KAMTO BE­HAVED LIKE CHAMISA AND ODINGA

The Sunday Independent - - JUSTICE - VIC­TOR KGOMOESWANA

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.

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