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KNOW THE CONSTITUTION OF YOUR COUNTRY. WHY IT MATTERS.

 

The African continent today is suffering from the consequences of bad governance, abuse –and misuse-- of power and lack of the rule of law. We the people of Africa are paying a steep price for the wrongs and incompetence of our leaders and their insatiable thirst and addiction to power. We have seen dictators stay in power indefinitely with no accountability --to the people they are supposed to serve-- and no clear path to a peaceful and constitutional transition of power.

 

While many of our people seem to complain about the dictators, they don’t often seem to understand what the constitution or the law of the land says with respect to the political trickeries in display before them. They don’t often understand why and how a President keeps getting re-elected even when they were told that there were term limits to the Office of the President and that he was supposed to be doing his last term in office.

They don’t seem to understand the process –or the authority-- by which provinces get renamed to regions, and their country renamed from United Republic of Cameroon to Republic of Cameroon, and what could be the meaning and the consequences of such a name change. They don’t seem to comprehend why they were not consulted prior to such a change and why their consent did not matter or was ignored. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that our people, for the most part do not comprehend the political processes of their country. They do not understand the legislative and executive procedures and the powers granted to the institutions of their Government. They don’t know what’s written in the constitution –their constitution—or law of the land.

 

Our people must wake up and realize that the laws of our country, whether they are voted by the National Assembly –NA-- or decreed by Presidential authority have real consequences to their lives and the future of the country. When our President makes yet another decree, it may be that the effect of the new law undermines our freedom as a people, it may be that there is a new surtax to collect, it may be that the already extraordinarily –and senseless-- high tariffs we pay at the port of Douala will increase, it may be that it will be harder to obtain a license to operate a business, it may be that your small enterprise will be taxed out of business and I could go on and on. Laws are not abstract devices or apparatus intended to make us all happy. When misguided, poorly crafted and implemented, they can have real dire consequences in the daily lives of the people.

For too long, our people have been at the mercy and the whim of the ego of a few –their Leaders-- who often take advantage of the ignorance of the people and their inability or passivity to stand up and fight for what’s right and just. The African dictator knows that his people are ignorant and fearful, he knows that his people will not dare stand up to him on the abuses and misuses of the power he exert on them, he knows that for the most part, the people do not understand nor do they know the constitutional grounds upon which he could be challenged. Simply put, the African dictator, in his mind, thinks he is the one superman who knows it all and can do it all without any dissuasive resistance from his people. He somehow believes in his own mind that the majority of his people are ignorant and can’t mount any reasonable challenge –intellectually, philosophically or politically—to his proclaimed unlimited powers.

Our people, for so long have been in a state of trance or hypnosis. For the most part, they do not know nor do they understand how their country is being run, with the exception of when they realize that they have to pay a surtax or a penalty, or apply for some government issued document just to be turned down because some already senseless law has been made even more senseless. And even when they do, they are not willing nor are they interested of being a stakeholder or an active participant of the future of their country. This state of mind of a people creates the most possible fertile ground for one man’s ego to exert dominion with very little resistance from his peers. It’s the most possible conducive environment for dictatorship and totalitarianism to take hold, where abuse and misuse of power is the de facto mode of operation.

So what can we do about it ? We the people, must call for more transparency in the legislative process of our country. We must become a stake holder of the legislative process. We must closely examine the effect and the intent of any new law promulgated through the NA or through presidential decree. The political opposition must educate the people of the intent and the effect of any law, old or new. And nowhere is this more significant than educating the people on the constitution.

The National Assembly is in session twice a year. --Why not make it four times a year, once every quarter ?-- We must demand that these sessions be televised live on National Television or to the least, third party cameras from the Associated Press must be allowed in the room. The people deserve a seat at the table when their elected representatives are discussing the matters that will have an effect and consequences to their lives and the future of our country. The people have the right to know which parliamentarian is voting for which bill, and which ones are not. This has the potential to bring a great deal of transparency and accountability to the affairs of our country.

