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Is this the man to beat Cameroon's President Biya in this year's elections?

By Daniel Finnan

Voters in Cameroon are expected to go to the polls in October for presidential elections that will challenge the 35-year-rule of incumbent President Paul Biya. And one man is hoping to bring Biya’s reign to an end. Akere Muna has been described by some as the most credible possible successor to the Cameroonian leader. The former vice chair of Transparency International has already declared himself as a candidate in the race for the country’s top job. He created the Now Movement aimed at “bringing together Cameroonians from all walks of life”. Muna also serves as the sanctions commissioner for the African Development Bank and served as chairman of the Ecobank board in Cameroon. Raised in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon and having developed a successful law firm in Yaoundé, Muna says he can help “bridge” the divide between Anglophones and Francophones given the ongoing crisis in the north-west and south-west of the country. However, his declared candidacy for the presidency flies in the face of the more established political opposition and he challenges an incumbent who has ruled the country since 1982. Spotlight on Africa spoke to Akere Muna…

Q&A: Akere Muna

Do you really think you’ve got any chance in beating President Paul Biya in the elections? We’re talking about someone who’s been in power for 35 years.

You’re talking about President Paul Biya, I’m talking about Cameroonians, who really know the country’s in danger of imploding. They know that their livelihood is in danger because the system doesn’t work. They know that the infrastructure is at an ebb low. And they know that the justice system is not one that protects them. So I’m talking about the people, you can talk about Biya. I’m not worried about him, I’m worried about the Cameroonian people. What I’m telling them is that we can fix this.

It also seems as if you’re making the assumption that the elections will be free and fair.

I’m a lawyer by profession, I know what the laws are. I know that the way that they’re made, they’re made to suit the incumbent. But that’s a given and to try and think that you can change the law that you’re now at elections – it’s a distraction. But I think there’s no fraudulent machine that can be above the will of the people. I’m telling you, I’ve travelled up and down the country and the will and desire for change is very high. They can try to fraud all they want, but I don’t think that that can be above the will of the people.

Why did you decide to go it alone in the formation of your own party?

I didn’t go it alone and this gives me the opportunity to set it correct. I am non-partisan and I created a movement known as the Now Movement which is not a political party and non-partisan. But there is a group of parties who created the Platform for a New Republic and they’re supporting me. The Platform for a New Republic is a group of political parties, trade unions, civil society organisations and certain political personalities who support me. So I’m not going it alone and I’m a declared candidate. I think we’re now trying to get people to register because the register of non-voters in the last election in 2011 were more in number than those who voted for President Paul Biya. So we’re trying to get Cameroonians to register, to vote and to control and make sure their votes are counted. When we get to that point I’m sure, when all the candidates are in, the members of the opposition, we’ll sit down and have a talk. We’re now just making sure that Cameroonians are aware about the importance of these elections.

Do you have the support of the Social Democratic Front, one of the country’s main opposition parties?

The Social Democratic Front has already elected its own flag bearer for the elections. I am representing a different group. But as I say, at this moment we’re now getting Cameroonians sensitised, I think coalitions and alliances are sometime down the road and I think they’ll happen.

Who do you think you appeal to - do you appeal to Francophones? Do you appeal to Anglophones? You yourself, you’re from the north-west region, but you founded your business in Yaoundé and spent a lot of time there.

Yes, 40 years of legal practice. I tell you this, I appeal to Cameroonians because of my background. Many of them consider me a bridge, so I don’t think that I’m really affected by this divide. There’s Anglophones who feel I’m a Francophone. I’m not really bothered by that. I think that we have an Anglophone crisis in hand and I am better placed to understand it because I know what’s going on and I’m a victim of it, I’ve been a victim of it myself. I’ve written extensively about the mismanagement of the diversity of our country. As it stands, I think working with Francophones, working with the government and working internationally, I’ve come away with experience in governance, which is really my anchor in my career. I was vice chair of TI [Transparency International] for nine years. I worked for the African Peer Review Mechanism. I was president of the Economic and Social Council of the African Union, doing governance work for the African Development Bank. Cameroon has a huge governance problem and this is exacerbating the other problems. I think I do know what our country needs. It’s a good dose of resetting the country and making sure all identities are protected. And make sure that Cameroonians can actually live in a country that is working for them.

