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The word democracy comes from the Greek word “Demokratia” meaning simply, the rule of the people. In a democratic system of government, laws are designed and crafted under the premise of equality and freedom to all. These principles are reflected in all citizens being equal before the law and having equal access to legislative, political and social processes.


Perhaps, the idea of a democracy is best illustrated in the quote “Government of the people, for the people and by the people” – Abraham Lincoln -- 1863, in reference to democracy. In its modern implementation, democratic systems of Government have three branches: The Executive, --usually the President--the Legislative –the parliament--and the Judiciary –the courts--. The difference in the flavor of these democratic systems in the world today is how power is distributed or shared amongst these branches of Government. The constitution or the Law of the land must spell out and articulate the distribution of power and clearly define the powers vested in each of these branches.

A smartly crafted constitution must have built-in checks and balance mechanisms. It must foresee the possibility of someone misusing or abusing of the powers defined for each branch and it must design built-in arbitration mechanisms to prevent such an occurrence. In its modern implementations, the people are active participants in the affairs of the Nation. They make their voices heard through the election process and the elected representatives of the various segments of the population. The people are fully vested stake holders of the future of their country. A Government of the people, for the people and by the people, works at its best when the people have attained some level of maturity in the exercise of the democratic process among which is the debate of ideas.


So, how is this supposed to work, when people of all creed and all beliefs are allowed a voice at the table ? How do you guide people and society in a great debate of ideas without risking the country’s stability ? How do you get the people to attune to the habits of having vigorous but responsible debates, where the debates are only limited to ideas and not personalities ? How do we prevent the situation from getting out of control and degenerate into a conflict of personalities, personal vendettas, retaliation ? How do we control this potentially "nasty" process, so that it does not spin out of control, provoking ill feelings, hate and envy, anger and tantrum ? How do you get all the people of a country to agree on something, when you can’t even get to agree with a brother or a spouse ? How does the beautiful creed “Government of the People, for the People and by the People” truly operate in a real world ?

For a democratic process to succeed, there is got to be some ground rules, or rules of engagement so to speak. Rules intended to instill in the peoples’ mindset that, while we can't possibly agree on everything, --and that's not the object of a debate--we must teach ourselves how to respectfully disagree without being disagreeable. Respect for the human person is paramount to the process. While we may disagree that new Capital of Cameroon should be Ntarikon --just kidding--, we must respect each other in the process even as we vehemently disagree on the topic. Debates have to be strictly that of ideas only and not personalities. The African people will have to learn and assimilate this basic principle upon which lies the healthy exercise of a democratic process. This is where the principles of tolerance, self-control, moderation and inclusiveness need to apply. Reconciling ourselves to the principles of respect and dignity for one another –especially--when we disagree, overcoming the trappings of our own personal ego, our impulses of self-aggrandizement and the illusive belief that our ideas are superior to that of others are all predispositions to a healthy debate of ideas. Achieving your own personal freedom from within –freedom from hate, envy, jealousy, tribalism, prejudice, bribery and corruption-- and predisposing yourself to respect the freedom of others are requisites to the exercise of a healthy democratic process. Understanding that the paramount objective of a debate of an idea is to collaborate and improve on the idea and not a display of self-aggrandizement or mental and intellectual egotism or narcissism. The exercise of a healthy democratic process is more than an abstract. It’s a culture, it’s a mindset. It’s the acceptance of the idea that we are all connected at the core. It’s the reconciliation of our thought process. The idea that we are all Cameroonians, bound at the core by the principles of Respect and Dignity, Freedom and Justice, Respect for the rule of Law and Fidelity to the constitution. The notion that our spirit in debating ideas for the country is an expression of our Love for Country. It’s a demonstration of our willingness to be a stake holder of the future of our Country, and that each and every one of us may have something to contribute to this venture. Debating ideas in good faith demonstrates a conviction of our commitment to want to improve society and make life better for our fellow citizens with whom we share the public thing, the “Res Publicas” or the Republic called Cameroon.

The basic premise in a democratic system is that of the majority rule. However, there must be a disposition in all provisions for minority protections. A democratic system of Government assumes that if the majority of the people can agree on something or an idea, then the idea is considered --more or less-- acceptable to the country as a whole. The underlying guiding principle and assumption here is that if given the choice, the collective psyche of a people will somehow arrive at the right decision – for themselves – at that moment in time of their history. The people are truly responsible for their collective destiny. They are active stake holders in the affairs of their country. They can influence the democratic process directly –through elections-- or indirectly –through elected representatives--. It’s indeed a Government of the People, by the People and for the People. It’s what the slogan “Power to the People” truly means. While not being a perfect system, empirical evidence has demonstrably shown that, when it comes to the affairs of a nation or a collectivity of any kind, it simply works better than any other form of Government. Most all the countries in the modern and developed world today have implemented some form of a democratic system of Government. On the contrary, the countries that haven’t, --most sub-Saharan African Countries-- are ravaged by dictatorship, totalitarianism, corruption, misuse and abuse of power, abuse of the rule of law, lack of personal responsibility and accountability.

If democracy is the form of government of choice, the question then becomes, how do we go about instituting democracy in our country ? How do we smartly, and properly embed it into a system and a culture that may not necessarily be attuned to these principles ? What are the basic guidelines ? What are the design elements and model of a smartly engineered democratic process in African societies where the traditions of the old do not seem to be readily compatible with the principles of equality ? What are the culprits of such a system in a multi-ethnic, multi-tribal and multi-lingual environment like Cameroon with its 250 or more tribes and 300 plus dialects ? While there are many slivers to the answers to these questions, I like to delve in one them here: Freedom speech and opinion in a democratic society and the vetting of opinion.

