CNU To CPDM
President Biya took over when Cameroon had the unique part system. And the ruling party was the CNU, with President Ahmadou Ahidjo as the party leader and Head of State. Logic would have had it that when President Biya became Head of State he was supposed to take the helm of the party. It was not so because late Ahmadou Ahidjo remained head of the CNU. President Biya was the vice president and on December 11, 1982 the central committee and political bureau of the CNU placed him in charge of party affairs in Ahidjo’s absence. Despite Biya’s loyalty to Ahidjo, a rift occurred in 1983 and Ahidjo went into exile. He accused President Biya of plots against him and even resigned as Head of the CNU. President Paul Biya became CNU President during an extraordinary session held on September 14, 1983. He held that portfolio for two years but another sad incidence forced him to transform the CNU into the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, CPDM, in Bamenda in 1985.
Attempted Coup Plot
The rift between President Biya and his predecessor Ahidjo, widened as the latter fled into exile. He constantly accused President Biya of undermining his authority and legacy left behind. When President Biya took the helm of the CNU, he announced Presidential elections for January 14, 1984. He precipitated the elections for they were earlier scheduled for 1985. As the only candidate to this election, President Biya scored a walloping 99.98%. President Ahidjo who had fled into exile was put to trial in absentia for his involvement in a coup plot perpetrated in 1983 by him and two others. The court slammed them death sentences, but President Biya used his presidential clemency and commuted the sentences to life imprisonment. Biya was now in a fix. He decided to disband the Republican guards who were loyal to Ahidjo. He did this on April 5, 1984 and on April 6, 1984 another coup attempt on President Biya was foiled. The northerners were blamed for the coup and the hand of Ahidjo was suspected to have instigated the coup.
Wind Of Change
The wind of change that started in Europe and blew through Africa did not leave Cameroon indifferent. People manifested for multiparty politics. The nation was on a red alert. President Biya granted the wishes of Cameroonians with the liberty laws of 1990. Many political parties cropped up like mushrooms and were duly registered. Presidential elections were organized in 1992 and President Biya met his first ever real challenge. He won the elections with a score of 40 %. Ni John Fru Ndi of the opposition, Social Democratic Front, SDF followed closely with 36%. The opposition candidate contested the results claiming victory. This set the entire nation into a polarized state leading to strikes and marches for the stolen victory. And President Biya had to form a coalition in order to escape an imminent dominance of the opposition in parliament as they won a majority of seats.
If anything has ever shaken the very foundation of Cameroon and put President Paul Biya in difficulties it is the ghost towns in the 90s. During the ghost towns declared by the opposition that transformed itself into coalitions, the economy slummed as economic activities were halted. The government machinery could not grind smoothly. Investors were no longer coming and the tax evasion became the order of the day. The nation was paralyzed and the government confused. President Biya had to employ his wits to call for dialogue with the opposition that were the main brains behind the ghost towns. But the opposition was clamouring for sovereign national conference while the government wanted something else. However, the tripartite talks organized by the government diffuse the tension and economic activities resumed. But the opposition SDF boycotted the 1997 elections. In this election, President Paul Biya secured a 92.6% win over the other opposition candidates.
Economic Crises And Devaluation
The economic crises had rocked Africa since 1974. Cameroon did not feel the pinch until 1985 when the economic crises hit Cameroon like a bomb shell. President Paul Biya tasked Cameroonians to embark on agriculture as a means of solving the crises. Cameroonians who were already use to white-collar jobs found agriculture a bitter pill to swallow. Many did not even attempt to swallow the pill. But while President Biya was still looking for ways to take Cameroon out of the economic crises, a natural disaster hit Lake Nyos on August 21, 1986. People and their cattle were killed by the poisonous gas that came from the lake. International humanitarian efforts were mobilized and Cameroon benefited enormously from gifts donated by international organizations. But this cap in hand attitude was not going to help all Cameroonians or last for long.
Another devastating blow was dealt Cameroonians by the devaluation of the CFA currency. Civil servants had to see their salaries slashed. Ends were no longer meeting and tension was gradually boiling in the nation.
