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April 3, 2011
The Cameroon National Youth Council. A Crippled Child from Birth
Youths across the world have always played an active, positive and effective role in societal transformation. They have been the mirror to the face of political leaders, causing them to rethink their policies and reform their actions; thereby delivering the necessary results. Young people have played very vital roles in fostering democratic transitions and spearheading movements in countries such as China, Colombia, Burma and South Africa. If history is authentic, it must be recalled that it was high school students from Soweto who rose up against the apartheid regime on 16 July 1976 and marked a turning point in the fight against the system. In Colombia, university students rallied the country to fight against corruption and the drug cartel after the assassination of Populist leader Luis Carlos Galan in 1989. Their movement and determined action helped to re-establish real democracy in Colombia. Recently in 2010- 2011, it was the virility and determination of the young people in Tunisia and Egypt against dictatorship that marked a turning point in the history of democracy in North Africa; with ripples slowly consuming the rest of the continent and the Arab world. Despite these achievements, the political tycoons have always relegated the young people to the background of society when it comes to nation building. Youths have been secluded from the decision-making arena and forced to consume whatever is given them without having a say. When it is time to face the ballots, only then do they think about involving the youths and making lofty promises they cannot keep in post- election times. This is a gross misconception and miscalculation that has always cost such nation regression instead of progress. Mahatma Gandhi once posited that: “The greatest lessons in life, if we would but stoop and humble ourselves, we would learn not from grown-up learned men, but from the so-called ignorant children”.
Backed by this believe, world leaders decided to institute Youth Councils as a way of harnessing youth efforts at national levels in order to foster greater, wider, inclusive and progressive changes. Started in Europe, amongst the Nazi and Communists in the 20th century, the idea spread in to the continents of America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. If these youth councils have any similarities it will be in their common formation, as most of the youths elected are drawn from community and youth-led organizations, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and CBOs (community based organizations).Also, they have as qualities or duties to assess and evaluate, advise, propose youth-driven projects and programs, network and learn to work apolitically with the leadership that be; bridge generational gaps and ensure a better relay and take-over.
In Cameroon, the story is very complex and shady. The government in place since 1982 has always seen young people as an ignorant set, fit only to be manipulated and used either to improve their political leverage or make up the leeway. Youths in Cameroon have always been looked upon as a future project, pathetically referred to as “le fer de lance de la nation” (the future of the nation); but in elections times, their usefulness is required to deal with challenges of the present. This show of lack of insight within the leadership apparatus, coupled with rising poverty and unemployment has helped to produce a breed of power-mongering, “clientelist” and ethnically-oriented youth groups and association. With the support and blessings of the leadership and ruling party CPDM ( Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement), groups such as "President Biya's Youth (PRESBY) and Chantal Biya's Youth (JACHABY) [named after the president's wife] were birth. It is based on this foundation and vision of the youths, that the Cameroon National Youth Council (CNYC) will be birth.
From PRESBY to the National Youth Council
Faced by stiff resistance and challenge to its authority that was staged by a virile opposition and championed by parties such as the Social Democratic Party (SDF) in the 1990s; the government created and supported propaganda groups to boosts its leverage. It is not clear when PRESBY (President Biya’s Youths) was created, but different sources claim its creation in the period between 1996 and early 2000. Created as a group to chant the faint merits of President Biya, PRESBY was a conglomerate of students registered at the University, professional schools and jobless and futureless individuals in search of breakthroughs in life. According to Antoine Socpa, 75% of PRESBY membership and leadership was made up majorly of youths from the Beti and Bulu ethnic group. Literally, they belonged to President Biya’s ethnic group. The members of this group instilled fear in students of the university and terrorized those who opposed the President’s agenda and policies. This group that is connected to the ruling CPDM (Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement) party has been up to no good during its lifespan and its resume is horrible. Its members are especially known for instigating electoral violence and fraud during the June 2002 Legislative and municipal elections in Cameroon. In 2001, the SDF (Social Democratic Party), the main opposition party accused the group of taking part in the repression of opposition members who demonstrated on January 2001 against fraud and demanded the replacement of NEO(National Elections Observatory) with an Independent National Electoral Commission. Although this group managed to hide its viciousness and attracted some frustrated youths in its tornado, the hidden hand of God was there to expose them. The spiral of internal feud for power and position that started tearing the group apart in 2003 between Philémon Ntyam Ntyam, National Graduate Student President, and Alexis Nkomoya, became infinite. In 2009, the internal turmoil was resuscitated and it completely painted the group as useless; thereby alienating a lot of would be supporters.
Recognizing the fragility of their propaganda machine, the regime was resolute and opted for a more credible and nation-wide group that would mask its underlying objective while pulling massive support from both active and lukewarm youths. Against this new insight, the regime settled for the creation of a National Youth Council in Cameroon which will be, in the eyes of the world, viewed as more credible, apolitical and a good representation of the youths at all levels.
