“He rode into Minna, not in triumph but in trauma, in a mournful mood, the type you witness at the burial of a young person. He practically crawled into the city with a few aides in tow with no 21-gun salute, no guard of honour, no buntings, no welcome placards and no songs of praise. The dribbling had come to a ruinous end for a man who had every opportunity to be a quintessential hero in this unhappy, heroless, land.”
Newwatch’s Ray Ekpu on General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s 1993 ignominious exit from power.
Ray Ekpu, in these succinct words, might have captured General Ibrahim Babangida’s fall from grace, and while Tunisian President Zine Ben Ali’s destination after fleeing last Friday’s turmoil in his country is unknown, he, presumably, also followed IBB’s fate into oblivion. As unprecedented as this may appear in the Arab world, the ripple effects of Ben Ali’s flight from power may also lap at Cameroon’s political shores. I fondly remember those heated arguments in the mid eighties –whether the regime may cave in to a multiparty system- among Cameroonians when Glasnost and Perestroika hit Eastern Europe. While the regime, for the sake of acquiescing to this external pressure, gave Cameroonians illiberal democracy, the brave ones haven’t succumbed. They are still fighting with the regime, day in and day out, chipping away its powers until it too would be ousted.
But this old lesson, that there is a time to govern and a time to peacefully relinquish power, has been so elusive to some African leaders to grasp. This is because as last Friday’s events were unfolding in Tunisia, bottled up, for close to seven weeks now behind what now appear to be fortresses in Cote D’ivoire’s capital, Abidjan, are Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo, each laying claim to be that country’s legitimate president.
However, when the crisis began to unravel, Cameroonians appeared to have bought ink by the barrel. A deluge of their write-ups poured in on internet blogs and in newspapers, a majority, by my own rough tally, supporting Alassane Ouattara. As intellectually invigorating as their arguments appeared, they all portend or may be harbingers for what may befall Cameroon should it be doomed to follow Cote D’ivoire’s direction.
But like a segment of Ivorians-and this where hypocrisy rears its ugly head-some Cameroonians have become besotted with this idea of “French influence” over their country’s affairs that they’ve refused to see the devils right in their own midst.
I’m viscerally opposed to the idea that Laurent Gbagbo should hang onto power for two reasons. First, while some African woes are definitely associated with “French influence”, they’ve often been ratcheted as facades by rulers like Gbagbo who want to stay in power. I’ve often cited Sekou Toure’s Guinea as another epitome of this African hypocrisy. Here is a country that at the dawn of its independence in 1958, its first leader Sekou Toure proclaimed, not only in words, but in actions, that there would be no trace of “French influence” as it forged ahead to govern itself democratically. The French literally packed, including cutting off telephone lines, and left the country. Yet, for twenty six years, until Sekou Toure’s death in 1984, Guinea, for all what Toure had denounced about “French influence, still remained in a penury state, even worse than how the French left it.
So what went wrong with Guinea after 1958 and Toure who, from independence, was staunchly against France? Some, in defense of the neocolonialism doctrine, have suggested that the French hurried out through the main door, but then quietly sneaked back in through the window. It’s all baloney. This hypocrisy of ours has prevented us from calling ourselves what we really are: We are Neanderthals in the whole wide world, unable to run our own affairs efficiently!
Second, in support of Laurent Gbagbo, some Cameroonians made reference to the fact that having been declared to be the legitimate ruler by Cote D’ivoire’s Constitutional Council, the world, as a courtesy, should show respect for that country’s institutions. But Laurent Gbagbo’s political difficulties also stem from a history of “no precedent” in this regard. The respect of state institutions has never been taken seriously by Francophone African leaders. When former U.S. President Bill Clinton was hauled to the court by a judge a few years back over the Monica Lewinsky affair, it took these leaders by surprise why a sitting president could be treated in such manners. But the respect of “state institutions” is what U.S. politicians, including sitting presidents, do not want to be perceived as being disrespectful of by the public. But can anyone point the world to any Francophone African leader, who has demonstrated to his people, that he respects “state institutions”.
Should it then-because of this ineptitude at governance- be any surprise that some African countries must now take marching orders from international and regional bodies? As humiliating as this be appear to some, the Ivorian crisis is a test of what other African countries may have to follow. It won’t be easy.