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The President’s Tiny Mind 

By Clovis Atatah In Vienna, Austria

On June 23, President Paul Biya did not let up another opportunity to have his big ego massaged. In a carefully choreographed ceremony, the sit-tight leader savoured the call for him to put up his candidacy at this year’s presidential poll, expected in October.

There was nothing extraordinary about this event, for such remote-controlled "calls" are regular items on the menu of the CPDM-hijacked State media. But this event reminded me, with surprising pain, of the narrow-mindedness of the person who "incarnates" le renouveau, and who has been a nightmare to many Cameroonians, including me, for nearly 30 years now.

It is difficult to say exactly what made this occasion so upsetting to me. Perhaps it is just an accumulation of a thousand little pricks that eventually gathered the force of a dagger-stab. For sometime now, I have tried to develop a thick skin in order to shield myself from anger and pain in the face of the Yaounde regime’s endless provocations and callousness. But that has obviously not worked.

My pain is also incontrovertible evidence that the psychological war against the people that the regime launched since the 1990s is having a huge impact, at least on me. But perhaps not the way they intended. Their strategy, it appears, was – and still is – to destroy the collective will of the people to hope for change and a better tomorrow.

If anything, however, it only seems to be catalysing the build-up of anger in me, and reinforcing my conviction that the country deserves much better leadership. I believe I am not alone. Someone will have to come up with very ingenuous arguments to convince me that any man who consistently demonstrates that the size of his vision is as large as his pinhole-size mind deserves to have anything to do with leadership.

Over the years, some Cameroonians have been trying to sustain an elusive hope that the prince of Mvomeka will one day become larger than the rotten system he incarnates. Wishful thinkers have even suggested that the prince has some secret grand designs, but has been prevented from implementing them because of a cocoon of bad advisers.

Similarly, the mountains of idiotic missions of support and calls for a life presidency are the work of "ambitious" CPDM party officials, and the poor prince is just a helpless spectator of this provocative drama. By the same token, the publication of several volumes of so-called clamours by the people for Mr Biya to "please not leave power" are done by those bad advisers who want to give the president a bad name.

When Mr Biya tells the nation in a pre-recorded address that he has decided to tweak the constitution to eliminate presidential term-limits because a French journalist asked him a question about the issue, wishful thinkers will want to believe that malicious foreign journalists are forcing the hand of the prince. When the president of a sovereign country stands to publicly declare that he is the best pupil of a neo-colonial power, spin-doctors will muster the courage to try to convince us that such a leader acts in the interest of his people.

Similar logic definitely tries to explain away the deaths of a huge number of unarmed protesters in Cameroon over the years. During the February 2008 unrest, for instance, a fire-spitting Mr Biya warned the nation that the death toll was "probably" going to be high.

He made good his threats and deployed his dogs of war – who were armed with heavy weapons, including tanks and combat aircraft – to crush the protests with impunity. Just as Mr Biya had predicted, the death toll was high – over 100 civilian corpses in under a week, according to various credible rights watchdogs. Yet, this is the person who "brought peace to Cameroon", to quote the motions of support and "people’s calls".

Over the years, I have tried to discern even a tiny flash of vision in le renouveau’s protagonist, but every time it is the same tired, meaningless slogans on offer. From "rigour and moralisation" to democratie appaisée", the country only continued crashing down the cliff of despair.

When they coined "grands ambitions", the loud-sounding programme Mr Biya announced during the 2004 Presidential Election campaigns, le renouveau’s intellectuals probably gave themselves boastful pats on the back. In the space of seven years, however, the "grands ambitions" mysteriously metamorphosed into a nameless putrid heap of disappointment and ignominy.

In the course of human history, scores of men and women have sought power because of a propelling vision to transform society. Although some visions have been nobler than others, Mr Biya’s case is peculiar because there was no vision to start off with.

And three decades in power have not changed that. That is why at his advanced age Mr Biya, whose only ambition for Cameroon seems to be the perpetuation of his reign, cannot muster the courage to simply tell the people, "I want another seven-year term" or "I want to be president for life".

Concocted motions of support and "people’s calls" must be concocted to replace vision. These are the methods of a small mind; a mind that does not see beyond self. It is the mind of a person who can only drive the country in reverse.

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