It seems like a lifetime since Cameroonians heard directly from their president.
This would not be unusual, given that from time immemorial, the 87-year-old makes only two official appearances yearly when he speaks to Cameroonians.
On the 10th of February, Mr. Biya addresses Cameroonians on the eve of the Youth Day celebrations and on the 31st December, a new year message. Beyond these, he is only seen in public on the 20th May National Day. It is usually a rare phenomenon when the President breaks tradition and talks to his subjects.
For instance, when he addressed Cameroonians on the 10th September 2019, Cameroonians treated the outing as citizens of most countries would a rare cosmic event. Why then have Cameroonians been so eager to hear from their President over the past few weeks? Did anything change?
Of course, a lot has changed across the world since the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) which has been the cause of the coronavirus (COVID-19). The world has been rallying to fight the virus and map out ways to stop its spread. Presidents of almost every country affected by the virus have been at the forefront of the fight, leading the strategies or offering words of encouragement to their citizens. Cameroonians from all works of life developed a rare strand of optimism, as they started demanding to hear from their President. As days soon turned to weeks, and the entreaties of Cameroonians were completely ignored, rumours emerged that the President might be dead.
“Surely”, Cameroonians thought to themselves, “if the President were alive, he would not be so heartless to ignore us at such a desperate moment”. This blind trust in the benevolence of their President exposes a fundamental weakness of Cameroonians; they do not yet know where the priorities of their President lies.
When one thinks of the words of Adolfo Bioy Casares in the ‘The Invention of Morel’ where he says that “the sea is endless when you are in a rowboat”, they will develop a truckload of empathy for Cameroonians. For instance, a Cameroonian was one of the first foreigners to be healed of COVID-19. When other governments were taking their citizens out of China, the Biya regime was mute about the case of Kem Senou Pavel Daryl, the 21-year-old Cameroonian student.
Although the student will later tell the BBC that he had no intention of taking the virus to Africa, many people wonder if the Biya regime would have done anything to bring him back. However, Daryl is lucky that he was never brought back to Cameroon, given that the healthcare infrastructure is in shambles. Also, Cameroon so far has the highest number of infections across West and Central Africa. It is not out of place therefore, for Cameroonians to cling to any slimmer of hope, as they continue to gallop in the waves of the endless sea called their nation, with the captain of the rowboat missing.
When the captain of the dingy rowboat finally chose to make an appearance, it was through an announcement on Twitter and Facebook. He confirmed a meeting with the French Ambassador to Cameroon. Mr. Christophe Guilhou, complete with an image of himself and the diplomat. As many were justifiably questioning the authenticity of the image and making comparisons with another image taken in the same room on March 5th, 2020, during a similar visit, some of us were beginning to acknowledge the shocking truth.
The truth that Paul Biya’s priority was not Cameroonians or anything to do with Cameroon. His allegiance lies with France and French interests, and he will sooner come out from hiding to talk to a French diplomat, than talk to Cameroonians in one of the scariest moments the world is facing in a lifetime.
The paradox of the fact that Biya appeared without a face mask, despite there being a current policy in place imposing a fine of 6000 frs to anyone who appears in public without a mask is something i would have wanted to delve into, but the question i could not stop asking is – what the French diplomat is going to be telling Biya about the fight against COVID-19. As of this day, France has a death toll of 17,920 and a total of 108,847 confirmed cases, making it one of the worst hit countries in the world. Many Cameroonians living in France had fled the dismal situation back to their country of origin. As one could confidently state that France has no authority on COVID-19 to be the first source of information for the Cameroon regime, there is only one other explanation. Biya was seeking financial assistance.
Cameroon did not make the cut in a recent IMF debt relief targeting countries in Sub Saharan Africa, as a measure to help the fight against coronavirus. This should not have come as a surprise to anyone, given the nonchalance of the President. However, it probably would have been the motivation behind the Biya’s regime bending over and letting him come out to meet the French diplomat for the second time in less than six weeks. Hence, with Mr. Guilhou revealing that a debt moratorium of 230 billion Francs CFA had been awarded to Cameroon, with France’s share representing FCFA 60 billion, the chips begin to fall in place.
That, however, is not the major concern. It remains the fact that Biya is more likely to pay allegiance to France and prioritise audience with a French diplomat than do anything to assuage the fears of Cameroonians during a trying moment. It also paints a picture of a continuing neo-colonial relationship, where Cameroon’s policies appear to be moderated and dictated by France. With the opposition leader Professor Maurice Kamto’s fundraising to help the fight against the coronavirus in Cameroon already over FCFA 400 Million, one would have assumed that Biya will be tempted to approach Cameroonians to support their own survival, before thinking of further mortgaging the country to France.
Such thinking will only be that of a person who is unsure of where Biya’s priorities lie.