In a free society, people are certainly entitled to their opinion. However, there is got to be some societal mechanism, by which the people can harness and leverage on ideas that are generally accepted to all, while marginalizing – without infringing on peoples freedom – ideas that are extreme and unacceptable to society. Perhaps a starting point is the quote “You are entitled to your opinions but not to your own facts”. We can't blame someone for holding a certain –provocative-- belief or line of thinking, because that's what freedom of opinion is all about. Having said that, we can create an environment where all beliefs and ideas are subjected to public vetting and scrutiny. The notion of debating ideas becomes a central guide in the exercise of democracy in a free society. All ideas must be subject to a vigorous and responsible debate. It’s only during and after a debate that the pros and cons, the strengths and weaknesses, the positives and negatives of an idea are highlighted and brought to the knowledge and scrutiny of the people. The premise of having a debate is that, the idea generally comes out better after the debate than prior. The collaborative aspect of the debate will necessarily bring improvement to the idea. This “socio-politico-philosophical” process of triage of ideas, will overtime, lead to a classification or categorization of ideas as mainstream or extreme. The learned people, the intellectuals, the elites of the society, and people of all works of life will have an important role in the analysis and the rationalization of a given idea. In this capacity, they serve as guidance to the people, even as everyone tries to form their own opinion on the given idea. 

For a democratic system to be successful, the leaders we select must be trustworthy. They must be the best our society can produce. They must be chosen among those who have demonstrably proven a level of uncompromised integrity and their love for country in some capacity. We must pick leaders who have a track record of commitment to the cause of the people and have a record of working to improve society as a whole. Because these are the citizens that are given the privilege to uphold the very principles that we aspire. The system must have in place, a formal or informal process through which all leaders of some capacity are selected, vetted and voted on. Society as a whole must express it’s ethos in the process. The collective belief of the people must encourage good behavior while marginalizing and rejecting unacceptable behavior. As a people, we must have a process in place to identify the good people of our society to whom we can entrust with power. We need a way to prospectively know that a given citizen will remain faithful to the principles and institutions that we seek to uphold -- once in position of power--. A way to predict –with some degree of relative assurance -- what someone will do when they get into a position of leadership or power. Vetting and scrutiny will lead the people to those leaders.
In modern societies, some of this is done by the Media through public hearings, interviews, background checks, books written by the individual, past positions held and lifetime achievements. The people have to know what your belief system is before any power is handed to you. It then becomes their responsibility –through their local elected representatives -- to decide whether or not, a given individual is fit to hold an office. The process winds up with an up or down vote to finalize the confirmation. In a country like Cameroon, anyone who aspires to hold power --in any relatively considerable capacity-- must be subjected to --some corresponding level of-- vetting and scrutiny. You simply must be one of the best, one of the high valued citizens, to be entrusted with power or the future of the country. 

If you are wondering how all this can happen in Cameroon, well the current Constitution of Cameroon –as bad as it is—still gives a lot of power to the legislative body or the National Assembly. 
In article 11, it states that –I will paraphrase here – The Government, led by the prime minister (appointed by the President) shall be responsible to the National Assembly. Furthermore, in article 34, sections 5 and 6, the National Assembly has the power to force the resignation of the Prime Minister and the Government if a vote of “No confidence” is passed. This enormous power bestowed onto the National Assembly can be leveraged to force good governance from our Government and from the President. The current opposition in Cameroon seems solely focused to replace the President. They seem to have concluded that the problem is the President, and that the only way to change their country is to replace that one man. Well, that’s only true to an extent. Because the problem is also the mind-set, the level of commitment to change and the integrity of the leaders, the elected representatives in the National Assembly and the people in Government as a whole. Replacing the President is a mean to an end and not the end itself. In other words, replacing one man, in and of itself will not necessarily yield the changes we seek. In my view, the changes we aspire are global in nature and replacing any one man --while perhaps helpful to the cause of change-- does not fit the entire bill. As of this writing, there are some twenty five people running for President in 2011 in a country of approximately twenty million people. Somehow, these people have all arrived to the conclusion that they have to be President to change their country. And the last time I checked, many of these people have no record, no considerable achievement in Government that the people can examine in order to evaluate their level of integrity, competence and commitment to change. Cameroon is truly in a state of crisis of Leadership. The opposition in Cameroon has been conspicuously incapable of designing and crafting a feasible and viable alternative to the current system. Yes, lets compete for and try to win the Presidential elections, but how about the National Assembly, where laws are being created ? If these people are objectively committed to changing the country, --and I believe some of them are--then the National Assembly is a powerful place to start. Why not form a coalition of majority at the Parliament and use the current laws in the books –as bad as they are-- to impact change ? Some may argue that the President won’t allow it. Well he did not allow “multi-partism” nor did he allow Freedom of Press either, but he was forced to accept both, albeit kicking and screaming. A smarter political strategy for the opposition at this time would be to win a strong majority at the National Assembly and start demonstrating some strong principles of good governance. And from this group of people will emerge the modern leaders of the future. Leaders who would have built a record of integrity, leadership skills and strong commitment for change.

We the people of Cameroon can start to impact some of these changes if we elect the correct people to the National Assembly. The National Assembly is the place where the people can stage the fight for change –constitutionally--. We can –even-- use the current laws in books to fight for some of these changes even as we look for more changes in the future. But first, we have to get the right leaders –committed to the cause-- elected to the national Assembly and not just elect the Chiefs, the NIs, the Fons and Lamidos --for whom I have enormous respect-- but who may not necessarily have the right credentials to carry on the fight for change.

The freedom we all seek from our Government –or the freedom from without-- is truly a fight for freedom from within. The freedom of the mind and spirit of each Cameroonian.--ANST--

“When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty” –Benjamin Franklyn.

"Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters." –Benjamin Franklyn.

“Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth” –Abraham Lincoln.



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