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Paul Biya of Cameroon and Lukashenko of Belarus: Brothers within

Paul Biya of Cameroon and Lukashenko of Belarus: Brothers within

Eternalising their stay in power

Belarus is a small pro-Russian state in Eastern Europe. I had known pretty little concerning Belarus especially concerning the situation of the media and politics in that country till I attended a lecture on Friday, September 19, at Örebro University in Sweden. The lecture focused on; The Media of the former Soviet States. Much was said about the media in the region, in countries like Gerogia, Russia, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Turkmenistan, Lithuania etc before and the after the communist era. I got struck by Belarus and the its president who is implementing policies though arguable, are very similar to that of Paul Biya of Cameroon. President Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and in October 2004, he changed the constitution that permits him to be reelected as many times as he would love or as the “people want”, as they (dictators and semi dictators) always claim. This is exactly the same thing which happened in Cameroon on April 10, 2008. Biya has been in power for over a quarter of a century since November 6, 1982. President Paul Biya using his absolute majority in parliament gotten through constantly rigged elections, successfully passed a bill which cancels the limitation of mandates, previously limited to 7 years renewable once. The bill which has already been adopted and enacted into law, also gives Biya immunity from prosecution from crimes committed while in power. This issue of modifying the constitution makes Biya and Lukashenko similar in their quest for absolute power. People of the same coin though may be, in different sides. Security, alienation and imposition The two men have extremely tight security around them and even innocent children handing flowers to them on public occasions are even suspected. Biya is reported to have one of the tightest security around the world and always stays far from the people he calls “his people” while that of his counterpart Lukashenko, is likened to that of Adolf Hitler. This is equally similar to that of the Equato Guinean president Theodoro Nguema Obiang Mbasogo who prefers to recruit mostly Moroccans for his own security than his country men. For fear of direct or indirect prosecution, officials in all government offices and most private offices have effigies of Paul Biya posted on walls and in some streets, like the large picture of him at Boulevard de la Liberté-Douala, Cameroon’s busiest street in the economic capital of the country. Those who do not have his effigies in their offices are not punished directly as such, but, rather indirectly. This may be even in their business ventures through exorbitant taxation or through fault finding tax officials. In Belarus it is similar but not exactly the same as in Cameroon. This is almost the same thing in most part of Africa but for the fact that defaulters in Belarus (those who do not affix the effigies of the president face more draconian punishments. Rare but closely watched public manifestations and repression Just as in Belarus, in Cameroon, public manifestations especially those with any political connotations are seriously repressed. Some of such manifestations were repressed across Cameroon prior to the amendment of the constitution and before then, prior to the introduction of "multi party politics" in the early 90 s. In major cities like Douala, Governor Fai Yengo Francis banned public manifestations for over 6 months in a bid to allow the “peaceful” modification of the constitution. When Cameroonians took to the streets from February 25 to 29, 2008 to manifest against hunger and deepening frustration, the government took up arms across the country on innocent and armless youths killing 40 people, according to government adjusted figures, and, over 200 according to independent sources. Over 35 children are said to have drowned in River Wouri alone when thousand of youths were blocked on Wouri Bridge on Tuesday February 26, 2008 in an attempt to escape assault by government trigger-happy troops. Since then, some people continue to be hunted for taking part in the protests. I personally talked to eye witnesses who made the claim. This issue has never been highlighted as it should have been, in the Cameroonian media due to fear of government threats and reprisals. Demonstrations are highly restricted in Belarus but for exceptional reasons, people must obtain registration and permission to carry out any demonstration. This is just the replica in Cameroon as, often, even authorized demonstrations are sometimes brutally dispersed when it is perceived that such rallies may contravene with the interest of the government. President Lukashenko is very anti west. His country has no diplomatic relations with countries like the USA but on the other hand, has excellent ties with China, Venezuela etc. The latter has a vibrant anti USA and western regime with President Hugo Chavez as the president. However, President Paul Biya of Cameroon has ties with the West which can be said to be very strong as well as with China. Despite the differences between these two men, they both have an irresistible crave to stay in power for as long as possible and to always appoint their cohorts in various places who keep on ruining the economy like the case of Cameroon, and creating an elitist class. Biya has been in power for over a quarter a century; since 1982 . He was however, in the circles of power since the 1970 s with positions such as Secretary General at the Presidency of the Republic and also Prime Minister. Though a handful of embezzlers have been arrested in Cameroon, the cream of states thieves between the 70s when Biya got into power circles as Secretary general till date are still very free. Perceived as free but highly controlled media Both men that is, President Biya and Lukashenko have their own ways of repressing the media. In Belarus, it is more open repression. The state newspapers sells most, not because people love to read them, but because, they are imposed on all government institutions and even most of private establishments. In Cameroon, shortly after the 1990 bill on freedom of expression was passed, there were plethora of media organs. Though a good number have not been responsible enough. Many media organs in Cameroon are continuously dying out or working under very serious constraints due to government’s strategy of suffocating private media organs with taxes or indirectly depriving them from getting adverts, through indirect threats to potential advertisers. Most ads are equally exclusively posted only on state media. However, the repression in Cameroon recently took a dramatic twist when ahead of the modification of the constitution to permit Biya stay in power for life, the government proceeded to the banning of Radio Equinox and Television Equinox which were considered more liberal and less elitist by most Cameroonians. The reason for the suspension was quite vague as it was said that the media organs in question though belonging to the same group were operating illegally. Ironically, most media organs in Cameroon according to government and in principle, are operating illegally because none has paid the FCFA 