Dr. Fomunyoh in the United Kingdom

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By Eric M. Acha 

Dr. Fomunyoh has just ended another successful tour across the United Kingdom, where he gave talks to three different audiences including the Cameroonian community based in the UK.
During the tour that kicked of at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS); University of London, Dr. Fomunyoh gave an academic talk to a mixed audience of Staff members and students from SOAS and the London School of Economics, as well as other Africanists and Policy experts from across the UK.

His participation at the panel discussion as a panellist and guest speaker follows an old SOAS tradition of hosting senior and distinguished policy experts and practitioners on African policy. The event organized by the African Policy Forum in partnership with SOAS invited the panellists to discuss the democratic process in Africa, in the midst of all the challenges and opportunities.

Together with Professor Stephen Chan, a senior professor of International Relations at SOAS, the duo engaged the highly interactive audience into a lively discussion that lasted for over two and half hours. In his introductory remarks, Prof. Chan introduced Dr. Fomunyoh as a true advocate of democracy with extensive field and scholarly knowledge on issues pertaining to democratisation in Africa especially the Sub Saharan Africa.

Dr. Fomunyoh, on his part began by, acknowledging the progress that has been made thus far in the process of enhancing democratic governance and strengthening democratic institutions on the continent. He gave a compelling analysis of where the continent is coming from, where it currently stands and what the challenges are as the process continues.

He cited Ghana as a looming example where the country has emerged from a period marred with under development and poor governance under military rule to what is now considered as one of the young democracies in the world. He pointed to President’s Obama’s first state visit to Ghana as an acknowledgement of the progress being made to foster democratic governance in the country.

He compared the current political situation across Africa to that back in the 90s when only three head of states where known on the continent to have relinquished political power wilfully at the end of their term. These were Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Léopold Senghor of Senegal and Amadou Adhidjo of Cameroon. Comparing it to the current situation he said:

Today if you look at Africa, there are over 45 individuals who have served in state houses
as head of states and who have now relinquished power. Many of whom were term limited with the constitutional setup in their respective countries not allowing them to continue to maintain themselves in the office, some of them because they lost elections and accepted the outcome and even a few of them voluntarily relinquished power”. This he continued has uplifted the African continent and improved its position

He also took note of the emergence of the civil society and the important role they now play on the African continent. Amongst the challenges facing the continent today. Fomunyoh singled out the problem of political alternation where citizens have the opportunity to change power through a political process, but are more often than usual obstructed by those who want to perpetuate their stay in power. A well known problem across the continent today is that of manipulating the society through staged elections aimed at giving the impression that the country in question is on the democratic path. On this, Fomunyoh reiterated that “organising elections from time to time does not automatically qualify a country as a democracy”. He did however acknowledge the fact that elections constitute an important pillar in the whole career of democratic institutions.

Countries that have had credible election have had an easier time consolidating their political gains whereas those that have had flawed elections have more often ended up in conflict or have had a harder time putting in place their democratic institutions. On this he said:

“Elections are the one public contract that governments negotiate with their citizen in the public sphere i.e in the view of everyone both domestic and international. Thus a government that steals an election will find it much easier to violate the other norms of democratic governance”.

Prof. Chan on his part, speaking as some one who has been involved with Africa since the 80s especially with devising, organising, deploying and anchoring one of the very first international election observing group in Zimbabwe after independence, he sounded on a more sceptical note when the leadership in Africa is compared to others around the world.

He stressed three key areas where Africa as a continent was lagging behind the rest of the world when it came to democratisation. First on his list was the problem of gerontocracy. He lamented the current political structuring across Africa where vibrant and proactive youth are prevented from attaining the political leadership. Secondly Prof. Chan noted the role of women in the political setups across Africa. Though he acknowledged the progress made thus far in a few countries such as Rwanda and Liberia, he made it clear that there is still a vacuum when it comes to women’s participation in politics across the African continent. He cited Rwanda where the role of women has become extremely important, and noted that women stand to play a more positive role in the society if given the opportunity. Comparing the situation to the rest of the world, Prof. Chan said Liberia (with a female head of state) seem to have come close to balancing the equation of gender participation.

The third and last point he discussed was the use of new technology in the democratisation process. He made it clear that Africa still hard a long way to go when it came to employing and using the current technology in advancing democracy.

In the Q&A session, Dr. Fomunyoh answered questions ranging from the role of international organisation such as NDI in Africa to whether it was time for such international organisations to shift their attention away from the general liberal market consensus.

