By Narcisse MOUELLE KOMBI
University Professor and Writer
Professor of Public Law and Political Science
“Why this tumult among nations and vain thoughts among peoples?” Why this raucous din between brothers and sisters of the same nation, these unpatriotic behaviour on the part of some Cameroonians? So we can say paraphrasing the Psalmist.
Unfortunately, disturbing facts are palpable. For some time now, we have been witnessing a rampage of violent passions and aggression, an exacerbation of contradictions driven by tribalism and denial of identity. Oppositions are radicalized and compatriots divided because of hatred. Hatred, this poison of the soul. Hatred, this canker worm in societies, a vector of conflict and violence.
Social media has become an avenue for verbal jousting, bitter invectives and wrangling between Cameroonians, some of whom do not hesitate to use aggressive language against their brothers and ignite ignominy, while others call for a genocide of an ethnic group and civil war. This is certainly what ICT sociologists describe as a ‘chatty society’. A society where, during a debate we fight, during a discussion we get furious and during disagreement, express hateful feelings and condemn. But in this context, according to Jean Pierre Le Goff, serious issues like terrorism and mass crimes are quickly crossed, while “chatty” issues are discussed ahead of time. That is, without considering any precarious situation and sad reality.
More disturbing is the fact that extremist groups actively attack the Head of State and President-elect of the Cameroonian people daily on the internet. This they do without holding back insults, offenses, slanders, defamation, lies and other scandalous statements, attitudes that do not honour their authors. As a matter of fact, in democracy the sovereign is as an individual figure: the Elected; and collective figure: the People. To insult someone who is elected is to insult the people who elected him.
Recently in Geneva, a small group claiming to be the “Anti-sardinards Brigade” clearly stating its relation with a political party legally created in Cameroon, went to storm a private hotel where the Presidential couple was lodging, intending to dislodge, capture and assault the personality of President Paul Biya. In order to stop them, some advocates of the Head of State and the republican institutions he embodies had to intervene immediately.
This demonstration provoked authorities and law enforcement officials of the city which is home to many international institutions. The scuffles have aroused great indignation for people who still have a sense of honour and dignity, respect for domestic and international law and also a minimum of consideration for our traditional African values.
THE HEAD OF STATE, A SYMBOLIC, EMBLEMATIC AND SACRED FIGURE
The aforementioned acts are intolerable, inadmissible, and in many ways reprehensible. They are all the more so because they are prejudice to the dignity of the presidency and especially to the sacredness of the sovereign and majestic figure of the Head of State.
The President is symbolic and emblematic. He is the living symbol, personification, incarnation of the State. He is the emblem, representation of the nation, supreme and plenipotentiary representation of the country on an international scale. The constitution of Cameroon makes the President of the Republic, the Head of State, Chief of the Arm Forces, guarantor of the independence of the nation and territorial integrity, unity and indivisibility of the State. He is the Sovereign bestowed with will and power for the whole nation.
The power held and exercised by President Paul Biya has a religious, traditional, and solid legal foundation. As Head, his authority is born at the conjunction of divine selection, democratic election, and legal consecration.
Of course, we do not lose sight of the classic distinction established by the German sociologist Max Weber between traditional, charismatic and rational legal legitimacy.
However, it turns out that in Africa, like anywhere else in the world, a leader can act as an intuitu personae and ex officio, thanks to these three legitimacies. President BIYA is thus a glaring example. Hewho, empowered through a democratic election, was also ushered into a supreme office, invested with attributes of King of Kings, Great Sawa Dignitary, Fon of Fons, Lamido of Lamibe, Nkukuma of Nkukuma, in short Head of traditional rulers from all regions and cultural areas of Cameroon. A few years ago, he was given the high dignitary title of NnomNgui. In the same way, he has often received the tributes and blessings of the highest religious authorities, whether Muslim or Christian, including the many successive Popes – May God be praised.
A charismatic leader, Paul Biya is the product of an extraordinary and exceptional destiny, the living testimony of transcendence and superior forces that guide a man’s life, his role, his mission and his vocation on earth.
At the religious level, it is worth recalling that “all authority comes from God, and those that exist have been established by God”, as the apostle Paul tells the Romans in the New Testament. Therefore, everyone has to submit to the authorities that govern us, because they are representatives of God on earth. Prophets and pastors on their part are envoys and messengers of God.
In our traditional societies, desecrating an authority or humiliating a Chief can result to a curse, anathema or excommunication.
