Monday, August 3, 2015

Cameroon: Difficult Choices In A Failed Democracy

Yaounde, Cameroon—“Cameroon: Difficult Choices in a Failed Democracy [Memoir],” is a recently published book authored by Prof Tazoacha Asonganyi.
Below is a presentation of the book as read by Willibroad Dze-Ngwa, PhD, Historian/Political Scientist, and Senior Lecturer at the University of Yaoundé I. Being a review delivered at the launch of the book in Yaounde recently.

·         Dear very distinguished personalities in your different and respectable grades, academic friends, ladies and gentlemen good afternoon.
·         When the author informed me by phone, that I would have to review his book, I rather felt frightened, and the prompt question was why me?
1.      First of all, because the book was written by an exemplary scholar, whose rank, status and experiences are far above mine. In fact a man, whose fingers can handle and mesmerize a pen mightier than human imagination.
2.      Secondly, because I was called to speak from the same podium with eminent scholars.
3.      Thirdly, I was scared because the title to be reviewed was/is on a very interestingly sensitive and controversial topic on the contemporary political history of Cameroon that has attracted many scholars, readers and journalists to paint pages with information, either rightly or wrongly.
4.      Fourthly, I was most scared because the review had to be done in front of the very alert, critical and informed people, whom you are!!! 

·         However, I dutifully accepted the challenge because as an exemplary teacher, Prof. Tazoacha Asonganyi has always wanted the younger generation to blossom in their academic pursuits. Thank you professor for this opportunity!!!
·         I am happy for the opportunity to review this eye-witness-insider and mind-searching research work, being a major contribution towards reconstructing the hitherto blurred and distorted facts and figures in the political historiography of Cameroon, particularly what characterized the difficult choices in the democratic process in contemporary Cameroon.
·         I should note that it is not a political campaign message, but essentially a challenging academic exercise! Of course, I am far from being a card carrying politician.
The Book and its raison d’être
·         Why did the author write this Book? Of course it is his Memoir: how he will like to be remembered by posterity.
·         When I rushed in from Ebolowa to get a copy of this volume, let me say, that was the very first time we were meeting and actually charting; the Professor noted, “Cameroon’s democracy is at an impasse. It was a struggle that was not well conceived, hence, not well implemented. Our children should know why we tried and failed.”[1]
·         The book is therefore intended to:
1.      Provide an eye-witness account of some of the crucial issues in the contemporary political history of Cameroon; strictly from an insider perspective,
2.      Redress substantial areas of commission or omission in the strengths and weaknesses of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) party as a major stakeholder in the democratization process in Cameroon;
3.      Make a contribution in revising the Political History of Cameroon based on new facts, new ideas and new developments. History is stubborn you know!!!
·         The author vividly narrates the History of the running of the SDF party, putting facts and figures straight for lovers of fine knowledge to revisit facts, cross-check them with available data, before delving into any conclusions.
·         Verkijika G. Fanso has argued that, History is based on “facts,” that is, what is known and accepted as having actually happened. Facts are different from inferences and opinions; and any serious Historian/Politician/Researcher should make the difference in the information contained in their works.

