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FEDERALISM: THE 10 STATES SOLUTION

A VIABLE OPTION FOR CAMEROON

(Note: In this article, we will use the terms Federalism and Regionalism interchangeably)

Everyday, Cameroonians are waking up increasingly frustrated to the sobering reality that they have a President and a Government that represent neither their interests nor their aspirations, but nevertheless they are totally and utterly incapable of removing it from power either through the ballot box or through a mass demonstration similar to the Burkina Faso revolution.

After 33 --agonizing and painful-- years, during which, one despotic tyrant of a man has confiscated and consolidated all powers onto himself, the Cameroonian people are now paying the steep price for their complaisant and complicit ignorance, by allowing a tribally-centric Government to dig in and consolidate all powers onto one man, whose only goal is to maintain himself in power indefinitely without the consent of the people. How could we as a people not see this coming ? Why did we not foresee that the one man in whom we so naively entrust with all powers could ultimately fail us so miserably ? 

 

So the question becomes, what have we as a people learned from this --heart wrenching-- 33 year experience ? How can we as a people, prevent this from ever happening again to our country ? How can we, as a people setup a system of Government by the people and for the people that works for the people of Cameroon ? How do we design a system that is accountable to the people ? A system in which power is not centralized on one man, but is shared and distributed amongst different and independent branches of Government ? How do we imagine and establish a system of Government in which, there are checks and balances, where no one –small-- man can never again erect his selfish interest above the common interest of the entire nation ?

Why is it so difficult for the Cameroonian people to replicate the Burkina Faso experience ? Why can’t our people stand up as one and work together to rid themselves from a Government that they don’t want, let alone represents their common interests and aspirations? How can one man put an entire country in a three decades agonizing chokehold with no counter reaction or resistance from the people ? How is it that our diverse and divergent cultures, rooted in our –subconscious-- entrenched allegiance and loyalty to our respective tribes has led our country to this defining moment of its history ? 

Every Cameroonian of good faith, including those in power today, must be true to himself and his relationship with his tribe, and examine the possibility of a ten state Federal or Regional system of Government in Cameroon.

This writing is by no means an exhaustive guide to a Federalist constitutional form of Government, but we hope that it at least gives our people a broad understanding of how a Federal system can benefit all of us and get us out of the conundrum of tribalism and the predicament we find our country today.

Historical and empirical data show that a Centralized system of Government only works best for a homogenous society where the overwhelming majority of the people share a common history, a common culture, a common language and religion, and common physical attributes of the human race. Evidently, this is not the case in sub-Saharan Africa.

The African continent as we know it today is a very heterogeneous conglomeration of people with different histories, different religions, different cultures, different languages, different physical traits, different skin colors and different in almost every characteristics or attributes that may be used to describe the human species.

President Sarkozy, in his 2007 speech in Dakar Senegal referred to this as the mystery of black Africa.

« Je veux, ce soir, m’adresser à tous les Africains qui sont si différents les uns des autres, qui n’ont pas la même langue, qui n’ont pas la même religion, qui n’ont pas les mêmes coutumes, qui n’ont pas la même culture, qui n’ont pas la même histoire et qui pourtant se reconnaissent les uns les autres comme des Africains. Là réside le premier mystère de l’Afrique.”

--excerpts of President Nicolas Sarkozy speech in Dakar, Senegal 2007--

The people of sub-Saharan Africa of today are a group of people, who for the most part can’t trace their origins in time, and are lost in this vast piece of land called Africa. In virtually all parts of Africa today, you have some tribe disparaging and hating --or fighting against-- another tribe. In Ivory Coast you have the Laurent Gbagbo side (from the Bete tribe) fighting against the Alassane Ouattarra side (born in Dimbokro). In Rwanda, the world watched the dreadful and merciless human slaughtering between the Tootsies and Hutus. In Central Africa Republic, you have one tribe fighting against the other tribes. In Gabon, the Fangs are fighting against the (Ali Bongo’s tribe) for power.

Then in Cameroun, when Ahmadou Ahidjo was President, the rest of the tribes felt somewhat unprivileged and oppressed by the Houssas, and today with the current President, you have the Betis, who occupy literally all major positions in Government, while the other 200 or so tribes sit on the sidelines, complaining in frustration. And after the current regime comes to an end, regardless of who comes to power, we will be back at this drawing board complaining about some form of tribal-favoritism and injustice. 