Corruption and Inertia Sets In
While President Biya was struggling to manage these very difficult moments, his closest collaborators were busy swindling state funds. They took more than their mouths could chew. But not only were the President’s collaborators involved in corruption, they were involved in inertia. The state machinery was bogus and ineffective. People were spending four hours at work and not even four hours of work. Despite President Biya’s policy of rigour and moralization, nothing was moving, as these slogans felt on deaf ears. And the consequent result was that Transparency International ranked Cameroon as the most corrupt country on three runs consecutively. President Biya set to work to reverse the situation. And he had to make hard choices as most of the embezzlers were his closest collaborators. He made the hard choices and threw most of them into prison. This reversed the trend and Cameroon had to honourably lost the trophy of corruption.
The Bakassi palaver
The Bakassi peninsula is today part of Cameron. It has for time in memorial been a headache to Cameroon leaders. Cameroon has lost valiant soldiers at Bakassi and even administrators. President Biya had to employ diplomacy at international level for Bakassi to revert to Cameroon as Nigeria had claimed ownership over that oil rich peninsula of the SW region of Cameroon. Although Cameroon had legitimacy over Bakassi, the area still remained a headache to President Paul Biya as soldiers were killed there regularly. Pirates had made Bakassi their safe haven and had taken hostages there, requiring the joint efforts of Cameroon and France before their release. And it was still from this area that pirates had been operating and raided banks in Limbe and Douala. Thus the Bakassi palaver up to its peaceful settlement had been one of the tempting moments of President Biya within the past 30 years.
Revision of Constitution
The Cameroon constitution was revised in 1996. Before the revision of the constitution, there were heated debates on the necessity of its revision. President Biya created the enabling environment and the constitution was revised given new dispensation in the functioning of the state machinery. There was going to be a constitutional council. There was to be the creation of Regions to replace provinces with decentralization, the creation of the senate and regional councils. But this very constitution placed a two term bar on presidential elections. This therefore meant that President Biya’s mandate acquired in 2004 was the last, because his first seven term mandate was acquired in 1997.
But President Paul Biya said the constitution limited the choice of Cameroonians. He asked for its revision. This met with stiff resistance from the opposition who saw it as a ploy to allow President Paul Biya another opportunity to contest the 2011 presidential elections. Marches were organized by some civil society organizations to denounce the revision of the constitution. The long and short of it is that the bill passed through parliament and the majority CPDM MPs voted for it while the opposition boycotted. Although the bill passed, it was one of those incidences that gave President Paul Biya night mares.
Stolen Wallet, G11 Syndrome and Misinformation
Lieutenant Luc Emane, one of President Biya’s closest collaborators stole his suitcase while they were on mission abroad. This act was so treacherous that President Biya ordered for his immediate arrest and repatriation home to face the music of justice. This came just at a time when the G11 syndrome (G11 are those who want to replace President Biya in 2011) had gained some prominence. Some of President Biya’s collaborators who had embezzled state funds were allegedly said to be using the funds to sponsor a smear campaign on the personality of the president. And that these detractors were trying to undermine the peace reigning in Cameroon through their nefarious plans of seizing by power what they can never achieve through the ballot box. For this reason, many fabricated reports were being circulated by agents of these detractors that President Biya and family have ill-gotten wealth starched in bank accounts abroad.
The February Strikes
In February 2008 there was an uprising that paralyzed four of the ten regions of Cameroon. People went on the streets because of rising food prices. The strike that was purported started by tanker and taxi drivers escalated, resulting to losses in human lives and property. The gravity of the strike could be measured in the down turn in economic activities. Looting became the order of the day. It was actually a challenging moment for President Biya. But as a serene leader, who knows how to absorb the shocks, he called the shots and the strike action ended. What is important today is that a soft cushion has been provided by government to absorb all the negative shocks of the rising food prices. The prices of basic commodities were reduced with an increase in the salaries of civil servants. Also subsidies and custom duties waved on so many imported basic commodities.
If there are any lessons to be drawn from the tempting moments of President Biya within 30 years, there are that great people are not those who have never fallen but those who get up after each fall. Also that trials and tribulations are moments of great reflection. Because after each tempting moment in President Biya’s 30 years reign comes a brighter idea for improvement. The result is the astronomical improvement in infrastructure, economic, social and political life of Cameroon. Much has been achieved in 30 years, but not without sacrifices by the population and steadfastness by President Paul Biya.
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