The Mail
Tuesday, September 5, 2000
Bassa-Douala, Cameroon

"NDI decided not to come to Cameroon after 1992"
by Ndikum P. Tanifom

The Regional Director for West, Central and East Africa at the Washington-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), Cameroonian-born Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh says "having ended its involvement in Cameroon following the October 1992 Presidential elections, there was no further rationale for us to work either with the institutions that emerged from the elections, or with political parties or other democratic institutions."

This clarification made to The Mail in an exclusive interview Monday, August 27 in Douala comes after years of public conjecturing as to why the NDI so actively present in the 1992 Presidential election, decided to be conspicuously absent in subsequent elections in the country.

One popular line of argument was that the regime that emerged after the election suffered lots of inside and external criticism given that election observation missions, especially NDI, reported gross irregularities in the conduct of that poll. Thus the public reasoned, NDI might either have been prevented from coming a second time, or felt it was futile, if their 1992 observation could not right any wrongs.

Dr. Fomunyoh told The Mail: "we are involved in different areas of political development work. our involvement is determined by the request made and the level of political development activity in the host country".

The NDI senior official, who has been working on political development in emerging democracies in Africa for the last decade, disclosed earlier during an interactive session with the press and curious independent observers that because they are financed by the U.S. Congress, recent budgetary cuts have forced them to prioritize their activities on the African continent, focusing more on countries where the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has offices. Incidentally, USAID was closed down in Cameroon shortly after the 1992 presidential election, reason why Dr. Fomunyoh insists: ".we had already made the decision in 1992, not to be involved in Cameroon, before USAID left. I think it is a clarification that is important so that people don't think it is because USAID left, that NDI didn't come to Cameroon."

Within the context of the interactive session with the press organized by the public affairs section of the American Embassy on the upcoming US presidential election and US policy towards Africa, the NDI official resituated questions as to what Cameroon specifically stands to gain from whoever wins the upcoming election, and played up the broader African perspective.

According to him, the outcome of the election will have quite an impact on Africa especially with the current rise in technology, and the considerable concern about the AIDS pandemic in the continent. He revealed among several other election-related issues that, be it the Democrats or the Republicans who win, there are areas of convergence as far as American-African policy is concerned.

Areas he cited include commerce as exemplified by President Clinton's signing of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act which received cross-party endorsement though yet to be implemented, health assistance especially with regard to AIDS, technology development for which the G7 plus Russia recent summit in Japan agreed to the need for Africa to join the bandwagon.

According to Dr. Fomunyoh, both the Republican and Democratic parties have high stakes in the African vote, not the black vote per se, but every initiative that gives significance to Africa on its agenda.

Thus, George W. Bush who admits being a conservative and has hardly pronounced the word Africa during his campaigns has developed a special relationship with Colin Powell, a black and former US Army Chief of Staff believed to be the most loved American citizen today. And as pressmen learnt, analysts already see a certain Colin Powell becoming Secretary of State, if Bush Jr. won. In that capacity Dr. Fomunyoh said, the analysts believe, he would considerably influence American Africa policy.

As for the Democrats, the top NDI official points to outgoing President Clinton's balance sheet which he says observers cite as self-evident of Democrat's positive African policy. Clinton is the only US President yet, to have spent ten days in Africa his recent trip aside, an option which Dr. Fomunyoh says the electorate takes note of, and acts accordingly when the time comes.

The black vote, he said, has been very determinant in recent years with the Democrats taking the lion's share adding: "If this electorate is properly mobilized, it is possible they'll vote for Al Gore in the upcoming election." In his opinion though, no matter how good American Africa policies are, the bottom line would be for sustainable democratic practices and good governance to thrive in Africa, for such polices to bear fruit.

Read full interview