Wednesday, May 25, 2016

John Fru Ndi of Cameroon's Social Democratic Front: The Transformation of a Political Movement into a Political Business, and then into a Political Racket

John Fru Ndi of Cameroon's Social Democratic Front:
The Transformation of a Political Movement
into a Political Business, and then into a
Political Racket

Janvier Tchouteu

This account is dedicated to the loving memory of all the Cameroonians who suffered and died in their selfless commitment to the cause to found the New Cameroon.

For over two-and-a-half decades now, John Fru Ndi has been presenting himself, with tacit and at times open support from the French-imposed establishment, as the unchallenged or most prominent leader of the hundreds of political parties that constitute Cameroon’s so-called opposition, a rag-tag group that purports to be engaged in the post 1990 phase of the Cameroonian struggle interpreted differently:
  • By union nationalists as a continuation of the five-decade struggle to bring down the French-imposed system or establishment and found a New Cameroon that is democratic, free, liberal, independent, progressive and modern
  • By liberals and moderates as a struggle to unseat Paul Mvodo Biya, the French puppet that manages the French-imposed system in Cameroon
  • By Anglophone nationalists as a struggle to end the decades of being marginalized by Francophone dominated Ahidjo-Biya regimes (though not Francophone majority-backed)
  • By some as a quest to regain lost privileges
  • and by others as an opportunity to partake in the possible benefits the Biya regime and establishment offer renegades, opportunists and fortune-seekers.

Having lived three decades of his adult years as a businessman, Fru Ndi’s financial position was not a source of envy. But what most appreciated about him was his tenacity and boldness, even though many people turned a blind eye to the fact that his tenacity and boldness verged on arrogance and self-centeredness (considered by many as a necessary quality for a business man). It is not surprising therefore, that in 1989 when the Social Democratic Front (SDF) of Cameroon was being put together, Fru Ndi spearheaded the sidelining of other non-Northwest province figures that were committed to a national force to change the country. It is not surprising still that when more prominent members of the inner-circle of the group called “The SDF Founding Fathers” turned down the offer to become Chairman or president due to personal fears or worries, Fru Ndi demanded that he be paid if he were to take the risk of signing in as the head of the opposition party that was about to be registered and launched.

With the launch of the SDF in May 26, 1990, Fru Ndi became a source of awe, taking almost the entire credit for it, even though he did not spearhead the crafting, creation and launch of the SDF. Months after, when asked in an interview about what he wanted for Cameroon, Fru Ndi’s reply was “We want grass root democracy.” It was clear to the insightful that he lacked a clear vision at a time that the SDF was outgrowing the purpose of its founding fathers. But with the multitude of intellectuals, civic-nationalists and ideologues that swelled the ranks of the SDF after its launch, there was never a shortage of SDF insiders to give the far-reaching meaning to the purpose of the SDF’s creation. By 1992, Dr. Siga Asanga and Dr. Samuel Tchwenko wielded the most influence within the inner ranks of the SDF— Dr. Siga Asanga as Secretary General, the brain in the group of founding fathers, and as Fru Ndi’s elder relative; and Dr. Samuel Tchwenko as the party’s ideologue and architect behind the extension of the party’s reach to the Southwest, West and Littoral provinces.

When the National Coordination of Opposition parties(NCO) was formed in 1991, Fru Ndi’s disputed popularity amongst Cameroonians at the time came to the forefront when the steering committee that was created, elected Samuel Eboua (head of the National Union for Democracy and Progress—NUDP) as the chairman,  with John Fru Ndi(SDF) as vice-chairman, and Adamou Ndam Njoya (head of the Cameroon Democratic Union—CDU), Jean-Jacques Ekindi (Progressive Movement—MP), Charles Tchoungang (OCDH) and Djeukam Tchameni (CAP-Liberte) as members of the managing committee. When the NCO started the "Operation Ghost Towns", following the student protests led by the Student body called “Parlement” in the Spring of 1991, the Cameroon opposition appeared solid and united, even though most of the heads of the opposition parties had been former members of the ruling party less than two years before. The objective of the “Ghost Town” operations was to use strikes to close down the Cameroonian economy during the week, and allow commerce to function only on the weekends, in order to force the Biya regime to convene a Sovereign National Conference to come up with a new constitution and a transparent electoral process for Cameroon. By the end of October 1991, the Biya regime was on its knees, and so decided to call for “TRIPARTIE” talks to resolve Cameroon’s political impasse with pre-conditions to be met by the Coordination of Opposition Parties (NCO) and the government. The NCO called off the “Ghost Towns” operations, but the government failed to respect its obligations. For that reason, the coordination pledged to boycott the talks, only to attend it later.