100 Million needed to have a license to operate a television and FCFA 50 million for a radio. So this was just like giving a dog a bad name to hang it. Another method being implemented by Biya and his regime is to allow the media to sometime write or say what they want but the government actually pays a blind eye even when clear cases of government officials involvement in corruption and embezzlement are exposed. Political victims Furthermore, in Cameroon the government may dismiss the fact that there are no political prisoners in the country but, political prisoners are caught up and arbitrary jailed, now and then. Members of the secessionist group, the SCNC: Southern Cameroon National Council are caught beaten and jailed time and again. Hundreds have been killed. This movement made up of the two states of the English speaking region of Cameroon are advocating for the total independence of their region at most, and at least, a return to a federation which will give various provinces some degree of autonomy. Though regrettably that the SCNC operates in very dispersed ranks, it is also unfortunate that President Paul Biya has never paid any attention to them nor even addressed their concerns that is, equal sharing of the national cake. The various factions of the SCNC with people like Barrister Ekontang Elad, Retired Ambassador Henry Fossung, Chief Ayamba, Hitler Mbinlo, Justice Federick Alobwede etc have hardly ever agreed in acts. Taking the case with Belarus, it has not totally ideologically seceded from Russia or communism just because the people have never been given the means to express themselves freely. Political victims are also noticeable within the circles of government in Cameroon and Belarus as well as several other countries though. In Cameroon, the former Minister of Public Health, Titus Edzoa was charged in 1997 with embezzlement judged and jailed for 15 years. This was shortly after he expressed his intention to challenge President Biya by running for presidency under the banner of the ruling Cameroon People Democratic Movement (CPDM) party just like president Paul Biya. Edzoa also said Paul Biya is indeed the richest Cameroonian (Wealth gotten through outright theft and embezzlement of state funds). Though actually among the circles of those who have ruined Cameroon economically, Titus Edzoa’s arrest and subsequent jailing was promoted by the fact that he was becoming a threat to Biya´s political ambitions. It was not because Paul Biya really wanted to get ride of embezzlers and extremely corrupt senior state functionaries. Some people within the ranks of the ruling party have deserted the country for fear of their lives and due to their growing political influence. An example in Cameroon was Chief Milla Assoute, formerly of the ruling CPDM. The case in Cameroon is similar to what happened in Belarus when opposition party Kazulin, was sentenced to five years in jail. He was released just for two days to bury his wife. Corruption and embezzlement and impunity The Cameroon government recently and is continuing with what has been called Operation Sparow Hawk(Operation Epervier in French). This is cleaning the state of embezzlers and those who are ruining the country economically. It must be said here that, out of over 2000 state thieves who have past through senior government offices less than 30 have been arrested, yet the state controlled media and other bought over private media organs consider the arrests of a handful of people as a big achievement for the Biya regime. According to Garga Haman Adji, former government minister who resigned due to too much pressure and influence on is job, and, his inability to effectively fight corruption in his then Ministry of Public Service and Administrative reforms, 60 percent of ministers and senior state functionaries and post holders in Cameroon are corrupt. Well, an average Cameroonian will talk of 98 percent. The so called, Operation Sparow Hawk has been reduced to political victimization because President Paul Biya, firstly targets mostly those whom he thinks have embezzled too much money and stand a threat to his power. Secondly it is being used by those commanding it like the Minister of Justice, the Secretary General at the Presidency, the Secretary General of the CPDM among others to eliminate their political opponents as the war on who will succeed Paul Biya continues. The culture of impunity and justice only for the rich is the order of the day in Cameroon. During an interview granted former state media journalist Eric Chinje in 1987, Biya already talked of embezzlement and how people were ruining the country, but, it took this very Biya, more than18 years to "punish" the first "embezzlers". This is a clear indication that he hasn´t the will to bring change in Cameroon. On September 19, a close aide to Biya(a lieutenant) is alleged to have attempted to steal Biya briefcase concerning FCFA 7 billion as Biya was en-route to New York for the UN summit. The lieutenant was immediately brought back to Cameroon an detained. However, Cameroonians continue to wonder why and what Biya was going to do with so much money abroad when he has succeeded to place naturally rich Cameroon under the list of the most Highly indebted and poor countries in the world. That said therefore, though there is relatively peace in Belarus as well as Cameroon, both Presidents Biya and Lukashenko are birds of the same feather. While the former is pro West and the latter anti West, non actually works for the real interest of their people. They converge at repression, anti democratic, embezzlement, creating an aristocratic or bourgeoisie class etc. As president Biya winds up time given his fast advancing age as compared to the still very energetic Lukashenko, Biya is making everything possible to either die in power or hand over power to a close ally who will not prosecute him. The big problem is that he is surrounded by power mongering people and he does not know what to do and do whom to hand over power. That is why some people claim that he is grooming his son Frank Biya to hand over power to him just like Eyadema did in Togo, something similar in DRC from Joseph D Kabila to his son. Presidents Abdoulaye Wade is preparing his son in Senegal, Muahamar Qaddafi in Libya, Mubarak in Eygpt, Obiang Nguema in Equatorial Guinea etc The grounds for any democratic elections in Cameroon the country are almost impossible. This impossibility has been created by Paul Biya who has introduced poverty and corruption as a way of life in Cameroon thereby paving way for the buying of consciences. Biya does not want any situation where a democratically elected official will give him sleepless nights and/or seized his ill gotten wealth. That is why he hesitates creating any veritably independent electoral body but still want elections to be controlled by government through his appointees and stooges at the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization. Biya and Lukashenko are therefore different sides of the same coin. Though they have some differences and many similarities both are "dictators" and anti democratic. They have a lot to borrow from each other. While one is more of an open dictator, the other practice what i will term "disguised dictatorship." Agendia Aloysius University of Örebro Sweden

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