Participating in Positive Change

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Cameroonians in the Diaspora, politics, inertia and development

Cameroonians in the Diaspora, politics, inertia and development

Cameroonians in the Diaspora are increasingly alienating themselves from the political life of their country, given the continuously soiled image of the Cameroon and the socio-economic and political hold-up by the regime in power, led by President Paul Biya, who has ruled the country with an apparently free, but a really disguised iron fist, for over 26 years.

The interest of Cameroonians in the Diaspora was the subject of debate over Cameroon Voice, rebroadcasted on October 02, during the programme Sans Detour.

According to Kenneth Ndeh, President of the American Association of Cameroonians, there are over 10,000 Cameroonians in the Washington Metro Area among the estimated 25,000 Cameroonians in the USA. This concentration of Cameroonians in USA is certainly the highest in the world followed by France.

Mr Ndeh reiterated that Cameroonians are fade-up with the hide and seek politics in the Country. As a result, most of them have resolved to shying away from politics. “Most people want to send money home to their families” than taking part in moribund politics.

He revealed that money sent home by Cameroonians from the USA is more than the “support” of the World Bank to the country.

The moribund politics stifled by CNU-CPDM oligarchy and the lack of vision on the part of several power mongering opposition parties, have pushed many to either relaxed or join other parties overseas. Some Cameroonians in the USA have joint the ranks of Democrats and Republicans but their relatively small number is insignificant (Kenneth Ndeh).

Michael Fongang, resident in Canada and former President of the Cameroon Association in Canada believes, “There is no need to participate in political live at home when day in day out, the country moves towards a single party system” According to him Cameroonians have other issues. That not withstanding Cameroonians in the Diaspora have been contributing significantly towards positive change in the country. Citing the examples of icicemac, Cameroon Voice, and I include, (portals of information and debates on Cameroon) Fongang holds that these institutions have contributed and are contributing immensely towards meaningful debates on the development of Cameroon.

Intervening from London, Marcel Amoko, Cameroon BBC London reporter, admitted that the image of Cameroon is not as spoiled as some people want the world to believe. “The politics and administration of the country have created a negative image of the country but there are a lot of positive developments in sports, music, and other individual achievements making Cameroon proud” he affirmed.

He also confirmed that inasmuch as people know that their votes will not count, they will rarely participate in any elections. That notwithstanding, he lauds the initiative of the NEO (National Elections Observatory which will soon be replaced by Elections Cameroon-ELECAM) towards making sure that the votes of Cameroonians in the Diaspora count in future.

Celestin Djamen, SDF militant resident in France, affirmed that they have on two occasions; during the presidential election 2004 and the twin legislative elections and Municipal elections in 2007, organized symbolic votes of the Diaspora in France. They have also been pretesting and protested against the amendment of the constitution in April 2008. He believes the inertia in Cameroon was brought by the ruling government which President Biya himself asserted in 2004.

No Diaspora, Reasoning on tribal rather than nation lines

According to Kenneth Ndeh, just a few of the over 10.000 Cameroonians in the Washington Metro Area are members of the American Association of Cameroonians as, people prefer to work within their tribal meetings. This was the same problems in Canada though the situation is gradually improving: Mr Fongang said they created the Association of Cameroonians in Canada in 2004 which comprises all tribal meetings from Cameroon present in Canada. However, Mr Ndeh believes the Diaspora cannot substitute themselves for the opposition or ruling party and impose change.

Gaston Kelman, writer of the best seller Je suis noir mais je ne mange pas de manioc, lamented that the Diaspora which is even yet to be constructed, work more on tribal lines than on national issues. He expressed the need to work on national issues irrespective of tribe and political affiliations. This is what i personally refer to as intellectual tribalism; given that some people among which are intellectuals prefer to constantly work on tribal basis than on national standards.

