The events surrounding the management of the Anglophone crisis and now the COVID-19 pandemic has once again exposed the regime of Cameroon’s President Paul Biya.
The government has shown beyond doubts that it does not value the life of its citizens. It can do everything to protect its political agenda, even if it means sacrificing the safety of its population.
When the first cases of the novel coronavirus were recorded in Cameroon on March 6, 2020, the state waited until March 16, 2020 to roll out restrictive measures that went into effect a day after. The measures included among others the compulsory wearing of facemasks in public, and restriction of gatherings of more than 50 persons. As such, schools were shut down and only reopened seven months later.
The May 20, 2020 National Day parade was cancelled nationwide to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Traditional New Year wishes to the president of the republic in January 2021 were also cancelled. It was the same fate that befell the February 11 National Youth Day.
Although one who think that government was bent on reducing the spread of the virus, it has become increasingly clear that the political ambitions of some politicians are more valued than the health and safety of Cameroonians.
The rerun of the 2020 legislative elections took place in some constituencies in March 2020 in disrespect of the COVID-19 measures. The regional elections of December 2020 also held in disrespect of COVID-19 measures.
That was not all.
What evils of CHAN2020
Despite the seriousness of the COVID-19 situation, Cameroon went on to host the 2020 Africa Nations Championship, CHAN from January 16 to February 7, 2021. The competition violated all COVID-19 prescriptions given by Prime Minister Dion Ngute Joseph. Not only did the crowds at the stadiums surpass 50, the thousands at the stadiums did not properly wear their facemasks.
On January 23, 2021, in the heart of the competition, Cameroon registered 1607 new positive cases of COVID-19. 696 cases were recorded on February 2 alone while 1081 cases were registered on February 6. On February 11, 704 cases were recorded. On February 18, 2021, the daily cases had risen to 1651. On February 25, the daily cases shot up to 1965. By March 8, the daily cases stood at 1080. On March 10 alone 2194 new cases were recorded. On March 11, 2021, 1634 Cameroonians tested positive for COVID-19.
At the time of this write up, Cameroon had reported 40,622 coronavirus cases with 601 deaths and 35,261 recoveries. The statistics show that the CHAN2020 served as a super-spreader of COVID-19.
How sane governments react
For sane governments, events like the CHAN2020 football jamboree that unfolded in Cameroon from January 16 to February 6 should not have taken place.
A sane government like that of Morocco denied hosting the 2021 Total U17 Africa Cup of Nations that was to begin this month.
The CAF Emergency Committee met on Monday, March 08, 2021 in Rabat, Morocco to decide on the holding of the 2021 U17 Total Africa Cup of Nations.
The Committee was made aware of the constraints faced by some of the participating member associations as well as the host country including the fact that the coronavirus pandemic continues to present significant challenges for the organization of international sporting events.
Taking into account the cancellation by FIFA of the Under-17 World Cup for which the U-17 CAN was no longer qualifying, the Committee further noted:
• The resurgence of the Covid19 pandemic.
• Increased restrictions on international travel
• Uncertainty about the evolution of the situation
For all these reasons, the Committee decided to cancel the 2021 edition of the Total U17 Africa Cup of Nations.
Biya and football politics
The beautiful game of football and its role in international power play cannot be overemphasized.
Aside from being used as a tool to spur nationalism and love for the country, the game of football is particularly used by dictators to promote political agendas.
Politicians, seat-tight leaders, and failing governments like that of President Biya hardly miss the opportunity to use the country’s favorite sport in their favor.
During the 1970 World cup in Brazil when the military dictatorship’s political oppression reached new levels of cruelty, the government used football to steer up nationalism, tying the love for the team for the love of the country.
The African Football Championships, CHAN Total 2020 took place in Cameroon from January 16 to February 7, 2021, within an atmosphere akin to what obtained in Brazil in 1970.
Political oppression in Cameroon has reached an all-time high plus the dangers of COVID-19. Civilians are being summarily executed, with the latest case in Mautu still fresh in the minds of the world. In fact, it came after the painful episodes in Ngarbuh, Kumba, Alachu, and many other parts of the North West and South West regions where state forces are fighting armed separatists. Needless to mention the human rights violations and abuses championed by the belligerents.
Political opposition has been suppressed and as it stands, only pro-CPDM parties have a place in the sun in Cameroon. Those with contrary political voices are thrown in jail or forced into exile. A law on the suppression of terrorism, which carries a death penalty, is dangled on the head of whoever dares to call the regime to account.
It is within this morose context that 88-year-old President Paul Biya received FIFA President Gianni Infantino. Interim Confederation of African Football (CAF) President Constant Omari, Cameroon FA President Seidou Mbombo Njoya, and Cameroonian-born football powerhouse Samuel Eto’to were part of the 45 minutes audience.
Infantino says, during his audience with Biya, they discussed football development.
“More generally about the role Cameroon has to play in not only Africa but world football because Cameroon for all football lovers in the world is the essence of football, of dreams…,” said Infantino.
“Cameroon has written in the past and we want to write again in the future,” the FIFA boss furthered.
Infantino thanked President Biya for the quality of football stadiums in the country, which he says is a gift to the youth.
“The infrastructure in Cameroon has made incredible steps forward. Today, it is and will be the more so next year during the organization of the African Cup of Nations, state of the art infrastructure,” Infantino said, forgetting that access to primary healthcare, education, utility services, roads, and even employment is what Cameroonians want.
Seemingly oblivious of the fact that taxpayer’s money is being squandered in constructing stadiums that will rot after the competitions given the messy nature of domestic football, FIFA’s president continued with ego-massaging and PR words for Biya.
“It is important in a period of economic crisis, of a pandemic to think about as well the youths, to think about the people, to think about what makes the hearts of people in Cameroon vibrate. And this is football. And therefore to invest in football, to invest in football infrastructure is extremely positive and I thanked and congratulated President Biya for that,” Infantino said. “It is certainly visionary; it is for the future, for the youths. Our youths in Cameroon need to believe in something. And they need to believe that it is not absolutely necessary to be leaving the country and even the continent when you are 12, 13, 14, and even 15 years old. But that you can stay here, you can develop here, you can become a professional here. And of course, if you become like Samuel Eto’o, you will go to Inter Milan or Real Madrid or Barcelona or the other big clubs, obviously.”
The meeting is indeed the government’s public relations sector at work. Biya is known for it – paying hugely to get a good international image. Remember he has been in power for 39 years now – that is since 1982.
Shortly after the audience, the government’s songbird media, the CRTV, and its journalists spent time to score Biya political points and tell the youth to continue to support and believe in him. But that too is politics and that is all there is to football under oppressive regimes.
AFCON 2021 is do or die
For President Paul Biya, the African Nations Cup 2021 will go as planned even if COVID-19 figures go the Italy and US way.
As it stands, Biya thinks he may only be remembered for hosting the African Football Championship and hopefully the African Nations Cup. It is therefore a do or die for government, even if COVID-119 kills all Cameroonians after the tourney.
By Asu Tidings
Mimi Mefo Info