrassed even diehard SDF supporters by its pro-CPDM, pro-Biya, pro-regime slant. That was 48 hours ago. Then yesterday, enter Fru Ndi! His statement corrected none of the first two declarations. Instead, it merely shunned the colorful radicalism of Nitcheu’s statement and side- stepped Mbah Ndam’s kissing up to the regime approach.
Without addressing the SDF doublespeak – or is it triplespeak? – of the last five days, the Chairman’s press conference clarified what he will NOT do.
Why the Chicken Crossed the Road
Mr. Fru Ndi, we learnt, does NOT plan to lead a fresh round of political muscle-flexing against Yaounde. To be precise, he will NOT lead street protests aimed at – well – anything ! He won’t lead a Burkina Faso-type popular uprising. He won’t use street protests to persuade Mr. Biya that our democratization suffers if he promulgates his freshly-minted, freedom-killing, anti-terrorism bill into law.
It could have helped to hear what he WILL DO. In the absence of hearing him articulate a roadmap, I have dared to suggest something.
After 24 years of uninterrupted reign at the helm of the SDF, I await to be spate on by diehard supporters for suggesting that Mr. Fru Ndi owes us a second announcement. The second would derive from the clairvoyance of the first: that Ni John Fru Ndi has done his best but has failed to oust the Biya regime.
The second announcement would answer the question: when will there be a change of guard at the helm of the SDF?
I may be reading the wrong political tea leaves, of course, but here is what I believe. Mr. Fru Ndi’s intention – of which I know nothing – in announcing that he has done his best, but has failed, could be – God forbid, right? – but could it be one of those Ahidjo tricks. Remember them?
The story goes that “Grand Camarade”, as Ahidjo was called, would threaten not to run for “reelection” just so he would be “begged” to do exactly what he was dying to do in the first place.
So, here are my questions: Was the SDF into the Ahidjo role described? Was Mr. Fru Ndi urging a political free-for-all? Does he want a political “five minute cover eye” to help reverse the anti-terrorism legislation? Was Mr. Fru Ndi threatening not to lead street protests just so he would be “begged” to do so? Is this an attempt to restore Mr. Fru Ndi into his erstwhile role of Cameroon’s political Messiah?
A Country Doomed by its Politicians
Even after 24 years of reign – and counting – at the helm of the SDF, Mr. Fru Ndi’s confession that he has done “his best… but failed” is something rare among Cameroon’s power-drunken politicians. Hardly anyone in politics in Cameroon ever admits that they are burnt out.
It is more fashionable for our politicians to be in the youth wing of the ruling party in the Senate or Parliament at the tender age of 90-plus. We are perhaps the only country in the world where our political dead wood ages backward. The only country where the political adults “eat their young” in order to stay on in power.
As someone who cares deeply about salvaging what is left of the legacy Mr. Fru Ndi seems bent on destroying (“na who send you, norh?”), I am concerned that nudging the SDF Founding Chair to pass the “baton of commandement” is not working. I have previously been told that the people want their Chair to stay on.
How convenient! It just happens that what the people want is what the Chair also wants.
Democracy is not only possible through everyone winning majority vote. Maybe the SDF Chair is so popular he can be winning term renewals into 2050. Should the Chair oblige?
We know how, faced with the certainty of being reelected should he run again, Nelson Mandela decided not to seek another term in South Africa. Faced with that same certainty, both Mr. Biya and Mr. Fru Ndi have chosen to show glaringly why none of them understands the importance for democratic transition to turn down being married to power till death do us part.
Quite simply – and this will be my last line – the longer Mr. Fru Ndi justifies his reelection to the helm by evoking the “plank in eye” argument that party members want him to stay, the more he robs himself of the moral authority to take what becomes a mere spec out of Mr. Biya’s eye.