Thursday, March 5, 2015

Asonganyi explains why he boycotted Feb. 28 patriotic March

Thousands march in support of soldiers fighting Boko Haram
Yaounde,Cameroon--The cell is the smallest unit of life. Human beings and other living organisms are a collection of cells. As a Biochemist, I operate in an academic domain that studies the processes that keep a cell, and eventually the organism alive. We have since reached the conclusion that all processes in the cell are interlinked, and form a life-sustaining network, every link of which is virtually as important as the other.
This is the same with the life-world in which humans live in society: every human activity is interlinked and forms a life-sustaining network, every link of which is important to the life-form. Successful politics benefits the journalist, just as successful journalism benefits politics. And you can continue the linkages. This is why I do not share the view of those who think that journalists should keep their pens, to the exclusion of marching shoes.
Further, France is a pluralistic society, with political opinions spanning the extreme left to the extreme right. There are people in France who hate Africans, Jews, Moslems, Christians, Arabs, Immigrants, you name them. These do not represent the main current of opinion in France. They strengthen pluralism in France not diminish it. In the same way, there is no reason to think that the shouting of anti-French slogans by individuals during a protest march can represent the main current of opinion in Cameroon. Therefore I do not share the opinion of those who think that France will be scandalized by the anti-French shouts from some participants at the February 28 March. The shouts do not affect our friendship with France, just as they do not discredit protest marches as a form of political expression.
Since the 1962 repressive Ordinance of Ahidjo, the state has constantly encroached on the rights and liberties of society, especially its right to express itself through public association and processions. The ordinance lasted until 1990 when what were described as “liberty” laws replaced it. Unfortunately, the laws turned out to be not too different from the ordinance because they too enforced the overriding dominance of the administration over the judiciary on issues of rights and freedoms.
As expected, the “liberty” laws have worked to the advantage of the regime. Freedom of association (Law No. 90/053) and freedom to hold public meetings and processions (Law No. 90/055) are tightly controlled by the administration for what they claim is the “preservation of public order.” Indeed, since the laws came into force, hundreds, if not thousands of opposition meetings and processions have been banned by administrative authorities. As recently as February 24, 2015, a public march declared by SDF Women of Yaounde IV administrative unit to protest against recurrent power cuts and water shortages was banned because the administrative official used his whim to impute improper motive and considered the march “a potential threat to public order”!
In spite of this repeated proscription of public marches and processions as an avenue for political expression, a group of journalists decided to organize what they described as a “huge patriotic march” on February 28 in solidarity with our affected compatriots and the Cameroon army that is fighting against Boko Haram. For curious reasons, the organizers of the march scheduled it on February 28, a day on which in 2008, the CPDM regime turned a peaceful protest march against price hikes and the intention to modify the constitution to institute a life-presidency, into a violent confrontation that left several youths dead, maimed or arrested, molested and locked up. Further, the organizers decreed the uniformity of dress, slogans and gadgets for participants – like for the confiscated May 20 marches by the regime – thus tightly controlling the citizens’ manner of expression their patriotism and support during the march. In addition, because of our Cameroon experience, fears were expressed that some of the organizers were disguising their self-interest by dressing up arguments in the cloak of patriotism or concern for the public good.
As a person who has suffered repeated refusals of public officials to use protest marches for the expression of my political views, and who understands the universal declaration that “everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association” and the AU’s declaration that “The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law, in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others,” I chose to express my patriotism and support for our soldiers and our affected compatriots by boycotting the march.
Many Cameroonians usually presuppose the existence of a democratic culture in our society, and so easily turn a blind eye to the fact that expression of patriotism through public manifestation is not supposed to be selective. The organizers of the “huge patriotic march” failed to realize that the type of public march that they organized is only relevant in a society that is not habituated to freedom if it furthers the struggle for the advent of the tradition of freedom, and the associative relations of a liberal political culture.
In a society where the state has proscribed public manifestations as an avenue for political expression, the attempt of the journalists to re-enact the Paris democratic march in our non-democratic environment, was a clumsy attempt to play into the hands of a state that regularly blocks the use of such expression. The Paris March may have been in support of Charlie, but it was a bold statement for freedom of expression. The February 28 March has not left the impression that beyond support for our soldiers and our affected compatriots, it was also a statement for the freedom of the public space in our society in which citizens express themselves through all democratic avenues open to them. After all, Boko Haram is about the refusal of an essential freedom – the right to education. We need a culture of democracy that allows citizens to express themselves openly and collectively or silently and individually, according to their likes and dislikes, not according to the likes and dislikes of agents of a corrupt and repressive state.
Public manifestations like the February 28 March are an expression of solidarity which is bred by common values, goals and identities. Such solidarity among citizens occurs only when they feel themselves part of a collective project. Solidarity can exist only among individuals who are equal in their individuality, able to take responsibility for themselves and define themselves as part of a public debate. Solidarity develops among people who seek happiness and the rules for its guarantee. The Cameroon state does not yet tolerate the existence of the space in which individuals whose autonomy depends on that of all others could coexist, united above and beyond the differences of interests that can neither be suppressed nor ignored.
Public marches are a form of political expression that is supposed to be protected by the state. The declarations of the police and gendarme chiefs that they would provide appropriate protection for the February 28 March are commendable, and are clear evidence that the mantra of administrative officials that marches will result in “disturbance of public order” is a pretext used by the state to muzzle political expression.
"This is why I patriotically boycotted"
Patriotism is a sacred obligation of citizens; and solidarity is a requirement in a society that seeks development, prosperity and happiness for all its citizens. Thousands of citizens expressed their patriotism and solidarity by participating in the February 28 March. Millions of others chose to do so differently.
My participation in the rhetoric and passions of the march of February 28 would have been for me a statement that public marches are a form of political expression in Cameroon, which is not yet the case! My participation would have diminished my support for the equally valiant youths whose own March in February 2008 was violently repressed by our undemocratic state.
This is why I patriotically boycotted the February 28 March, even if I firmly support our valiant soldiers that are fighting the evil force called Boko Haram. It is why I patriotically boycotted the march although I share in the sufferings and loses foisted on our compatriots of the war zones by the monsters called Boko Haram.
By Tazoacha Asonganyi Yaounde.

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