Q1. Cameroonians are able to live harmoniously despite the fact the country has over 250 tribal groups with over 200 languages and various religions. Can Cameroon serve as a model to not only other African States, but possibly even Western states?
I wouldn’t want you to look at Cameroon as an absolute model of harmony though because it is relative but I will use the example of our 50th anniversary to demonstrate this. We had a religious service and one of the diplomats that came from a Muslim background was surprised to see the Pastors, Fathers, Evangelical Ministers and Muslim Clerics were all sitting side by side. People might look at this and say, “What is this confusion?” But there is no confusion. It is taking everyone into account. He told me the most amazing thing was that everyone from different religious backgrounds was following the prayers, even if they were not part of that religion. At first glance it may look strange, but when you know that our country accepts everyone, this it is a great step.
Q2. In your speech you also discussed how developing a country is a process and how democracy is not a natural part of African culture. The West always touts democracy, but beyond democratic measures, how can African states work effectively in socio-economic terms with the West, and how much involvement should the West have in developing these states?
Democracy is not an African ideology it comes from the West. We understand the ideology and we understand that we need to convince people to believe in the ideology but our lives are not the same as in the Western world so somewhere along the line there is a paradox. You are asking people who are not born in a certain culture to behave in a manner that is normal to another culture. It is difficult, and that is why I spoke about ‘a process’. You need adaptation and you need to understand that democracy is a philosophical thought that comes from certain cultures. Each culture has checks and balances in its structure, maybe we didn’t give it a name, but it gives you the modus operandis. I don’t want us to look at democracy as such, but look at it as a philosophy. You are asking someone who has no background in that culture to implement it. Looking at elections, you have two or three candidates, and when the election results are tallied, you have a winner and the other candidates concede but in developing states, this is a problematic concept because if there is a problem with the election, or the results, a lot of people will just cry foul. Look at the 2000 Presidential race in America. There were some problems with the initial results, but Al Gore conceded. Even the way he was going about it was problematic, because he knew the concepts and methodologies. A lot of places have problems with elections, so that’s why it is almost impossible to have a perfect model of ‘democracy’. I remember a diplomat that came to Cameroon said our elections are improving every year. This means that gradually people are maturing and understanding how the concept of democracy functions and how the machinery works. Even politicians from all parties don’t read or fully understand the laws. This is all part of the process, and each time we go through the election process the system improves and we become more organised.
Q3. The transparency and legitimacy of elections in Cameroon have been called into question with opposition parties claiming the elections, which have elected President Paul Biya into office for the past 20 years, as being fraudulent. How can Cameroon improve its voting transparency?
We have created an electoral body that is going to be in charge of supervising and taking care of the transitions, before this, we had an observatory. This is part of the process I was talking about. We are dealing with a country and people who have died for independence and stabilisation. Cameroon is a special country. How do you manage to involve different tribes, with 200 different languages, Anglophones and Francophones with all of their different practices? The Head of State has done a lot. Just look at Bakasi and how it was solved. The western world should promote that as an example, that in Africa you can solve problems without going to war. This is a great example of diplomatic success between Cameroon and Nigeria. Two Heads of State who understand the value of human beings and peaceful negotiations, and who also had no problems with being viewed as ‘weak’ because you were not fighting. It was done by two heads of state in an international court with the United Nations and all these international bodies. The Institute For Cultural Diplomacy should appropriate itself through all of these bodies, because no matter what you do you cannot function in today’s world if you do not go through these bodies. They have credibility and a track record. Even though it may not be perfect it still exists, and the United Nations for us, was very effective in dealing with this issue.
Q4. In your address you mentioned the phrase, “Africa – different but together.” How can African states use cultural differences to become united and work diplomatically?
Within Africa, you have people from different cultural backgrounds living together. Sometimes this causes tension but if you take the example of the United States which is populated by many different cultures, isn’t that diversity amazing? It is possible to live in harmony with people from many different cultures. In any environment, you progress when there is an exchange. You progress when you differ and evolve only when you have a problem. So it seems to be a paradox, but a healthy paradox. It just depends on how you apprehend it, whether you are going to be positive or negative about it. Unity means you are including something and you are gaining something. Whether you are learning a language or learning about a new culture, you always gain.
Interview conducted by Joel MacMillan