An Opportunity To Re-Assess Our Institutions For An Inclusive Leadership And Nation
By Christian Penda Ekoka*
“A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance…” (Jawaharlal Nehru, to the Indian Constituent Assembly, New Delhi, August 14, 1947)
More than an Anglophone problem, a national malaise
It is not Anglophone claims, it is also Francophone claims, and it is our national claim for several reasons.
Firstly, when the knell tolls at Bamenda, Garoua, Maroua, Bertoua, Bafoussam or anywhere in Cameroon, “…never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee”. This was the American writer, Hemingway’s admonition about the death or suffering of a human being wherever, because he or she is part of mankind. This sense of common destiny should bind all Cameroonians together, as parts of the same nation.
Secondly, more than an Anglophone problem, recent uprisings in Bamenda and Buea are revelators of a more profound national malaise, resulting from the institutional leadership and governance architecture of our country that was flawed from its original design. In the light of its testing over 50 years, our institutional framework for public affairs’ management appears as not meant to respond to the people’s needs and aspirations.
What is called the Anglophone problem is a specific aspect of a more fundamental national problem that could be defined as a genetic default of a public governance system that is not responsive to the Cameroonian people’s concerns and needs, Anglophones and Francophones as well.
For instance, comparing our country to a body’s system, one could say that the eruption of furuncles on any of its part, would actually mean an infection of the entire body, and its proper treatment would require to tackle the root cause of the disease. In the paragraph below entitled “State’s structures crippled by design…”, one can understand how the body’s system was gradually infected by the bacteria from the origin the nation building process, and how the current shortcomings can be traced back to the original process of our state’s foundation.
The disease has dragged on for so many years with obvious consequences in terms of poor population access to basic infrastructure services including potable water and sanitation, electricity, transportation, healthcare, education, housing, ill performing state-owned corporations chronically sucking subsidies and never self-sustaining; moribund function of several public institutions and enterprises (e.g. Social and Economic Council, National Investment Corporation, National Hydrocarbons Corporation, Douala Stocks Exchange), etc.
The persistence of the disease, not to say its aggravation, should have been a wake-up call for the authorities, but our state-system was not designed with such a preventive built-in control mechanism to timely alert its managers about its dysfunction and eventually its near collapse, making it almost irremediable. Thus the general awareness of the institutions or state-owned corporations’ illness at its terminal stage. Otherwise, how an effective public governance system cannot timely be alerted about the hurdles of its citizens on the road between Douala and Bamenda, or Yaounde and Bamenda (and specially worse the Bafoussam-Bamenda segment), and act consequently; how many lives should be lost on our roads – and specially on the main ones – before a system understands the emergency of the situation; how many lives should be lost in hospitals before the rehabilitation of the healthcare system? How many mothers and babies a country should lose before its consciousness wakes up to the crisis?
To better understand the genetic or endogenous nature of the disease, one could observe that for the past 30 years, President Biya, Cameroon’s Head of State (HOS), has continuously and unsuccessfully denounced in the public service those vices and scandals that impede our development, including inter alia corruption, bureaucratic red tape, embezzlement of public funds, administration bottlenecks, unfriendly business environment deterring investments. In fact, over the years, the spread of the vices became viral translating into the aggravation of discrimination, injustice and economic inequality. Despite the frequent presidential blasting and criticism of the civil service, the persistence of the same hurdles over the years, the government’s inability to address and tackle them, had evidenced the very structural or DNA-like weaknesses of the public governance system’s design, a sort of built-in genetic default that prevents the body’s system to perform at its top; a default that can only be corrected by modifying the public governance system’s DNA.
No piecemeal response, a need for comprehensive and truthful dialogue …
Whatever its outcome, the current negotiations initiated by the government will only address some facets of the problem. With regards to the structural nature and scope of the malaise that involve all national stakeholders – political, civil, religious, etc. –, there is a need to adopt a long term and broad view for a sustaining and lasting solution. This goal demands a comprehensive, constructive and holistic approach; otherwise it will bounce back again. “Law and order” is not a substitute for effective responses to people’s claims and concerns that can only be attained through a responsible and constructive dialogue, underpinned by good faith and open mind of the parties involved, in search of consensually and mutually agreed – and not imposed -solutions. In this context, it should be clearly acknowledged that the case of the Supreme Court’s magistrate Paul Ayah and others will do disservice to the cause of our democracy. We should therefore stand up for a state that protects its citizens’ rights and freedoms of expression, and not a one that terrorizes them.
Any piecemeal, partial or non-inclusive approach will not fail to reduce the issue to a bureaucratic transaction, and it will not fail once again to look patchy and cosmetic, sadly reminding most of us of the Foumban scenario in 1961, that goes down in history for many as a cunning; a zero-sum game whereby for one party to win, the other has to lose, for one party to fatten the other has to starve.
