Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version

President Paul Biya’s regime has deeply disillusioned the Cameroonian people, writes Peter Wuteh Vakunta. But Biya will not be president forever, so the challenge for Cameroonians is to look beyond the failed leadership and begin to imagine a new future for themselves.

It's often said that people deserve their leaders. Can anyone in their right frame of mind honestly deny the fact that Cameroonians deserve Mr Paul Barthélemy Biya Bi Mvondo? There is a generation of Cameroonians who have not known another president but Paul Biya. And they will never know another leader because by the time Paul Biya has completed his godly task of messing up Cameroon and is ready to give up the ghost these poor souls would be in the Never Land. Be it as it may, let it be known to these unfortunate souls that Cameroon has known its heydays. Cameroon has not always been this forsaken wasteland that has been transformed into a ‘corrupt club of banditti masquerading as leaders.’[1] The majority of Cameroonians born during this current dispensation of social and moral degeneracy have never known a police force that was not prone to corruption and dereliction of duty. They have never known an armed force that was not half-educated and uncivil.

The vast majority of young adults in Cameroon are unaware of the fact that once upon a time a person went to prison for giving a bounced check. The generality of Cameroonians born under Paul Biya cannot fathom that there was a time when fraudulent acts such as procuring bogus diplomas, fraudulently obtaining a driver’s license, tinkering with marriage and birth certificates, transplanting visas into passports, fabricating counterfeit banknotes, enriching oneself as a conman and more were considered felonies. To this generation, therefore, supposedly the future of this blighted nation, the end justifies the means. As Doh would have it, ‘all they … think they need is a job and some money to keep finding their way through the maze of sleaze and professional ethical squalor that marks social life in Cameroon’. [2]

Another critic of Paul Biya’s lame duck government has the following harsh words to say: ‘In Cameroon, a country that seems to have lost it head and sense of direction, the youths that constitute half of the population, are unable to fathom a future’. [3] Anyone who has had the misfortune of navigating the bureaucratic labyrinth of the public service in Yaoundé and other cities in Cameroon knows exactly what Pigeaud is talking about and need not be lectured on the ethical squalor and mental retardation that have become the hallmarks of Cameroonian ‘civil’ servants.

The idea that propelled me into crafting this article is to let Cameroonians at home and in the Diaspora know that there could be a better Cameroon; that there had been a better Cameroon, and that bribery and corruption, white collar thievery, brazen impunity and the rape of officialdom need not be the modus operandi in our beloved homeland. There is no gainsaying the fact that in a corrupt society, only few — the conniving and the powerful — continue to enrich themselves. [4] On the contrary, in a morally sane, law-abiding nation all who can afford to discipline themselves and work hard can make it to the top. The reason is that everyone benefits from social, economic and political stability, all ingredients that fertilise the environment and occasion blissful existence in lieu of the dire straits in which the majority of Cameroonians now live under Paul Biya’s government; a rogue regime that is fashioned, guided and run by a bunch of unpatriotic morally bankrupt grave-diggers parading as God’s ordained leaders of the nation. The stinking Beti-led oligarchy in Yaoundé is the open sore of our nation.

The ramifications of the governmental hold-up masterminded by a bunch of cocky Betis at the helm in Cameroon are legion. I will limit myself to a discussion of the most salient ones on account of the scope of this write-up. Brain drain, the flight of human capital from the homeland to countries overseas, is real and harmful. Brain drain has deleterious consequences for the growth of the nation’s economy. As a matter of fact, most Cameroonians are faced with two unpleasant choices: resistance or flight to unknown lands.

Pigeaud maintains that, ‘Those who leave often point to the Head of State and his style of government as the major reasons they are leaving.’ [5] She cites the lamentation of a young Cameroonian immigrant she interviewed to buttress her point: ‘If I stay in Cameroon, my life will be fucked up. Nothing has been done to encourage the youths although our country is rich.’ This should sound like a familiar song to most Cameroonians residing abroad.

Institutions of higher learning in the Western world are replete with talented Cameroonian intellectuals who have made their mark in all walks of life but dare not return home for fear of being ‘fucked up’ by a regime that has lost its bearings. Medical institutions the world over are teeming with gifted Cameroonian medics who cannot entertain the thought of returning home on account of the skeletal nature of our impoverished hospitals at home.

The crème de la crème of our legal practitioners are hibernating in nations in the West, torn between the fate of staying put to face incisive racism and the temptation to return home to be subjected to home-bred apartheid. Here is what a literati living abroad told Pigeaud: ‘I grew up in the Essos neighborhood in Yaoundé: not one of the fifty childhood friends that I had is still here in Cameroon. Some are in Bangladesh, in Nepal. That’s where the majority of Cameroonian youths end up.’