The Cameroon National Youth Council (CNYC)
The Cameroon National Youth Council was created in 2009 to be the voice of the more than 11,000 youth organizations in Cameroon. According to its Constitution, the CNYC was put in place to be a “national forum for consultation, expression, co-ordination, dialogue and action of youth organisations in Cameroon”. In other words, it was be a forum of representation, proposal, concertation and youth participation in the development plans designed by the government. Also, the CNYC was to be an “apolitical, lay and non profit making institution” under the supervisory authority of the Ministry of Youth Affairs. In 2006, the Ministry of Youth Affairs had designed and adopted a national policy of youths to enable youths to participate in the decision-making mechanisms in Cameroon. In this vein, the Ministry of Youth Affairs through its Minister Adoum Garoua launched elections into the National Youth Council in October 15, 2009. Participation into the elections was open to all registered youth associations, movements and groups in Cameroon. The elects were to fill in the various organs of the council which are: Youth Municipal Counsellors, Divisional Youth Counsellors, Regional Youth Counsellors and National Youth Counsellors. Amongst the leadership of the CNYC is Abdoulaye Abdou Razack (President), Parfait Onguéné(Assistance Secretary General) and Senema Akedjol (in charge of social activities).
Missions and Objectives of the CNYC
The missions of the CNYC from creation were:
- to develop synergy between youth organisations in Cameroon in order to enhance young people’s creativity and optimise their potential for action and participation in development;
- to interface with youth organisations on the one hand, the public authorities and international institutions dealing with youth-related matters on the other; and
- to prepare and ensure the representation of youth organisations in local, national and international meetings.
As far as its objectives are concerned, the CNYC set forth general and specific objectives. It intended to:
Generally, the CNYC sets to: Foster dialogue among youths, public authorities, the civil society, foreign and international organisations and tending to their needs;
Specifically, it was to:
• foster consultation, expression and action among youths;
• foster the spread of information and interaction among youths at the local, national and international levels;
• foster effective participation of youths in society, decision making and national development;
• give impetus to and supporting national and international solidarity by and for youths;
• facilitate the socioeconomic integration of youths and promoting an enterprising culture among youths;
• facilitate the promotion of educational, cultural, sports values and civic education among youths;
• prepare and ensure youth representation in local, national and international meetings;
• facilitate youth health promotion, especially for adolescents;
• contribute to the fight against social exclusion and social scourges, especially poverty among youths; and to
• rally youths for environmental preservation and the sustainable management of natural resources.
CNYC: A Recycled Version of PRESBY
On paper, the CNYC sounds like the best thing that has ever happened to youths in Cameroon since independence. Its mission and objectives are a smooth masterpiece, a blue print for the emancipation, empowerment and development of youths in Cameroon. Any such forum that is created to rally and maximize youth energy and creativity is a powerful platform for nation building given that young people are the umbilical cords between the present and the future. They are the heart and kidneys of every developing nation.
However, the CNYC and its beautiful mission and objectives have been crippled from birth due to the heavy hands of politics on its functioning. Under article 25(1) of its Constitution, it is stated that the CNYC shall obtain funding from state subsidies, donations, members’ contribution and fines. There is a French adage that says “la main qui donne dirige”; meaning, the hand that gives directs. If the CNYC is funded by the government and supervised by the Ministry of Youths, what good can come out of it? This means that the CNYC does not make its decisions, but only implements decisions designed by government officials to suit the desires of the regime. The CNYC therefore serves the interest of government first before catering for the youths it was created to serve. The fact that the CNYC depends and rotates around the government’s agendas officially eliminates every iota of its apolitical and independent nature. Since its creation, the CNYC has not yet printed any positive trademark for itself or laid any concrete action known to the general public in general and youths in particular. Aside from delivering motions of support to head of state and participating in fruitless state sponsored trips abroad; venues for empty speech making, hand clapping, picture taking and lengthy reports writing upon return; the CNYC has been so far a disappointment to the very existence and aspirations of the youths in Cameroon. The recent actions of the CNYC strongly justify the school of thought that the CNYC is a refurbished version of PRESBY in disguise. It is an official and nation-wide arm of the government to promote the regime’s program, extend its political campaign and uplift its sagging image.
Barely a year after it was created and put in place; the CNYC has finally dropped the veil in 2011 and shown its true face. Faced with the fear of a potential Tunisian/Egyptian-styled Jasmine revolution in Cameroon and aware of the similarities of the grievances of the youths in Cameroon and North Africa; bearing in mind the importance of the participation and vote of the youths in the upcoming presidential elections in October 2011; Paul Biya, the long serving, sit-tight President of the Republic of Cameroon hastily announced the creation of 25,000 jobs for the youths. This announcement however comes as no surprise to some Cameroonians with thinking and analytical caps who are accustomed to such inflammatory promises every time elections are around the corner. Even more obvious is the fact that the creation of 25,000 new jobs was never mentioned or part of the budget cycle for the year 2011. This promise of nonexistent jobs to youths at this critical point in Cameroon’s history is strategic opium to calm charm and distract the youths from their demands for political changes at the leadership of the country. To achieve this, the dictatorial regime of Biya debouched its Trojan horse (the CNYC) to do the dirty job.