The culture of incivility, immorality, indecency and invectiveness is contrary to the ideal of good citizenship and respect of ethics, morals and law.
This is all the more paradoxical because President Paul BIYA is hailed, admired, respected around the world as a great leader, an enlightened guide whose voice is credible, audible and convincing on the international scene. A great statesman of great stature, whose experience and competence are esteemed by many of his peers.
THE HEAD OF STATE, AN ICON OF DEVOTION, FEAR AND REVERENCE IN OUR TRADITIONAL SOCIETIES
The position of Chief is indeed sacred. Is his inauguration, even in old European monarchies, not characterized by a rite, coronation and enthronement? This is usually done in a sacred place. In our traditional societies, after a long and endured initiation, the ruler becomes the master of the visible and invisible sphere, the point of intersection of microcosm and macrocosm, the mediator between the world of the living and the dead. He becomes the key contact with the long chain of ancestors. As Confucius says, “because God is the foundation of all things, ancestors are the foundation of man on earth.”
In the Bamoun and Bamileke land for example, the tears of a king may bring disaster or evil to his subjects. And in some of our countries, woe betide the one whom the Chief (who cannot be given a handshake) nervously points his finger at. Also, it is forbidden to make the Chief angry. We should therefore commend the virtues of patience, tolerance, weight and moderation displayed by President Paul BIYA who, despite the barbaric and intolerable acts perpetrated against him, has always kept calm, and very often forgiven those who offended him. Only great men react as such.
The sacredness of a Chief is not an absurdity or a heresy. On the contrary, treating something or someone as sacred means making him extraordinary or uncommon. Thus the position of President of the Republic is, by its essence, substance and consistency extraordinary. In certain contemporary monarchies the King, or Head of State is considered Commander of Believers, Head of the Church, descendant of a Prophet or a Saint.
This approach has nothing to do with an absolutist, tyrannical or despotic notion of power. The reason being that though God, the most sacred figure that exists, is Almighty and Omnipotent, he is equally Clement, Merciful and Benevolent.
The Pharaonic Egypt, Rome and ancient Greece, civilizations whose splendour, genius and heritage lasted through millennia, are examples of societies where pharaohs, emperors or kings were honoured and worshipped. From where then stems the tendency some uninhibited and irreverent compatriots have to deify President Paul BIYA, whose study and qualification curriculum, career path and political trajectory, are so eloquent and eulogistic?
It is no coincidence that in our villages, the Chief is an object of devotion and fright who inspires fear, respect and reverence. There is nothing wrong with that. Sacredness is synonymous to hope, identifying man in a higher principle of an unintelligible world. This invisible world, which so fascinates Africans with its mysteries, but also with its promises. For example, the promise of heaven, a better life, a glorious life after death, a happy eternity.
The philosopher Camille Tarot asserts that “the principle of sacredness is a constituent datum of human thought, a universal category of all human consciousness”.
No society has developed into contempt or depreciation of its own cardinal values. The constitution of Cameroon insists on the indispensable preservation of positive traditional values, which respect human rights.
As we all know, among these values are respect for life and the prohibition of homicide, respect for seniority and birthright, consideration elders and social rank, and submission to an established authority and hierarchy. Among the Sawa, one of the fundamental principles of community organization and social balance is “mototè o epol’ao” (each individual has their place according to their birth, merit or status).
THE HEAD OF STATE, A PERSONALITY PROTECTED BY INTERNATIONAL LAW
The function of the Head of State is one protected by national legal systems as well as international law. These principles are expressed in immunities, inviolability, respect for the dignity and integrity of the function, protection against insults and threats of all kinds.
Immunity is an exemption that protects the person who benefits, that is the President of the Republic, from procedures or obligations under common law. Immunity from jurisdiction is valid, whereby the beneficiary exempted from legal actions of the State of residence or of third states. But also immunity from execution, through which the Head of State is exempted from all forced measures or forced execution from authorities of the resident State.
Inviolability enables the Head of State to enjoy a guarantee for his bodily integrity and intangibility in the exercise of his functions. As such, a Head of State cannot be subjected to measures of constraint or arrest by the authorities in the territory he is visiting or in which he is on mission. Better still, he must enjoy the protection of these authorities, including his property, his residence and his correspondence. This inviolability is an unquestionable and indisputable privilege.
The President of the Republic is also protected against the offense of contempt punishable by a fine and even imprisonment. By this, for example, Article 433.5 of the French Penal Code refers to words, gestures or threats, writings or images addressed to a person in charge of a public service mission and likely to undermine his dignity or respect due to the function with which he is invested.
