Maurice Kamto speaks. This time the president of the Movement for the Renaissance of Cameroon (MRC) expresses himself in the columns of the newspaper Jeune Afrique on newsstands this week. The opponent reiterated the reasons for the boycott of the next elections by his political party. He said that in 2014 his party drafted a bill that was tabled in the National Assembly of Cameroon.
Kamto wants to see the self-proclaimed president of the Ambazonian Virtual Republic Julius Ayuk Tabe and his detained collaborators, released. “Such a gesture of appeasement would have won the support of the population. But the government prefers to keep them in prison and makes a mistake by choosing its interlocutors, “said the renowned academic. He believes that for now, there is no point in identifying the guilty and the innocent. the time of justice could come after. “There will always be time later to set up a truth, justice and reconciliation commission.”
Maurice Kamto proposed three steps for the resolution of the Anglophone crisis. First, the withdrawal of the army from the English-speaking regions and the maintenance of the only police and gendarmes. Then the reconstruction of villages and infrastructure, “to allow the displaced to return home, and to ensure in particular that the school takes up again.”
Below is the complete interview that Professor Maurice Kamto granted to Jeune Afrique Magazine.
Jeune Afrique: Your party, the MRC, has announced that it will not participate in the February 2020 polls. Why?
Maurice Kamto: There are two main reasons. First, we can not go to the elections without conditions being in place for the people of the Northwest and Southwest to go to the polls. This would exclude these two regions from the Republican game, in terms of local governance and representation in the National Assembly. Secondly, our electoral system has shown its limits, it must be reformed. We drafted a bill in 2014 and tabled it in the House, but it has not been brought to the attention of his office yet.
In these circumstances, why were you a candidate for the 2018 presidential election?
Because we hoped to be able to mobilize the voters and to keep a close watch on the voting process and because this election also represented a chance to solve the country’s problems. That being said, it gave us the opportunity to demonstrate, during the examination of the electoral dispute before the Constitutional Council, that the laws were not good and that, indeed, it was more than time to reform them to avoid post-election crises.
But the government does not seem to be in a hurry to change the texts …
Yet even the international community insists on it. Be reminded that, in a resolution unanimously adopted, the European Parliament insisted that the electoral system be reformed before any new election. And the US Congress and the Canadian Parliament do not say anything else.
Do you want to postpone the next elections?
Naturally, and we have made it clear. We could have gone in, and we would have won, because of our popularity. But we think we need to sort things out before we think about elections.
Did the MRC not participate at the end of September, in the Grand National Dialogue launched by President Biya, notably to appease the crisis in the English-speaking regions?
Because it was to break the deadlock that our country has known for three years. But even before formulating our proposals to the Prime Minister, we advocated starting with the release of all political detainees, including people like Sisiku Ayuk Tabe [self-proclaimed president of Ambazonia], who have already been sentenced. Such a gesture of appeasement would have won the support of the population. But the government prefers to keep them in prison and goes wrong by choosing its interlocutors.
For the authorities, would it not send a bad signal if they release individuals formally condemned by the justice?
In the current situation, it is useless to identify the guilty and the innocent. We ask for their release because we are looking for a solution. There will always be time later to set up a truth, justice and reconciliation commission.
What measures do you think should be taken immediately?
In such a context of violence, one must first apply de-escalation measures. We want the withdrawal of the forces of the third category [the army] so that only the police and the gendarmerie remain on the ground. Then, the state must rebuild the villages and the infrastructure, as we keep saying, to enable the displaced to return home, and to make sure that the school starts again. Our requests have not yet been heard, but it is obvious that the solution to this crisis is political.
Are you for or against a change in the form of the state? Would you, for example, favor a return to federalism?
I am not, I have never been and I will never be for the partition of Cameroon. It’s not even possible. Our country must remain united. However, one should not be afraid to discuss the form of the state. It must not be a taboo. We feel that hyper-centralization no longer meets the expectations of the people. I add that this reflection is not an English-speaking exclusivity, it concerns all Cameroonians. However, I am not in favor of a pure and simple return to federalism as it existed in 1961. We must not draw a line on the sixty years of life that francophones and anglophones have shared since the independence.
How do you react to the fact that demonstrations in your party are so often banned?
I do not understand that we are “affuble insurrectional” logic. We have always respected the law. The MRC was created seven years ago and it was never been the cause of any incident. These reproaches that are made to us are unfounded. For three years, we have almost never been allowed to hold meetings. Worse! The police now invite themselves to meetings held at our headquarters when, according to the law, the seat of a political party is inviolable.
