The Post

Stability Can't Be Obtained By Decree - Dr. Fomunyoh
December 13, 2002

Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh, Regional Director of Central and West Africa at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, NDI, has said democracy has to be negotiated on a daily basis. "Stability cannot be obtained by decree. We have to open up avenues for exchange and communication," Dr. Fomunyoh told The Post in an exclusive interview in Douala, December 7. To him, Cameroon is in a grey zone as far as democratization in Africa is concerned. Excerpts.

The Post: You have just attended feast of the women in the village. Is there anything to write home about?

Dr. Fomunyoh: There is because it is rare for someone such as myself who is involved in democratization at the level of nationstate, dealing with political party leaders and heads of state and governments. We often tend to forget that the people at the grassroots are really the ones that count. And to have to be invited all the way from Washington by a group of Sawa women from the village of Bonendalle, to receive his honour of being a special guest at their cultural event is something for which I am very grateful. So, it is quite an event especially because I am not Sawa and I am not from Bonendalle.

What would you remember most from the occasion?

1 was most touched by the generosity; Southwest and Northwest Provinces dancing together and enjoying each others' music, and everybody genuinely happy. And seeing all these women who want to do so much for themselves and for their village, even with very little resources. It is a very telling story of the resilience of Africans when they have an opportunity to either improve their wellbeing or the wellbeing of others. That was a very unique experience that I have not gone through for the past few years.

What promise do you have for the women, are you coming in next year more forcefully?

I think that you cannot just see women like those we saw in Bonendalles who are talking about community development programmes; they were even talking about training in languages. They talked about speaking French and English fluently, having a training centre for women in the village. You cannot hear those kinds of things and not be touched by the desire to try to make a contribution. And so, while I may not be in position to promise now, something definitely concrete, I am certain that either directly or working with other friends and individuals involved in organisations that can respond to some of their needs, I will try to look out for ways to be responsive to some of the calls that were made today.

What is your view on the state of events in Cameroon as far as democratisation is concerned?

I must tell you that it has been a very fruitful week. Talking with students in the university and journalists of the private and public media or members of civil society organisations and even members of NEO, I got to learn a lot about how Cameroonians feel about the state of democracy in the country right now and where the country is headed.

The overall sense that I got was one of uncertainty as to how genuine the democracy currently prevailing is. There were considerable concerns that if major steps were not taken to reassure ordinary Cameroonians that proper institutions could be put in place, to guarantee sustainable democracy in the long-term, people may despair and feel disconnected from the power that be, which is a phenomenon that could not be helpful for an emerging democracy. All top often in Africa, we have seen countries in which citizens have given up trying to participate in the political process of trying to effect change through the electoral process. One of the concerns has to do with making considerable efforts to put in place a viable electoral process that can bring in more Cameroonians of voting age to able to express their rights.

In your opinion, what is stalling democracy In Cameroon?

I think it is a question of political will because Cameroon has got a great deal of resources. If you talk about human resources, Cameroon has got talented people too. If you talk about wealth I don't even believe Cameroon is a poor country. Some people tend to confuse poor management of these resources with poverty. A better management of the resources would guarantee better results. Without our genuine political will, a country, no matter how wealthy, will not make its path in the democratisation process. I think the more political will we can get, the more open we are to have each and every Cameroonian who is quali-fied to make a contribution to the democratisation process. And we would all be richer for it.

You are like saying that the present leadership does not have the will to democratise?

There are two ways of looking at the quest for democratisation. Sometimes it is the leadership that provides guidance and takes the initiative that can put in place a democratic structure or system, or on the other hand, the demands of the people from the grassroots who aspire to live in democratic society. However, at the grassroots level there is still a yearning, a strong aspiration on the part of many Cameroonian men and women, the young and the old; they believe in a society that is genuinely democratic. With that kind of observation, I am left feeling that the only reason why aspirations have not borne fruit as to where we are headed, is that the leadership does not provide adequate guidance in terms of making sure that the aspirations of the people are met.

What do you think could be done to enable the National Elections Observatory play a genuine role as guarantor of free and fair elections in Cameroons?

I think, despite the determination of some of the members, and the fact that some of them actually give their best in making sure that the observatory functions, the framework did not give them as much power as would have been the case.

If I created NEO, I would have given it more teeth so that it could generally act independently of any influence, and also have the authority to make any decision that would help reinforce a credible electoral system.

The problem with elections in Cameroon is not with the observation process. It is with the organisation; the manner in which elections are conducted. 1 am referring to the entire electoral process, beginning with voters registration, the establishment and distribution of voters' cards, the pasting of lists so voters can identify in advance where they would have to vote on election day; all the things that need to take place in the pre-election period as well as the things that occur on election day, and in the immediate post-election period-with the tabulation and publication of results. While the NEO could serve as a catalyst, I think the principal organ that works on the organisation of elections needs to be rendered more efficient in order to guarantee credible elections in Cameroon.

