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Biya Will Leave Behind Corruption, Chaos – Barrister Taku
Posted: 2:50 pm, August 9, 2010
Interviewed By Azore Opio
Chief Charles Achaleke Taku, Lead Counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and Special Court for Sierra Leone, believes that for Cameroon to avoid bloodshed, Cameroonians and the government alike – should humbly go back to the drawing and carefully craft a sensible constitution if President Paul Biya is not going to leave them in the merciless hands of destiny. Read on:
The Post: Let’s begin with global warming, perhaps the most pressing global issue now. What do you know about it pertaining to Cameroon?
Barrister Taku: What I can say is that global warming is an indication that man is his own worst enemy; his total disregard for nature and his wanton destruction of the environment is leading us into an unprecedented calamity. We see it right even here in Cameroon; destruction of the environment.
There is scientific data indicating that Cameroon and Gabon are highly predicted that they will be the area where tsunami will strike next. The fear is that Cameroon with no comprehensive environmental policy, but which has two conflicting ministries; one to protect the environment, the other to make maximum capital out of exploitation, is set for disaster!
What does global warming generally represent for the much poorer countries?
When sources of subsistence are completely destroyed through the depletion of the ozone layer, agricultural production is threatened, low levels of technological advancements and the level of poverty is intensified, underdeveloped countries might not face squarely the challenges.
You are a well known litigator of your generation and you must have handled cases pertaining to land ownership and land use in Cameroon. If you had to defend land ownership and its use in a court of law, could you persuade a jury in favour of the ordinary Cameroonian?
Yes. But, in order to persuade a jury, you have to go beyond the legislation as it is. The land tenure policy in Cameroon is communist-based; adopted sometime in 1974 virtually nationalising all land. The lands and native rights to land were suppressed in our own part of Southern Cameroons, and the purpose of this land policy was to favour multi-nationals and particular French business interests in large plantations in the Mungo and other parts of the country.
The indigenes have been pushed to the periphery. Probably in Cameroon, because of the repressive system and the manner in which the legislation is conceived, many people do not see a problem here, but the same problem is informed by situations such as you find in Zimbabwe, and Kenya where the repressive land policy gave rise to the Mau Mau rebellion, and also the war in Rwanda.
In Cameroon most of the population cannot longer have ownership of land. The question of land tenure is a time bomb that is likely to explode any time soon. And as events have shown of late, the government does not even respect its own land tenure system through the issuance of land certificates. Government supporters like MAETUR and other multi-national corporations have disrespected the validity of land certificates because these matters are hardly litigated in courts of law due to the fact that the legal framework to litigate land issues is non-existent.
And everybody knows that the legal process in Cameroon is highly politicized especially where it concerns multi-national and other economic interests. It is a legal system where the most sensitive files are determined at the presidency; a clear indication of executive interference compounded by corruption. The legal framework doesn’t favour the ordinary Cameroonian and there is need, therefore, to repeal and recommend a land tenure system that benefits the owner.
There is this other issue of Africa at 50; what are your views about the continent’s independence in respect of Cameroon?
Cameroon is not yet independent. Does it have economic independence? No. Does it have political independence? No. What is the constitutional history of the country? It does not even exist. Recently, President Biya and leaders of some other African countries went to France to honour that country; you followed Biya’s speech? It was a total confession; I think it was candid. He was submissive to France that he is a French puppet.
It was incredible that the leader of an independent nation made such a subservient speech. Even Amadou Ahidjo, a puppet; but it is not on record that he ever made any speech that completely surrendered national pride and sovereignty before the French. For economic independence; either it is the French or the Chinese, Cameroon is not independent.
If the Chinese are coming to set up an industry, what are the terms? What is desirable for Cameroon and other African countries is the transfer of technology. Cameroon has trained individuals, experts, unfortunately most Cameroonians do not believe in technology. For me, celebrating 50 years of independence is laughable because I don’t think Cameroon is free as such. You remember that at the conference that Mr. Biya organised in Yaounde, to which he invited experts from other African countries, he said what matters is not how independence was obtained, but what we are doing with independence.
On the contrary, what matters is how independence was obtained. Unless we ask that question and answer it, celebrating independence is a complete waste of time. At 50, what should agitate the mind of every observer with regard to Cameroon is that having two constitutions and unstable situations as a result is a clear indication that Cameroon is a nation where the state does not exist at all, because the attitude towards this present situation where the president manipulates the constitution at will is more than just dictatorship.
How do you mean?
It is shame that the system of governance is not yet computerized and it is not for lack of resources; it is because if we have to apply modern technology to the system of governance, the dictatorship would collapse in many ways; the ability to appoint directors, chiefs of services and all the other stool pigeons appointed to sustain the dictatorship; that ability would be eroded because computerization would drastically cut the current bureaucracy.
