Achille Mbembe, a renown Cameroonian philosopher, historian and political scientist says to remain in power, Biya has decentralised corruption and violence in Cameroon.
‘By privatizing the natural resources of the country, he has managed, with his followers, to get his hands on most of the national wealth, which he redistributes as he pleases without anything passing through the national budget. At the same time, he leaves a margin of manoeuvrer relative to his commissioners, who draw from the coffers as they wish … until, with a whim, he relieves them of their duties or throws them into prison. There is therefore in Cameroon a kind of “democratization”, of decentralization of corruption, which goes hand in hand with the systematic privatization of all the attributes of the state’ Mbembe told French paper Humanite.
Mbembe was born near Otélé in French Cameroon in 1957. He obtained his Ph.D. in history at the University of Sorbonne in Paris, France, in 1989. He has held appointments at Columbia University in New York, Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., University of Pennsylvania, University of California, Berkeley, Yale University, Duke University and Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) in Dakar, Senegal. Mbembe was also a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2001, and a visiting professor at Yale University in 2003.
In the interview with the French paper published on Wednesday 03 October, the scholar and writer also touched on the Biya’s marginalisation of civil society in Cameroon, which he argues is the root cause of Cameroon’s predicament. ‘Cameroon is an extremely fragmented and deeply divided country. Ethnic, religious, and from the point of view of the personal interests, that have been consolidated since the last decades of colonization. It is a country where the state has always dominated society, where society has great difficulties to become one, where political actors encounter innumerable obstacles to build coalitions and, above all, multi-ethnic coalitions. Civil society is very weak, the opposition parties are divided and everything is done to maintain these divisions, which the regime exploits very skilfully’.
He goes on to argue that Paul Biya has managed to stay in power for 36 years on the ‘on the basis of systemic corruption… using brutality, violence and bribes’.
Mbembe is famous for his book, De la postcolonie. Essai sur l’imagination politique dans l’Afrique contemporaine (On the Postcolony) (2000), where he analyse the continuation of colonial practices in post-colonial states: for example, the continues use of violence, exploitation and management/destruction of the body by the Cameroonian state to dominate individuals and civil society. His other important works are: Les jeunes et l’ordre politique en Afrique noire (1985); La naissance du maquis dans le Sud-Cameroun (1920–1960); Histoire des usages de la raison en colonie (1996); 13] Sortir de la grande nuit: Essai sur l’Afrique décolonisée (2003); Critique de la raison nègre (2013). His most recent work is “Black Reason” (2017).
Mbembe’s criticism of the Biya’s regime is one among several others by prominent Cameroonian artists, scholars, and bureaucrats living abroad. The famous Cameroonian musician, Richard Bona is currently on a self-imposed exile in the US, and accuses Biya of ruining Cameroon. Mbembe also joined prominent Cameroonian scholar, Patrice Nganang, to argue that Biya’s regime should bear responsibility for the ongoing Anglophone crisis. ‘This crisis did not start yesterday. It has been smouldering since 1961. By chance, I recently came across a text I wrote in the early 1990s, in which I spoke about the situation of English speakers in this country. They already denounced, at the time, their marginalization. Writers and lawyers were complaining about this’ he said.
In 2016, Mbembe was awarded the prestigious Gerda Henkel Prize for his outstanding academic achievement. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a worldly recognised public intellectual, as well as one of the leading and most recognisable voices writing in French today.