Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Nation at Risk: A Personal Narrative of the Cameroonian Crisis by Peter Wuteh Vakunta, PhD

Just Published: Nation at Risk: A Personal Narrative of the Cameroonian Crisis by Peter Wuteh Vakunta, PhD. i-Universe, Inc., Bloomington.  2012. 206 pp. Paperback $14.00. ISBN 978-1-4697-9974-2

I am obligated to concede that the overall tenor of my remarks in Nation at Risk: A Personal Narrative of the Cameroonian Crisis could easily be misconstrued as requiem for what we now know as the Republic of Cameroon. So, let me caution from the outset that this is not the intent of this book, the sole purpose of which is to shine the searchlight on the dysfunctional government of Cameroon under President Paul Biya, a minuscule man and matching mind, endowed with a gargantuan ego. Those who wish to comprehend the apocalypse toward which the Cameroonian nation is being propelled by the rogue governance of Mr. Biya will do well to study the mind of the man at the helm. Mr. Biya enjoys playing at and for power. The diabolism inherent in the phenomenon of power is something he relishes.  Yet, the politics of power is for him, an intellectual challenge. Thus, manipulation, divisive tactics, cajolery, patronage, double-talk, exploitation of weaknesses, blackmail, backstabbing, occultism, cronyism, influence peddling, and the cultivation of apparent detachedness form the armory of this wily politician nicknamed L’homme Lion or Lion Man.

The thought behind the crafting of this book was nourished by the fervent belief that change is the offspring of  audacity and strength of character necessary to break out of the mold of conventional reasoning, the temerity to pose intriguing questions that have never been asked before, the perspicacity to imagine things as they have never been fathomed before , the courage to challenge the status quo, the rebelliousness needed to express new thoughts at the risk of being pilloried, and the desire to be free from the  shackles of mental servitude that confines people in perpetual paranoia of offending people at the helm.

I subscribe to the aphorism that a modicum of measured resistance, controlled defiance, and reasoned disobedience are recipes for positive change in the community of humans. The fear to offend the untouchables of our society inhibits our ability to engage in constructive criticism in which resides the capacity of a society to change and evolve. Our reluctance to hold our leaders accountable hinders our ability to rise up against abuse of power, injustice, corruption, and impunity. For thirty years, Cameroonians have been victims to one man’s Machiavellian dictatorship; they have seen how one man—Mr. Paul Biya—surrounded by a cabal of tribesmen has hijacked the entire governmental apparatus with the aid of the military and stayed in power anti-constitutionally. Like all global dictators, Mr. Biya has learned the ropes of despotic governance quickly: once in power, put people of your tribe in key positions: military generals, ministers, beef up your personal protection, that way, you cannot be overthrown by a coup d’├ętat, bribe the military by means of disproportionately elevated salaries given that soldiers are the mainstay of a dictatorship. This is the dictatorial blueprint the tenets of which serve as Mr. Biya’s governmental modus operandi.

Armed with a mix of nihilistic contraptions, Mr. Biya has developed a callously thick skin; he no longer feels accountable to the people of Cameroon. Elections are rigged with impunity year in year out, opposition party leaders are cowed into submission through torture and blackmail, the nation’s wealth is brazenly misappropriated by Mr. Biya, his wife, Chantal Biya, and close circle of cronies, nicknamed ministers who live in opulence. In contradistinction, impoverished Cameroonian rank and file are left to their own devices in a land bereft of good roads, urban transportation system, hospital supplies, home industries, and schools. The youths are at daggers drawn with a leadership that has failed to acknowledge their existence.  The average Cameroonian finds it hard to understand why their president has mortgaged the nation’s natural resources—crude oil, forest products, land, and minerals. Little wonder, a critic of Mr. Biya’s regime, George Ayittey, has painted the following portrait of him:

A suave bandit who has reportedly amassed a personal fortune of more than US$200million and the mansions to go with it, Biya has beaten the opposition into complete submission. Not that he’s worried about elections—he has rigged the term-limit laws twice to make sure the party doesn’t end any time soon (Ayittey, 2011:15).

The impotency of Cameroon is a reflection of Mr. Biya’s sense of failure as a statesman. Power has corrupted him absolutely, and all the more disastrously because he has come to identify Cameroon and her natural resources with his own personal wealth. Mr. Biya has no compunction about reducing Cameroon to a wasteland, as long as he survives to preside over a mere name. Totally lacking in vision and moral rectitude, he is like a mole trapped in a warren of tunnels.

Interestingly, Mr. Biya has no idea what country he is governing. Beyond the reality of a fiefdom that has dutifully nursed his insatiable thirst for power and transformed him into a tin-god, he has only superficial knowledge of Cameroon.Consequently, he is incapable of grasping what is being conveyed to him about the legitimate grievances of a marginalized constituent of the fragmented country he rules—Anglophones— these people who speak with the resolute voice of self-determination. In Mr. Biya’s mind, these people could not possibly be part of the Republic of Cameroon that he knows. It is only by eliminating Anglophones entirely that Cameroon can become the entity that Mr. Biya recognizes.

When the French pressured Cameroon’s first postcolonial Head of State, Mr. Ahmadou Ahidjo,    to grant Mr. Biya occupancy of the presidential palace at Etoudi in 1982, I admonished that Mr. Biya would prove more ruthless than his predecessor. There were many who thought then that I was being overly alarmist. Now, of course, we know what stuff the man is made of, and the worst I am afraid, is yet to come.  Mr. Biya will be satisfied only with the total annihilation of every aspect of Cameroon that he cannot mentally grasp.  He will find peace and solace only in silencing the voices whose language he cannot comprehend.

In sum, Nation at Risk: A Personal Narrative of the Cameroonian Crisis is a compass intended to give Cameroonians a sense of direction as they grope around in search of light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.  It behooves Cameroonians of all creeds to come to the realization that people deserve their leaders. Most importantly, they must rethink the sagacious words of Edmund Burke who once said: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."[i] The didactic value of this book resides in its comprehensibility to people from all walks of life and social strata eager to know what makes Cameroon tick. The language is free of verbal sophistry. Casual readers and professionals with a genuine interest in the geopolitics of Cameroon would find this book a delight to read.

In Nation at Risk, Peter Wuteh Vakunta, a prolific writer in his own right, has successfully pieced together a compelling narrative of the many facets of the crisis that has plagued Cameroon during the more than three-decade presidency of Mr. Paul Biya. Lucid and captivating, this landmark volume provides a seminal contribution to readers’ appreciation of the social, political, economic and cultural events that have shaped Cameroon's history from the time of independence from colonial masters to date. Vakunta’s penetrating analysis of the lackluster governmental modus operandi of President Biya is a must read for all Cameroonians and friends of Cameroon who feel deeply about the future of this often forgotten African nation.

Dr. Peter Ngwafu Ajongwa , Associate Professor of Public Administration and Political Science & Director, MPA Program at  Albany State University.