Is the tribalism of which the MRC is accused, a construction?
Of course, it’s the same thing. At every election or every time a serious candidate threatens that of the power in power, these types of accusations emerge. To tax someone with tribalism is to delegitimize him. It is an incredible cynicism, which reached its peak during the last presidential election. It’s time to stop it.
You deny that your party is regionalist?
Absolutely! No one can ever prove that I ever made myself guilty of regionalism or tribalism, either in my academic career or in my political career.
No to go to elections, is it your personal decision?
There too, I heard a lot of things. Kamto is said to be a dictator. No ! The party’s national council chose the boycott. I did not decide anything alone. What is true is that I was one of those who thought we should postpone the legislative and the municipal and start by solving the problems. One example: we are talking about the special status of English-speaking regions [a recommendation of the national dialogue], but nobody knows the content of this formula!
What will you do to face the impatience of young executives who wanted to join the Assembly?
We do not create a party to allow a few peers to have an experience. It is done to achieve goals of national interest. Let me explain: if we had gone to the elections, we would probably have won additional seats, as I told you. We would have entered the political establishment and we would participate in the institutional game. But we could no longer criticize the electoral code, and we would have lost sight of all the objectives for which our party was created, and that for the interest of the few. I am confident that comrades will understand that their political careers are not compromised.
The rest of the opposition seems to be hesitant about what to do next …
This is one of the peculiarities of the Cameroonian opposition. We do not know how to come together and find real areas of political convergence. I have always thought that the question of reforming the electoral system could bring us together precisely because it does not benefit anyone in particular. When the rules of the game are good, they are good for everyone. In 2014, I wrote to all political parties to harmonize our positions on this issue. I did not receive any answer.
Your supporters have complained a lot about red tape. What is it?
Some DOs chose to refuse to issue deeds to some of the opposition candidates who asked for them. I say it with gravity, because by their behavior, they destroy the backbone of the Cameroonian administration. We must explain to the DOs that we do not come to chase them, that we are not their enemies.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, was visiting Cameroon at the end of October. He met President Biya of course, and several politicians, including you. Did you expect more?
I was not disappointed because I take things as they come. It would have been logical, in our context, for the Foreign Minister of a friendly country to pay particular attention to the one who officially came second in the presidential election. It was not the case. Jean-Yves Le Drian thought that a format with the leaders of all political parties represented in the Assembly was sufficient. Did he get the desired answers? I do not know. But it became very clear that he was accompanying the implementation of the resolutions of the dialogue, and one wonders whether the fact that he gave the impression of coming up with a position already decided is the right way to go to help solve the multifaceted crisis we face. At no time did he mention the crisis itself or the revision of the electoral code.
Should France be firmer, like the Americans, who, in mid-November, excluded Cameroon from Agoa?
Those who are in business only hear the balance of power. A friendly speech will not make them move. That being said, any approach that will lead the government to understand that it needs to reform the system is welcome.
You spent almost ten months in detention. What do you remember?
This is not a place where I would like to see my own enemies, but the prison has not changed me. It reinforced in me the idea that we must fight for things to change in Cameroon. In my case, incarceration was an injustice. But lamenting it’s fate does not change the case. To say to oneself that it does not have to happen to others, is already the beginning of something different.
What do you say to those who say you are rigid?
That I am not. The proof: I reached out to President Biya for us to work together on a project for a new Republic that I have been working on for decades. To solve our problems, for the salvation of the country, and certainly not because I am looking for a job, I am ready to discuss with him.
Did you expect to take so many strokes when you started politics?
Public life is violent. I have sometimes seen hatred towards me, some wish even my disappearance, but this violence is good for nobody and will not solve any of the problems of Cameroon. Our political projects are not so different that we can not interact with each other.
Social media networks are not soft on you. Does it affect you?
If the lies and the insults could kill, I would have died many times already! I do not read everything, but I see a lot of things happening. Does it hurt me? Yes, sometimes, especially as it happens that jealousy and hatred exceed my person to target the community where I come from. But no matter how much I portray myself as a devil, I have never read or heard reproaches.
Do you think there is a risk of inter-ethnic conflict in Cameroon?
Individually, Cameroonians are not tribalists! On the other hand, there is a small political and academic elite that instils the poison of hate in the veins of our country. But these people have nothing concrete to propose, and their project is doomed to failure.