Any piecemeal approach means not doing so, and will result in skipping the most serious questions, and notably: how best to organize a balanced distribution of political power for inclusive wealth; how best to design a transparent democratic governance system that promotes development; how to organize a political system that ensures an efficient allocation of resources, whereby the public service officials or managers are accountable before the people? How to build a nation whose main goal is to ensure freedoms and rights of the citizens in their pursuit of happiness? How to design and organize a public civil service that is devoted to the service of the community and not become its predator?
Besides, one important observation deserves notice, the so-called Anglophone’s claims or complains are no more coming from the founding fathers, but from their children and especially their grandchildren; which means the collective memory is now the fuel of anger and frustration. Looking at 50 years back, they had the impression that the Foumban’s conference on reunification was a travesty, whereby one party was duped by the other. Thus again our call for a transparent, comprehensive and truthful remedying process, heavily involving the young generations whose 80% of population, i.e. about 20 millions, are under age 30.
The role of the media
To this extent, the media is an indispensable instrument that should remain free and independent for the effective accomplishment of its role in the society, and not become a tool of manipulation by or propaganda for any special interest group’s benefit, at the expense of the general interest. As the watchdog for an effective democratic and transparent society, its role should be to provide the citizens with true facts and information to keep them politically vigilant and alert about any threat that may arise against their freedoms and rights. In so doing, media should be aware of the various threats to which it is exposed, inter alia corruption and different negative pressure that would prevent it from effectively fulfilling its duty.
Media should avoid becoming propaganda agents for some special interest groups, which would force them to disinformation and intoxication, for instance indexing the Anglophone as a bundle of Vikings ready to massacre the Francophone, with the obvious consequences of nurturing inter-community hatred and tribalism.
The case of the economy…
At the outbreak of the Cameroonian economic crisis in the mid-1980s, various audits attributed its root cause to the nature of the welfare-state, that had distorted the efficient and competitive allocation of resources, resulting in the economic recession, banking sector’s crisis (huge volume of toxic assets and credit crunch), across the board collapse of state-owned and para-statal corporations. These events led to massive job losses and triggered an unprecedented impoverishment phenomenon across country. For almost 20 years Cameroon embarked on a structural adjustment program (SAP) under the auspices of the Bretton Woods’ institutions. It is only sad to notice that after so much sacrifice and sweat by the population, Cameroon is almost back to square zero, due to poor implementation of the structural reforms recommended by the SAP.
Over the period of more than 30 years, from 1984 to date, the annual growth rate of Cameroon has averaged circa 2 percent in real terms, as compared to a population growth rate of about 2.5 percent; the per capita GDP growth has hence remained stagnant if not shrunken. Adjusting the Boko Haram effect on growth and income distribution, the pattern of poverty curve has worsened over the last ten years, with worst incidence in the rural areas and Northern regions.
The perennial nature of these problems, i.e. poor performance in development achievements, despite the partial public debt cancellation in the context of the Highly Indebted and Poor Countries Initiative (HIPIC), in 2006, it became evident for any shrewd observer that the underlying causes of the “disease” are structural and endogenous, and stem from a root vice in the public governance system’s design,
State’ structures crippled by design, associated risks and adverse effects…
The historical process of our state’s structuring was underpinned by Ahidjo’s grand design of a highly centralized state, almost akin to a totalitarian state which explains many of its current poor performances on social, economic and political fronts. If a state is not designed to acknowledge and preserve the basic human rights of its citizens, how would it promote and protect the specific and historical rights of the Anglophone? The whole process of state formation was flawed from the origin, with the clear design to emasculate people’s rights to emancipation. The event of Reunification was only a step within the grand design. It resulted in a vampire-like state wherein a small bunch of parasite citizens suck the blood and sweat of the others; a system by which a small faction of predators could accumulate large amount of wealth without strive and toil; that favors a welfare-state dependency instead of empowering individuals to forge the destiny of their choice. The main features of this foundation process include:
The political process underlying the dynamics from a multi-party system to one party regime;
The change from a federal state to a unitary state, in fact a totalitarian state;
A massive concentration of powers in the hands of one person, the Head of State, without check and balance’s mechanisms, namely as a result of expunging legislative and judiciary’s independent powers;
A perpetuation of the colonial administration (bureaucracy) that was not intended for development, but for the confinement and the containment of the people; enslaving citizens in a so-called law and order scheme;
A highly centralized government system that is navel-centered and therefore unable to identify the environment’s threats and opportunities;
A top-down decision making process, characterized by frequent bloating, lacking flexibility and reactivity to operate structural reforms, implement projects and address the global developmental challenges;
A public service in which officials wield enormous powers without being accountable to the people;
The above dynamic associated risks include the isolation of the system’s center that becomes hostage of some special interest groups; nepotism and corruption; crony capitalism and market inefficiency; lack of transparent decision making process, mainly in the public contracts’ bidding process;
The adverse consequences for the society include sluggish and non-inclusive growth; public leadership distancing itself from people’s needs and expectations; collapse of public corporations; slowness in public reforms and projects’ implementation; (e.g. decentralization law enacted since 1996); high rate of public funds embezzlement and wastage; poor access to basic infrastructure services; high unemployment rate; poor private investment records; aggravation of impoverishment; uneven regional development; poverty aggravated; zombie and vassal citizens; loss of trust in the state by the youth culminating in loss of hope, self-pride and self-esteem; increase in tribalism ; loss of solidarity and citizenry bindings; defeatism, fatalism and resignation among young generations.
