Originally Published in Success Story E-Magazine no 006, February 2008
In this major interview with Success Story E-Magazine, Dibussi Tande talks about a variety of hot-button issues including:
- The role of the Diaspora in national development
- The role of political parties in the political process in Cameroon
- The fallout from Cameroon's outdated and colonial educational system
- The state of Anglophone Literature today
- What the future holds for Cameroon's youth
- The link between good governance, democracy and sustainable development
- The risks and possibilities of the “bushfaller” phenomenon, etc.
How can the Diaspora contribute to the economic growth of Cameroon?
The Cameroonian Diaspora is currently contributing to the economic development of Cameroon through remittance in billions of Francs annually, the establishment of small and medium-sized business ventures that create jobs on the ground, investments in real estate, etc. However, these individual initiatives can only go so far. What I think the Diaspora is best placed to offer the country are skills in a vast array of fields that are most relevant in today’s global economy. What is therefore needed is an institutional approach to the issue of Diaspora contribution to the development of the country. For example, it is the responsibility of the government to map out innovative strategies for tapping into the skills that the Diaspora offers in the fields of medicine, business, computer science, education, public administration, etc. – without requiring that individuals who have these skills first return permanently to Cameroon. The example of countries such as India or even Ghana are noteworthy in this regard.
Secondly, if it really wants Cameroon to reap the benefits of its Diaspora community, then the government of Cameroon must start engaging that community beyond the political arena where Diaspora elements are either seen as friends or foes of the regime, and discarded or embraced. The Diaspora should be engaged, first on the basis of their skills, and then second, on their political allegiance or lack thereof to the regime in power. The government must also be ready to offer incentives to the Diaspora community; incentives that organizations such as the World Bank identified ages ago. This must be a win-win situation with the Diaspora offering its skills and Cameroon offering incentives. It is time to go beyond self-serving appeals to “patriotism” and create an enabling environment for effective Diaspora contribution to national development. Cameroon stands absolutely no chance in today’s knowledge economy if it continues to ignore its Diaspora community.
What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the Heads of Political Parties in Cameroon?
By focusing solely on heads of political parties, we are unnecessarily personalizing a legitimate discussion which should be about political systems and organizations. What is more relevant, in my opinion, is the nature of political parties in Cameroon –their strengths and weaknesses as political institutions, their structure, their capacity as instruments of mass mobilization, their ability to present alternative political ideologies, their explicit or implicit inclusion/exclusion from the political process by the rules in place, their limits as a parliamentary opposition or their role as extra-parliamentary structures of challenge, their methods of financing, etc.
When viewed from this angle, it becomes obvious that Cameroonian political parties have so far not fully played the role generally attributed to political parties in modern democracies. They have fallen short as vehicles of political and ideological renewal and as viable alternatives to the regime in power. It should be noted, however, that while some of the problems faced by these parties are self-inflicted - the personalization of power at the top, autocratic methods of governance that mirror those of the CPDM, unending power struggles, etc., - their most significant failings are largely external. We have a supposedly plural political system that views opposition political parties as a nuisance rather than an indispensable component of the democratic process. Worse, the regime in power does not consider political parties (not even those in Parliament!) as colleagues on the opposite side of the isle, but as political enemies who should be harnessed and even destroyed if need be. Even the much-heralded “Statute of the Opposition” which is in the works will change very little because it will primarily address issues of pecuniary and other privileges rather than tackle those systemic shortcomings that have skewed the political game in Cameroon since 1990 and are hampering the blooming of political parties.
As the Prime Minister consults opinion leaders about the new electoral body ELECAM, what ideas could you contribute to the Prime Minister with regards to the credibility of ELECAM?
The December 2006 law already outlines the framework under which ELECAM will function and the application decree will most definitely follow the contours of that law. So, there is not much to add from that perspective. That said, beyond the technical details of its organization, what ELECAM needs more than anything else is political legitimacy. The best political structure in the world will fail – irrespective of all the goodwill – if it is repudiated by political actors and the public. So political parties and civil society representatives must be intricately involved, not just “consulted” as is being done at the moment.
