This paper is an adaptation of an earlier one I delivered on the Cameroon National Radio Station on the 10th of July 2002. The paper was broadcast following the publication of municipal elections that had just been held. Legislative elections which took place on the same day were still being awaited. The paper was one of the daily political commentaries I delivered on the 6.30 a.m. prime time national and world news on Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV), Yaounde, between 2002 and 2005.
An English language dictionary of unquestionable international repute defines the word, ‘character’, as “all the mental or moral qualities that make a person, group, nation, etc, different from others”. Another description is given as, “the ability to handle dangerous or difficult situations; moral strength.” This paper attempts a look at the political character of the Cameroon elected official.
For the newly elected councilors who saw added responsibilities thrust upon their shoulders when they were designated by their various constituents recently, the real task has only just begun. As representatives of the local communities, they will have to muster all the momentum and astuteness with which strength of character can endow a leader. This will enable them to secure even more strongly, the confidence of the electorate who by giving them their votes, in a way swore and stood by them. Having such strength of character will also ensure that the newly elected officials not only keep at bay those losers who may be overtly or covertly plotting against them, but actually convert them into friends, even if they are only political friends with all the implications that go with that status. Perhaps over and above everything else, the new councilors must realize that the electorate expects a new lease of life from them. True, some of the voters’ expectations may be unrealistic and unrealizable. But then, that is all part of the political game.
When legislative election results are also formally announced – and that should be soon – the newly elected parliamentarians will find themselves faced with a similar task. Even so, there will be more for the deputy to chew than the councilor, for, the former has dominion over a larger constituency in surface area and demographic terms. This stance is lent credence by the fact that it is said and widely believed here in Cameroon where both French and English are official languages that the parliamentarian is a “député de la nation”, and not only that of his or her constituency. The parliamentarian will move around more and mix with more people. He or she is the one who will have direct access to ministers in order to plead for development projects in their constituencies. He or she is the one who will occasionally be placed on a trip abroad along the lines of parliamentary exigencies. As such the deputy will have the advantage of comparing notes not just with deputies from other parts of the country, but also from other parts of the world. From all of the above, it is clear that the task of leadership is a Herculean one. No wonder, one pundit once said: “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”
Nonetheless, the danger is that these men and women now being sworn in may soon commit the cardinal sin that most leaders, especially political ones, are guilty of, once they get to power. They soon forgot those voters who brought them to their newly found glory. By so doing, they show weakness, rather than strength, of character. As the late famous musician, Elvis Presley, once put it: “I don’t like people who go into politics for themselves. If you want that, you can go into show business.” Another commentator, Victor Cousin, said: “You can only govern men by serving them”.
In the exercise of their duties, some politicians behave as if they are God’ gift to the world. Yet the bible is clear on what should be the line of action to take:
“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. “ (Psalm 24:1-2).
Yet when it’s time for the next elections, the same rulers will return to the same constituents with their political hats in their hands, on bended knees, armed with sour gifts and stale pledges, promising them heaven and earth. At that point, the electorate may very well reject them on the grounds that when they were hungry and thirsty, the politicians failed to give them food and drink.
As the Irish writer George Bernard Shaw once put it, “An election is a moral horror, as bad as battle, except that it doesn’t have the blood. It is a mud bath for every soul concerned.”
Surely, now is the time, on this dawn of a new era, for our leaders to start building bridges which will link them to the future. In so doing, they must remember that the people they meet on their way up are the same ones they will meet on their way down. That may be the utmost test for political strength of character.