The sub-Saharan African culture is fundamentally a culture of tribes. For most Africans, --consciously or subconsciously--, tribe is the preeminent factor in their thought processes, their decision making and choices. Tribal allegiance is essentially the only configuration in which most sub-Saharan Africa men identify with, find refuge and trust, more so than in Nationality. African people from the same tribe, instinctively, intuitively and naturally feel a bond of trust, a relationship of confidence, a partnership and friendship of love. Tribal loyalty seems to be a substantial part of the genetic makeup of the sub-Saharan African man, so much that reason is sometimes suppressed to the benefit of tribal affiliation.

I was flabbergasted to hear a former minister in Cameroon, on a television program, indicate that he considered himself a Beti before being a Cameroonian. At least one Cameroonian Beti General is on record saying that he would have made a coup d’état in 1992, had Ni John  Fru Ndi been declared the winner of the elections. The President himself once said that "Quand Yaounde respire, le Cameroun vit". How many times have we heard Cameroonians make statements like: an Anglophone, a Bamileke or a Bassa can never be President of Cameroon ? With these kinds of statements, why do we, as a people continue to pretend that we are a united people ? This gives us a glimpse of the mindset of the people running our country. Our President, in a recent interview on Boko Haram, compared the young Cameroonians who, in 2008 gave their lives fighting for a better future in their own country, to the “maquizards “ of the 60s, revealing how little he understands how times have changed. Our President does not seem to understand why our young people are fighting for a better country.

People, the inter-tribal mistrust in sub-Saharan Africa is just as severe and baffling as the inter-racial distrust between the black and white races.

Virtually every country in Sub-Saharan Africa is a powder keg, a ticking timing bomb waiting to explode as one tribe –usually the tribe in power-- abuses of power, disparages and marginalizes the others tribes.

So the questions before us is how do we as a people reconcile the inescapable geographical reality that obliges us to live together as tribes inside a country, --redistricted by the colonial power-- without alienating each other and be respectful of one another ? How do we shape a common destiny as a Nation while still maintaining our tribal allegiances and coexist in harmony with other tribes ? How do we imagine our common future, so that the extended stay in power of a misguided leader be inconsequential to the lives of others who may feel disenfranchised and disparaged ? How do we as a people maintain our tribal allegiances –which is in fact an asset and not a liability--, without alienating the other tribes of people?  

Cameroon as a nation is going through an everlasting agonizing convulsion of a tribal invasion. And the victims of the system suffer the same ills as the oppressors, because the notion of tribe is ingrained in the collective psyche our the country. Passive or active tribalism is a reality in the sub-consciousness of our people. And we must all accept that as a fact of life.

Needless to recall that the current failed geographical configuration of the African continent was designed by the colonial Master who perhaps at the time of it conception had no knowledge of the fundamental differences among our people that, interestingly enough, they referred to as people of color.

This incoherence of the master’s thoughtless geographical partitioning is now left to this generation of our people to correct or to mitigate. The problems of tribalism can no longer be ignored.

For years now, my position on Federalism has evolved, because clearly the current system that we have in Cameroon –or in most the sub-Saharan African countries— has never worked and is not working. We pretend to love each other, we pretend to want to transcend and overcome tribalism, our leaders preach national integration but do not match it with actions, our intellectuals have written books on the topic, and times have changed but the only constant in Black Africa has always been and remained our tribes. The notion of tribe is the resident sub-conscious indelible stigma that hunts us all, and is the constant drag to our progress as a country.

M. Biya came to power and tried, and after one failed coup attempt, --conspired entirely by one tribe--, he fearfully and hastily retreated to his tribal base, --courtesy of Essingang--, surrounded himself with the only people he could genuinely trust. And ever since, our people have been pouring an outcry of injustices, negative and bitter emotions.

Since our country adopted multi-party politics, time has passed; things have changed, but tribe is the only one stubborn constant in the struggle –along tribal lines-- of these people. Political parties are based on tribes. Major news outlets are based on tribes. Virtually all movements for change --and for the status quo alike-- are based on tribes. All the struggles to free our country --and all the forces of resistance and inertia alike-- operate on tribal lines. All political establishments are predominantly dominated by one tribe. So we ask the questions: where is reasoning ? Where is truth and justice ? Where is rational thinking ?