You mentioned the Anglophone crisis – is it really actually a good idea trying to run an election while this crisis continues? Will it actually be possible to hold any kind of vote in the north-west and south-west regions?

I’m looking for a solution to a problem and I’m saying that the solution is the ballot, not the bullet, as easy as that. If anybody has a better solution, I’m ready to listen. There’s a government that’s closing its ears not to see and its eyes not to hear. They don’t want to deal with any of this. So what do you want me to do? I’m saying, the Francophones think it’s time for a change. The Anglophones are suffering because things are not going better. The only way to move ahead is to galvanise and get ready to vote and change the government. Changing the country doesn’t help [regarding the breakaway state of Ambazonia], it can’t happen without bloodshed. So I’m saying, let’s change the government. And this can be done, that’s my message to all Cameroonian people. Let us make sure that we can see the back of this government and be able to rebuild a new republic. A country where every identity is protected, as easy as that. We’re going to have elections, of course that’s why I’m travelling talking to Cameroonians in the diaspora who have a very heavy influence on Cameroonians back home. Tell them to tell their brothers, sisters and other Anglophones back home that it is important to vote. The government knows this and is trying to make sure that parts of the Anglophone regions will get so tense that they don’t want to vote. Of course, such an imputation of a part of the electorate will only be good for the government and not for any opposition candidate. So we can’t fall into that trap, we know it’s wrong, we know it’s difficult, but it’s important to get out and vote. That is the route towards the future.

Your father was Salomon Tandeng Muna who was prime minister of West Cameroon. Not all Anglophones really agree with your father’s contribution in terms of the unification of Cameroon. So given that you’re in some way you’re trying to follow in your father’s footsteps, do you think that you’re acceptable to Anglophones given those divides within the Anglophone community?

I don’t know if my father, who died in 2002, is running for any office. My name is Akere Muna. I have my own prerogatives. I don’t know who says that I’m following in my father’s footsteps. What I’m saying is simple. We’re in a country where those who are the most disadvantaged are suffering and I’m trying to work for Cameroonians. Regardless of whether they’re Anglophones or Francophones. It is true at this particular moment, the Anglophones are really carrying the heavy part of the burden. Their villages have been burnt, they’re suffering. I’m saying that this government now is not listening. Those who want to manage my father’s existence, I’ll leave them to manage that. I have a simple mission that I’ve fixed for myself – to make sure that we can have a country that protects its own peoples. I am 66 and if people want to look at me through the prism of my father then that’s their problem to deal with. I don’t know who their own fathers are – it’s not an argument about whose father did what.

Going back to the Anglophone situation in the country – how would you solve the situation, how would you solve the problem?

It is easy. I think that in any union, the best protection you can have to parts of the union, is the protection of the identity of every union. I think that a federated form of the state is one of those guarantees you have. People tend to forget that when in 1972, President Ahidjo opted out of a federal system to a unitary system. He said this, ‘the federal system has permitted us to consolidate national unity, therefore the federal system permits the individual identities to be protected and to feel part of the union’. Now what has happened is the total erosion of the cultures of the country. The microcultures – Anglophone and Francophone - eroded, judicial system eroded, education system eroded and the frustrations have increased. Everybody who wants this country to have a place in the future knows that every identity of the country has to be protected and respected. Only a federal system, as it stands, can guarantee that. That’s what we’re fighting for – a federal system that will protect the identity of different cultures. Secondly, make sure that refugees can come back home, make sure that all political prisoners are released. And make sure that we can start building a country for everyone.

You said union there several times, so do we presume that you don’t agree with the separatists, those who’ve self-declared so-called Ambazonia.

Disagreeing is a very loose term. The government has said Cameroonians want to be indivisible, so they’re putting nothing on the table. There’s these Cameroonians - who feel frustrated and feel that there’s nothing on offer – are now saying that they’ll go to a different country. I’m saying that you don’t want to change the country, you want to change the government. I’m saying that the system that will better protect the rights of all the minorities in that country is the federal system. It’s not a question of agreeing or disagreeing about Ambazonia. It’s a question of giving a prescription of what can fix the mess that we’re in.

Maybe we can be a bit more specific – what would you put on the table?

A federal system, I just said that.

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