On answering a question from the audience on what his organisation (NDI) was doing to address the issue of constitutional amendments aimed at perpetuating some leaders in power. Dr. Fomunyoh began by condemning the act in the strongest possible terms. He did acknowledge the frustration vetted toward the international community’s inability to prevent or punish such moves. He cited Cameroon as a case study where such constitutional amendments have led to a situation where the country is being governed by individuals who
are over 70 years of age and who constitute just 4 % of the population. He reminded the audience that international organisations and NGOs such as NDI are not enforcement agencies and therefore have their limitations.

In the closing remarks, Prof. Chan thanked Dr. Fomuyoh for his in depth analysis on Africa especially his strong optimism on the situation on the continent. He equally thanked him for his knowledgeable approach to presenting the facts on Africa especially his ability to use a pool
of good examples from many different countries across Africa in delineating the actual situation on the continent.

Friday November 26th

The second part of his trip began with an early insightful interview on the BBC Africa Network program, where Fomunyoh spoke live to a world wide audience on the challenges facing Africa and the democratisation process, with focus on Cameroon. He answered questions relating to the political atmosphere in Cameroon and on the speculation that he might be running for the top office in the Country in the October 2011 presidential elections.

The day continued with high level meetings with international development partners at the University of Liverpool. There Dr. Fomunyoh met with senior staff members from the university including Prof. Michael Hoey; Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University. The university which is among the top 20 UK universities is renowned for its research excellence in some key disciplines such as engineering, medicine, Business and Law. Given their very strong commitment to expand their international presence, with core interest in Africa, the university is engaged in consultative talks with international partners and experts to assist in the process of identifying the most suitable academic arrears of potential partnership.

The meeting with Dr. Fomunyoh was centred along these lines given his expertise on Africa. He contributed substantially to the discussion and to the satisfaction of the host university. He duelled on the deterministic factors of such a venture and more importantly the fact that such a partnership must entail the needs of the sub region. He equally stressed the importance of such a partnership and that it will serve its purpose if it should be based on arrears that are lacking on the continents academic curricula.

The University on their part emphasised that such a partnership must have a win-win out come so as to ensure its sustainability and best practices. The meeting was followed by another round of an academic discussion on Democratisation in Africa with students and staff from the University.

Saturday November 27th

Back in London on Saturday November 27, Fomunyoh was welcomed at a town hall meeting by the Cameroonian community based in the UK. Despite the crippling traffic that almost brought London to a stand-still that evening, Cameroonians were still able to make it to the event that had Fomunyoh as the guest Speaker.

In his opening remarks, he thanked the participants for their continues commitment and support to the development process in Cameroon. He took special note of the very vibrant and diverse nature of the Cameroon UK community, with regards to their different political views. He said the time was rife for Cameroonians to start engaging in different kinds of conversations about the sate of affairs in Cameroon and the way forward.

He went further to address some of the very pertinent issues facing Cameroon today especially with regards to the electoral process. During the Q&A session, he took a dozen of questions from the interactive audience and gave concise answers.

In response to one of the questions on whether he will run for the presidency during the upcoming presidential elections in 2011, he had this to say:

In the fuzzy situation, where we are now in Cameroon, any option is possible, depending on how the debate/ engagement unfolds”.

Responding to a question on what he was expecting from the Cameroon Diaspora given the multiple meetings he has been having with Cameroonians, Fomunyoh said he wanted the Diaspora to help spur on the debate, use their different networks to influence the process in their various little ways, so as to influence the Presidential elections in October 2011.

Responding to another questioning on the issue of some dissenting voices being marginalised and suppressed and what was his personal opinion on Paul Biya, and lastly what he thought about corruption in Cameroon.

He re-emphasised the public position he has always maintained in regards to the marginalised and suppressed voices, stating that he was for equality of opportunity and the freedom of expression.

He condemns President Biya for his seemingly polarising approach to governing Cameroon; arguing that criminal prosecution of the corrupt appears dishonest, biased and economically ineffectual. This explains why Cameroonians have little faith in the current approach in fighting

In his closing remarks, Dr. Fomunyoh thanked all who made it to the meeting and promised to return  (even on a 24hrs notice) for another meeting provided attendees will each guarantee to multiply the attendance for the next meeting. He praised the idea for a follow up meeting to continue the discourse.

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