16/01/2011 04:10:29
When the Hunter Becomes the Hunted
The Fall of a President for Life in Tunisia and its Implications for the President for Life in Cameroon
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After 23 years of iron-fisted rule of Tunisia, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country amidst persisted demonstrations by Tunisians calling for him to step down. The recent fall of Ben Ali may come as a surprise to many in Africa and around the world, but it is certainly a welcomed development for millions of suffering Tunisians and pro-democracy and human rights advocates. While the departure of a single individual does not automatically translate to democracy and economic development, it certainly sets the stage for the long road to national healing, and the undoing of the damage of his failed oppressive governance apparatus. This was evident in the immediate promise of Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi "to respect the constitution, to work on reforming economic and social issues with care and to consult with all sides", in his initial address to the nation as he assumed the temporal role as leader of Tunisia

As Cameroonians witness the current developments in Tunisia, they will very quickly realize that the situation of Tunisia bears stark similarities to that of Cameroon. The Cameroon Center for Democracy and Human Rights (CCDHR) notes with regret that the hallmarks of the Tunisian society under Ben Ali - such as high unemployment, corruption, embezzlement, suppression of press freedom, muzzling of critics and political opponents, and violation of the rights of citizens are entrenched tenets of the Cameroonians society under Paul Biya. In February 2008, Cameroonians took to the streets to protest their government’s policies and they were ruthlessly crushed by the security forces of Paul Biya. The 2008 cross-country public demonstrations stemmed from an accumulated and unabated anger among the Cameroonian people from the inability and unwillingness of the government of Paul Biya to address the most pressing issues of rising costs of living, unemployment, corruption, embezzlement of public funds, electoral irregularities, human rights violations, and the impending constitutional amendment that was in the process at that time in Cameroon.

CCDHR holds strongly that the nature and gravity of the frustration, disillusionment, and bitterness that have been brewing up among Cameroonians in the past decades remain difficult to dilute, and the current economic conditions makes it unrealistic for Cameroonians to be hopeful about the future. Public mismanagement, lack of accountability, loss of confidence in state political institutions, seclusion and manipulation of the people based on tribal and political affiliations, and a repressive law enforcement machinery are the collection of factors that have sowed the seed for potential unrest in Cameroon. CCDHR recognizes that the current political priorities, policies, and institutions in Cameroon, coupled with the unhealthy economy that has bled profusely to the advantage of few, accounts for the lost of confidence in the government of Paul Biya. As a result, the country is walking a fine line that may slip into civil unrest of both unimagined and unmanageable consequences - if not now, then certainly in the nearest future.
 
As recognized in the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

"Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law."

On April 10, 2008, the Cameroon Parliament amended the Constitution of the country. This amendment, which was signed into law on April 14, 2008 by Paul Biya, removed Presidential term limit and effectively paved the way for Paul Biya to become President for Life in Cameroon. CCDHR publicly denounced this constitutional maneuver because it lacked the spirit of the very basis of the legitimacy of power. CCDHR maintained that since the process leading to this amendment was illegitimate, everything that came with it was illegal ab initio. CCDHR is therefore reiterating its solemn and unequivocal opposition to the 2008 constitutional amendment in Cameroon and is again calling on President Paul Biya to make it clear before all Cameroonians and the international community that he will not seek re-election at the end of his current and legal final term in office which ends this year, 2011.

President Biya has been in power since 1982 and seems to be firm in his conviction to be President for life. Despite his professed commitment to human rights and freedoms, President Biya and his governments have repeatedly violated the rights of the people of Cameroon. Human rights activists, independent journalists,    regime  critics, members of opposition political parties, and pressure groups are regularly harassed, detained, and tortured, while elections in Cameroon have been rife with fraud and serious misconduct. The judicial branch of the government is flawed and endemic with injustice and inequity. Far from being independent, the judicial system is subject to frequent political manipulations at the whims of the President. The political situation in Cameroon is just as deplorable. Access to power in Cameroon has become increasingly limited to political and tribal affiliations, electoral fraud, unjust laws, corruption, and cronyism.

As the government of Paul Biya continues to strengthen its hold on power at the detriment of the country and its people, there is little hope that the situation will self-improve without increased local and international scrutiny, concerted international pressure, and motivation by Cameroonians themselves to demand and fight for the change that they most deserved. Without the institution of democratic reforms, Cameroon could eventually fall into the chaos of civil war, a fate that has befallen many similar African nations. CCDHR is therefore calling on the international community and the people of Cameroon to coordinate their efforts in a concerted attempt to starve off disaster and rectify the situation of human rights and democracy in Cameroon. Such efforts should include support for democratic infrastructures and persistent scrutiny of the human rights record of the Government of Cameroon. Meanwhile, for democracy to take hold in Cameroon peacefully, Paul Biya must allow democracy-loving Cameroonians to take the lead.

"Democracy is not an option in today’s Cameroon, it is the only way out of our misery, it is the only hope for development and economic prosperity, it is the only means to public accountability, and it is the only avenue to give back power where it rightfully belongs (the people of Cameroon), so that ordinary Cameroonians can have confidence in their public officials and express their patriotism without reservation".

Eric N NJUNGWE

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