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The Leadership Challenge in Africa: Cameroon…
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The Leadership Challenge in Africa: Cameroon Under Paul Biya

by John Mukum Mbaku

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This is quite a bookish view of the political situation in Cameroon under Paul Biya, but it is repetitive and single-purposed in its defense of the thesis that all blame lies with Paul Biya. It's as if every author was given the story line "Paul Biya is the problem", the framework to tell the story (history of the Cameroon since 1960), and then were all graded on how well they rationalized away any other option for Cameroon's morass, by quoting contextually relevant scholarly studies from many sources. On a positive note, by the time you finish reading this book, you will have all relevant dates and persons committed to memory. The entire 450 page book could have been condensed to less than 200 pages by taking out the sentiments that were repeated ad nauseam: the Anglophones have been marginalized, we need a new federalist constitution, the SDF will save us, etc.

One author, Charles Manga Fombad, does a credible job of laying out the largest and most "real" of the problems: corruption as an accepted way of life. And this problem - corruption - existed a LONG time before Biya took office. The authors do not give any credible solution for the corruption problem, simply wishing it away with a change in government.

The only chapter in the book which seemed to me to be even-handed was the one by Victor Ngoh, "Biya and the Transition to Democracy". Mr. Ngoh is the only author that dared to lay any of the blame firmly on the Cameroonian people, while suggesting that Biya is not the sole source of all problems in Cameroon.

The most fantastic assertion made in the book is that the way to "fix things" is for the present government to admit its errors and give the Anglophone West, possibly through a new federalist constitution, full control of all the oil revenues coming from the Ambas Bay. This represents the bulk of all revenues accruing to the Cameroonian government, yet the authors argue that since it's geologically part of "Western Cameroon", the proceeds should fall to the Anglophones to distribute as they see fit. Uh... OK. I control all the money and you don't like it, so the solution is for me to give it all to you and you can control it (and I definitely won't like it). Any "solution" to the Anglophone problem that includes a reversal of the current situation - win/lose for someone - is an exercise in academia, but not an exercise in problem solving.

Paul Biya may be every bit as inept and self-serving as the book depicts, but, since the book is singularly one-sided in its view, I suspect that the problem is quite a bit more complex than the authors would have me believe. I recommend this book for its exhaustive study of a particular point of view: that of the disillusioned exiles who now eke out a living by writing about it. ( )
  dementad | Jan 9, 2008 |
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