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2011 in Review 

By Ze Ekanga

Politics in 2011: Biya Remakes Self, Shatters Popular Dreams

The Year 2011 was predictably a year full of political undertones in Cameroon. Unlike many had hoped for, President Biya did not leave power. Besides, the much predicted Arab Spring-like popular uprising to oust President Paul Biya from power did not happen.

To the chagrin of many, the Etoudi strongman steered his way through the murky waters and still imposed himself on friend and foe; scooping a whooping 78 percent victory against 22 contenders in polls organized on 9 October 2011. As could be expected, the political events of 2011 revolved chiefly around Paul Biya.

Before the October 2011 election, expectations remained reasonably high about President Biya’s succession agenda. News hugely centered on the President’s political, administrative and military game plan to secure another mandate. Ostensibly, with the President keeping his political calendar secret, speculative trends also prevailed in newsrooms on the possibility of the 78-year-old retiring from office after choosing a successor. Here are some of the occurrences that caught the public eye in Cameroon.

Agro-Pastoral Show Holds after Two Decades – January 2011

In what was seen as a purely political initiative, President Biya opened his year by launching events at an agro-pastoral show in Ebolowa in the South region of Cameroon. Holding for the first time after over two decades, the event drew farmers from all over Cameroon and beyond and provided a safe ground for regime politicians to market the image of Paul Biya as the best available choice for President.

To fully emboss the political connotation of the ceremony, President Biya was endowed with a traditional title of Nnom’ngui (chief of chiefs) by elders from his native Bulu tribe. As always, the President received enormous exposure in State media during the event.

Re-deployment of Sous Prefets– February 2011

As often happens during election years, President Biya signed decrees appointing and transferring Divisional Officers commonly known as sous prefets across the national territory. In Cameroon, administrative officers working as sous prefets under the Territorial Administration ministry are known to be the field agents of the administration in matters of elections.

Though the responsibility to organize elections in the country now resides with ELECAM, sous prefets still remain instrumental and wield influence as they are endowed with the task of liaising between the elections organ and government at the base.  Before the coming of ELECAM, they totally had control of election organization and helped secure victory for President Biya’s CPDM in every election since the return of multiparty democracy in 1990.

Biya Announces Recruitment of 25000 Youths into public service – February 2011

In a speech to youths on 10 February, President Biya went hunting for young voters with a promise to recruit 25,000 certificate holders into the public service. This was arguably the regime’s biggest political capital in 2011.

Although not planned in the 2011 State budget, the unprecedented announcement by the president was forced into government recurrent expenditure for 2011 causing tight re-adjustments to the State budget. The recruitment became a political slogan that every New Deal politician and spin doctor employed at every twist and turn. Numerous street support marches were organized across the country thanking the President for the promise.

Appointment of New Army Generals and Re-deployment of Field Commanders – April 2011

President Paul Biya chose an election year to appoint new generals in the Cameroonian Armed Forces. The President left no one in doubt of his plans to continue using the army to protect his power base.

Although four senior generals, among them Pierre Semengue and James Tataw were sent on technical retirement, the appointment of new senior defense staff along ethnic lines was seen as a compensatory tip to loyal military staff that helped guarantee his personal security. Among those appointed, Biya raised his personal bodyguard Joseph Fouda to the rank of rear admiral. He also raised former commander of the presidential guard Jean Mendoua to the rank of rear admiral and made him Chief of Marine Staff.

In the usual cultural balancing act, in addition to General Yenwo Ivo, director of presidential security Biya appointed two new Anglophone brigadier generals: Elokobi Njock former director of operations at the national gendarmerie and Tumenta Martin former human resource director at the defense ministry. Following the appointment of new generals, new army commanders were appointed to military regions and sub-units across the country.

Officers and soldiers were also moved to new, less familiar posts. Throughout installation exercises of appointees, emphasis was maintained on the maintenance of order during elections, a message understood to be a deliberate strategy to keep popular uprisings on check.

ELECAM Law Modified: Increase Membership and Scrapping of Publication of ‘Trends’ – June 2011

Parliament met in its June session to examine and adopt draft proposals to the 2006 law creating ELECAM made by President Paul Biya to increase the membership of the organ from 12 to 18 and to rip-off the responsibility of the organ to publish provisional results.

Though denied by government officials sent to defend the bill at Parliament, the removal of the ELECAM prerogative was inspired by a post-electoral crisis in Cote d’Ivoire sparked after the independent elections body published results that the Constitutional Council was not willing to endorse.

