October 7, 2018

Dr. Chris Fomunyoh

  • Cameroon may be moving towards doom...
  • I will not walk on blood to become president...
  • President Biya should be Patriotic...

Is a wise thing to organize presidential elections on October7, 2018, in spite of the ravaging crisis in the Anglophone Regions of Cameroon? Well if Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh were to make that decision, he would not have scheduled the said polls while this existential crisis is still ongoing, and while there was no process in place to assure citizens that the was a way out of the crisis.

As an international expert in electoral matter, Dr. Fomunyoh has seen many African countries like Angola in the 1990s and Burundi today where, poorly conducted have exacerbated the existing crisis. He has also seen countries such as Sierra Leon, Liberia and Mozambique, in which elections well organized, in a healthy political environment, have helped to promote peace and stability.

Now he is very worried that Cameroon seems to be aiming at the first option. Without sounding like a prophet of doom, Dr. Fomunyoh is skeptical that we would be able to pull off peaceful, meaningful polls. That is especially in the crisis-stricken North West and South West Regions, where life has become a bitter pill.

That is the mood in which he began this compelling interview granted to some national media ahead of the polls…

It's more than a bitter pill, life is almost inexistence, because they are villages that have been wiped out, they are populations that have been internally displaced living in different Regions of the country, they are people living in bushes and forest, they are people living as refugees in other countries. You cannot under those circumstances go into those areas to ask people to come cast ballots. It doesn't make sense and I think it's going to be extremely difficult to let that happen.

Difficult for officials of Elections Cameroon, ELECAM to do their job, difficult for political parties to do campaigns, difficult for observers to do their job...

C.F: I mean, if you are the general manager or Regional delegate of ELECAM, would you in good conscience ask some of these poor polling officials, to go into some of these areas with ballot boxes on heads? It's going to be extremely difficult. And so for me, it was important to first create a global environment, where there was a national dialogue, over these issues. Issues that could probably be handled, even before the elections. And even if we got into October, as long as the citizens saw the light at the end of the tunnel, then you could make a meaningful case for having them participate in an electoral process knowing that the crisis was being tackled and being resolved. But as we are today, lives are being lost on a daily basis. It just beats my imagination that someone would schedule this kind of competitive election under these circumstances. And please don't forget, we have the two Regions of North West and South West, but we also have Boko Haram that is still alive. I was in Nigeria two weeks ago and Boka Haram attacked a military barrack in Yobe State with 800 soldiers on the base and overran the base, they ambushed over thirty Nigerian soldiers in Borno State, they just attacked D'Njamena in Chad, which means they are still alive and looking for was to be disruptive. We also have problems on our Eastern borders with the Central African Republic. And so the cumulative effects of five of the Regions of the country being impacted, would have pushed someone to take a break, take a deep breath, and say how do we get out of this in a way that does not exacerbate the crisis. And I am afraid that decision has not been the right one, in my opinion.

However some government officials argue that despite all these the constitution must be respected?

C.F: Well, I also believe in the rule of law and in the respect of the constitution. But I also know that when it was time to tinker with the constitution to eliminate term limits, that was done very easily. I also know when it was time to tinker the electoral law, to shrink political space and say that people cannot be candidate except they are nominated by parties that have elected officials, which led to the shrinking of political space, that was done. So, when it's a national crisis and you appeal to population on the basis of a crisis that everybody knows we are facing people will come along. And let's not forget, about a month ago, they came up with legislation that prolonged the mandates of members of parliament t and local councils. They could do this because the constitution also allows for that. But even Article 14 of the constitution stipulates that in the case of a grievous crisis the president has the possibility of doing so. But in the justification of that law they were not honest enough to tell the Cameroonian people why the elections could not. Five years ago we all knew that in 2018 all of these elections would be taking place at the same time. Secondly, there are countries such as Ghana, Sierra Leon, even in March Sierra Leon had four elections on the same day and they were organized smoothly. So technical reasons of operational challenges, does not meet the test of grievous crisis, that is stipulated in the constitution. Our government has got to learn to be honest with the population, with the citizens, and to create that level of honesty, trust and legitimacy when there is a national crisis of the proportion we are facing. With citizens dying on a daily bases, members of uniform services; military men, gendarmes and police as well as civilian lives in hundreds, that is a national crisis to which you can rally the entire country and say this is a roadmap that I have, we cannot meet our election schedule because of this crisis, let's all bond together, create a national consensus around the electoral timetable, resolve the present crisis and then go to elections in a meaningful way!

What about the incumbent Paul Biya determine to seek another seven year mandate after close to 40 years in office?

