President Paul Biya (more intimately Paul Barthélemy Biya’a bi Mvondo) has been ruling the Republic of Cameroon since 6 November 1982, after the resignation of Ahmadu Ahidjo who held on to power right from the country’s independence until the spirits seemed to have whispered to him to resign on 4 November that year. Biya’s birthday was 13 February, just some hours away from Valentine’s Day, and I regret that I missed proposing a toast to this great son of France-in-Africa.
Valentine’s Day was Biya’s Day but many Cameroonians missed that historic irony. Anyway, in an English tradition of old that would fascinate someone like President Biya, it was made law that no one in the kingdom should drink anything unless that person first raised the cup to toast to the health of the monarch. President Biya is worth more than three monarchs put together and should elicit such observance as an implicit law.
It is not an easy thing for one man to hold on to power in a democratic system for more than twenty years: surely there is something divine in the presence called Paul Biya and so his claim to the divine right of kings should be taken for granted. Who else (if not Bob Whitefarms-Mugabe) could compete favorably with Paul Biya in the art of wanting to go to the grave with the nation as a trophy?
How many Cameroons make one Biya? And how many Biyas make one liberte, solidarite et fraternite? In a country where only one man is fit to rule, where government can conveniently put on several masks, it is very difficult to convince anyone that saying what you mean is not the same as meaning what you say. In such a wonderland, the algebra of subjectivity says that liberte minus fraternite is equal to Biya raised to power “n” divided by solidarite minus les enemies dan la maison (a negative label used sometimes in identifying the Anglophone opposition).
Paul Biya remains a mathematical factorial, whose modes of presence suggest a recurrence that puzzles those who try to understand the human that becomes a phenomenon, which becomes also an institution. There was Biya that “happened” after Ahidjo.
Then, there was the next Biya and the next and the next…. One Biya is reproduced as another Biya. The next Biya tries to refurbish the previous Biya into a mythical (even mystical) hero.
The previous Biya is the presence of the future Biya, a slippery signifier in a political discourse that differentiates between les amis and les enemies dans la maison. How does one tell who are friends and who are enemies in the house by merely imagining the colours of competing voices? In a Babel where every hamlet learns to follow the folk hero, every tongue must confess that Biya is le pays sans frontier.
In Biya’s maison called Cameroon, there are many mansions. If I were the current mutant of Biya, I would like to prepare a place for the next Biya, so that where I am, there he would be. Les enemies dans la maison would not let me sleep and would not let me transform properly to the next Biya. So, we must fumigate this maison, from the Grassfields to Bakassi, the Boys Quarters we won from those noisy Nigerians who do not know how to move their knights on a chessboard.
“The Cameroons” is always plural. So, why try to rewrite it into an annoyingly singular Cameroon? The more you “Cameroonise”, the less you “Frenchify.” And if you cannot “Frenchify,” where is your plebiscite?
“The Cameroons” is always plural. The grammar of politics may baffle beginners in the identity classroom. Each Cameroon is a Biya narrative “Ahidjo-ed” long ago.
Indeed, there is no accommodation left for “rodents” of the Grassfields unless they learn to burrow deeper than history. Why befriend les enemies dans la maison when you can bait and hunt them down very easily?
Mon dieu! They caused this story to have an epic plot long ago when they allowed the name of a country to have two different spellings in the same textbook! My “Cameroun” your “Cameroon”! And they expected the school children to be able to remember the difference between the sound made by Alice and the sense given to it by Humpty Dumpty in this wonderland! I think what the opposition in Cameroon now needs to do is to present the nation state to Biya as a trophy. He needs to carry that trophy to the afterlife to beat other veterans like Zaire’s Mobutu and Gabon’s Bongo, who made long-stay the culture of a neighbourhood.