·         Since the politically conscious masses have consciously or unconsciously misrepresented, misunderstood or misinterpreted some “facts and figures” in the contemporary democratisation process in Cameroon in general, and the running of the SDF party in particular, it will be incumbent to tackle the issues in this volume as it is presented, without blame games, in order to discourage defensive listening/reading and encourage open-mindedness, where new knowledge can fertilise and blossom through renewed and revisited research for the sake of genuine intellectualism.
·         Then we may be able to appreciate, and say like Albert Mukong, “Where Things Wrong.”
·         I will refer to Professor as the Author, Tazoacha Asonganyi,  or simply as Asonganyi. This should not be considered as a sign of disrespect of any sort. It is academics.
·         Also, I will sometimes adopt a question approach to search your minds and for the sake of clarity.
The Book
·         Prof. Asonganyi’s book is a 350-page document divided into Three Parts with 28 Chapters.
·         The author begins his political lamentations by re-echoing Chinua Achebe’s declarations that “poor leadership” is the central trouble with Africa as a whole.
·         As a frontline insider in the struggle for democracy in Cameroon, Asonganyi argues that democratic leadership did not emerge in Cameroon in the first place, with the reintroduction of competitive politics in the country from the early 1990s because of the lack of clear compromise among the different political party leaders either due to “differing levels of IQs (here meaning education and experience) and differing levels of membership following”, none of which could produce the best leadership in the country.
Part I
·         Chapters 1-3, tackle the origin, birth and early life of the Man Tazoacha Asonganyi.
·         He unveils how early parental guidance shaped his character of steadfastness, dedication and knowing when and how to defend his rights and the rights of others.
·         These chapters enable the reader to understand the character of the man Asonganyi, and why he takes some of the decisions he takes.
·         Mama Regina Nzengung taught young Asonganyi the philosophy of sharing in his very early life. Asonganyi notes that, mama “… would always tell me that you do not give because you have enough; you give because it is in your spirit to give”.
·         The father imbibed the spirit of community life in Asonganyi,
·         While St. Joseph’s College, Sasse, “created the greatest impact on me…. [It] shaped our emotional and social intelligence, and developed our ability to emphasize with each other- sharing emotions, thoughts, feelings, and dreams…it seems to be the period that marked the rest of my life – in High school, in the University, in society….”
·         The author’s early educational background, thought him selflessness. Asonganyi learnt to GIVE eg He selflessly handed over his succession right to his brother, Alembeh.
·         But Asonganyi could also stand his ground against corruption, discrimination and injustice eg
1)      He resigned as Sports master in St. Bedes College when he felt humiliated. Every attempt by Rev. Sisters to get him back failed.
2)       When Rev. Father Van Blessen refused to pay his July and August salaries just because the Rev. heard their names over the radio on scholarships, Asonganyi and his friend literarily held the Principal hostage. It needed the intervention from Rev. Sisters to have the matter settled.
3)      Young Asonganyi, singled-handedly challenged a notorious thief who pick pocketed his money when he had just arrived Yaoundé for the CUSS entrance at the Yaoundé train station.

