Topic: The SDF and the Reintroduction of Multipartism in Cameroon
Presenter: Mr. Aloysius W. Tebo, One of the SDF Founding Fathers
The creation of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) and its eventual launching in Bamenda on the 26th of May 1990 went into history books as the important date on which democracy broke the chains of autocracy in Cameroon.
While political party pluralism was already a common phenomenon in the West of the Mungo prior to reunification, the contrary was obtained in the East of the Mungo.
The Federal Republic of Cameroon that came into being after the plebiscite was the basis of the reunification that brought the Federated State of former West Carneroon led by John Ngu Foncha as Vice President and the Federated State of former East Cameroon led by Ahmadou Ahidjo as President. All of this was the culmination of tedious negotiations that began between the two leaders way back in July 1961 and came to be known as the Foumban Accord, named after the Kingdom City of Foumban where the talks held. It was this Foumban Accord that gave birth to what became known as the Federal Constitution.
This constitution had built-in provisions, which made it difficult for any of the two parties to hijack the federation. For instance Article 47 of that Constitution Provided that for any amendment to be valid, it must have been introduced into the Federal National Assembly for debate and decisions arrived at by a majority of the MPs from the Federated State of West Cameroon and a majority of MPs from the Federated state of East Cameroon.
Political Gangsterism & Bad Faith
In view of the fact that Ahidjo saw the federation as a threat to his planned totalitarianism, he started scheming and getting rid of anything or person that stood in his way. The first thing he did was this so-called referendum of 20 May 1972 after which he started governing by decrees. He immediately abrogated the Foumban Accord, abolished the Foumban Constitution and imposed his own constitution which he had secretly drawn up. He assumed all the powers that were exercised by both the Federated State and the Federal National Assembly. With a Unitary State now in place, Ahidjo now set out and demolished anything, structures or institutions that had anything to do with the Federation or any semblance of it. The Federation was now thrown into jeopardy.
Paul Biya's Era
When Ahidjo inadvertently resigned as President of the Republic of Cameroon in 1984 for reasons which are not the subject of this paper, and named Mr. Biya as his successor, Biya took over and systematically eroded any traces of what could remind Cameroonians of the federation. His decision to remove the word “united” from the name United Republic of Cameroon was a glaring example.
This act has been interpreted by Cameroonians as a return to the pre re-unification name of “la Republic du Cameroun” and it is tantamount to secession from the federation (Union). Others see it as the assimilation of the Federated State of former West Cameroon.
The Founding Of The SDF
“It is common knowledge that Cameroonians continue to be misinformed, abused, deceived, impoverished, treated as immature and taken for granted by a callous and rapacious one party political oligarchy. The Social Democratic Front (SDF) is determined, come what may, to change for good this unwholesome situation and usher in a new, healthy, bright, and democratic era in this Country.” See SDF manifesto page one.
All the constitutional violations, inequalities and coupled with the political intrigues and bad faith by both Presidents Ahidjo and Biya, as described in the foregoing political analysis was very annoying, obnoxious and unacceptable particularly by Cameroonians from the Federated State of West Cameroon, who freely opted for re-unification under a federal union.
The same feeling of frustration and helplessness was and is still being felt also by a majority of Cameroonians of the Federated State of former East Cameroon who continually entertain the fear that such constitutional violations and manipulations will inevitably lead to opting out of the union by Cameroonians from the Federated State of formal West Cameroon.
Inspired further by such publications as “The New Social Order”, by Fon Gorji Dinka of Widikum in 1985, some of us began thinking aloud to close friends. Prominent among these free thinkers were Albert Mukong, now of blessed memories; may his soul and those of others who went before him, i.e, Dr Azefor, James Mbanga and Dr Asanga rest in peace.
Albert Mukong, a human rights activist, had been imprisoned in almost all the maximum prison centres in Cameroon and during his trails in Bamenda in 1989 he noticed the repeated presence of a representative of the American Embassy in Yaoundé. He took interest in this and soon shared the nightmares of his detentions and trials with Dr. Akuchu, who worked with the US Embassy at the time, Dr. Asanga a Yaoundé University lecturer, Justice Nyo Wakai then of the Supreme Court in Yaoundé, Ni John Fru Ndi then a Bamenda based businessman and Dr. Ngwasiri, another Yaoundé University Professor.
