A fractured opposition risks shooting itself in the foot
With less than two months to go before the October 11 presidential election in Cameroon, intrigues and accusations have become the order of the day for the country’s political parties.
While this might be part and parcel of the manoeuvring that precedes most elections, it has also dampened hopes that the opposition will be able to unite behind a single candidate who is capable of defeating the incumbent head of state, Paul Biya.
The October poll will be the third presidential election to take place in Cameroon since the introduction of multiparty politics in 1991.
The first poll, in 1992, and the second—in 1997—were both won by Biya, although international observers expressed reservations about the elections. Biya first came to power in 1982, succeeding Ahmadou Ahidjo, the only other person to lead Cameroon since the country’s independence on January 1 1960. The 71-year-old president has yet to announce his candidacy officially for this year’s poll.
According to official statistics, about 200 political parties have been established over the past 13 years in the West African country.
Only four of these groups are really forces to be reckoned with, however.
At the head of the pack is the ruling Democratic Union of the Cameroonian People, which won parliamentary elections in 2002—also amid allegations of voting irregularities.
The Social Democratic Front (SDF), the Democratic Union of Cameroon (Union Démocratique du Cameroun, or UDC) and the National Union for Democracy and Progress (Union Nationale pour la Démocratie et le Progress, or UNDP) are also vying for support—this amid palpable animosity between Biya and the opposition.
SDF president John Fru Ndi has long claimed that he was the true winner of the 1992 poll.
In 2003, the SDF and UDC joined forces to form the National Coalition for Reconciliation and Reconstruction (Coalition Nationale pour la Réconciliation et la Reconstruction, or CNRR), with the aim of nominating a single candidate in the race against Biya.
Earlier this month, however, there appeared little unity of purpose on this matter. At a meeting held in the city of Bafoussam—north-west of the capital, Yaounde—SDF supporters wore T-shirts sporting images of Fru Ndi and held signs asking people to opt for change by voting for him in October. Not to be outdone, UDC members were broadcasting messages supporting their own leader, Adamou Ndam Njoya, for the presidency.
“It’s come down to little games [among the leaders] of the opposition who, in previous elections, maintained the illusion that they would support a sole candidate before their egos finally caught up with them,” says Alain Didier Olinga, a political observer who also teaches at the Institute of International Affairs in Cameroon.
“You see, all this movement right now shows that they are incapable of rising above personal rivalries to support one candidate who can beat the incumbent,” he adds.
Not so, says Njoya.
“This sudden feverishness is, after all is said and done, completely normal,” the UDC president says, adding: “There are neither quarrels nor problems within the leadership of the CNRR which, up until now, has shown that it is capable of mobilising.”
“The leaders of parties in this coalition are confident that when the moment comes, they will be able to run a single candidate who will bring the regime of Mr Biya to an end,” he notes.
Apart from the CNRR, opposition groups have also formed the Front for Alternative Forces in Cameroon (Front des Forces Alternatives du Cameroun, or FFA). At present, the two coalitions campaign separately.
The FFA has also questioned the credibility of opposition members who have previously been allied to the ruling party. Henri Hogbe Nlend, former secretary general of the Union of the People of Cameroon (Union des Populations du Cameroun, or UPC) and UNDP vice-president Celestin Bedzigui are among those who supported Biya—but have since shifted their allegiance back to the opposition.
Tazoacha Asongany, secretary general of the SDF, shrugs off the allegation that certain party loyalities in the opposition may be less than solid.
“All that is a thing of the past,” he claims.
Apart from Fru Ndi and Ndam Njoya, Samuel Mack-It of the UPC; Djeukam Tchameni, president of the Movement for Democracy and Interdependence; and Victorin Hameni Bieleu, president of the Union of Democratic Forces of Cameroon have also declared their presidential ambitions. This has dealt another blow to the prospect of a unified front on the part of the opposition.
Officials have clamped down on several protest marches that were scheduled to take place in Yaounde and the economic centre of Douala during the past few weeks in support of fair elections. An opposition member, Jean Jacques Ekindi, has also found himself under house arrest. Ekindi is the coordinator of the Progressive Movement.
These marches notwithstanding, various reports indicate widespread apathy among Cameroonians—many of whom seem to fear that the October poll will be dogged by the same irregularities that plagued previous elections.
There are also fears, however, that the poll will stir simmering discontent among English speakers, some of whom argue for secession from the rest of the country, which is mainly francophone. Most English speakers live in the north-west and south-west provinces of Cameroon.
According to official sources, anglophones represent about 20% of the country’s 15,8-million people. English-speaking militants complain that they are excluded from key posts in the government and anglophone parts of the country are said to receive little investment for development.—IPS