Why Nations fail: lessons from the historical dynamics of societies …
In a compelling book “Why Nations Fail”, the authors, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, respectively professor of economics at MIT and of government at Harvard, delved into more than three centuries of development history to understand why certain nations grow rich and others remain poor. The outcome of this research shows a strong correlation between the political power distribution and the prosperity dynamics in societies. Here below is what they say:
“In fact, Egypt is poor precisely because it has been ruled by narrow elite that have organized society for their own benefit at the expense of the mass of people. Political power has been narrowly concentrated, and has been used to create wealth for those who possess it, such as the $70 billion fortune apparently accumulated by ex-president Mubarak…Whether it is North Korea, Sierra Leone or Zimbabwe, poor countries are poor for the same reason that Egypt is poor. Countries such as Great Britain and the United States became rich because their citizens overthrew the elites who controlled power and created a society where political rights were much broadly distributed, where government was accountable and responsive to citizens, where, and where the great mass of people could take advantage of economic opportunities…We’ll see that the reason that Britain is richer than Egypt is because in 1688, Britain (or England to be exact) had a revolution that transformed the politics and thus the economics of the nation. People fought for and won more political rights and they used them to expand their economic opportunities. The result was a fundamental different political and economic trajectory, culminating in the Industrial Revolution”
In a highly decentralized or federal-like society, the likelihood is higher to find a more balanced distribution of power that empowers regions, local communities and individuals to gain control over their destiny.
Besides, federalism does not mean Anglophone or secession, it’s a form of state organization, and it is a way of public governance, which has proved its effectiveness as a development accelerator in several countries including USA, Canada, Germany, Australia and several other countries. Let’s not confuse people’s mind, federalism does not challenge or question the founding fathers’ pledge of ‘Unity in diversity”, on the contrary the prevailing highly centralized government does, as attested by its dangerous resulting consequences. The often heard outcry “Le Cameroun est un et indivisible” can only be justified in case of secessionist claims.
Only highly decentralized or federal-like systems of governance are genuinely inclined to empower people and local communities to become the main agent of their development, to be the major stakeholders of their life.
This is a defining moment for our destiny, let’s not miss it…
In 1947, at the dawn of the independence of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of this great country, addressing the Indian Constituent Assembly, told his fellow countrymen that: “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge….At the stroke of the midnight hour, while the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance…”
This is our moment of utterance and reckoning, this is a defining moment for our country; let us frankly face the issue, and not deny it or procrastinate for lasting and sustainable response. We owe it to young and future generations. We should seize the recent events in Bamenda and Buea as a “blessing in disguise”, as an opportunity to re-assess our State’s performance with the aim to build a time-proof effective institutional public affairs’ infrastructure, that will make our country free of violence, free of corruption, etc.; that will align the state’s structure with the founding fathers’ vision of “Unity in diversity”.
With regards to our poor past and present performance in matters of economic and social progress, we should not be afraid to question our present pattern of public governance, or our way of leadership with the aim to improve them, making them much more responsive to the needs of the people. In light of the above evidence, our State, in its prevailing form and structure, appears as more of a liability than an asset. Hence the need for a critical and truthful assessment of public affairs’ leadership and governance.
With regards to the high and frequent level of corruption of certain officials, we should not fear to discuss ways and means to uphold the public high office-holders accountable before the people …Constitutions are not inscribed on stone; the only permanent thing in this world is constant global changes, which continuously challenge our pattern of life, and it may compel a country to adapt its organization for the betterment of its citizens. Over the last 30 years, our world has witnessed the cases of former Soviet Union, Germany, Sene-Gambia, Brexit…Many countries are currently under similar pressure including UK. Anticipation and pro-activeness is the best guide to avoid brutal and undesired consequences akin to these patterns of evolution.
Let us undertake to build a nation that provides all of its children with equal opportunity to fulfill their dreams and aspirations, to realize their own talents, a nation that indiscriminately empowers its citizens, regions and local communities to fully participate in their development process, a nation that gives hope to its young members, that restores their confidence in the State as an impartial institution, guarantor of the people’s security and justice, that engenders audacious and self-confident entrepreneurs, fully empowered to participate in mankind’s venture of value creation, in every venue of life, be it technology, entrepreneurship, energy, water, urbanization, agriculture, manufacturing, biotechnology, physics, information and environment, technology, arts, etc.
Last but not least, let us undertake to build an inclusive nation, based on principles of equality in rights and freedoms for all, for only free minds can develop. That will be our best legacy for future generations. By achieving it, the generations to come 50 years hence, will be proud of us.
* Christian Penda Ekoka is Technical Advisor, Office of the President, Republic of Cameroon