The convergence of the feelings and ideas of these men resulted in a meeting that held at the Presbyterian Church Centre Bamenda sometimes in November 1989 thanks to the hospitality and blessings of Rev. Gana who headed the centre at the time. This meeting was attended by Albert Mukong, Dr. Akuchu, Dr. Asanga, Dr. Ngwasiri, Ni John Fru Ndi, Justice Nyo Wakai, Dr. Anyangwe and Vincent Feko – a Douala based Customs officer.
The objective of this meeting was to assemble enough documentation in order to establish the existence of an Anglophone problem in Cameroon and then write to the United Nations. As these men multiplied their meetings in Ni John Fru Ndi’s house in Bamenda and in Dr Asanga’s Bastos apartment, they cautiously expressed the need to enlarge the group, bearing in mind the treasonable consequences that would befall any or all of them in the event of a leakage.
The next recruitment into the group brought in such personalities like Dr. Alfred Azefor, a researcher, Aloysius Tebo – a Yaoundé based businessman, Lawyer Edmond Atud – a Douala based lawyer and late Dr. Zachariah Tarh. These last two eventually dropped out of the group.
While meetings multiplied and rotated between the homes of Ni John Fru Ndi in Ntarikon, Dr Asanga’s, Justice Nyo Wakai’s and Dr. Ngwasiri’s residences in Efoulan Yaoundé at unholy hours; the general trend and popular feeling among members was that all of what the group was doing be transformed from mere petitions and memos to the UN into a political Party. However, there were those who strongly felt that the easy way out of the Anglophone problem was to pick up arms and launch a liberation war.
At this juncture, members revisited some liberation wars that were being fought in Africa at the time and realised that by 1990 Savimbi and his UNITA had been fighting the MPLA government of Augustine Neto in Angola for 25 years with no victory in sight. The same was found to be true in Mozambique where RENAMO and FRELIMO had been killing themselves for 17 years.
On the political party option, our analysis led us to the conclusions that if we succeeded to create and launch a political party, made a catalogue of all the constitutional violations and illegalities enumerated above added to the economic catastrophe into which Ahidjo and Biya had plunged the country, we will be able to go for any election and win. We did just that in 1992.
The Yondo Black Connection
During one of our meetings in Bamenda, Albert Mukong and Vincent Feko informed members that while in Douala, they had contacts with Lawyer Yondo Black and a group of some Douala people who were working to create a political party. We officially advised them to go and meet that group and find out what type of Cameroon they had in mind, how much had been accomplished and how soon they planned to launch the party.
At the next meeting, they came and reported that their vision about the type of Government they wanted for Cameroon was yet to be determined let alone the fact that everything they had prepared was still on pieces of paper. However, for the first time in our rotating meetings, group members from Douala had to host the meeting in Douala, during which the Yondo Black team had to meet with us. During a meeting in Douala between Vincent Feko, Albert Mukong with the Yondo Black group to plan for our joint session, they were arrested.
Who Will Bell The Cat
After we had completed all the necessary documents to launch the party manifesto, constitution, internal rules and the Declaration, the choice of the name took several hours but when it was finally adopted as the ‘Social Democratic Front’ (SDF). The last and most crucial problem was who had to sign our declaration to be deposited with the administration. It was at this point that all the cowardice in all of us except Ni John Fru Ndi and Dr Siga Asanga became exposed. Each and every one of us gave a thousand and one reasons why it was risky for us to sign. The entire venture came close to being abandoned for lack of who had to bell the cat.
The courage with which Ni John Fru Ndi took the bull by the horns and signed the declaration has paid off in that it brought democracy to Cameroon. All official attempts to frustrate it notwithstanding, Cameroonians have every reason to be grateful to him for what he did and had tirelessly sustained the struggle in the face of all odds. After the launching on May 26 1990, the Yaoundé junta opened fire and watered the tree of liberty with the blood of: Miss Juliet Sikod, Mr. Fidelis Chosi, Mr. Nfon Edwin, Mr. Tifuh Mathias, Mr. Asanji Christopher and Mr. Toje Evaristus. May their souls rest in peace! Cameroon will never be the same again.