·         Asonganyi’s scholarship to study in London created another window to the west which brought him face to face with people who added some influence in his political thoughts (and with whom they founded the African Nationalist Group.)
·         He travelled to London with Clement Ngwasiri, was hosted for a while by Carlson Ayangwe. During his four year stay in London, he met Njianjek Azefor, Martin Eseme, Simon Munzu, Dione Ngute, Azu’u Fonkam, Diane Acha Morfaw, Felix Ngwafor. These people formed a discussion group “to discuss issues related to Cameroon and Africa.”
·         He later met with Siga Asanga, John Fru Ndi and even Robert Mugabe in London too; and received political blessings from Pa Ndeh Ntumazah 1978 again in London.
·          Asonganyi was therefore, well grounded before returning to Cameroon.
·         In Chapter 4, the author paints an interesting background story of the “Discussions Group of the ‘80s” which led to the creation of the SDF party.
·         The old friends from London: Asonganyi, Anyangwe, Ngwasiri, Asanga and Azefor met regularly to discuss politics.
·         Albert Mukong and later, John Fru Ndi joined. They usually discussed on the Anglophone problem and the illegality of the One party system and mooted about creating a party, which was not yet an immediate option
·         However, between 1989/90 the “Bamenda Group” had moved into a higher gear of creating a party and had kept Asonganyi aside probably because he “was the only South Westerner in our discussion group in Yaoundé in the ‘80s.”
·         How he joined the “Struggle for Democracy” within the SDF from a grass root card-carrying militant in January 1991 and became the interim SG in June, 1994 (Chap. 5), but “Internal Conflicts characterized the party between convinced social democrats, those who just wanted change and those who just wanted to infiltrate and derail the SDF party, and those who wanted power positions.
·         There were also the democratic struggles and rivalries between pro-Fru Ndi and other dissenting voices within the party (Chap.7).
·         Did you ever conjecture any Secret Talks between the CPDM and SDF after the 1992 Presidential elections, about the creation of the State Council to be headed by Fru Ndi while Biya was to remain President of the Republic?  READ CHAPTER 7.
Part II
·         In Chapters 8 to 10, Asonganyi paints a vivid picture of his stewardship in the SDF party and the circumstances that led to his rise in the democratic struggle from the interim SG and later to SG of the party.
·         In Chapters 9 & 10, Asonganyi highlights events leading to the historic Maroua Convention which confirmed him as SG amidst political intrigues and a divided SDF.
·         The Author, however notes that, the main concern after Maroua was to give the best image of Fru Ndi and his party although “our charismatic leader – transformed into a monster that seemed to be ready to consume all of us…. The man became all powerful and all knowing.”
·         In Chapter 11, the author gets into the Kumba crisis which almost tore the SDF party apart. He unveils some of the intricacies, greed, manipulations, negative ethnicity and lack of foresight by some top SDF sympathizers.
·         When the “Mbuagbaw Commission to Kumba” was asked to investigate the Kumba crisis, the report “was intentionally biased and partisan because its central intention seemed to be to destroy innocent people for political ends.” This affected relationship between the Chairman and the SG.
·         In Chapter 12, a clear picture is painted on how the democratic struggle gained grounds as the SDF party became represented at the National Assembly after the 1997 legislative elections.
·         Asonganyi questions the wisdom of boycotting the February 17, 1992 Legislative elections on grounds on “no level playing field” since the same field had not been leveled in 1997. 
·         Even when the sits were won, the party was reluctant to take up the sits. According to Asonganyi, this was a show of “some immaturity in strategic thinking and acting.”
·         The party went into parliament with inadequate knowledge of parliamentary proceedings. Even its Parliamentary Group became answerable to the Chairman and not the party: “it acted like an independent structure of the party that had an exclusive link with the Chairman. Their meetings were like secret meetings during which money issues were discussed in relation to the “welfare” of the Chairman.”
·         Did the SDF and the CPDM actually engage in any talks for a Union Government after the 1997 elections?
·         Who were the main negotiators on both sides and where did the meetings hold?
·         What were the negotiating skills of the different actors? Asonganyi explains this in Chapter 13 of his book and argues that, “you cannot read about negotiation in text books; you have to learn it through daily experience. As it turned out, the SDF had not done so….”
·         In Chapters 14, Asonganyi argues that the 1999 Yaoundé Convention was more of a curse than a blessing for the SDF as the party emerged more divided than ever with the rules of the election of the SG changed, the emergence of the Souleymane faction and  the protests from the Bamileke Group.
·         Chapters 15-17 paints an insider’s evaluation of the damages caused by the Yaoundé Convention because it produced victors and vanquished. This resulted to clashing media politics and intrigues with the ploy to remove “rebels” like Alhadji Sani as the Centre Regional Chair.
Part III
·         This Part of the book especially Chapters 18-20 is particularly intriguing due to the frightening display of deadly manipulations and counter-manipulations, political bitterness and even accusation of poisoning and wizardry among top post holders of the party.
1.      Was the Chairman actually poisoned? By whom?
2.      Was this the bases of the Ngwasiri/Asonganyi conflict?
3.      What was the bone of contention between the “Progressives” and the “conservatives”, or the “academics” vs the “non academics” within the SDF party? Chapters 18 to 20 provide answers to these questions.
·         Chapter 21 tackles the confusion that reigned in the SDF party before the Twin elections of 2002.
1.      How much money did the party receive before the twin elections? (400 millions)
