KAMTO BEHAVED LIKE CHAMISA AND ODINGA
CAMEROON holds some dubious records, and these came to the fore last weekend.
Paul Biya is Africa’s oldest president. At 85, he is looking to extend his 36-year rule. Before Zimbabweans removed president Robert Mugabe from power last year, he was the second eldest.
Having run the country since 1982, his time in office is second only to Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.
The ominous parallels between Cameroon and Zimbabwe went beyond the age and tenure of the incumbent president.
Some of their presidential candidates tend to speak irresponsibly before results are announced. Biya’s challenger was Maurice Kamto. Just as Nelson Chamisa of the MDC Alliance (and Raila Odinga in Kenya) prematurely claimed victory, he, at a media conference on Monday, a day after the poll, told the “outgoing president to organise a peaceful way to transfer power”.
In a normal and peaceful country, these would have been innocuous utterances to boost Kamto’s confidence. But in a country with the political temperature of Cameroon, they were reckless.
As an outsider, one cannot dismiss what could be a legitimate claim to victory or the right to challenge the election results; my last visit to Douala was in 2012.
Still, Cameroon faces one of its toughest revolutions, and if Kamto fancies his presidential chances he should act accordingly.
Protesters in the Anglophone regions of the country are demanding a separate state, Ambazonia.
Are they justified? It is not my place to say. However, the fatal demonstrations have in the past pushed the government to shut down the internet or social media – just like Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Luckily, President Biya’s government left the internet alone this time.
Kamto’s statements, however justifiable from the perspective of how long Biya has been in office, are regrettable. Interestingly and perhaps to demonstrate why his followers might not trust anything other than his triumph, unofficial announcements prematurely flooded WhatsApp and Facebook.
Impatience is justified these days. One country, half the size of Cameroon, is Rwanda. It announces election results within four hours of the closure of the polling stations. Why would Cameroon’s National Communication Council take so long?
Even as one faults the ill-timed statements by Kamto, Chamisa and Odinga, their followers’ impatience is not without cause. It is more a sign of the faith they lost in their institutions, and why Africa must rank these above political icons in order to have lasting peace.
Labelling Kamto’s statements as being irresponsible is a matter of saying to him: behave in a manner befitting of a presidential candidate, and do not risk the violent protests that rocked Zimbabwe (thanks to Chamisa’s dismissal of the poll he contested), or Kenya in August last year because of Odinga.
The solution is two-fold: presidential candidates must be in or out. Once they are in, they ought to respect the processes and institutions entirely.
The other side is the strengthening of institutions and freeing them from the greed of powermongers who are past their useful political shelf life.