Even though some of the Beti people in Yaounde may feel disenfranchised by the current system, they are not ready to support any movement for positive change, because sub-consciously, their tribal allegiance outweighs the reason --or the rational-- behind the change that we seek. The Beti people believe that they have to be loyal to their tribe’s leader at all cost even though they all recognize and acknowledge --in silence-- that system has failed the country. In fact, even the disenfranchised Betis will fight against change because they fear that another tribe will take over the power that they --tribally-- consider theirs.

So, people, that is the sobering reality of our country. Tribalism is a fact that must be factored in. Tribalism is our existential problem of which the stigma is deeply rooted in our subconscious thought process. Tribalism runs through the neural pathways of our reasoning and understanding of the world around us. To solve any problem, we must first admit its existence. And so, let’s admits shamelessly that tribalism is indeed our problem. The good news is that there are solutions to mitigate and minimize the impact of tribalism in the lives of our people. Let people of more or less of the same tribes govern themselves locally ! And in fact, we are already admitting that with the official recognition of tribal leaders such as the village chiefs, the Fons, the Lamidos and others.

BLUEPRINT OF A FEDERAL/REGIONAL SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT

If we are honest with ourselves, we must factor and embed our tribal ethos in Governance.  And Federalism is a system of Government that was designed to accomplish just that.

Cameroon has 10 Regions or Provinces. Undoubtedly and interestingly, this partitioning was also decided –more or less-- on tribal lines. So why don’t we just use it ? A Federal or Regional system of Governance will greatly ease inter-tribal tensions and brings peace and stability to the country. It has the capacity to institute social justice, good and accountable governance --at least at the local level-- in our country. Let people of --more or less-- the same tribes govern themselves locally. And like in the neighboring Nigeria, the Central Government will represent the country at the international level.

ELECTED GOVERNORS

In a Regional or Federal system of Government, the Governors would be elected by the people of that Region or Province. This configuration has been demonstrated to achieve social justice, because the elected Governor will be someone close to the people, someone who empathizes with the history of the people, someone who understands the culture, the language, the religion, the core beliefs and the aspirations of the people who elected him. Such a Governor will be accountable to the people who elected him, people he trust and love because they are his own people.

This is clearly not the case in our Republic today. The last time I checked, several Governors of Regions are foreign to that region with no attaches and affinities to the Region. These Governors, for the most part have no knowledge of the history and culture of the people under their jurisdictions, and really are strangers to these people who do not know him nor elected him.

In a Regional or Federal system, the Governor of a Province will have tangible affinities and real ties to the people who elected him. The constitution will have to be modified to give more powers to the elected Governor in their Region or Province. Local Governments work best, because they are closer to the people, and can empathize and sympathize with the people.

These elected governors will have real constitutional powers to manage the local government. The local government –which is necessarily closer to the people-- will be responsible for regional policing, regional education, establishing drivers licenses, manage hospitals, water and power plants, public housing, etc... The locally elected Governor will also be responsible for organizing elections in the region and proclaiming the result. The Governor will also be responsible for managing the budget of that region and is accountable to the local people who elected him.

The Central Government in Yaounde will still be responsible for defining a foreign policy, managing the military and protecting the territorial integrity of the country, articulating immigration policies and managing other aspects of governance that are global to the country.

 

GROOMING OF FUTURE PRESIDENTS

Cameroon is a country with a tremendous amount of human capital, human intellect that are being wasted, because the overly Centralized Government in Yaounde, leaves no options to non-Beti people who are not in the CPDM. As a result, people like Maurice Kamto, Ni John Fru Ndi, Garga Haman, --just to name a few-- all of whom could greatly contribute to our country are sitting on the sidelines, waiting and wasting unnecessarily.

Ni John Fru Ndi could have been a great Governor of the NW Province with real powers. He could have helped the people of that province build their Province per their aspirations. In a Federal system of Government, Ni John Fru Ndi would have been given the opportunity to serve the people of that province whom he genuinely loves, for the good of Cameroon, and we would all be better off.

Maurice Kamto, the current president of the MRC is a man with enormous skills, intelligence and knowledge. A man with a futuristic vision for Cameroon. But in the current system, he is wasted on the sidelines, not doing much to help the Cameroonian people, because the Nkukuma has frozen in power. In a Federal or Regional system, M. Kamto could have been a true leader, as Governor of the Western Province, implementing his vision of change, improving on the lives of the people whom he genuinely loves and considers his brothers. This would have been good for Cameroon.

