Idelphonse Affogbolo, the Beninese businessman behind the Contemporary Benin travelling exhibition, has set himself the mission of “participating ... in the circulation and visibility of contemporary art in Africa.”
“The marches calling for Paul Biya’s resignation are not acts of insurrection, rebellion or hostility against the country, but the peaceful expression of people’s exasperation with a regime that doesn’t hear the cries of its population,” Maurice Kamto wrote in a statement released to the public on 15 September.
These words were part of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC) leader’s call to hold peaceful demonstrations to demand Biya’s resignation and protest against the regional elections set to take place on 6 December. In Kamto’s view, the elections cannot be held “unless a resolution is found for the Anglophone crisis and a consensus reached on the reform of the electoral code”.
Despite the fact that Kamto has put a heavy emphasis on the “peaceful” nature of the marches he is calling for, the political climate has grown remarkably tense in recent days. With the first march scheduled for 22 September, Minister of Communication René Emmanuel Sadi alluded to the movement as an “insurrection”.
The demonstrations have been prohibited by the authorities, who affirmed that severe punishments will be in store for any offenders, both in Yaoundé and Douala. Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji went as far as to say that protesters may face “life imprisonment”.
Meetings and phone calls
In Douala, where Kamto has been staying since Sunday 13 September, the leader has had a packed meeting agenda with members of his inner circle and political opposition actors in an effort to mobilise as many people as possible.
After sending letters in an initial phase, Kamto spoke over the phone with several political party leaders, including Ni John Fru Ndi from the Social Democratic Front (SDF), Edith Kah Walla from the Cameroon People’s Party (CPP) and Aboubakar Ousmane Mey from the Alliance nationale camerounaise (ANC).
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He also had phone conversations with civil society leaders such as Djeukam Tchameni, the initiator of the Citizen Consultation Framework, a forum for dialogue between the country’s various political forces.
However, Kamto’s former presidential election ally, Akere Muna, declined to speak with him. According to a source close to Muna, the former president of the Cameroon Bar Association “has distanced himself from politics” in order to devote his energy to consulting engagements across Africa.
A controversial approach
To the leaders with whom he spoke, Kamto advocated for the “forces of change” to unite their efforts with a view to “replacing the Yaoundé regime”. In addition, he asked to meet with each of them in order to fine-tune the strategy to adopt. However, some opposition leaders have been put off by his approach. For instance, he is often criticised for not having sought out the opposition’s support prior to initiating “his planned demonstration”.
Currently in the United States, Fru Ndi made it clear that his party will not take part in the marches. Although he promised Kamto over the phone that a consultation meeting would be held between the party’s and MRC’s staff, officials from SDF, led by its vice president Joshua Osih, had a more guarded response. “We can’t get involved in a movement when we aren’t familiar with all of its ins and outs,” said an SDF official belonging to the wing of the party in favour of holding regional elections.
Movement labelled an ‘insurrection’
In a political environment with a long history of “betrayals”, Kamto is proceeding with caution. His objective is clear: conceal his strategy and catch the regime off guard. In Douala, he is surrounded by a small circle of loyalists which includes economist Christian Penda Ekoka, university professor Alain Fogue Tedom, former MP Albert Dzongang, lawyer Yondo Black and MRC official Dr Modeste Ngono.
Kamto has yet to meet with Michelle Ndoki and Célestin Djamen, two other party figures who publicly called for the end of the “Say no to electoral hold-up” campaign launched by MRC to challenge the outcome of the presidential election.
Nevertheless, Kamto and his inner circle have been in contact with the leaders of the Stand Up for Cameroon group, a network of political actors and organisations headed by Edith Kah Walla and to which the lawyer Alice Nkom belongs. Stand Up for Cameroon and MRC have agreed to support “concrete, concerted action by a wide variety of political and social actors”, but they never reached a decision about marching together on 22 September.
According to MRC’s leaders, around 10 political parties and civil society organisations currently support their movement and negotiations are reportedly still ongoing.
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