“The force of thinking has not accompanied our wishes”, Gaston Kelman claims. Why can a Bassa man….. not think of creating or supporting real development initiatives development projects in any area in the country as such Garoua, Bafoussam etc” he said. However, Kelman keeps citing his examples from his Bassa origin thereby showing how his sub consciousness is linked to his cultural or tribal background. Any meaningful development must begin at home. This does not mean that people in position of administration embezzle state funds and construct villas or companies in their regions as some sort of development.

Mr Fongang believes Kelman´s interpretation is just being philosophical and does not see how tribal meetings will directly hinder national developments as such. As Basek Bakobio –cineaste, insinuates there is need to preserve rich aspects of our culture

It must be remarked that some Cameroonians are already doing much contrary to Kelman. The Holy Cross International College for example, opened in Yaoundé is not by people of the centre province but from other tribes.

Fongang regretted the incident in Yaoundé soon after the February 2008 strike, when some senior government functionaries of the Centre Province among whom was the Minister of Health, Andre Mama Fouda, promised death to other Cameroonians living in Yaoundé commonly referred to as “settlelers”. Despite the minister and colleagues preaching hatred, calls for his resignation or sackinglanded on deaf ears. Not even an an apology from him. Why then blame people for relying or hanging on the their village meetings when the country is on the hands of those who preach hatred.

Basek Bakobio, reiterated the need for the Diaspora to draw themselves closer to Cameroonians at home and also, the need to work in synergy with other Cameroonians and the government. But Mr Fongang said the government must make it possible for such initiatives to be fruitful.

World Bank Aide vs USA Cameroon funds

According to Kenneth Ndeh, what Cameroonians in the USA sent home to their families is more than what the World Bank gives to Cameroon as “aide”. However, Gaston Kelman believes most of the money or funds sent home is used for consumption than development. Such as payment of hospital bills, buying of food, dresses, payment of fees etc. "These associations should cease from being on consumption basis to development, which is, creating of industries and veritable poverty eradication programs" Kelman harped.

This cannot be done without an enabling political and fiscal environment which can only be set in place by the government.

Way out

Working on national issues is interesting but avoiding our tribal affiliations is a nonstarter. Inasmuch as I share Kelman´s philosophy, there is the need for tribal or village meetings to think about development in their areas. Some of these tribes out of the 250 in Cameroon are completely ignored by the government in terms of development.

Out of the 10 provinces in the country some are almost completely forgotten ´like the Southwest and Northwest provinces. Some have large shares in the national budget which is in turn, embezzled by their own elites through uncompleted and poorly executed contracts etc like the East, Centre, Far North, South province etc

Out of the 58 divisions, development projects are concentrated in most in a few.

Out of the several ministers-minister delegates (36), Secretary Generals, General Managers more then three-quarter come for the Centre and South, East and Littoral, and Grand North, with Dja et Lobo in the Centre province taking the lead. Other areas like the Anglophone part of the country are almost completely forgotten.

When the appointments of those to pilot the affairs of the country are based on tribal, regional and political lines but not necessarily on meritocracy, it is therefore obvious that some helpless people who feel cheated, regroup themselves and rely on their village associations.

The bottom line

After a careful analysis of the discussion, what Cameroonians believe and want is the need to change the system not persons. Removing Paul Biya and putting another Biya in disguise will bring no positive change. Ministerial reshuffles since the early 90s have never brought anything different in Cameroon rather than putting old wines in new bottles.

The basic for veritable change is therefore, the putting in place of an independent electoral body, which will usher leaders freely and transparently voted by the people, not imposed on them. These leaders will therefore implement the necessary changes in the field of economy and other aspects of development.

It would have therefore been a big blessing if fair elections took place in 2007 but since it was another failed opportunity; Cameroonians have up to 2012, time for another parliamentary election to hope again for real change and elections of true representatives in parliament. On the other hand, a “new” president may be in power at the time (2012) and may just continue rigging to maintain his stay and those of his cohorts in power.

The work of the Diaspora will be wasted if people and the regime in power back in Cameroon, are not ready for change. The Diaspora will also be helpless if Cameroonians at home do not want and support the change. What many do not want is the taking up of arms.

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