Being an astute political game planner, Biya twisted the law to avoid any embarrassing situation that could compromise his stay in power. With regards to the six new members of the board, President Biya ignored proposals made by political parties making his pick from the clergy and civil society.

Wikileaks Cable on Cameroon: Ahmadou Ali Tells of Grand North Succession Plans – August 2011

U.S. diplomatic cables issued from Cameroon were published by whistle-blowing site Wikileaks laying bare a powerful conspiracy by regime elite from the northern regions to seize power should President Biya choose to step down from power.

According to the dispatch wired to the U.S. Department of State by Ambassador Janet Garvey, powerful regime baron Ahmadou Ali hinted that the north would not have another southerner succeed Biya whenever he steps down, not to talk of the “Anglo-Bamilekes”.  The vice Prime Minister said the north will do everything to capture power when Biya leaves.

The release of this diplomatic cable and many others on the inside power positioning debacle in the regime elicited one of the biggest scandals of the regime in 2011. Calls were made for Ahmadou Ali to resign for what was termed xenophobic remarks. But the stalwart survived.

Biya Convenes Electoral College Before Party Meets to Invest His Candidature – September 2011

In one of the most calculative political moves of the year, Biya tactfully convened the Electoral College on 9 September, carefully timing the deadline for submission of candidatures to ELECAM to expire before his ruling CPDM party met in a congress during which a candidate was to be chosen. Through this move, Biya bypassed the congress anticipating moves by his rivals within the CPDM who wanted to challenge him as party chairman and presidential candidate of the party.

CPDM Holds 3rd Ordinary Congress – September 2011

Five years after they last met, delegates from basic organs of the CPDM converged in Yaounde for the 3rd party congress.

Despite long running press commentaries that it would be the instance to choose a presidential candidate for the party, this objective became obsolete by the time the party met considering that the candidature of President Biya, party chairman, had already been presented to ELECAM.

The party confab provided a forum for the CPDM candidate to stealthily launch his presidential campaign and handpick new cronies into the political bureau of the party as well as its central committee and wings.

Unidentified Gunmen Open Fire on Wouri Bridge – September 2011

Fear gripped the entire nation and regime officials trembled in panic when scenes of war were enacted on the Wouri Bridge by three unidentified gunmen calling on “Biya the Dictator” to quit.

Eyewitness accounts say the men spotting army fatigues and totting assault rifles interrupted morning traffic on the bridge for close to three hours and fired shots in the air compelling motorists to retreat. It took an exchange of fire with elements of the dreaded Rapid Intervention Battalion, BIR, for the men to disappear.

Though official sources claim that the perpetrators of the act have been tracked and arrested by defense forces, the faces behind the act of war and the objective of the holdup remains unknown to the public. The incident sparked fears that an armed insurrection could be in the offing in the days before elections.

Biya Gets another Mandate – October 2011

In polls contested by 23 candidates, Paul Biya, candidate of the CPDM was declared winner by the Supreme Court acting as constitutional Council with 78 percent of votes. Despite protests from opposition candidate calling for an annulment of the polls on account of irregularity, the constitutional organ validated Biya’s victory and participated in his swearing-in at the National Assembly on 3 November.

Maurice Kamto Resigns from Government – December 2011

Amid rising speculations about the imminent formation of a new government, an unusual character in the outgoing government took a bold step and resigned from his cabinet position. Leading legal scholar Maurice Kamto resigned as minister delegate to the Justice Minister becoming the 4th government minister to resign under Biya’s 29-year tenure. Kamto’s resignation was came as proof that the Yaounde establishment remains impermeable to new evolving ideals and is still adamant to overhaul is obsolete standards.

Kamto, a scholar who actively participated in defending Cameroon in the Bakassi border dispute with Nigeria is also resigned in the aftermath of ethnophobic comments made by his former boss, Ahmadou Ali excluding Bamilekes from any possible succession plans at the presidency.

Biya Appoints New Government – December 2011

As is the tradition after elections, President Paul Biya reshuffled his cabinet on 9 December. For the first time, the secretary general of the central committee of the CPDm was appointed alongside government ministers, making a bold demonstration of the concept that the Yaounde regime epitomizes a party-State.

Despite promises by Mr. Biya during campaigns that youths were going to play a greater role in the country, youths were not given more positions in government. Genuine opposition parties also stayed out of government. Ethnic succession remained a dominant criterion in the appointments.

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