National Times – In his speech addressing the country on the 57th anniversary of Cameroon’s Youth Day celebrations, president Biya called on the youths to join the train of “Change Cameroon” (my concept) aimed at social, economic and political transformation of Cameroon. But youths have taken over the train of “Change Cameroon”, just not in ways the president and his government would have expected.
Since the introduction of multiparty politics in Cameroon in early 1990s, and we can go as far back as the fights of independence in 50s, there have been waves of calls for the social, economic, and political transformation in Cameroon. At the economic level, there are calls for increase more industries, factories, and technical skills. Others are calling for the modernization of agriculture, and better prices for farming products and natural resources, and the discontinuation of French monetary and resource imperialism.
Socially more sections of the country are call for better infrastructure, roads, railways and, reliable energy. Others are demanding political and social freedoms, increase rights of women both in the conservative north and more liberal Douala, as well as improvement in education. Poverty and inequality seems to be the central thorn in the flesh of ten out of eleven Cameroonians. And campaigns for the protection of human rights and environment remain salient, although with minimal improvement.
At the political level, most Cameroonians want a complete overhaul of the political system. These includes calls for transparency and accountability in the current police state. The president cannot have authority without being responsible for those under his control. Critics have called for the flattening of the centralized de-facto one party state, where all roads lead to Yaounde and eventually to Paul Biya.
Youths are demanding more say in the design and implementation of critical policies, and an astonishing amount want to see their fellow youths in key positions of government. It is against this background that one can evaluate how much youths have contributed to the transformation of Cameroon, which I call the “Change Cameroon” project.
Let us start with political change. The Anglophone crisis is a clinical example of how youths are pushing for political transformation in Cameroon, that is for those who still see themselves as part of Cameroon. The crisis is a product of youths demanding more power, transparency, influence and money from the government. This is part of the political transformation that Cameroonians want to see. They want to see more power, influence, and money in the hands of the youths. Not just in the hands of children of the rich and connected, but in the hands of the talented and hardworking Cameroonian youths.
The ideas behind the Anglophone movement, not new in themselves, such as “never again generation”, “water na water”, and “dschang shoes”, are revolutionary at this time, and challenge the submissive and condescending political culture in Cameroon. Cameroonians no longer need politicians without grand ideas, but those with grand ideas and actions.
There is not better example of how youths are contributing to Change Cameroon as in the Anglophone crisis. We should all agree on that. First, they have made the question of the centralization of power and abuse of it at the forefront of the political debate in Cameroon. We are all scratching our heads and thinking, would this country remain a united country in the next five years with the same central system? As Member of Parliament Mr Joseph Wirba said, whether the secessionist succeed or not, Cameroon will never remain the same. The Anglophone Crisis has fundamentally Changed Cameroon.
Youths are not just doing the wrong things as the president tried to depict in his recent speech. They are not just drinking alcohol and consuming drugs. They are not just carrying guns and committing crimes. They are not just protesting in the streets. They are also championing social and political change in Cameroon. Arthur Zang’s Cardiopath has been celebrated internationally as a key milestone in addressing cardiovascular diseases in Cameroon. This is one among several youths whose inventions is transforming the welfare of thousands of Cameroonians.
It is obvious that the youths can do more for “Change Cameroon”, if the government listens and works with them, rather than invite them to work with the government on the government’s terms. What is clear is that as youths ascend the train of “Change Cameroon”, they have a different logic of engagement.
They are not patient enough to submit to the government’s dictate. Nor are they willing to surrender when the government ignores their call for change. The way forward, is for the government to listen to them, take seriously their contributions and demand in their own language, and within a broader national framework that takes the long term interest of Cameroon at heart.