How An Idyllic Ahidjo-Biya Transfer Of Power Turned Sour


How An Idyllic Ahidjo-Biya Transfer Of Power Turned Sour

Published on November 30th, 2009

By Francis K. Wache

The Farewell

On November 6, 1982, an elated Paul Biya returned to State House and met Ahidjo who had probably spent the morning listening to the radio broadcast of his (Biya’s) inaugural ceremony as Head of State. There might have been a pang of jealousy but equally a sense of satisfaction as Biya’s success could legitimately be termed his. Biya was his well-beloved choice.

The people had given him a frenzied and ecstatic welcome. Ahidjo could – justifiably – feel vicariously proud. And now, the two men hugged and chatted. Former President Ahidjo then led incumbent President Biya to the presidential desk, picked up his glasses and a few other items. They shook hands. Ahidjo led his successor to the lift.

Accompanying his predecessor out of State House, President Biya listened keenly and reverentially to the parting words. There was a black Mercedes waiting. They walked up to it; the door was flung open, and, before ensconcing himself into it, Ahidjo turned back. There was a brief pause. Then he said goodbye, referring to Biya as “Monsieur le President”.

To Biya this was music to his ears. This sounded so unreal, so eerie, so confusing. Biya saw Ahidjo off at the airport. As the Mercedes sped off, to the airport and later, to Garoua – where Ahidjo was to receive a rousing welcome – Biya stood there alone and waved. The wave of a hand that was saying goodbye to some 25 years of monocratic rule and ushering in … what? So ended one of the most idyllic transfers so far in Africa.

The question loomed pregnantly in the air – unanswered. Biya felt abandoned, solitary. Then suddenly, he felt a weight descend on his shoulders and he knew that from now the nation was waiting, expectant. From now his every action, word, or deed would be scrutinized.

He was no longer an anonymous Senior Clerk studying files and making recommendations. No, he was now the action itself. Already, duty was calling, that very evening his first Presidential act would be taken. Born in 1933, in the sleepy hamlet of Mvomeka’a as Paul Biya’a Bi Mvondo, he would henceforth, at 49, be known to Cameroon and the world as His Excellency, President/Commander-in-Chief/Chairman Paul Biya. His time had really come.

Nipping a Coup In The Bud

…on August 22, 1983… Biya announced that a plot to destabilize the State and its institutions had been uncovered. The first official hint (though everyone suspected) that Ahidjo was involved was given by Ahidjo himself. In his address, Biya had referred to alleged plotters anonymously as “individuals”. But the next day on August 23, Ahidjo, reacting to the announcement, revealed that the individuals in question were Abraham Oumarou (in charge of his household services) and Captain Salatou (his aide-de-camp).

Ahidjo then proceeded to spill a string of highly provocative invectives on Biya: “Biya is a weak man, a double dealer with a phobia for coups d’etat”. According to Ahidjo, the August 22 coup announcement was a red herring manipulated by authorities, who, instead of “taking care of the economic and social situation which was deteriorating glaringly in Cameroon”, wanted to divert attention.

Ahidjo’s statement sparked off an immediate uproar in Cameroon. Motions of support cascaded from all nooks and crannies. To crown it all, even a group of prisoners condemned sent their own motion of support! The die was clearly cast for Ahidjo. On August 27 he resigned his chairmanship of the party. Goaded by the shrieking complicity of the Cameroon people, Biya gored his opponent. After this, it would be a matter of winner takes it all: foes to be severely punished while friends would be gratified.

Biya Takes Over The CNU

Biya was elected Party Chairman on Sept. 14, 1983. An ebullient Biya drew deafening applause when, in a thinly veiled swipe at his predecessor, he said: “There is need to consider the CNU as a unified national party not as the property of a single person”. After Biya’s election, the former Chairman, Ahmadou Ahidjo, in an Interview with Radio France Internationale, said laconically: “Good luck to Cameroon and Cameroonians”. This in a way was an acknowledgement – thought sarcastic – of his defeat. He could exclaim with Homer: “Gods! How the son degenerates from the sire!”

April 6: The Coup that Almost Was

Ahidjo and his acolytes purported to have fomented the August 22 plot, were judged and sentenced. Biya, in what was dubbed a magnanimous act, commuted their death sentences – including Ahidjo’s – to life imprisonment.

On April 6, 1984 a hastily and poorly executed coup was foiled. The bungled coup had been staged, the plotters said, “Because Biya’s band was filling its pockets so fast before it is too late”. Ahidjo’s hand – was again – seen in this macabre episode. This was because at the outbreak of what the government preferred to call “mutiny”, Ahidjo had announced over the foreign radio station that if those involved in the coup were his supporters, they were surely going to win.

However, when it became indubitably clear that the coup had failed, a heckled Ahidjo had pleaded – through the foreign press – that he should be left alone since he had no hand in the bloody events. Besides, Cameroonians, who had insulted, denigrated and vilified him, could jolly well stew in their own juices. That was the last time Ahidjo talked publicly about Cameroon. And it sounded like the “Father of the Nation” was cursing his “fellow Cameroonians.

Scorned at home, Ahidjo became a roving exile – Senegal, France, Morocco… Biya emerged a bruised man from the coup. To be sure that such an incident should never happen again; he had to surround himself with trusted friends. In the event, these “friends” turned out to be more or less from one tribe. In a sense, he solved one by creating another intractable one – tribalism.

Also, Biya seemed to jettison his pet slogans of Rigor and Moralization and concentrated on the art of surviving in power. To do this, he back-pedaled on his incipient liberalization move, muzzled the Press, institutionalized presidential patronage and enhanced autocratic government. Thanks to the coup, he swung full circle. Cameroonians were back to the Ahidjo days. The smoking guns had killed a dream. The raisin had driveled in the Sun.

Excerpts from “How an Idyllic Transfer of Power Turned Sour (II): The Ahidjo – Biya Honeymoon Ends in Acrimony and Blood” (Originally published in Cameroon Life, 1(11), Sept. 1991)



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