25 years ago a 30-year old army Captain cast in the mold of the young African revolutionary soldiers of the 1980s rallied young officers in Cameroon in an attempt to overthrow the Biya regime. After the failure of the coup attempt, that soldier, Captain Guerandi Mbara, successfully evaded the massive security dragnet of loyalist forces and made his way to Burkina Faso where his friend and former classmate at the Yaounde Military Academy, a certain Blaise Compaore had just organized a successful coup less than a year earlier which brought Captain Thomas Sankara to power.
Upon arrival in the “land of the incorruptibles", Guerandi did not simply fade away, a bitter and frustrated former soldier unable to adapt to civilian life or to life in exile.
Instead, he reinvented himself and became an erudite scholar. Today, he holds a doctorate in political science from Université René Descartes in Paris, a DEA in International Relations and Economics from same university, and a DESS in geopolitics and strategic studies from the Institut des Hautes Etudes Internationales still in Paris. He now runs a successful international consulting firm and is also a lecturer at the Diplomacy and International Relations Institute (IDRI), the Higher Institute of Economy and the National School of Administration and Magistracy (ENAM), all in Burkina Faso.
Guerandi has however not forgotten about Cameroon. "I think about Cameroon every five minutes". Rarely does a month go by that he doesn’t write about or comments on events in Cameroon. Feared by a regime which has tried unsuccessfully to have him kicked out of Bukina Faso, rumors of a Guerandi coup or armed insurrection surface with mathematical regularity in security circles and in the media. This is a man who rightly or wrongly gives the Yaounde regime nightmares. As one paranoid government official once put it; “Guerandi is up to no good; there is only one reason in the world why he would be interested in 'strategic studies'”…
Surprisingly, in the past 25 years, Guerandi has never talked or written about the acoup plot itself – that is, until last April 5, 2009 when he granted an interview to cameroonvoice.com, the Montreal-based Cameroonian online radio. It was a much anticipated interview, which lived up to its billing. during the interview, Guerandi threw water on a number of long held assumptions about the coup and its initiators, and also outlined his vision of tomorrow’s Cameroon. Here are selected highlights that deal directly with the coup attempt. The PDF version of the entire interview (in French) can be downloaded at the end of this posting.
Tomorrow, we wrap up with former First Lady, Germaine Ahidjo in her own words (Video).
Rationale for the Coup
We were motivated by a number of factors, some dating back to the colonial period and others to events of the 1980s… Cameroon was already suffering from a sclerosis caused by an organic, hegemonic and even legitimacy crisis. The state was sliding towards what the Anglo-Saxons refer to as a “failed state.” The collapse of the state was already very very visible back then, from the race to plunder state resources to an increase in tribalism and nepotism, etc. Who does not remember the statement “It is now our turn?” Or “the goat eats where it is tethered”? These statements have not ceased. They have instead multiplied today. We hear of percentages, of “gombo” in the media…
Who does not remember the squandering of financial resources under the guise of creating a new ethno-regional bourgeois? Who does not remember the arbitrary arrests? Or, the desire to wipe out certain regions that were targeted by the ethnofacists in power? Bamileke and Islamo-peuhl entrepreneurs come to mind.
Who does not remember the judicial proceedings, initiated by those vengeful individuals, which threatened the fragile national cohesion? Who does not remember the sectarian practices within our armed forces and security apparatus which exacerbated the frustrations of the different sociological components [of the country] and created tensions between the different ranks of the armed forces?
Some argue that [at the time of the coup] Paul Biya had not yet found his bearing. Granted. But do they realize that Paul Biya is the continuation of the system? He has an important player within the system since 1962. When he became president he was well versed in the arcane mysteries of power…
Our primary objective was to prevent the chaos that we are witnessing today and to anticipate solutions to the sociopolitical and economic disorders which were emerging from within the new administration.