The Role of the CNYC in the Regime’s Political Campaign
The CNYC has recently been an invaluable weapon of the regime to rally young people to counter the wind of opposition and anti-Biya protest movements and manifestations organized by youths of Cameroon living in Cameroon and abroad. The diaspora front has been actively multiplying protest movements infront of Cameroon’s consular services and other diplomatic institutions and informing the world about the plight of Cameroonians while painting a true image of the dictatorial regime of President Biya. So, to counter this move, the regime through the CNYC has used its influence to rally innocent and most often ignorant young people to sing its praises and cleanse its image.
On March 10, 2011, over a hundred innocent and ignorant secondary school students from different institutions in the town of Garoua were pulled out of classes and forced by some politicians, under the leadership of the CNYC regional branch of the North region, to march at the Avenue des Banques of Garoua in support of President Paul Biya, following his recent promise of 25,000 jobs to Youths. This march followed the CNYC organized march in the Adamawa region that successfully rallied some 50 pro-CPDM students from the University of Ngaoundere, to thank government for the new jobs. (Read full report by clicking this link)
Again on March 16, 2011, over 2,000 students aged between 15-20 years, drawn from Government Secondary Schools in Buea were pulled out of classes at 8.am and rallied at the Buea Independence Square, under the banner of the CNYC and ASDECA and with the support of the Southwest Governor's Office to thank President Biya for creating 25,000 jobs for the youths.
Moreover, following massive plans to stage a nation-wide jasmine-styled revolution in Cameroon on 23rd February, 2011, to protest against the dictatorial regime of President Biya by some unadulterated and virile youths both in Cameroon and abroad who are dissatisfied with the regimes 29 years of stewardship; the CPDM leadership and members of the CNYC planned and rallied a few members at the 20th May Boulevard in Yaounde to counter the protest and sing the praises and merits of
President Biya and the CPDM, and thanking them for bringing peace and progress to Cameroon. In an address to the youths, Senema Akedjol (in charge of social activities of CNYC) reiterated to members of the CNYC that they (CNYC) are not youths of the opposition, but are there for the the government. This outrageous declaration and affirmation only goes further to conclude its futility and the need to seal its doors.
Trying to play within the corridors of power and hobnobbing with political bigwigs comes with consequences on reputation and integrity. The CNYC is not an exception to this thought. By choosing to be the favourable child of the regime, distancing its self from the many youths that oppose and criticise the ineptitudes and incompetency of the Biya regime; the CNYC has only heaped hot coal on its head. Trapped between the search for favour, positioning and power and the need to ascertain itself and be accepted by the rest of the youths in Cameroon, the CNYC has found itself in the crossroad of confusion and deception. This deception and confusion is confirmed by the intestinal conflicts of leadership that affected the CNYC lately. In February 2011, the leadership of the President Abdou Razack of the CNYC was strongly contested due to accusations of abuse of power and siphoning of the council’s funds. He on the other hand denied all allegations and refused to obey the suspension that was levied on him. The internal strife comes as no surprise. It just marks the demise of a child that was birth and fed with expired and poisonous milk by a mother who only cared about her interest and not the baby’s survival and growth of the baby.
The CNYC is a huge slap to the face of civic value, education and responsibility. What kind of nation is the government and CNYC hoping to build when they suspend the classes of secondary school students in order to forcefully support a political campaign even if they approve of it or not. Where is the right to choose freely? Where is the freedom of education without political infringement? How does the CNYC hope to be in the decision-making mechanism if it cannot stand up for its self? Power only negotiates with power and the youths are a force to reckon with. Every regime is always afraid of youth uprising, protest or contestation. According to the National Institute of Statistics, as of 2009, Cameroon has more than 10 million active but unemployed persons. The youths who constitute 75% of the total population are the most affected. It is a total disgrace and sheer wickedness for members of the CNYC to keep silent in the face of youth problems in order to guarantee for themselves a position within the government; at the expense of the rest of the youths in Cameroon who face the double challenges of graduating (due to the lack of school fees) and the lack of jobs in the after math of graduation. More than 5 million applications have been dropped for only 25,000 jobs which are yet to be created. This is a red level critical situation.Even the promised 25,000 jobs that were announced do not come as a free meal ticket to the youths. The same applicants would be pressured by the cohorts of the regime to register into the CPDM electoral list in order to guarantee a place amongst the 25,000 jobs. And there goes another cycle of manipulation and exploitation of the youths in Cameroon.
The Government of Cameroon and the CNYC need to come up with a new mantra. The CNYC has become what Louis Farrakhan calls “mannequins in the shopping mall of democracy” and social change. They are more like sales agents of the regime’s outdated products. They have reached their crescendo. It is time to do away with the regime and it’s Youth Council that has nothing to offer to the youths. There is need for the debridement of the entire system and the restitution and reconstitution of the role of the youths in Cameroon. For the time being, I officially lift up my vote of No Confidence to the Cameroon National Youth Council until the cleansing takes effect.
Posted by Rene Mbuli