As December wraps up each year, individual politicians and political parties clear their political minds on the year coming to an end, and the advent of a new year. Paul Biya is an epitome of that ritual, which, for him, is usually crowned by a speech to the nation on December 31. Going by the contents of such speeches, year after year, one has the impression that the speeches do not always involve enough thinking, or that the persons behind it do not always apply their minds to the worn out, failed policies of the year or years that give way in December to the new. Or it may just be that since there is very little he achieves each year, there is usually very little to write home about. In any case, the result is that most of the time, he talks to and for his ego, not to the nation.
On December 31, he set another own-record by delivering his 34th successive New Year Message. Like many of the records he has set and is holding during his long reign, the record is not an enviable one, and would be competed for only by those who want to match or break it by dooming the country!
The longevity in power that has allowed Paul Biya to deliver 34 successive New Year messages has been much helped by an opposition that seems to see politics not through the lens of power, but of sterile argument and charm. Such charm is presented today in the coins of the “camaraderie” of tree-lighting, cross-party backslapping, and other shows of ‘friendship’ which, in essence, have nothing to do with politics because they get nothing done. The opposition has so easily forgotten that the only time anybody is influenced by what you say or do in politics is when they are afraid of you. Nobody fears the opposition any longer, since it behaves like there is no longer any issue to fight on! The Taoist notion that you use the strengths of the opponent to defeat him, or that you use what is against you to build your victory against a powerful opponent, has escaped the opposition completely.
And so Paul Biya has been making successive New Year-cum-state of the nation addresses at the end of each year, up to 34 times, in a country whose development curve has been on the descent for nearly all of those 34 years! When you put all the 34 speeches together, it is easy to conclude that they are from the mind of the same person because they are replete with repetitions, unfulfilled promises, demagogy, sloppy statistics, false claims, and cluelessness on how to set about the difficult task of nation building. In the end, the universal ambition of using politics to get things done is lost, and one has the sorry feeling that he is in politics for its own sake.
The 34 speeches fall in two broad groups. Those in the first group propounded a romantic politics of “communal liberalism” that was based more on appearing and sounding different from his processor than on personal convictions. All this changed with the 1992 attempt of the opposition to capture power, which gave him the fright of his life. It caused his power games to shift from this romanticism to a terrain where he makes a strenuous and confused effort to kill Democracy with ‘democracy’. The second group of the speeches from 1992 to 2015 defines this confused effort.
If you know that the policy and institutional engineering that will propel the developmental changes we need are sorely absent, some of the utterances in the speeches really turn your stomach, leaving it upset with disappointment. When you have absolute power for 34 years, you don’t talk about the policy and institutional changes required to foster development as if you are an opposition leader yearning to get to power and implement them. You show the fruits that the policy and institutional grids you have put in place have borne.
The superficial worries expressed each year in the speeches do not really seem to affect Paul Biya’s soul. When you envision and put a “Vision” or “Strategy” on paper, it is not there for the talking but for the doing. “Industrialization” is not about how to produce raw materials; it is about how to use raw materials. It is about a sound industrial policy framework that is owned by all of us, not by “ruling” parties, political cronies and sycophants. After all, the sustainable development we all want will be delivered by all of us, not by any leader, however wise he/she may be; not by partisan political supporters, however vocal their support may be; not by longevity in power, however long the stay in power may be.
Time usually burns the straws of serious policy, and leaves people like Paul Biya without any real policy. They end up unfocused, saying what they like when they speak, and doing what they like when they do anything. He pretends not to know that what he likes is not what the country likes. He pretends not to know that speech after speech, he provides no real reason to think or hope better for him or for his party.
They used to boastfully mock the rest of us by asking us to go to hell – allez dire! Or they played the role of the gallant caravan cruising along its course, while the rest of us “dogs” barked aimlessly. Now, the whole thing is looking to them like a tinderbox, and most of them seem to be terrified that some disappointed citizen – and they are many! – may just strike a match at any time for the whole thing to come alight. And so they legislate and legislate; and they repress and repress, as if you can stop the feuds you so purposefully engineer with such sleight of hand.
Do not mind the bloated accounts of CRTV, Cameroon Tribune, or other master’s voices about this other speech and the mood of the nation. The speech was as about nothing as the others have always been. Like many of the others, it just reminds us that the cigarette has since been smoked; and what we are seeing is the tobacco ash masquerading as a “Greater” something, without the Great one that would have preceded it! I join the poet to caution:‘people, be not fooled!’
When News Breaks Out, We Break In. (The 2014 Bloggies Finalist)