Why did your organisation, the National Democratic Institute, NDI, not supervise the twin elections in Cameroon?

We had not really planned to observe the elections in Cameroon just because we were being pulled in many directions. Sometimes it is hard to put in resources in an environment in which you would not have any kind of impact.

What kind of impact?

You may have very well remembered that NDI was in Cameroon in 1992 and observed the presidential election and issued a report, which exposed its findings. It also made recommendations on how the electoral process could be strengthened. Unfortunately, some of the shortcomings that Cameroon experienced in the twin elections this year could still be found in the report that NDI issued in 1992. Under these circumstances you begin to ask yourself what is the use to come back, 10 years after and still find out that the same shortcomings were being repeated. Moreover, you may be aware that other organisations that had come to Cameroon after NDI have also highlighted the same issues.

What advice would you give the political leadership of this country to pursue genuine democracy?

I think we need a profound self-examination. We probably need dialogue at a very high level in this country; a very sincere dialogue to be able to take stock of what has been accomplished, of where we failed as a nation, and see what we can do to make sure that our country is guaranteed sustainable democracy. My advice to the political leadership is to look for ways to engage each other so that we do not have the kind of polarisation that a number of other countries have had.

We see things happening in other countries because of the absence of dialogue, and a national consensus on the basic tenets of democratic governance. If we think these things happen only in other countries, we probably will be fooling ourselves. Because, unless we have strong democratic institutions in place as a young country on the continent of Africa, we shall remain fragile.

What do you think is responsible for the polarisation of the political landscape?

I feel that the ruling party ought to be the first party to advocate an independent body to run the elections. If it was confident that it had got all the support it claims to have, it should be the first to take its hands off, let the Ministry of Territorial Administration stay out of the elections and allow an independent body to conduct elections in Cameroon, so that the outcome would never be in dispute. Because the political discourse in this country has been so polarised in the past 12 years, it is difficult to make a lucid analysis of what the weight of each of the political party is.

What advice would you give Fru Ndl, leader of the Social Democratic Front, SDF, party?

It is difficult for me to take such a non-lateral stand to advise Fru Ndi. I could share some views that I think could apply to all the party leaders. In as much as I have criticisms in the way in which elections are conducted, I also have criticisms in the way some opposition panics have conducted themselves and the fact that it would not help the cause of democracy. The SDF continues to depend solely on individuals rather than coming out with new ideas or new visions that can bring about genuine political change in Cameroon.

The Southern Cameroons National Council, SCNC, has been calling for secession. Do you think it is the best option?

I am looking forward to a day when there would he a genuine discussion on how to resolve the Anglophone problem in a way that can make each and every Cameroonian feel part and parcel of this country; feel that they can make a contribution and also that they are part of a country which their contribution would be of high value. There is an Anglophone problem that needs to be addressed. Ultimately, that problem will one day be addressed.

But the issue has been dragging on for too long hasn't it? And the situation gets worse over time. How patient do you think the Anglophones are?

I feel your sentiment and I also worry about • the escalation that we have seen over the years. I I can only express the hope that with persistence I and various actors being called into play, being I served notice that someone, someday, will stand I up and really listen in a way to engage I Anglophones in a genuine dialogue about their I grievances.

Where do you place Cameroon on the I African continent as far as democratisation j is concerned?

I will place Cameroon in a very grey zone. Definitely, it is not one of the countries where there is a crisis. It is not Cote d'lvoire, or the DRC. But at the same time it is not Senegal, Benin, Mali or Ghana. It is in that grey zone where there is some uncertainty about what the outcome of democracy in the next five or 10 years would be. And that is unfortunate, because Cameroon has got tremendous resources. Our generation grew up and we were told that Cameroon is Africa in miniature in the very positive sense of the word. After 40 years of independence, I look at the younger generation and I do not think I have the courage to tell them that their lives are better now than was the case 20 or 30 years ago.

You are founder of Fomunyoh Foundation. What is the aim of this Foundation?

Well, that is work in progress and we hope that once it would have come to fruition you will be the first to know. The intention of this preliminary initiative is to find ways to galvanise some efforts that can work on improving the well-being of ordinary Cameroonians, wherever they may be, and helping in the issue of democracy and human rights and charitable and humanitarian causes. We have seen that in a number of great countries charitable causes are honourable things to do.

Do you perceive a potential for violence? I have travelled to so many African countries and I have seen what a few unruly characters can do or a few leaders that would not listen can push their citizens to do. I hope that we don't get to that point in Cameroon. But we have to remember that stability cannot be obtained by decree. It has to be negotiated on a daily basis. Democracy is a never-ending endeavour, we have to continue to work for it. We have to continue to open avenues for exchange and communication. That is the only thing that can guarantee that Cameroon will never experience the kind of violence that other Africans are facing today.