Also, there a concerns that ELECAM might end up being another Human Rights Commission with a lot of bark but no bite. We are told that “the electoral duties of relevant state bodies shall be transferred to ELECAM”. Great! But will ELECAM be given the manpower, the material resources and finances to establish fully functional branches at provincial, divisional and council levels? Will it have the resources to effectively ensure the registration of voters according to the laws in place, ensure the sanctity of voter registration rolls after registration and monitor the conduct of elections in all polling stations during elections? How independent will it be from local administrative authorities and the Ministry of Territorial Administration? How much room does it have to highlight electoral malpractices and the appropriate corrective measures without government intervention? These are key questions that will determine if this is worth the trouble.
Beyond these hard questions, we should nonetheless stress that ELECAM does not operate in a vacuum. The overhaul of the electoral system alone will not pave the way to a more democratic polity if this is not accompanied by an overhaul of the political system; elections may be a key component of democracy, but democracy is much more than just elections…
What link could there be between Good Governance, Democracy and Sustainable Development?
The link is a very straightforward one in my mind. In the most simplistic terms Good Governance allows a state to manage its resources appropriately and to provide basic services to its citizens, it creates the condition for businesses to thrive, attracts foreign investment and creates jobs thereby improving the standard of living (sustainable development), and it allows the people to have a voice in the management of their country (democracy).
After the Bole Butakes, Bate Besongs, Mbella Sonne Dipokos, etc., English Literature in Cameroon suffers from a lack of quality production, What, in your opinion, accounts for this?
If by a lack of quality production you are referring to the technical quality of books published in Cameroon, I will agree with you because there are no publishing houses worthy of that name which produce high-quality and aesthetically pleasing books that meet international standards. However, we should not confuse the absence of technical quality with a lack of literary quality. In terms of the latter, Cameroon literature in English is thriving nationally and internationally. Unfortunately the public is unaware of these works because only the few that make it into the school syllabus get any real publicity.
Cameroonian literature in English has a great future thanks to a new crop of writers who have little to envy from the masters of the past. On the home front, you have brilliant writers such the young Dipita Kwa who just published his first collection of short stories, Times and Seasons; Mathew Takwi who recently launched his poetry collection titled Fire on the Mountain; John Ngong Kum who won the 2007 EduArt award for literature with his Walls of Agony; Sammy Akombi, Ntemfac Ofege, Ilongo Fritz, etc. In the Diaspora, the flame of Anglophone literature is kept burning by the likes of poet- playwright, Lloney Eyole Monono; playwrights, Kehbuma Langmia and JK Bannavti; Bate Besong’s young protégé kangsen Wakai; Jing Thomas, Peter Vakunta, Makuchi, etc. Let’s not forget Francis Nyamnjoh who is unarguably the most prolific Anglophone writer of the past decade, with five critically acclaimed novels to his credit.
So the problem is not due to a lack of production but the absence of viable publishing houses and distribution networks within the country. As a result, practically all of these books are only available abroad. Anyone interested in feeling the pulse of Cameroon Literature in English only has visit the Anglophone Cameroon Literature blog [or the Langaa Publishers website] to realize our literature is alive and well.
What advice would you give to the thousands of university graduates now unemployed in Cameroon?
I can wax lyrical about the need for graduates to set up their own businesses and stand on their own feet in the face of the State’s inability of government to respond to their needs, but that will ring quite hollow for the following reason: We cannot spend 15 or more years training individuals to become “paper pushers” in government ministries and then suddenly turn around at the end of that training and demand that they become creative thinkers, scientific innovators and entrepreneurs! Our educational system is not designed to create self-reliant people who can survive on their own wits. It is a colonial legacy designed to perpetuate what I term the “civil service mentality”. We will keep on adding more conscripts to that army of frustrated and angry youths who are ready to explode at the slightest opportunity if we don’t reform the system.
So while I will advise graduates to do the best they can to make the best out of a terrible situation, I think that the solution, or at least the beginnings of a solution, is also systemic. We should adapt our educational system to the demands of the 21st century Knowledge Economy or we will forever be stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty, dependency and underdevelopment.
A special message to Cameroonian Youths?
Please do not don’t buy into the argument that have no role to play in the political process. Don’t let the ruling elite define who you are or tell you what you should be. Fight without compromise for your right to be part of your country’s socio-political and economic mainstream. Try to beat the odds stacked against you by being creative and innovative. Look beyond the government for survival but get involved in the political process so that your voice too could be heard. While it might seem like a far-fetched dream today, always remember that Cameroon will be yours tomorrow. So be prepared!
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