For instance, if there was a fair collection and representation of data of the electorate, fraud by ELECAM would be avoided. But they are relying on party militants. In any case, they should be replaced with technology. But this is an aging dictatorship and so in order to sustain power, it has to resist technological advancements. So, I can assure you that this celebration of the 50th anniversary is a mockery.
It is a shame that 50 years after independence, African countries cannot trade amongst themselves, yet they are still trying to attract the attention of France, Britain, China. Cameroon cannot trade with Nigeria, not even with Gabon nor Equatorial Guinea. You go to the borders you find the police still harassing people. Now, when Biya leaves, what legacy is he going to bequeath to Cameroon? Chaos and corruption! In any case, the celebration should be done at the grassroots, not by a few people selected from Yaounde.
What do say about ELECAM?
For anyone to talk about organising elections, there must be a correct conduct of a population census. Lebialem CPDM MP, Hon. Forju, said Lebialem was undercounted. This is a serious statement. It is not only about Lebialem; the entire census was manipulated with the Anglophone Cameroon population fixed at 3,000,000, whereas if you look at statistics from independence it is consistently and 2.6 million suggesting that the population is stagnant. Even without a census, a reasonable government should be able to make projections.
In respect to ELECAM, if you don’t have correct population statistics, you cannot conduct proper elections. ELECAM to me is a smokescreen to rig elections. I have heard that the representative of ELECAM in Buea is a social worker, or of the Southwest, the principal of a school and a well known CPDM militant. How ELECAM selects its representatives from the top right down to the regional level is very suspect. Unfortunately, ELECAM is going to bring this country to chaos.
You insinuated earlier that the constitution of Cameroon is non-existent…the writing of the history of Cameroon seems to have been surrendered in the hands of sycophants who slap, massage and twist facts to suit their whims…
Yes, exactly. If you read the books of those who purport to be historians, especially "experts" on the history of Cameroon, you find that they have falsified the history. It is regrettable. When they tell the history of Southern Cameroons and the relationship with La République du Cameroun, they fail to inform the population; to admit the fact that at the Secretariat of the UN, there is no treaty consistent with Article 102 of the UN Charter, which says that for any treaty to be enforceable by the UN or its organs, it must be registered with the Secretariat of the UN as soon as that treaty is entered into by the parties. There is no such instrument.
This is a crucial aspect of history and if these were true intellectuals, historians, researchers; their duty is to bring out the facts as they are and let the readers draw their own conclusions. The fact that they jump about and start harping about Foumban and all of that shows that they have distorted history. Look at the history of the UPC; who are the heroes? Up to this time, they needed the decree of Paul Biya to say he wanted to rehabilitate these historic figures. Now, why do historians not inquire about the acts that led to their being banished?
Why have they not written about, for example, Felix Moumie, Um Nyobe, who were killed with the help of the puppet government then? Has any of these historians ever inquired into this? These historians are just as guilty as the perpetrators of the crime that led to the killing of thousands of people nationally; just as guilty because the falsified history is being used to brainwash and persecute a number of people.
You are a vocal advocate for the Southern Cameroons cause; what would you say about the Southern Cameroons heritage and patrimony being suppressed, and where is the level of the struggle?
Well, one of the things you have to know is that part of the Southern Cameroons problem is the falsification of history that has gone on for more than fifty years. On that particular score, a number of scholars and even ordinary Southern Cameroonians telling the history trying to make rectifications. Secondly, the African Commission on Peoples and Human Rights has recognized the Southern Cameroons as a people and this is an international judgment recognizing us as a people; therefore, we have a right to assert our independence.
Also, the fact is that the State of Cameroon finally accepted and asked for extension of time within which to arrange to dialogue with us. To say the case is on course, you have to study the conduct and building of new army units all along the territory of Southern Cameroons.
Consistent with the speech Biya made at the 50th anniversary celebration about "our armed forces"; this threat is not against Nigeria, it is not against Gabon, it is not against any neighbouring country; it is directed at Southern Cameroons.
In fact, the Southern Cameroons case has reached a certain level that nobody can sweep it under the carpet. It is, therefore, in the interest of the State of Cameroon to negotiate with the Southern Cameroons for a peaceful solution. The error they have made in this age and era of International Law and Diplomacy, is they think that spending more money on the army and using the threat of the army can dampen the will of the people to assert their independence.
As a lead counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and Special Court for Sierra Leone, you have been doing cases of human rights abuses and atrocities committed against humanity during war time, you should be a little concerned about the level of human rights and justice in Cameroon…
I am very concerned with the degree of human rights and justice in Cameroon. The indicators show that violations of human rights in the county could lead to civil strife. You will remember that before the war in Rwanda, there were armed attacks everywhere and officially, these were thieves but it had an effect on the psychology of the masses that the forces of law and order could no longer protect them.