Our elected branch of Government, our parliamentarians must be held accountable for the votes they cast that will undoubtedly have an effect on the lives of the people and the country. And if and when the people find out that a given parliamentarian had voted to lift the President’s term limit, or the immunity clause, them he must explain to us why such as clause was needed in the first place, and he must be held accountable and voted out of office the next time around. This is the name of the game of democracy that our people must become attuned to. Vote for someone and hold him accountable. When they don’t deliver to the promise, kick them out of office and vote in a younger parliamentarian who demonstrates a dedication and commitment to the cause of the change we seek.

This will set a precedence and send a clear message to current and future parliamentarians that we the people mean business. That’s what the slogan “Power to the People” means. In the absence of a good constitution, the National Assembly is the single most important leverage that the people have in the political process of the country. They can control who they send to the national Assembly to represent and defend their interest. They can control who seats at the table or who has access to the room when and where the laws of their country are enacted. That’s why we must vote young, smart, engaged, talented, educated, dedicated, uncompromised and committed people to the National Assembly and not just vote the Chiefs, the Nis, the Fons, the Lamidos –for whom I have enormous respect—but who may not necessarily have the credentials, the dedication, the integrity and the character to deliver on the promise of change . For these are the people who are at the forefront of the change we crave for.

That’s why I am urging our people to become more engaged, more active, more conscious to the state of our country. We must become active stake holders of the future of our country. We must express our convictions and our aspirations as a people. We must strive to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We must work to build a country for our children better than the one we inherited. We must learn to stand up and fight for what we believe is right and just, lest we be caused to stumble by the wrongs of others. We must learn to come together as a people and debate the problems we face, and we must educate our people on the urgency of “the now”. We must wake up our people to the reality of our times. Knowledge is power, so goes the cliché. The fundamental premise of changing our country is that when the people will have become knowledgeable enough on the subjects of their country, when they become more conscious of the necessity to engender the progressive leap that will transform our country, they will take the fight to the oppressor and perhaps be ready to pay the price of the perils, necessary for the triumph and the glory.

And nowhere is the fight for change more significant than the push to change the current constitution. The Constitution of Cameroon –or that of any country-- is the supreme law of the land. It’s simply a document that outlines the rights and freedom guaranteed to the citizens. It defines the official institutions and the branches of Government. It articulates the structure and functions of government. It spells out the power of each branch of Government and the processes and procedures by which it may be altered or amended. When a constitution is originally drafted, it is normally ratified through a referendum, or an election in which the people are given the opportunity to approve and seal the covenant. And from that point forward, the people have all agreed on a framework on which they will operate as a nation. The constitution then becomes our guide, it becomes the point of reference, it becomes the one place where we must find a consensus, a common ground to advance the cause of the country. The constitution is what protects the people from the powers bestowed to their Government.

It’s the reference document for policing the boundaries of power of each branch of Government. When we the people have sealed the covenant engraved in the constitution, the nation becomes bound to it, and we all must revere, respect and abide by it. No one man’s beliefs or ego should be allowed to exert dominion over the “sealed will” of the people or the covenant. No one man should be above the law, and no one man should be allowed to put his personal interest before that of an entire people and nation. The constitution represents the symbol of our collective character as a people. It’s the pride and the dignity of our nation. It’s the representation of our shared sacrifice, our aspirations, our common convictions as a people. It’s the culmination of our collective thought processes at that point in time. It’s the common denominator, the point of convergence of our diverse ethos. Simply, it’s the document in which we put our faith and trust to our country.

This powerful document is only as meaningful as we the people attribute meaning to it. Kind of the same way a Christian –or a Muslim-- attributes meaning to the Holy Bible, --The Holy Coran.—No one man can or should be allowed to modify, say the book of Mathews –or a verse in the Torah-- because he does not like what a commandment says. The same holds true for the constitution. No one man should be allowed to exert the intricacies of his ego at the expense of an entire people and Country. No one man should be allowed to trample on the “Sealed will” or the covenant of the people and the nation. This is what the constitution should mean to all of us. And it’s meaning only peaks when we revere and respect it and not trample on it.

