By Joseph M. Ndifor
I’m not an economist, but every once in a while, our vials of criticisms, directed at the occupant of Cameroon’s Unity Palace, elicit some counter economic arguments from critics that are worth noting. In response to articles chastising the current regime for Cameroonians’ woes, and apparently impervious to the fact that politics is the bane of all that is wrong with Cameroon, these critics- brilliant ones for that matter!-have naively said that “empowering” Cameroonians “economically” would be a solution to this political malaise. Nice idea, it seems on the surface.
But would the old thesis, which holds that economic clout begets useful political power, apply in Cameroon? Holding onto this thesis in the Cameroonian context further raises questions of this nature: Has James Onobiono, the Cameroonian self-styled “industrialist”, for instance, used his economic muscle for the virtues of Cameroon politics as the wealthy Kennedys and Rockefellers once did for America? (One of the Rockefellers was, in fact, Republican Vice President under Gerald Ford, and another presently serves in the U.S. Senate as a Democrat from the State of West Virginia).
Even as I write-for those who fallaciously believe that Cameroonians can improve their economic lot miraculously without purging the system of corrupt politicians and their practices - there’s a storm brewing over the Cameroon Cooperative Credit Union, an economic initiative deeply rooted in the North West Province that has come under corrosive political influence from Yaoundé. (The Minister of Finance, in collaboration with the former North West Governor, recently suspended the elective bodies of these credit unions).
Proponents of this style of economic empowerment-who are often times evasive about the effects of Cameroon’s bland politics on individuals’ economic initiatives-easily ignore the fate of these once-economic titans: Nangah, Che, Kilo, and so on, who, even before they all passed, were financially broke as a consequence of huge political meddling into business empires that they’d created. (In many instances, and also upon their death, the government and its politicians failed to honor contracts that had been drawn up with these men).
Neither have these individuals who opine for Cameroonian economic empowerment taken into consideration that because of the favorite political atmosphere in the United States at the time, American Jews did thrive economically better than their German brethren who- like Cameroonians under Paul Biya- struggled to eke a living with Adolf Hitler who loomed large. These individuals have also not traveled to Cameroon’s hinterlands to see or experience for themselves some of the harshest economic conditions that men and women, especially those living in villages, do have to put up with.
Besides Cameroon, I’ve often wondered- and this would remain an enduring question-whether meritocracy, discipline, and hard work will ever triumph over cynicism, sloth, and self-indulgence that characterize politicians in other African countries. I was in Lagos, Nigeria in the summer of 1993 when General Ibrahim Babangida, who had shot his way to political power eight years earlier, annulled that year's presidential election, which would have propelled the late Moshood Abiola, a hard-working Yoruba with humongous economic strength, into that country's presidency.
However, the recent arrest of two former ministers in Cameroon, casualties of a probe into the purchase of an aircraft –price tag: a whopping US$75 million! – that was meant for the personal use of the president, ironically, gives one a glimpse into what politics and voodoo economics have in common for a country whose economy has tanked since 1987. The unfolding drama, reminiscent of the 1972 Watergate scandal, is likely an implosion within the regime. Take my word for it.