A visit to Unity Palace provokes so many ideas in our collective imagination; I decided to recount to you, in a rather personal way, the experience of Friday, July 3, 2015.
The Dilemma - To go or not to go?
The experience began with a phone call from the Presidency of Cameroon on the afternoon of July 2nd, informing me that I was invited to the State Dinner for the reception of President Francois Hollande the next day. Immediately, I hesitated. This invitation was disturbing on several levels.
First, with regard to form: is it normal to be invited to the Presidency of the Republic just 24 hours before the event? Why had the Presidency decided to invite the CPP at the last minute?
Then, with regard to substance: should one accept the invitation of a Presidency whose vehicle was used to kidnap the President of the CPP that I am, in 2011? This same Presidency remains systematically silent when our political rights are trampled upon by its administration: regular refusal to hold political meetings, prohibition of the CPP’s participation in the May 20th parade, refusal to allow non-violent public demonstrations, etc. Why accept to play in the charade when this Presidency now wants to look good in front of its French guests?
After discussion with members of the National Secretariat of the CPP, we decided to honor the invitation. My colleagues reminded me that our policy is that of active diplomacy: firmness in our positions, but always remaining open to dialogue. So off I went to Etoudi.
The arrival at the Unity Palace is quite prestigious. The building is imposing and the beautiful fountains, majestic. The national orchestra plays as one climbs the red-carpeted stairs and there is a sense of pride in being Cameroonian. This feeling decreases somewhat as one enters the room. We wait for the ushers to find the seat of one of the guests. They rummage through a stack of papers. There is a glimmer of arrogance on the face of some palace staff, the program starts late and nothing is envisaged to help keep guests entertained, the set-up of the room that does not allow all guests to follow every aspect of the ceremony. As far as organization goes, one has seen much better.
With the other guests, we listen to statements of the Presidents, the answers to the four questions (carefully selected) of the journalists and the toast of the two presidents to guests. This is what we retained:
The Agenda is French
Francois Hollande came with a French agenda and got most of what he was looking for:
• France will host the conference on climate change in December 2015. He obtained the participation of President Biya
• He insisted on judicial cooperation between Cameroon and France. President Biya promised to see what the constitution will allow him to do for the case of the lawyer LydienneEyoum who is of French nationality (implying a presidential pardon)
• He emphasized the public aid from France to Cameroon for regional security and development of Cameroon
• He thanked Cameroon for supporting French action in the Central African Republic and for the release of French hostages.
• He stressed what French companies can offer in Cameroon
• Finally, he admitted the "troubled history" that exists between France and Cameroon without specifying the key elements of this history and without addressing its implications in the economic, political and social relations between France and Cameroon today.
On the Cameroonian side, there was no clear agenda. On the contrary, President Paul Biya:
• Seized yet another opportunity to taunt Cameroonians with his "Does not stay in power he who wants to, but rather he who has the power to".
• Confirmed that his candidacy in 2018 is likely, too bad for all those who doubted this.
• Did not at all address the issues that pose real problems between Cameroon and France, including:
o The history of Cameroonian independence and crimes committed by the French state and the French authorities throughout this period
o Economic relations of today with French companies who are struggling to meet their commitments and deliver results in cases such as the management of the Port of Douala, railway transport management; and the treatment of Cameroonian employees in these companies. No mention of contracts awarded for the most part to French companies within the framework of development partnerships and even less said of the need to see Cameroonian entrepreneurs grow through these partnerships.
The result? No commitment on the French side vis-à-vis the Cameroon. No task on which the French government has to work was mentioned. The Cameroonian government did not ask.
After the visit of Francois Hollande, Cameroon got nothing, mostly due of lack of active diplomacy on the part of our government. This is also certainly due to the lack of an ambitious vision which puts the interest of Cameroonians at the center of our governance.
For the Cameroon People's Party, our country still needs to settle the score with France as concerns our fight for independence. This must be done through a comprehensive process of national apology, forgiveness and reparation to redefine a partnership of equals between Cameroon and France at the political, economic and social levels.
This will never be possible with the current regime which is prisoner to that history and which draws all its power from the intimidation and repression of the people of Cameroon that was established at that time.
To regain our dignity and determine our future for ourselves, we have one job to do: get rid of the current regime and replace it with a new one whose essence is to satisfy our interests as a people. Only then will we have the opportunity to visit the Etoudi Palace, without hesitation and mistrust, but with pride and belonging, for indeed, the presidential palace will then be the people's palace.
The Time Is NOW!