By Dibussi Tande
"I have accepted the verdict of my people and I declare myself ready to assume the mission of President of the Republic that they have just confided in me" – John Fru Ndi, October 21, 1992
"I am and will remain the president of all Cameroonians without exception, and the great winner in these elections is democracy" – Paul Biya, October 23, 1992
The West African nation of Cote d’Ivoire is once again caught up in a political maelstrom following the controversial second round presidential elections which ended with the two contenders, Laurent Gbagbo, the outgoing President, and Alassane Ouattara, the country’s leading opposition figure and former Prime Minister, both being declared the winners.
As I watch the situation unfold in the Ivory Coast, my mind goes back to October 1992 when Cameroonians were faced with the same situation – a “legitimate” President, John Fru Ndi, was on the war path with a “legal” president, the incumbent Paul Biya, who was accused of having stolen Fru Ndi's victory – an accusation which resulted in Fru Ndi being placed under house arrest and a state of emergency imposed on the Northwest province, his stronghold.
Scene 1: Fru Ndi Proclaims Himself President
During a press conference in his party stronghold of Bamenda on October 21, 1992, Fru Ndi, surrounded by members of the Union for Change alliance which backed his candidacy, auto-proclaimed himself “legitimate president of Cameroon.” In his acceptance speech, Fru Ndi thanked the people of Cameroon for their sacrifices, congratulated the opposition for standing by him in spite of the persecution, and promised a new Cameroonian society based on democracy and the rule of law:
By your vote you have purged over thirty-two years of accumulated guilt putting an end to a period when less fortunate Cameroonians were marginalized and excluded from certain offices in the land. Cameroon has taught the world a lesson in democracy and our country has gained international pride from what you have done. We hope Mr. Biya will not insist to soil this image. You have closed the book on thirty-two years of dictatorship and returned power to the people. We call on Mr. Biya to be a democrat and concede defeat honourably…
A sovereign national conference will determine the exact shape of a new constitution for our country and we will put in place the exact shape of a new constitution for our country and we will put in place a democratic electoral code including an independent electoral commission, a necessity before the first truly democratic elections may be held in our country. The sovereign national conference, far from being a military tribunal, will take stock of our past, lay the foundation for the future, so as to determine the system of our future government and guarantee representation in government for minorities.
Massive troop movements in the last few days do not dampen our enthusiasm. In a continent not known for peaceful and much less democratic transitions, our victory is simply magnificent.
Long live a united and democratic Cameroon!
Scene 2: Supreme Court Procliams Biya President
However on October 23, 1992, the Supreme Court officially announced proclaimed the incumbent Paul Biya as the winner.
In his post-electoral victory speech to the nation, Paul Biya told Cameroonians that:
You chose freely and you did so with dignity and responsibility. Beyond your opinions, beyond your alliances, I am and will remain the president of all Cameroonians without exception, and the great winner in these elections is democracy… together we have faced the democratic challenge, together we shall win the battle of democracy… Let us give our country and our children a future worthy of our endeavours, let us build a Cameroon within the confines of our abilities, a Cameroon united, democratic, strong and prosperous, a Cameroon with all and for all.
The rebuttal from Bamenda by the “legitimate President” was immediate and unequivocal. In a written address to the Cameroonian people, Fru Ndi thanked them for choosing him as their next president:
I have accepted the verdict of my people and I declare myself ready to assume the mission of President of the Republic that they have just confided in me. I call on the Cameroonian people, the only retainers of national sovereignty, to complete their action by making sure that their will, expressed clearly in the ballot box, is respected…Consequently, I refuse to let my people resign themselves to the situation and I resolve not to abandon them. In any event, I urge them to defend their victory by peaceful and responsible resistance.
The battle lines were thus drawn as Cameroonians nervously waited for what increasingly appeared to be an inevitable confrontation. Paul Biya in his victory speech had clearly stated that “I shall not allow anyone to stand in the way of peace” while Fru Ndi had openly called for the help of the armed forces arguing that “Our resistance is not a rebellion against a legitimate government, but the defence of the sovereignty of the people against a man and a regime that these people have rejected through the ballot box.”
18 years later, Biya is still the President of Cameroon and Fru Ndi still “opposing” hm from his stronghold in Bamenda – and they’re both warming up for yet another presidential confrontation in 2011...
The 1992 elction controversy in Cameroon is a warning to Cote d’Ivoire, a reminder that political conflicts like the one that is brewing in that country has the potential to scar the country for decades and put off real democratic reforms indefinitely. Cameroon is still paying the price of the 1992 elections which were "designed to fail" as one report put it.