The same circumstances are very obvious here where thieves operate at will, and these thieves do not operate in the homes of individuals, in the market places, in the shops, but they are they have also attacked the institutions of national sovereignty: the Ministries of Territorial Administration and Finance, Delegation of National Security, the Army headquarters.
The ability of these thieves to strike at will; to take a whole town like Limbe hostage for a number of hours without anybody reacting, sends a different message; that even if you brought on board two to three million soldiers it would not stop the thieves. But it is not only government. Human rights abuse is also observable in the lynching of suspect criminals by the masses in the full glare of security forces.
In the whole country nobody wants to go to the police or gendarmerie. They have lost confidence. Further more, the level of human rights abuse in Cameroon has only increased because the government itself undermines the independence of the judiciary. If you see the files of those arrested for alleged corruption, the Minister of Communication said these files were submitted to the President, and the Presidency decided to send them, after being given a visa, to the Minister of Justice to forward it to the prosecutor.
This is political interference; where is this ability of the executive deciding on who can be prosecuted coming from? It is a common law offence and it should take its normal course. It should be reported to the gendarmes or to the police, and from there they investigate and where the evidence directs them, they should arrest, afterwards they are prosecuted.
The next issue is that the suspects cannot even be granted bail. This is total violation of human rights in the sense that if people like Medouga cannot be granted bail, then who would be that Cameroonian who can be granted bail?
Further more, why arrest them before looking for evidence? If preliminary investigations would take a year or two, it means that they were arrested not based on the crime allegedly committed, but on suspicion. Look at the case against Pierre Desire Engo, which I took up to the Human Rights Committee in Geneva.
The Cameroon government was asked to liberate him within six months, but it hasn’t executed that decision. There is also a case of 83 Cameroonian civil servants who were due integration – 20 and 25 years ago some of them fought up to the Supreme Court and won, but the government has refused to integrate them. Now we are going back to the UN Committee for Human Rights.
The government disobeys its own court decisions. In order to execute the court decisions it needs the permission of the executive. This is a government in which there is no confidence and that is why you find all human rights even local ones have raised an alarm that the degree of human rights abuse in Cameroon has intensified. It is normal that people can be killed and thrown by the wayside without due process and it is normal for the government to look the other way.
For the Cameroon to shed itself from this appalling image, it needs to organise an independent judicial commission of inquiry into human rights violations in the country. The government also needs an ombudsman capable of conducting public hearings on human rights abuse, because the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms has failed it relies on government for funding; it doesn’t have any financial autonomy.
With the grim picture of Cameroon painted on the media canvas change seems to be a wild goose chase…
Well, there are many ways of going about to bring change in Cameroon, but I can assure you that this present government cannot bring about change; cosmetic changes and manipulations here and there cannot help. In 2008, people protested because the constitution had been changed, but that was just a logical conclusion to the policy of dying in power that has been maintained for the last 30 years; the policy of recycling the same old group of people who die in power.
You will see that it was in the mind of Biya when he took over, that he would die in power. It’s only logical that Oyono, E.T Egbe…all of them have died in power. And so Biya was only trying to legalise this practice that he too will die in power. He will never hand over to anyone. Since it has resigned to outlive itself, change might be brought about only by natural factors.
What do you say about the opposition; its ship seems to be rudderless, the mast broken, the sails shredded and crew have bailed out
I think the opposition is a victim of the system under which it was created. At a time when the opposition was vibrant it was due to mass support and the popular zeal to fight for freedom, but the social framework under which the opposition was created was carefully crafted in a manner that it was intended to fail. Secondly, the Cameroonian system is inherently corrupt.
For example, you have a system where power is concentrated in the hands of an individual, there is bound to be corruption at all levels. The opposition has also failed to benefit from modern technology. If they used technology, they would not need to call a rally to communicate with supporters; they would hold meetings with militants in the country and all those in the Diaspora.
Any last word?
I cannot call what Cameroon has as a constitution; to the extent that they say there are two constitutions which the head of state can choose which one can come into force at a particular time. Once you give that mandate to an individual, it means that individual is above the law and it becomes a matter of discretion.
That being the case, Cameroon has to go back to the drawing board and put in place a constitution from which reasonable legislation can flow. Without changing the present constitution as it is, all purported amendments; be it the criminal code or the land tenure system, they will only be cosmetic and are bound to fail as long as the interpretation of the constitution depends on the freewill or discretion of the president.
Anyhow, if and when change comes through natural cause, I foresee that whichever regime takes over, we may completely ban the present constitution and the political parties and craft a new constitution and people will be asked to register in the new political parties and we start afresh.
Categories: Conference Papers