It must be granted that a constitution is not a static and atemporal piece of writing. It must adapt to new conditions and circumstances. However, any change to it must relate to factual inferences and occurrences of the events in time. The changes must be deliberated in a very strict, thoughtful and methodical way and strictly under the guidance of the very same constitution. Significant changes to it must require the consent of the people through a referendum. Only the entire people must be allowed to reseal the covenant once it’s been opened. No one man should not be allowed to say, well the presidential term is 7 years and I like to make it 10 years. Or that he just feels like renaming the country or relocating the capital, without a thorough analysis and examination and consent of the people, and without the reasonable and compelling arguments for such an action.

So a smartly drafted constitution must foresee and prevent the possibility of any one man’s ego to trample on the laws of the land, the laws that carry our collective identity and dignity as a people. Even as the constitution grants a broad range of power to the President or the executive, there must be a statute of limitation to that power. You see, we can’t just complain about the President decreeing all these laws, when our flawed constitution allows him to. If you grant unlimited powers to a President –or any man--, you must assume that he will exercise that power. If human beings had wings, you bet they would fly. --If my wife had more money in the bank, she would buy additional clothes and shoes and perhaps a second SUV. –No offense to our sweet heart Ladies, it’s just a fact of life—Just kidding, but you get the point.

So for all who are advocating for change, we can whine about all the Presidents decrees, --bypassing the legislative process and the National Assembly--, but we must fight to have the constitution changed to limit what the President can enact by decree. We must also hold the members of the National Assembly accountable for their 2008 vote to remove limits to the President’s term, something that even CPDM members –many of them-- that I know are very angry and frustrated about. Some of them are even quite stupefied and flabbergasted albeit in a complicit silence of betrayal and guilt. The parliamentarians who voted for that bill surely do not deserve to be re-elected to the National Assembly. This is why the constitution matters, and this is why we must fight to change it.

And it begins with the people’s understanding of what the constitution says and what it does not say. I would encourage political parties in Cameroon to print the constitution in small booklets and make them available to the people for free or for an affordable price of, say CFA 500. Our people must know what is in the constitution of their country. They must know why it matters because it’s the means by which the African dictator tricks the people and perpetuate their stay in power without accountability and oversight. The opposition parties have the duty and responsibility to educate the people of the Laws of their country.

In 1960, Cameroon adopted its earliest Constitution upon independence --from France--. In 1961, the Southern Cameroons, upon achieving its independence –from Britain-- voted to join its French counterpart. A new Constitution was crafted and adopted, which made Cameroon a federation of two states under a single President.

In 1972, President Ahmadou Ahidjo called for the abolishment of the federal system, and renamed the country to “United Republic of Cameroon”, which granted a great deal of power and latitude to the executive branch. –The President--.

In 1984, his successor, President Paul Biya –who arrived to power in 1982-- revised the Constitution. And as a result, the country was again renamed from “United Republic of Cameroon” to “Republic of Cameroon”. The amended constitution redefined the new lines to the provinces, and modified the line of succession to the presidency.

On the 18th of January 1996, yet another constitution was adopted, in response to pressure from Anglophone Cameroonian groups advocating a return to the federal system. The new framework will grant greater autonomy to the provinces --renamed regions-- and established a Senate –in Article 14-- as the upper house to the National Assembly. It also extends the length of the President’s term from 5 to 7 years –Article 6—while establishing the President of the Senate or the vice President as the successor of the President. It must be noted that most all of the new provisions adopted in 1996 are still to be implemented. It would be particularly interesting to see who will be nominated the President of the Senate or vice President, as this position is the successor to the Presidency in the event of vacancy.

On 10 April 2008, the National Assembly passed a bill to amend Law 96/06 to change the Constitution to provide the president with immunity from prosecution for acts as president and to remove the term limits and allow the President to run for re-elections indefinitely. Only five members of the 180 members parliament voted against the bill.