Garga Haman, the ex Minister of Public Service known to many as one of the most competent technocrats that Cameroon ever produced. A man with great integrity, great honor, knowledge, deontology and dedication to public service, is waiting and wasting on the sideline because the Nkukuma, for some reason does not want people that he considers a threat to his tribal power. In a Federal system, Garga Haman could have been a wonderful and inspiring leader in the Northern Province, implementing his vision to his people and changing the lives of these Cameroonians in the North. And Cameroon would have been a much better country.

We can say the same of Kah Walla, Jean Jacques Ekindi and others who are now wasting in Cameroon doing nothing.

People, all these folks are genuine Cameroonians each of whom has some vision of the country that will never come to materialization in our country, because the one man sitting in Etoudi for 32+ years has brought the country to a standstill, a total inertia. All of these leaders have potentials that our country needs. For a country to develop, we need alternate visions, alternate way of thinking, imagining and governing. And a Federal system of Government will give us just that.

REGIONAL GOVERNORS WOULD BE PRIMES FOR THE PRESIDENCY

In the Cameroon of today, everyone is talking about a void in leadership. Well, the good news is that there is no void in leadership whatsoever. There are plenty of Cameroonians who could lead the country much better than the current regime. But our overly Centralized system of Government leaves these leaders out. Also, leaders in the CPDM who could have aspired to high office are all locked in the slammer with the keys swallowed by the lion of Etoudi.

In a Regional or Federal system, each Province would become a laboratory of Democracy and good governance. These elected Provincial Governors would then be groomed for the Presidency. Federalism would give these leaders the opportunity to implement progressive policies in their Provinces, demonstrate good governance in their provinces even as they aspire to lead the whole country at some point in their political career.

A MORE ACCOUNTABLE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY AND SENATE

In the wake of the controversial law against terrorism, despite the massive outcry of our people, the law had a smooth sailing through the National Assembly and the Senate without an iota of resistance. Why ? Well, because the people at the NA do not represent the Cameroonian people. They represent the CPDM system and are only accountable to that system. Comes election time, the vote of the people will not be counted. The Central Government in Yaounde, which is responsible to proclaim the result of all elections will decide in their favor. So a parliamentarian really has no reason to worry about not being re-elected, because elections will be rigged to his favor. Hence they do not represent the people of Cameroon. They represent the CPDM system that will rig the election and return them to the NA. This is what happened in the 1992 election which many still believe that Ni John Fru Ndi won. The people at the high courts in Yaounde who are handpicked by the President, declared M. Biya the winner to the chagrin of an entire nation. 

A federal system will change that. In a federal system, the power to organize elections and to proclaim elections results will be left to the Provincial Government headed by the elected Governor who, by virtue of his popular mandate, is necessarily independent and has no incentive to favor any one party or a sitting President. Hence rigging elections will be much harder.

A Federal configuration will constrain the people elected to the National Assembly to truly represent the views of the people in their respective provinces, because if they don't, they will be voted out of office and the CPDM election-rigging machine will not help them.

POWERS OF A LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN A FEDERAL SYSTEM

Let us get to some of the technicalities to institute a federal system in Cameroon. Cameroon has ten Provinces or Regions. Each province will become a semi-autonomous state with an elected Governor and a local Government. The constitution will clearly define the powers of the local Government. Typically, in modern Federalist implementations around the world today, the local Government is responsible for:

1-    Policing the state. This is law and order.

2-    Issue ID cards, drivers licenses, passports

3-    Provide for the general welfare of the people of the state

4-    Define the educational policy in Primary and secondary education. Define healthcare policies.

5-    Organize and proclaim election results. (Local and National)

 

POWERS OF THE CENTRAL GOVERNMENT.

The Central Government will still be responsible for:

1-    Protection of the territorial integrity of the Nation,

2-    Creating and operating the military

3-    Defining foreign policies, signing international treaties

4-    Regulating interstate commerce.

In the case of the United States of America, the constitution clearly enumerates all the powers of the Federal government. All other powers not specifically granted by the constitution to the Federal Government are left to the state.

