(HN, February 12, 2011) - Cameroonian Presidential candidate and women's rights activist Kah Walla has warned incumbent President Paul Biya that the wave of passion for democratic change that has swept through Tunisia and Egypt could travel as far as West Africa - especially Cameroon, where presidential elections are due in October.
In a letter to Biya sent to HUMNEWS, Kah Walla writes: "Mr. President, I am certain you are observing with great interest along with the rest of us Cameroonians, the wind of change that is gaining incredible momentum throughout Africa and in the Middle East. It is an incredible season for people who have been oppressed for decades and who have decided to take their destiny into their own hands. They are not only winning battles, but are actually coming out victorious in the struggles for independence, freedom and human dignity which they have been waging against their leaders.
"It is a very bad season for presidents who have been in power for over 20 years, maintaining their power through dubious, ritualistic elections, which have credibility neither with their own people nor with the global community."
In Cameroon the president is elected by plurality vote to serve a seven-year term. However opposition leaders say the election commission has "colossal weaknesses" and lacks the credibility to manage free and fair elections in Cameroon."
Biya came to power in the oil-producing nation in 1982. Like Nigeria, Cameroon's prospects for development were initially promising, with oil and pipeline projects generating revenue. But Biya changed the constitution in 2008, allowing him to run for president for a third time this year. Protests erupted and the opposition termed the change "a constitutional coup".
The parallels between Egypt and Cameroon are striking: both have had a president in power for about three decades, enjoy significant oil wealth, have huge populations of young people, suffer from massive unemployment and widespread corruption. Like the ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Biya is in is close to 80-years-old (he turns 78 tomorrow). It therefore comes as little surprise that Kah Walla is putting Biya on notice in the sternly-worded letter.
She says it is impossible for Cameroonians not to take notice of the popular stand against rigged elections in Egypt.
"Cameroonians are not only sitting on the edges of their seats observing this, but we are communing with these people in mind and spirit. We understand them in our very core, we admire the steps they have taken to control their own destinies, we are humbled by the courage they are showing in daring to invent their own futures, we are collecting information, analyzing it and drawing lessons from their victories."
Citing the tumultuous events in Tunisia, Kah Walla said: "We have learned from the Tunisians, that unlike us in 1992, it is necessary to maintain the pressure until the ultimate goal is attained. We have learned from the Tunisians, that unlike us in 1992, it is necessary to maintain the pressure until the ultimate goal is attained."
There are more than 15 elections across Africa this year. Many of these countries share similar traits with other countries in North Africa that have witnessed unrest - a high percentage of under 30-year-olds, high joblessness, sky-rocketing food prices and rampant corruption. In April, Africa's most populous nation, Nigeria, will see Presidential elections that have already been tainted by a troublesome voter registration process.
Richard Moncrieff, West Africa Project Director for International Crisis Group, has said Cameroon's future is blighted by the threat of conflict. "The threat really comes from the frustration of the population, both for economic reasons – high unemployment, widespread poverty – and also for political reasons."
He added: "The very poor governance, the widespread corruption, the politicization of the justice system, the politicization of the electoral system is in fact a danger for the country and could eventually lead to conflict."
In her letter, Kah Walla, emboldened by what she has seen in North Africa, appeared to be issuing an ultimatum: "A world is collapsing, the world of dictators. The wind of change which is blowing, will only gather steam and momentum as the months go by and as we hurtle towards September/October 2011. Cameroonians are determined in this year to take their destiny into their own hands...We will willingly do this through a structured transition, through an election...on condition. On condition that the minimum requirements for a free and fair election are met. On condition that the political will for a democratic transition is unambiguously demonstrated. On condition that no one, absolutely no one, stops us in any way shape or form, impedes us from exercising our free will and our voters’ rights as Cameroonian citizens."
At 45, Kah Walla is an internationally management consultant and entrepreneur. She was recognized in 2008 by the World Bank as one of seven women entrepreneurs in Africa. In 2009 she spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative summit in New York.
- HUMNEWS staff