Corruption has crippling effects on the national economy. Moses Timah Njei makes heartrending remarks about the impact of corrupt practices on the image of Cameroon, which I am citing at length:

‘Corruption has brought our beloved country to her knees and exposed us to international ridicule. Our country has held the first position as the most corrupt nation on earth and it is on record that those governing us actually lobbied that the country be classified as one of the poorest highly indebted nations on earth! One really needs to be courageous and shame-proof to make a request like this for such an apparently rich nation. This act alone qualifies us to be in the hall of fame of corruption. The issue of corruption in Cameroon has gone past the level that can be described only as a social ill. It has effectively become part of our national culture. Corruption is embedded in every facet of our national life and it has effectively thwarted and dislocated our path to nationhood for generations to come. [8]

This explains the consternation of Cameroonian sociologist, Jean –Marc Ela: ‘It would appear that the case of Cameroon defies all attempts at comprehension. What has happened to this country seems unimaginable, unbelievable and impossible. In sum, it seems as if under Paul Biya Cameroon has plunged into illegality, irrationality, and insanity.’ [8]

In my hometown, it is said that the ‘baby’ cow watches its mother eat and then later it will begin to mimic her mother when its turn to eat comes. The majority of Cameroonians have learned to ape their corrupt leaders. Why would Cameroonians not be terribly corrupt when their Head of State and his ministers are all corrupt to the marrow? Nurses in hospitals and clinics have learned to misappropriate medicines, injections and other medical supplies. Some doctors have learned to charge illegal fees. Policemen have learned to take various sums of money in the form of bribes from taxi drivers, ‘bendskin’ drivers [10], ‘sauveteurs’ [11] and bayam sellam [12] in broad daylight!

Corruption is so endemic in Cameroon that the few decent citizens who refuse to engage in it are either ridiculed or coerced into the practice. On this note, Pigeaud maintains: ‘We could refer to this practice as the re-institutionalization of corruption with the blessing of the state. In Cameroon, the notion of corruption itself has been corrupted.’ [13] In Cameroon, if you are not corruptible, people think you are stupid. They will mock you and try to inveigle you into the rotten game. Cameroon’s brand of corruption is contagious.

It is not just corruption that has become the stock in trade of all Cameroonian leaders; impunity is another canker that has eaten deeply into the fabric of the government. That is why Pigeaud can afford to say: ‘The Cameroonian society, having lost its bearings, continues to commit multiple incongruities and seems to walk on its head.’ [14] Impunity knows no bounds in Cameroon. Informed Cameroonians would remember that in 2007, a member of the presidential guard shot and killed a young man who had tried to cross the street a little too early in the wake of a motorcade escorting the first lady. No one batted an eyelid after this incident occurred. Paranoia or apathy? Your guess is as good as mine.

Outspoken Cameroonian Cardinal, Christian Tumi, has wondered aloud whether or not he should be held accountable for flouting laws voted by deputies who have fraudulently made their way into the National Assembly: ‘Sometimes, I ask myself whether I should be held accountable for not obeying laws in this country, when I know that the deputies who voted these bills into law did not win the elections that brought them into the House. Who do they represent?’ [15] He further reiterates that in Cameroon ‘justice is bought and sold.’ [16]

As the foregoing discourse clearly indicates, the death knell of the republic of Cameroon has been sounded under Paul Biya’s cavalier regime. His government is, indeed, an open sore that defies all treatments; it is the shame of the nation. Adulated in the past for its talented soccer players, well-mannered citizens, robust economy, and enviable status as Africa in miniature; Cameroon has ended up in the trashcan of history! The misdeeds of our leaders have transformed our beloved fatherland into the laughing stock of Africa.

Ndifor’s narrative says it all: “Ah! “Your country recently held a presidential election. How did it go this time?’ the officer from Botswana, with a smirk on his face, asked. Even before I could answer, these men, all from African countries that have experienced smooth transitions of one government after another since their respective independence, jointly said that Cameroonians have lost their ‘dignity’ as a people and should consider the consequences.” [17] Ponder that!


* Dr Vakunta is professor of modern languages at the US Department Defense Language Institute in California. He is the author of numerous books including Cry My Beloved Africa: Essays on the Postcolonial Aura in Africa’(2007), No Love Lost (2008), Ntarikon (2009) ,Martyrdom (2010)Indigenization of Language in the Francophone Novel of Africa: A New Literary Canon’ (2011 and more). He blogs at vakunta
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

[1] Emmanuel Doh, Africa’s Political Wastelands: The Bastardization of Cameroon, Langaa Research & Publishing CIG, Bamenda, 2008, p.vii.
[2] Ibid, vii.
[3] Fanny Pigeaud, Au Cameroun de Paul Biya, Editions Karthala, Paris, 2011, p.7.
[4] Ibid,vii
[5] Ibid, 224.
[6] Ibid, 224.
[7] Ibid, 225.
[8] Moses Timah Njei, 'Cameroon and Corruption', culled from here
[9] Jean-Marc Ela, Innovations socials et renaissance de l’Afrique noire, L’Harmattan, Paris, 1998
[10] Motorcycle commuters
[11] Hawkers
[12] Retail traders
[13] Pigeaud,202
[14] Ibid, 208.
[15] Ibid, 207
[16] Ibid, 193.
[17] Joseph, M. Ndifor, 'Our Collective Shame', originally published at