Cameroon presidential candidate calls for federal government
Barrister Akere Muna recently announced that he is to stand in Cameroon’s 2018 presidential election. In the context of unrest in the anglophone part of the country, the anti-corruption campaigner's decision has aroused crticism from his fellow English-speakers. Talking to RFI, he defended his decision.
LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW HERE
The dynamic barrister certainly did not expect the reaction he received when he made his political ambitions public on Sunday 8 October.
He said he ’s been getting messages of support from everywhere.
He’s also been the target of much criticism, mainly from Anglophone Cameroonians.
Muna has pledged to use the campaign to argue for a new republic based on a federal system.
In the past Muna has said he did not want to follow in the footsteps of his father, a prime minister under British rule, or his sister, who was a minister after independence, but now the 65-year-old is trading peaceful retirement for a bumpy political ride.
“The government has failed woefully to efficiently manage diversity," he told RFI. "The poor and the weakest are now bearing the brunt of the economic situation, the healthcare situation is very bad, investors are [concerned] by judicial uncertainty in Cameroon. We’ve built a country where the state has been captured by a few oligarchs. I think I can help with others to find a solution to all this."
Muna believes that he can draw on his vast experience on various local and international forums to shape his political vision. He is currently the chairman of the International Anti-Corruption Conference. Among other positions occupied, he was the head of the Cameroon Bar Association, vice-chairman of Transparency International and chairperson of the African Peer Review Mechanism.
His critics, many of them anglophone Cameroonians, see him as part of the establishment, who can only be a continuation of the apparatus of President Paul Biya. Muna replies that he didn not choose his family.
“I understand those who are reticent because… of this atmosphere of mistrust," he comments. "As to being part of the system, I’ve had the opportunity to join the government many times and that I haven’t done. To arguments like who do you think you are, I [say] the greatest test in any kind of election is when your peers elect you… I was voted by lawyers at the head of the bar, at the head of the Pan-African Lawyers Union, chosen by presidents for the African Peer Review Mechanism."
He vehemently denies allegations that he or his family have profited under Biya’s rule, arguing that his brothers, George and Bernard, incurred financial losses in dealings with the ruling party and refusing to take reponsibility for his sister's political affiliations.
“I’m waiting for someone to say, Akere Muna you had this because who your father was," he exclaims. "I was called to the bar in London in 1978 but it took me four years to get enrolled with the bar [in Cameroon], just becaue I was anglophone. When I told my father, he said my son they can slow you but they cannot stop you.”
His father was Salomon Tandeng Muna, prime minister of West Cameroon and speaker of parliament for almost 20 years. He played a crucial role in the reunification process of the two Cameroons, East and West, when the territories were still under French and British rule. Critics say that he betrayed the anglophones during the negotiations.
“My father and Dr [John Ngu] Foncha [another anglophone leader] acted on the basis of good faith in a situation that everybody knows about," he says. "The fact that the others were of bad faith is sad. In the later days of their life, [they] did say that the other party was not honest. And that’s why the anglophones found themselves in a funny partnership which I call the partnership of the horse and the rider.”
Throughout its history, Cameroon changed names several times: it was officially know as the Federal Republic of Cameroon in 1961, then the United Republic of Cameroon in 1972 and since 1983, the Republic of Cameroon. Now, Akere Muna proposes his vision of a new republic, which entails changing the constitution.
“We [need] to have a systemic change. We have a system built on couacs [gaffes] under the different colonial rule, built on couacs put together to make sure there is only one leader all the time. The same. And then all sorts of laws arranged to favour the incumbent … to get reelected.” Muna declares.
Cameroon's parliament has not proposed a single law and that the country has never seen a president democratically elected for his first term, he argues, claiming that independent Cameroon's first president Ahmadou Ahidjo was put in place by the French and Biya by Ahidjo.
“I think that the decentralised system will no longer work. It is paramount that we look towards a federal system. The best decentralised system for the country is a federal form of government and that is the new republic.”
Biya and immunity
Biya is 84-years-old and has been ruling Cameroon for 35 years. Muna said that he feels obliged, as an African, to protect him from prosecution.
“If you are asking for my personal opinion, I don’t feel that African leaders should automatically face trial," he says. "This is a debate I’ve had with my colleagues in TI [Transparency International] as to whether immunity should be given to corrupt leaders. But, as a lawyer, there is the separation of powers, which I should insist upon: the judiciary, the executive and the legislative. And that will be a decision for the courts to take."
He explains that he doesn’t see what is to be gained in dragging an 85-year-old leader to trial because of a desire for vengeance.
“Cameroonians are angry. They need somebody who should be the scapegoat. But there are so many issues we have to deal with, from independence, terrorism, the coup d’état, who was killed, whose property was taken. And I think that the sooner we deal with these things in a manner that brings us together, the better it will be for us.”
What about accountability? Muna replies that his position only concerns presidents but and not perpetrators who shot people, seized land and committed other illegal acts.
Now Movement founded
When he announced his candidacy, Muna simultaneously announce his Now Movement, which he insisted was not a political party. He describes it as a sort of non-partisan wide tent that welcomes people from anywhere, whatever their political affiliations, whether anglophone or francophone.
His campaign has so far been financed from his own personal resources and donations from friends and family but he intends to appeal to the public for funds.
Support from the diaspora appears to be more visible from the francophone side and Muna says that the anglophones are more reticent because of current circumstances.
“The anglophone crisis dates from many decades and is really the result of bad governance, it is a matter of social injustice. The current Pope said that you judge a country by the way it treats the poorest and I think if Cameroon was to be judged, it will be judged very poorly.”
Follow Akere Muna on Twitter @AkereMuna
Follow Zeenat Hansrod on Twitter @zxnt