C.F: I seen many African countries; Angola, Mozambique. These are two countries that were facing major challenges in the 90s. Mozambique took the time to negotiate a peace agreement involving civil society, involving mediation by the Catholic Church. They brought in FRILIMO which was in power together with RENAMO which was in the bushes and the two parties signed an agreement. And the two parties went into elections. And since the 90s Mozambique has been consolidating both its political institution in democracy as well as economic development. On the other hand, Angola was in a crisis. They went into an election in which they were not prepared for, when Savimbi lost the elections he basically returned to the bush with his troops. And Angola went through two decades of extended war. So I think that the fact that a decision has been made, doesn't mean that it is the wisest decision that would have been made for everybody. And I also think that when the citizens of a country, four over four decades have given you the opportunity to serve as the highest level of the state, it just makes commonsense to at some point show appreciation to the citizens and say given t he totally of the crisis Cameroon is facing today, I think we need a renewed leadership take on the mantle and lift this country in the way forward.

But renewed leadership seems something difficult especially in countries in French speaking African countries Cameroon inclusive. As a democracy expert is this democratic?

C.F: No! it is not! Because even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that lays the foundation for citizens participation in elections provides that it is a human right to give citizens the opportunity to renew, regular frequent renewal of political leadership through credible, meaningful elections. Moreover, at some point you look as what is happening in Cameroon and countries of the Central African sub Region, there are francophone countries n West Africa as well; Benin, Senegal, Niger, Mali. Of the fifteen countries that make up the Economic Community of West Africa, ECOWAS, in fourteen of those countries, head of states have not served more than two terms and they are all committed to respecting the two-term limit that is applicable in ECOWAS. People cannot hide behind the legacy of the colonial era. Individuals are making poor judgments and my worry is that history is going to judge them very poorly.

20 opposition parties have come together to support the candidacy of Paul Biya, thereby given credence to the argument that the opposition in Cameroon was fragmented.

C.F: I must say that it was shocking because the candidacies closed on the 19 July and the very next day we had that bombshell. Well, I leave it to the population, because I think the population is giving them a fair share of their discontentment. You only need to read the reactions on the social media to get the sense that people are not as dumb as some politicians think. And that ultimately, the population would judge them by their deeds because the history of this country will end on October 7.

In 2004, 2011, your name featured prominently as a main presidential hopeful, it came to pass. And of course this year the same scenario has occurred?

C.F: To be very honest in 2004, I was still very young, 2011 there was quite some thinking on that and after 2011 there was a lot more serious thinking and groundwork that was done ahead of the 2018 elections. But when the current Anglophone crisis broke in 2016 and seeing the way this crisis has been managed, seeing the lives that has been lost, knowing that hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed, over 110 service men and women have lost their lives, we have people who are living in the forest, old people dying in the forest, close 200.000 internally displaced Cameroonians over 40.000 refugees. I in good conscience cannot see myself walking over these corpses because of these dead people to go around canvassing for elections. My priority is for these killings to end, my priority is for this crisis to be resolved, my priority is to make sure that peace can return, people can return to a sense of normalcy in their homes and then we talk about politics and electoral office. I just could not in good conscience stomach the fact that I would walk over the blood of innocent lives and go into an election.

Solutions have been attempted but known seem to be working, how do we break this deadlock?

C.F: I think we require will at the topmost level. Initially when some of called for dialogue nobody listened and we had the impression that people listened to the voices that where saying "send troops, go crush them." Now it has turned out that you can go crush people like that, and that these young people who were going about their business in the past have now taken up arms. And so we are going to have to do a lot of work to bring to the point where they would be willing to lay down arms and be part of a process that is negotiated or discussed. So I think that the way out, would consist first of all in creating an enabling environment for peace to return. Stop the killings, stop the shootings, stop the deployment, because even when you deploy troops with weapons into an environment where they have only two choices; either kill or be killed, lives are going to be lost on both sides. When you take those kinds of steps you then create an environment where you can begin to build confidence that there is a sincere genuine desire to find a way out.

Secondly, I think we need a national dialogue, national consultation on this issue. Because there are many Cameroonians of goodwill, I am not alone; many other Cameroonians have ideas of how we could get out of this crisis. If I have a roadmap where do I take them to, but if create a national consultation on the crisis, you should not camouflage, don't give the bilingualism commission attributes that are theirs. Have a political dialogue on political issues that everyone knows is a crisis for the country. Then many of us who have ideas would come to the table knowing that people would incorporate those ideas into their thinking and the recommendation that would come out of that king of working group at the national would be ideas that can help this country get out this crisis.

