By Tikum Mbah Azonga
This paper is an adaptation of an earlier one I delivered on the Cameroon National Radio Television Station on the 24th of September 2002, as a reflection on the crisis in the Ivory Coast that threatened to divide the country . 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 between 2002 and 2005.
A little under a week after the bubble burst and blood flowed on the streets of Côte d’Ivoire, the dust has still not settled. Running battles continue. And so, what had worked like mere pockets of resistance are turning out to be a well orchestrated show of strength. There is no doubt that despite the flying in of French troops, avowedly to protect French nationals and other foreigners as well as the hurried return home from abroad by President Lawrence Gbagbo, the situation continues to be volatile and precarious. Yet in all of this, we must look introspectively in conformity with the saying that if your neighbour’s house catches fire, you must rush to yours and make sure it is safe.
One cannot help wondering how Cote d`Ivoire, a country with such a high profile, which had enjoyed peace and stability for so long could so easily have succumbed to such a rapid disintegration. However, a closer look indicates that there are reasons for that. For too long, the country lived under the shadow of one man, President Houphouet-Boigny who led the country to independence and ruled it with an iron fist single handed until his death in 1993. His succession was never well thought out, let alone prepared. In fact, it was a question the Ivorian evaded when asked about it, just like president Mobutu Sesse Seko Kuku Gbendu Waza Banga did in Zaire.
So when Houphouet-Boigny died, the ruling class was suddenly and unexpectedly beset by the twin problems of coping with the trauma of his exit and replacing him. Yet, in his life time, he had resisted stepping down, even for health reasons. The situation was different here in Cameroon where the first President Ahmadou Ahidjo had made known who would succeed him, a strategy that materialized when President Paul Biya took over in 1982 naturally. So, in Cameroon, there was change in continuity even if there has been a hiccup.
Contrary to Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire has hardly given its armed forces the importance they deserve. Perhaps for fear of a threat to his position, President Houphouet-Boigny opted for when he called a symbolic army. When he finally departed and a new president took over, other more pressing issues took up his time. To this day, the Ivorian army is said to have no elite unit or an air force worthy of the name. Even when the rebels struck last week, the regular army is said to have been unable to readily gain access to arms or ammunition, hence their running into troubled waters.
Here in Cameroon, our armed forces on the other hand have remained well maintained, serene, efficient, and disciplined, compared not only with their Ivorian counterparts but also those of many other African countries which this political commentator has visited. Unlike some other African armies, ours is kept busy even in peace times with day- to day activities, which is why among its ranks we have doctors, magistrates, translators, journalists, nurses, etc. Members of our armed forces whose numbers are boosted by the increasing number of graduates and women that swell their ranks, make the corps one of our country`s most outstanding institution, greatly admired by foreign visitors.
One point that stands out in the Ivorian crisis is their patchy national unity. It is because of this factor that Alassane Ouattara who had served unopposed as Prime Minister under Houphouet-Boigny was suddenly declared a `foreigner` not eligible for President. Here in Cameroon the policy by which the government posts civil servants to any part of the country has greatly helped in Cementing national unity because it allows people from different parts of the country to cohabit peacefully and consequently get to know each other better. In Africa, Cameroon has set an enviable example on that score.
The biggest lesson from the Ivorian crisis is that we in Cameroon have come a long way. Our own challenges lie in consolidating those gains.