2.      How much did Fru Ndi get from this as his accumulated salary? (60.000 millions).
3.      What did other party officials receive?
4.      Was this the basis of the SDF/CPDM Peace Pact in the North West Region after the elections?
5.      Was Fru Nid aware of the Peace Pact?
·         In Chapters 22 and 23, Asonganyi explains how the battered politicians in Cameroon in general and the SDF party in particular sought reconciliation in preparation for the Presidential elections of 2004.
·         This reconciliation was extended to other major political parties which agreed to bury their differences and nominate a single candidate to challenge the incumbent Biya.
·         How successful was the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”? Asonganyi again explains how greed, avarice and lack of foresight blinded the politicians to come out of the elections more divided than before.
1.      Was Akame Mfoumou considered as Presidential candidate of the Coalition of opposition parties for the October 11, 2004 elections?
2.      Why did the coalition fail?
3.      Why has it been too difficult “for the opposition in Cameroon to use a coalition to defeat the regime in place?”
·         Asonganyi argues that, it was because political party leaders in Cameroon had no clear-cut programmes for the country apart the desire to be president, unlike Nelson Mandela of South Africa, whose main mission was to end Apartheid and Abraham Lincoln of the USA whose political agenda was to save the American Union.
·         In Chapter 24, Asonganyi revisits the endemic political problem of preaching virtue and practicing vice, especially when it comes to modifying the constitution.
·         He notes that “African leaders were treating the constitutions of their countries like pieces of paper, manipulating their contents as and when they liked, to suit their exercise of power according to their whims and caprices.” That is exactly what the SDF party set out to correct at its creation as the party’s manifesto stated in part, “One of the problems of Cameroon in its experiment at constitutionalism has been the arrogance and impunity with which those in power have manipulated or modified the constitution.”
·         But the SDF leadership did not respect what it set out to check. In 2005 Section 20 and other sections of the SDF Constitution were amended to give full powers to Chairman Fru Ndi
·         When Asonganyi, Prof. Kale, Justice Nyo Wakai and many others criticized the amendment, it was adopted in May 2006 and these criticisms were considered as “Gigantic conspiracy against Chairman Fru Ndi”.
·         This only widened the gap of division in the SDF party.
Chapter 28: Life after SGship: A Lutta Continua!
·         In the last chapter of the book, Prof. Asonganyi paints his life after leaving the party preaching A Lutta Continua!
·         To corroborate his A Lutta continua Asonganyi, in the preface of this book argues that:
For the good of the struggle for democracy, opposition leaders in Cameroon need to: (1) Identify a good cause (2) cultivate a better sense of mission (3) agree of the big picture- the purpose of their commitment and (4) build trust in one another (5) Always ask themselves whether their attitude toward their peers contributes positively or negatively to the broader end – to their general purpose.
Criticisms of the Book
·         Despite the mind-searching nature of this wonderful piece of work, well crafted in simple language, permit me dare raise a few criticisms to the best of my appreciation. That is part of science!!!
·         After all, scientists attest to the fact that no human endeavour is perfect.
1)      The title of the book is problematic to me, because it is conclusive. It reads, Cameroon: Difficult Choices in a Failed Democracy [Memoir].
·         It were better to say, Cameroon: Difficult Choices in a Challenging Democracy. Failed is past and gone and gives no hope while Challenging gives hope, inspiration and opens new opportunities as the struggle continues.
·         Chapter 28: Life after SGship: A Lutta Continua! Confirms my concerns because the author himself says that forsaking the SDF SGship gave him “a bigger task: To reveal a much bigger talent ….intelligence, and imagination.”
·         So, “Challenging” and not “Failed” Democracy gave the author new opportunities to impact more people. That is why we have this book after all.
2)      Memoir in the title is written in Square brackets rather than simple brackets.
3)      None of the pictures in the volume clearly represents the man we see in Tazoacha Asonganyi. As a Memoir, the pictures should have been taken more seriously for the sake of posterity.
4)      The choice of the print character could have made the book better for easy reading. But it may need glasses to read the book.

·         These observations do not in any way reduce the quality to this volume.
·         As a Historian/Political Scientist, permit me attest to the best of my appreciation that this is the best Politico-Historical document I have ever read on the contemporary democracy of Cameroon.
·         Written by an insider and political practitioner, and arguably, one of Cameroon’s most prolific political analysts and critics, this eye-witness account of Asonganyi is very carefully crafted with a high degree of independence of thought.
·         This saves the readers from political controversies and hearsays which distorts facts and figures in the contemporary democracy in Cameroon in general and within the SDF party in particular.
·         It is a must- keep document for all those who wish the progress of democratic leadership values in Cameroon.
·          It is for all politicians and to-be politicians who should read to improve on their knowledge of political trappings in Cameroon and beyond.
·         It is for all researchers, academics, teachers and students of History and Political Science, so that they may have the facts as they occurred.
·         It is for all leaders and prospective leaders to better appreciate what leadership should be.
·         Get your own copies and savour them. Pass it on.
            God bless you all and thanks for your kind attention!!!

[1] Informal talk with Prof. Tazoacha Azonganyi at Rogans Club on July 10th 2015.

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