Some people have been calling for a national dialogue that will include the Anglophone crisis and other problems affecting the nation.

C.F: The Anglophone problem has its specificities. You cannot merge that and overshadow it with other problems that people have. Nothing prevents us from having a Part One dialogue to focus solely on the Anglophone crisis and a Part Two dialogue on other governance issues that Cameroonians have. That is the process of governing; there is no time limit to this. There is no reason why we should not listen to the people of Betoua if they have electricity problems, but that doesn't mean that their issue has the same magnitude of the Anglophone crisis, which is an existential crisis. Within the Anglophone community, both within and outside the country, they are people who are convinced that this government mean them ill and would never work for their wellbeing and you have to create and environment where this people can confidence that they belong and that they can sit at the table and be listen to. And sometimes doing that doesn't preclude you from then subsequently resolving the problems of other Regions of the country. That is what governance is all about, respond to the desires of citizens and making sure that we can deliver services that improve the wellbeing of citizens

Government says it cannot discuss with those who are in jail, those who are standing on the other side, those who are expressing opinion contrary to theirs, secession for example?

C.F: The government has to decide if they want to continue dialoguing amongst themselves and we have seen what has meant for the country for the past two years. There is not a day that goes by without a life being lost; there is not a day that goes by without a horrible story being written about Cameroon on the international media; there is not a month that goes by without some international entity issuing a report that tells the truth but that blackens completely the reputation of this country. If that is what they prefer, then they should stay talking to themselves.

At some point some people would need to put their egos aside, some people are got to do some introspection and see where they went wrong and then be humble enough to know that they represent the people and that our collective future is being jeopardized and that we need to all sit down, get the best brains, get the best minds to think about how we are going to resolve this crisis and move the country forward.

Government is now trying to improve on the situation of those who have fled their homes, who are in the bushes, in Nigeria... in this part of the solution?

C.F: But you have to avoid contradictions. Because you cannot on one hand try to create conditions in the communities that have been devastated, so that people can return and at the same time deploy troops in a way that will push more people to run into the bushes. You can't send conflicting messages; it's a self defeating purpose. You cannot for the years that people have been in the refugee camps, they haven't see a goodwill gesture, all they remember is what happened to some of their friends in Abuja, and the next time you appear with goodwill gestures, how will people take this? Why don't we create the environment in the villages that have been devastated for the villagers to come back and regain their property and gain a sense of safety. They will then be the one s to tell their relatives in the bushes to come back home and say peace has returned, they will be the ones to tell the refugees that it's okay to come back to the country. But if do it in reverse, if we do it in a haphazard manner, if we do it because we want to grandstand and say I donated 10 million and the other donated 20 million, that is not going to work. Humanitarian actions are not about money, humanitarian actions are from the heart, they are about compassion and if you do not show that compassion to the people, it doesn't matter how much you give them they are not going to believe you.

Reconstruction of the villages that have been destroyed is part of the 13 billion humanitarian plans?

C.F: I have seen a lot of money raised in this country in the past. We have to just wait; the taste of the pudding is in the eating. But that's something that cannot be done from top-down. Look, creating life in the villages and the communities is not just about infrastructures, people have a way of bonding in the communities. They have to take ownership of these reconstructions. It is not something that you have engineer sit in Yoaunde design a house and go dump in the villages and think that people will embrace it. So we have to begin to talk to this people and you are not going to talk to them by sending to them people who told them in the first place that they had nothing to complain about. That is why it all comes back to creating a framework that can bring everybody around the table, including people that had led views that you may disagree with. That is the only way you are going to rebuild consensus around the way forward. Or else what is the political finality, what is the winning point of this crisis with the strategy that is being taken. I don't see a political outcome if this strategy is maintained.

Are you ready to offer your good office to mediate an end to the crisis?

C.F: That has never been in doubt, in terms of my determination because I cannot sit around and see my compatriots being butchered, people dying across the Region and from other parts of the country because of this crisis. That has never been in doubt but obviously you need to get a sense that your contributions are appreciated and valued and that with other fellow Cameroonians, you can work collectively to lay the groundwork, for the killings to stop, for peace to return and for the country to be built.

Any last word?

C.F: Well I will just say that in the short-term, I don't have a lot of confidence that we are going in the right direction. I have concerns that if we are not careful we are going to the brick wall. I hope I am proven wrong. But when I look around and I look at the dynamism of young Cameroonians, and the determination, even for people who are the areas that have been hardest hit by this crisis, I am comforted in knowing that one day, someday we will come out of it.

Interview granted to Equinox and STV, July 2018