By Hafis Rüefli *
For a very long time, the Cameroon military was inactive, the country had not known a civil war, it had not formally fought a war with any of its neighbors, and besides the military coup of 1984 had little to do. In the 90s, when the government used them to crack down on people clamoring for democracy and civil liberties, their honor was lost. People got confused as to whether the military was at the service of Paul Biya as President or at the service of Cameroon.
However, the army has found new confidence and restored its dignity from the way it has gallantly taken the fight to Boko Haram. Paul Biya was known to take pride in calling Cameroon as an oasis of peace in a troubled sub region. No matter how this peace was achieved, no matter how it was maintained, the fact is that there was peace. The drama in countries like the D.R.Congo, Central Africa Republic and Congo were spared Cameroon.
From the blues, came attacks from Boko Haram in the Northern part of Cameroon in 2014. On his way to Paris for a summit to address the new threats, President Biya declared war on the sect. How was the Cameroon army which had not been tested in a major way before cope? Many were skeptical of how there will take the fight to Boko Haram
It is today a unanimous fact that the Cameroon military has displayed gallantry that should make every Cameroonian proud of them. The country cannot be built on chaos, the country cannot be content if the Northern part is left at the mercy of inhuman atrocities of the Boko Haram sect.
As we salute the gallantry of the military, there are a few things that need to be done as well to ensure that sacrifices incurred to maintain the territorial integrity of Cameroon are recognized. In effect, Cameroonians of all walks of life must show their support for the military.
A few months back, there was the debate on why President Biya who is Commander in Chief had not been to the Grand North to visit with the troops. He was criticized for not even stopping at the military hospital in Yaounde to visit troops or appear at the military headquarters in Yaounde to honor fallen soldiers. To make matters worse, the website of the Presidency committed a gaffe by publishing a doctored picture of the President paying homage to foreign soldiers.
The criticisms on the President certainly have their merits but he has been doing more to show that he is attentive to the plight of the soldiers. The President has in public pronouncements lauded the immense sacrifices and amazing job the military is doing. He has created and put in place adequate measures to ensure that public donations been done across the country to support the military are properly managed and used for the intended purposes. Senior officers suspected of racketeering have been replaced.
Where politicians have failed to help unite the country and see eye to eye on its direction, the military has helped to show that Cameroonians can stick together for a common case. It was interesting to see the SDF Chieftain John Fru Ndi making donations of cows and food stuff to support the troops. To its credit, at the recent celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the SDF in Bamenda, there was a fundraiser to support the troops. Maurice Kamto and his party have called on the government to make policy changes that will include providing free education and health services to children of fallen soldiers.
As Cameroon continues to win the fight against Boko Haram, there are a number of questions we must ask ourselves and there are a number of things that must be done. The military must be provided with everything there need, it must be equipped with the best weapons. Questionable deals like getting aircrafts from China need to be re-examined.
The Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Arm Forces must ensure money been contributed by Cameroonians is used for the intended purposes to the last dime. That is, all of it must be used for the military with attention to those at the battle front in total accountability and transparency.
The government must also do more to address the plight of families that have been displaced and are suffering. How do we meet their health care and academic needs? How do we ensure that the family fabric is not lost?
Equally important is the need to give serious re-examination to the development needs of the Far North and the Grand North and the country as a whole. When development needs are not met, when infrastructure is lacking and people deprived of opportunities, it is easy to fall prey to temptations from Boko Haram when there sometimes use money to recruit.
For years there are many parts of Cameroon that have suffered from severe neglect. This seems to be very true with border areas . Part of the reason we almost lost Bakassi was the neglect suffered by that area. You look at infrastructure in the East Region which is at risk of attacks from outlaws in Central Africa Republic, the development issues are the same.
The fight against Boko Haram as a whole and the mobilization behind the military reminds us that together as Cameroonians, much can be done or achieved. Drawing inspiration on that, now may be the time for Cameroonians to do serious soul searching and ask the tough questions. This is even more important as President Biya approaches the sunset of his long stay in power. What kind of Cameroon will he leave behind and what kind of Cameroon do we want for tomorrow?
Instead of waiting for the next crisis, reflections must intensify, the debate must become more robust and drawing inspiration from the sacrifices of the military at the war front , Cameroonians can forge a stronger future.