This is a summarized account of the timelines of our constitution as we know it today. These are modifications to the laws of the land that should be known even to the non- constitutional scholars. As we fight for change, we must understand what we are fighting for and what is at stake. Our people must know what the constitution of their country says, how and when it’s being changed in major ways without their consent, and how it impacts all of us as a people. Our failure to be part of the process or our exclusion from it has enormous consequences on the future of our country. Our silence –complicit or not-- is as just a guilt as the Dictator’s impulse to exploit the naivety and ignorance of his people. Our failure to speak truth to power and to stand up for what’s right and just has subjected us all to the severe and dire consequences for which our people are paying such a steep price today. Let the lessons learned from history be forever engraved in the memory of our people. Let this new generation of our people, a generation full of hope, capacity and capability, learn from the mistakes of those who came before them, for unto them will be given the responsibility to shape a new destiny for the future our country and generations to come.

I urge our people to take the time to read and understand the constitution of their country. Share your understanding of the constitution with your friends. Discuss it, debate it, criticize it and tell your parliamentarian what you know is wrong with it and why it must be changed, because the fate and destiny of our country, the future of our children and what is written in the constitution are inextricably interlinked. The political opposition parties should print small booklets of the constitution and distribute it to the people for a symbolic fee of, say CFA 500. Those engaged in politics must explain to the people what is in the constitution and what is not in it, why it matters, how it impacts their current situation and the state of the country, and why it must be changed, if we want a better future for our children and generations to come.

If your parliamentarian voted to lift the presidential term limits in 2008, remind him of the consequence of his vote in favor of that bill, tell him why and how he is responsible for what our country is going through today. Teach him that the future of his children and their destiny have been put on hold because of his failure to act responsibly, and his refusal to stand up for what’s right and just for the country. Teach him that his failure to stand up for freedom and justice has caused an entire country and an entire generation of people to stumble for the wrongs of a few. We are at cause of what is happening to us. We are all somehow, someway responsible for the state of our country. We are the causation of the delay of our arrival to the proverbial promise land, because our parliamentarians voted to give a blank check and perpetuate a system that has stifled and stalled our dreams and aspirations, and our collective destiny as a people.

The urge to read and know what is in the constitution of your country is the first step towards understanding the root cause of the problems we face. It’s a step towards our spiritual awakening to greater consciousness and greater awareness. If we don’t become awaken to the reality and the urgency of “the now”, the colonial master will step in and pick our next President and we will be left with yet another President who may not be attuned to our convictions and aspirations, and who may not be committed to the cause of the change we so desperately seek and need at this point in time of our country’s history. If that happens, it may very well be the beginning of another two or three decades loss for our people, for the fight for freedom and democracy and for the future of our country. It’s up to us.

Change never comes easy. Change is never quick. Change requires patience, perseverance, hard work. It requires endurance, longsuffering, dedication and commitment. The strategy must be sustainable and the goals achievable. Day after day, we are breaking new grounds, we are making little leaps towards Liberty and Freedom, we are inching closer to the proverbial promise land. Day after day we are making a difference one little stride at a time, one little victory at a time.

We must educate our people on the urgency of the time. We must keep up the pressure on to this corrupt and incompetent system. The divine essence of the Cosmos, the arc of the moral Universe, the Universal pendulum of truth will again swing towards righteousness, justice and freedom. And when it does, the current system will crack from within and dismantled from without. Yes we can !

“If you grant unlimited powers to a President –or any man--, you must assume that he will exercise that power.” –ANST—

 

“An election is the single most important device through which we exercise our leverage on the democratic process of our country. It’s the mean by which we hold the elected branches of Government –The parliamentarians, the President—accountable.” –ANST—

 

“We must not vote for someone just because they are from the same tribe or ethnic group as we are. For if we do, we are setting back the democratic process of our country. We must only vote for those who share our values, our principles, our convictions and commitment for change” –ANST—

 

“Every Parliamentarian who voted to remove limits to the President’s term in 2008 surely does not deserve to be re-elected. He should be voted out of office.” –ANST--

 

Powered by the ANST Brotherhood –ANST--

 

 

 

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