Many have wondered what the term “Jose” meant. It is «Jeunes Officiers pour la Survie de l’État» (Young Officers for the Survival of the State). As early as 1975, my comrades had been analyzing the geopolitical situation in Cameroon within secret cells. I cannot say more.
On His Relationship with President Ahidjo
While in Cameroon, I did not have any relationship with president Ahidjo. I was just a poor officer in the army; I wasn’t even a member of the presidential guards… However, while in exile, I was able to meet him, thanks to two heads of state, and satisfy my need to understand certain events in our history... let me repeat, we did not go to battle in order to return Ahidjo to power. That would have been unthinkable. It was against our ethics and our politics. We knew the role that each and everyone played in the events which marked out the road to Cameroon’s independence. Let’s stop these tales which people use to assuage their conscience or to justify the post April 84 criminal repression. History is always written by the winners. Back then is was a good strategy to stigmatize Ahidjo in a bid to achieve that final victory…
On Colonel Saleh Ibrahim the Alleged Coup “Ringleader”
The highest ranking members in the “Jose” movement were Captains. Colonel Saleh Ibrahim, whom they executed, Colonel Ngoura Belhadji or Ousmanou Daouda, etc. were simply victims of the grudgeful hatred of Paul Biya’s men. Saleh Ibrahim was not the leader of the coup. In fact, we kept him to under guard in his house to prevent him from leaving. We did this because we understood the mentality of superior officers, their propensity to switch sides. Therefore, we could not involve them in this patriotic venture. The so-called victors had to justify their cruelty by blaming officers from the North. The leadership was a coalition of which the JOSE movement was the frontline, the armed wing. Some of the members were Marxists. This you did not know.
As for Issa Adoum, he was a vital player in obtaining civilian support for the coup, and his designation as Head of State resulted from a vote within the Higher Military Council. This does not mean that he would necessarily have become the president in the event of a victory. I am convinced because the majority of our comrades were determined to completely restructure national life. Remember that back then, Africa was in the throes of a series of coups inspired by young revolutionary officers.
Why coup failed
Without going into details, there a number of noteworthy factors that explain what happened, among them, the disclosure of the plot by an officer of presidential security at 3 pm on April 5; the sending away of certain officers at the presidential palace to their homes after the disclosure, when they were supposed to arrest the occupants of the palace (you know whom I am talking about); the about-face of the airborne commandos from the Koutaba [military base]; the failure to transmit key instructions to comrades who were camped on the outskirts of the capital; and I think the failure to create an urban guerilla front, etc….
There were also a number of technical and logistics problems, along with other subjective factors which I cannot discuss here.
In all seriousness, I don’t regret our action. You know, the absence of the rule of law [in Cameroon today] continues to comfort me in my belief that we were right. What is the meaning of the recent constitutional revision? What is the meaning of the creation of ELECAM and the manner in which its members were selected? This is nothing but a confirmed monarchy. We cannot accept this… in the end, these two acts constitute fatal errors for this regime.
We want the rule of law, democracy, social justice and progress. I think that every Cameroonian today – and I am speaking to all Cameroonians, we must know when to cross the red line in order to liberate our people from dictatorship. No one, and I mean no one, will do it for us. It is a collective right and obligation.
Nevertheless, you want to know if, 25 years later, I regret the actions that we took. In the name of my comrades, I offer my regrets and my most sincere condolence to the victims of our actions… It will be irresponsible on my part not to do so.
"Cameroon will be back"
Last February, Cameroonians commemorated the first anniversary of the youth revolt. Once again, I pay a vibrant tribute to all these assassinated youths for saying no to the fiddling about with the constitution... These youths must be freed without condition. I also call for the liberation of Lapiro de Mbanga. I am also thinking of all those imprisoned militants of the SCNC, at a time when dialogue with these compatriots should prevail, they are being forced into an escalation... At this beginning of the 21st century, our towns and villages deserve better... the stakes and challenges are not insurmountable. "Cameroon will be back."