By Tikum Mbah Azonga
This paper is an adaptation of an earlier one I delivered on the Cameroon National Radio Station on the 8th of May 2002, as a reaction to attempts by the Extreme Left to get to power and the efforts of the popular will to block its ascendancy. 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), Yaoundé, between 2002 and 2005.
Under normal circumstances, Jean Marie Le Penn’s spectacular victory in the first round of the elections was a remarkable feat, a hat trick that warranted popping of the champagne bottles. As might be expected, he and his supporters did the toasting, but while that happened, many other French people held huge rallies calling for him to be trounced in the second round, for they saw his extreme leftists policies of “La France aux Français” (France for the French) as a dangerous policy that could greatly divide the nation and contradict its lofty ideals of ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’. Over across in the Netherlands, another Extreme Left politician, Pim Fontoin took a similar nationalistic stance. But as we know, some of his fellow country men and women disagreed strongly with him and even went as far as wishing painful death on him.
Obviously, these two French and Dutch cases raise serious questions about what exactly is democracy, for, why should anyone who wins an election have his ascendancy curve stopped in its track just because some people do not like his or her ideas? And just in case anyone is wondering what democracy is, let us recall the definition given by the KNDP party here in Cameroon when it existed in the early 1960s. According to posters put up by the party at the time, democracy was “government of the people, for the people and by the people.” Even so, this definition is not waterproof because it is difficult to think of an instance when government which is an ideology can actually involve ‘all’ the people as such. There will always be some who hold contrary views, thus making total consensus utopia, unless of course one were living in a dictatorship. We all know that voting time is surely not a time of consensus for, while some voters cast their votes for one party, others will cast theirs for another. Furthermore, usually not all voters register to vote, which means that when it comes to voting time, the unregistered persons will not be able to vote, even if they want to do so. Then again, some of those who register may decide not to vote on voting day. They may abstain. Even among those who turn up to vote some may decide to cast blank votes.
At the end of the day, whether we like it or not, each country interprets and applies democracy in its own way. That is why whereas America has two active political parties, Britain and France each has around 15. Our country, Cameroon, now has about 200. Poland and Zaire (today renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo) have been known to have up to 400. So as we can see, there is no such thing as an ideal number of political parties a country should have. We also know that while a country like France dethroned and executed its ruling monarch and instituted a Republic which has survived to this day, the British are still ruled by a queen with no likelihood of abolishing the monarchy. Yet both countries are said to be democratic.
Cameroon therefore has, or ought to have, its own democratic identity. We are the only country in Africa that uses French and English as official languages and speaks over 230 national languages, while managing somehow or other to hold together its numerous ethnic groups. Consequently, in a way, we can not help agreeing with the country’s president, Paul Biya, when he says, “Le Cameroon C`est le Cameroon” (Cameroon is Cameroon).
While we exercise our democratic rights, we would do well to prioritize the consolidation of the democratic gains already made. If we do not, we risk being like the dog which while carrying a bone across a stream, lost it as it dived at the shadow of the reflected bone in the stream below, thinking it was capturing a larger bone. Let us not drop the substance for the shadow.