The constitutional court was created to remove post-election disputes in Cameroon from the streets to Palaise de Congress where Biya and his military regime would effectively manage any protest, and where the opposition, would surrender to the same system that gave it a particular sense-of-itself.
What is happening in Cameroon is not new, it is a type of exercise of power familiar to most social critics. The famous France Philosopher and social critic Michel Foucault begins his monumental work, ‘Discipline and Punish’ with a gaudy description of a public execution. Let us review the accounts Foucault gave us. “On 2 March 1757 Damiens the regicide was condemned ‘to make the amende honorable before the main door of the Church of Paris’, where he was to be ‘taken and conveyed in a cart, wearing nothing but a shirt, holding a torch of burning wax weighing two pounds…”
Foucault continues, “then, ‘in the said cart, to the Place de Greve, where, on a scaffold that will be erected there, the flesh will be torn from his breasts, arms, thighs and calves with red-hot pincers, his right hand, holding the knife with which he committed the said parricide, burnt with sulphur, and, on those places where the flesh will be torn away, poured molten lead, boiling oil, burning resin, wax and sulphur melted together and then his body drawn and quartered by four horses and his limbs and body consumed by fire, reduced to ashes and his ashes thrown to the winds’”.
Michel Foucault is noted for his captivating analyses of how kings in 18th century Europe used barbaric public executions to punish, but also display and discipline, crimes by forcing the criminal to see himself in a certain way, confesses, and through these confessions testify of the power of the king to the onlookers. He argues that in the scaffold, not the crime, but the power of the king’s is measured and put on display through an apparatus. Foucault generally uses the term apparatus “to indicate the various institutional, physical and administrative mechanisms and knowledge structures, which enhance and maintain the exercise of power within the social body”.
In 1992, when Social Democratic Front (SDF) party lost the presidential elections, SDF supporters across the country took to the streets to protest what they believed to be electoral fraud by the ruling CPDM party. The government responded with a heavy handed military presence that left dozens of Cameroonians dead. Until 2008, after the food riots in Cameroon, the Cameroonian government continued to use public display of force, usually excessive use of force against unarmed protesters to display the president’s power. But soon after the 2008 food riot, the government came to realise that there were problems with the “scaffold and public torture and execution” it lacked an apparatus.
First, “the spectacle sooner or later” inflamed more protest and became a means to unify the poor against the “king”, a mode of popular dissent, rather than bring the poor to see the mighty power of the king. It didn’t impart any knowledge structure, so it didn’t get the plebeians to see themselves in the way President Biya wanted. For example, it took a presidential speech and concession by the government to reduce food prices in 2008 to end the riots, even though there was massive use of force. It is important to know that in the speech, Biya told Cameroonians not to let ‘apprentice sorciers’ to deceive them. Second, with increasing opposition from the poor, members of Biya’s own clique, Marafa Hamidou Yaya, Maurice Kamto, and possibly Jean Marie Atangana Mebara soon saw an opportunity to dethrone the Bulu tzar.
The president knew he needed an apparatus, and he created two, the Senate and Constitutional Council. This institutions will make governance in Cameroon and electoral outcomes more “civil”, “jurisdictional” and communicative forms of control. As Ashu Nyenti, a CRTV journalist said during the deliberations of the petitions, these institutional will provide pedagogic lessons not only about the Council, but “how to be a Cameroonian”. To respect the law and confess its supremacy above all else.
While most Cameroonians may be familiar to this words, the anxiety and hope I saw and heard in the voices and words of most viewers of the Constitutional Council proceedings make we to doubt if we know the primary functions of the Council. First, the creation of the Constitutional Council was not intended to reduce Biya’s control over power, especially his control over the opposition in Cameroon. It was meant to measure, to see, hear, and feel the opposition, before it gets to street. And to stop it from getting to the street. It was meant to to emasculate them, as a jealous woman who offers her husband sex to prevent him for cheating.
Second, drawing again from Foucault, by appointing judges to the Constitutional Council, Biya did not stop being brutal, he merely became “brutally enlightened”. The Council remains biased because they represent and materially enact the social power that produce it. In a sense, what Biya did by creating the Constitutional Council before the October 2018 was to re-centralized power in his hands, through an artificial decentralization of judgement. Because judgement as Bourdieu taught us in Distinctions, always favours the social power that produce it.
Thus, the Constitutional Council is “an architecture that is no longer built simply to be seen (like the military and police),… but to permit an internal, articulated and detailed control, to render visible those who are inside it; in more general terms, an architecture that would operate to transform [and] control individuals…to provide a hold on their conduct, to carry the effects of power right to them”.
The effect is the system, if they are to protest after the Constitutional Council’s “judgement” again remember it is a judgement, then they will have no one to blame because they would have proved they depravity, by not understanding THIS JUDGEMENT.
But as Atanga Nji said, the goal is not to allow Maurice Kamto the scene where he will be taught the cost of not understanding THIS JUDGEMENT, thereby taking the king to what he did not want, protest in the streets.
Disclaimer: The opinion shared in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of National Times Editorial Board.