If we adopt a federal system of Government, the Regions will become laboratories of democracy and Regions can learn from each other and establish guidelines of the best practices and good governance in regional affairs. For instance, if the SW Province is doing pretty well, because the Governor there has implemented a great idea, the NW Province can learn from it and adopt the idea.

Furthermore, Governors of these states will be groomed and prepared to run for President, overcoming the void in alternate leadership that is so conspicuous in Cameroon today. When a Governor aspires to bid for the Presidency, the people can look at his Region to evaluate his competence, his experience and achievements, and his capacity to govern. In Federal systems, Governorship is an ideal position to prepare future Presidents.

TRIBALISM WILL BE MITIGATED

In a federal system, candidates aspiring to become Presidents will have to build coalitions with Governors of other Regions. The constraint of building a consensus and a coalition will necessarily make any future President less likely inclined to practice tribal-favoritism. If a President becomes overly tribalistic, he can only nominate people of his tribe at the Central Government. Nominations at the regional Government are the prerogatives of the elected Governor. And comes time of election, the Presidents party can’t rig elections in the Regions, because the Governor of the Region is responsible to organize elections and proclaim the results.

ELECTIONS WILL BE HARDER TO RIG

In a Federal system, if a President becomes locked into his tribal allegiance and unresponsive to the needs and demands of the people, he will have virtually no chance to win reelection and no possibility to rig elections, because the Regional Government is responsible for organizing elections and proclaiming the results. Democracy works best in a Federal system of Government.

PARLIAMENTARIANS AND SENATORS WILL HAVE TO REPRESENT THE PEOPLE

In a Regional system, our parliamentarians will have to represent the people of their provinces because if they don’t they will be voted out of office, because the President, their party or Elecam can’t help them rig election, because the provincially elected and independent Governor of the state will have no incentive to favor a rubber stamp parliamentarian to the President. So, a Federal system of Government necessarily decentralizes power and mitigates the strong hold of dictatorship and tribalism in our country. If we had a Federal system, our people would have been able to vote these rogue parliamentarians out of office for their votes in 2008.

EFFECTS OF TRIBALISM WILL BE MITIGATED

In a Federal or Regional system, if a President becomes overly tribalistic as is with the current regime, his actions are less likely to negatively impact all of our people. If the President only nominates people of his tribe, he can only do so for the Central Government and will surely not be re-elected and will have no way to rig elections that he no longer controls.

 

CONCLUSION

So people, tribalism is the conundrum of our Country. It is the elephant in the room that we have ignored for far too long. It has become the culprit that allows one man to take the entire country hostage, surrounding himself with his tribesmen, his brothers and cousins at the expense of the rest of a desperate country who has no way to fight back and free itself from the strong hold. Tribalism is a real weapon that all FrancAfrique dictators have used to perpetuate their stay in power. It is the Dictators sacred weapon to cling to power indefinitely, with the help of his tribesmen while the majority of the country cries out for injustice. Tribalism is what the colonial master used to divide our people, to easily enslave us and control our resources. It is our inherent vulnerability that the colonial master understood and exploited to his advantage. It is what the colonial Master uses to set us against each other, one tribe against another.

Federalism could be the anti-dote to the effects and affects of tribalism. Federalism could be the mitigating formulation that neutralizes the devastating effect of dictatorship, exacerbated tribalism and tyranny in sub-Saharan Africa. Let people of the same tribes govern themselves !

As a people, we must learn from the current situation and understand how we got ourselves into this predicament. After M. Biya leaves office, the next President will have to at least give a thought to the options of Federalism to keep our country together before the powder keg explodes. Our people simply can’t take it anymore. There is so much at stake. There are too many roads, too many hospitals, too many bridges, too many decent houses to build for our people, too many projects to lift our people out of poverty. And a Federal system of Government will get us there quicker without having to rely on any one man, --who could be vulnerable to tribal spell-- who is always resting on a distant shore, far removed from the daily realities and the sufferings of his people. That one man will almost always fail us.

I hope that the idea of Federalism or Regionalism is an idea that the whole DIASPORA --which is also divided in tribal lines-- can unite and rally around. It could be a common cause that we can all support, irrespective of our tribes and ethnicity. Federalism or Regionalism is perhaps the one idea that can unite our tribally diverse and divergent ethos.

When the current system comes to an end, a "National Conference" will be an ideal platform to discuss the Federal or Regional system of Governance in Cameroon.

 

 

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