Enjoying international recognition as Head of a sovereign State, President Biya has the right to go and travel, the freedom to move around the world. To our knowledge, he is not persona non grata neither in Switzerland nor in any of the 193 member countries of the United Nations. It is worth noting that international law imposes on foreign States a duty of neutrality, an abstention from interference in the internal political affairs of a foreign State without its consent. In the famous judgment rendered in 1986 in the case of the Military and Paramilitary Activities in Nicaragua against the latter, the International Court of Justice recalled the relevance of the principle of constitutional autonomy of States and the obligation of each other, to abstain from interfering unilaterally in the political choices of a people within a sovereign State.
Similarly, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights values the principles of respect for privacy, the freedom to go and come and the dignity of individuals. Just as, if not more than any Cameroonian, the presidential couple is entitled to respect based on these fundamental principles. President Paul BIYA is incontestably, ipso facto and ipso jure, that is to say by the acts, figures and relevant provisions of the electoral law, the winner of the Presidential election of October 7, 2018.
In modern democracies the election is a coronation, a consecration where the voices of the people amplify the voice of God (voxpopuli, vox Dei). Modern avatar of the centralization of Power, as Georges Burdeau thinks, secular legitimacy being his foundation, owing to the fact that divine investiture substitutes legal consecration. This justifies the submission of the governed to the rulers and explains what Bertrand de Jouvenel calls “the mystery of civil obedience.”
On another level, every society needs myths to function energetically and to look to the future. We consider myth in the sense that Georges Sorel understood it: “force idea, likely to mobilize the forces available for the fight”. In Cameroon, mobilizing myths promoted by President Paul Biya as ideas to be transformed into reality are, among others, the idea of social progress and prosperity, the idea of national unity and integration, the idea of peace and stability and the project of the Emergence of Cameroon by 2035.
It is worth noting energetically, President Paul Biya does not stay in power by force. He was elected and democratically re-elected by the Cameroonian people, who whole heartedly entrusted him with their destiny. This people, whose will has been clearly and freely expressed, deserve, like any other people in the world, a minimum respect and consideration. They do not expect to be imposed or proposed, in a kind of thaumaturgical inversion of roles, an unfortunate candidate like a pseudo “elected president”.
Except with a mad suicidal instinct, you can not want to burn a house and stay in that house on fire. It is time for us to go beyond folklorization and the search for scandal and sensationalism at all costs, which is so detrimental to Cameroon’s image. This country called “Africa in miniature” needs love, fraternity, friendliness and solidarity between its sons from North to South and East to West. As a song that we love to hum in English says “we are one, we are together”.
AN ETHICAL START, GUARANTEE OF A BRIGHT FUTURE FOR CAMEROON
In his famous book Communal Liberalism, Paul Biya calls for the ”development of humanity in man”. He condemns ”man dominated by passions and feeling, outrageously egocentric and selfish”. Better still, the illustrious author exalts “man being master of himself, and of the universe, capable of sometimes forgetting himself so as to assert a higher value”. This higher value is for instance the general interest. It is for instance the love of the fatherland and the determination to make every day even better the “cradle of our fathers”.
It is time for the emergence of individual and collective consciousness. It is time for scouts to take their responsibility against the dangers threatening the peace and security of Cameroonians, against the challenges of legitimacy and solidity of the Cameroonian nation threatened by separatist heresies, sometimes fuelled by exogenous forces. I am thus thinking of the deplorable situation in the North West and South West regions.
It is time for a qualitative move to be affirmed, which must lead each one to pay close attention to the harmful consequences of their actions on the future of our country. In the same way, an ethical move must bring political and opinion leaders, especially those who dream of exercising the supreme function, to weigh their words and deeds and to illustrate themselves by the exemplary nature of their behaviour. Language can be flowery. Speech is dangerous when it is venomous. It is with words that one declares war, it is also with words that one makes peace.
A tree that falls in the forest makes infinitely more noise and din than a thousand shrubs growing at the same time. Let us leave aside the din of the tree that collapses poorly and base our hopes on the blissful germination of these shrubs that carry the promise of a bright future for our country. Nations also have vocations. The vocation of Cameroon is to be a model of unity in diversity, of harmonious living together between its various sociological components, committed to one and the same destiny, under the guidance of a leader who today is called Paul Biya.
By Narcisse MOUELLE KOMBI
University Professor and Writer
Professor of Public Law and Political Science