It was in the aftermath of the TRIPARTITE that the SDF gained in popularity for not signing the heavily flawed Tripartite agreement, a stand the Southwest provincial coordinator and national executive member Dr. Samuel Tchwenko sold to the SDF chairman and the rest of the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC).  By the end of 1991, Southwesterners had been won over into the SDF by the Tchwenko-led multi-ethnic team; the UPC (the historic upholder of Cameroonian nationalism) was in disarray after having been taken over by renegades; and Samuel Eboua, the unifying head of the NUDP had been booted out by Bello Bouba Maigari, the sly and former Prime Minister of Cameroon. In a network led by Dr. Samuel Tchwenko, the majority of the francophone populations that supported the historic UPC were brought over into the SDF, giving the party a national outlook and civic nationalist semblance in a growing national ideal called Cameroonian Union-Nationalism. And it was these civic nationalists in the party that gave Fru Ndi the financial support and confidence, so that by the summer of 1992, the Fru Ndi-led SDF had more than 70% of the national support of Cameroonians.

From early 1992, Fru Ndi became instantly recognizable as the symbol of the Cameroonian struggle for democracy, prosperity, freedom and liberty. In his traditional Northwest regalia, he was recognized in the Northwest province as one of their own; in his use of English language, he identified with Anglophones; while in his rhetoric in Pidgin-English that was often translated into French, he warmed himself into the hearts of Francophone union nationalist, especially in those areas where the historic UPC fought against the Ahidjo-French forces in the late 1950s and 1960s.

By July 1992, beefed up by a broad circle of intellectuals and ideologues drawn from across the national territory and provided with a national ideal of Cameroonian union-nationalism that he purported to embrace at the time, Fru Ndi was unquestionably the greatest asset to the struggle and with that came self-confidence. That is why he declared his willingness to run for the upcoming presidential elections without discussing it in the National Executive Committee of the SDF, even though no changes had been made to the heavily-flawed laws and electoral process. Nevertheless, Fru Ndi swayed the National Executive Committee over to back his intentions, and with the deep support of the civic nationalists otherwise called the union-nationalist who constituted more than seventy percent of the party at the time, he won the October 1992 presidential elections against the incumbent Paul Biya.  But the French-backed Biya regime declared the incumbent Paul Biya as the winner. Many in the party hierarchy, especially the union-nationalists, blamed Fru Ndi and his clique for withdrawing the petition to the Supreme court, a petition that called for the cancellation of the elections. This petition was filed during the counting process in objection to the heavily flawed nature of the elections, even though based on results from the field at the time, Fru Ndi was leading in the vote count. A cancellation and a rerun would have been done with a more prepared, more organized and more determined SDF backed by a population that would have been more convinced that the establishment was about to be dismantled. However, the Fru Ndi/Carlson Anyangwe withdrawal of the petition emboldened the Biya regime to add more fake results from improvised constituencies in order to declare the incumbent as the winner. In the isolated violence that ensued, the establishment declared a state of emergency on the Northwest province, and then put Fru Ndi under house arrest in the Northwest provincial capital of Bamenda

Fru Ndi emerged from the house arrest in December 1992 as a firebrand, a defiant leader of the struggle obsessed with regaining the stolen victory. Still many could not understand how he thought he could achieve that when he refused advice from union nationalists in the SDF to declare a government after the elections. Fru Ndi claimed he did not want confrontation (civil war). The SDF leader, however, emerged from the house arrest with more support than before, and then went on to attend the inauguration of the newly elected United States president Bill Clinton in January 1993 in the USA. Upon his return, he called on SDF militants, supporters and sympathizers onto the streets in a poorly organized, a poorly-targeted and a badly-led effort that did not regain the stolen victory, even though dozens of lives were lost and the population encountered ruins caused by the malicious establishment and some members of the security force blindly supporting it.

By 1993, while the civic-nationalists with the revolutionary fervor in the SDF leadership still considered the cause as a long-term struggle that needed a more effective organization, steeliness, resoluteness, a constant upbeat of revolutionary spirit and education of the masses, Fru Ndi was beginning to think of conciliation to the system he had been a part of until 1990. He subtlety and then blatantly started considering the cause as a struggle to realize his desires (wealth, fame, glory and/or power). With the 1994-1995 expulsion of the Asanga-led liberals who made gestures towards joining a union government with Paul Biya, Fru Ndi became the undisputable leader of the SDF. With that achievement developed exaggerations, the weaving of myths about his life by his close supporters, and an obsessive desire to get his way, thereby paying lip service to the idea of the historic nature of the Cameroonian struggle of which the SDF had become the holder of the banner. Fru Ndi started undermining the collective nature of the SDF leadership that is necessary for any political movement with a revolutionary vision to dismantle an anti-people system, right historical injustices and set the foundation for a new, advanced and progressive nation.

It was evident by 1995, following the rising Anglophone movement, that Fru Ndi had openly become a populist. The price of pursuing the national objectives of the struggle was too high, yet he appeared sterile when it came to lead the Anglophone struggle many English-speaking Cameroonians thought he sympathized with, and which many in the inner circle of the founding fathers of the SDF actually thought the SDF was going to represent. Nevertheless, the trappings of being the leader of a party(SDF) with a national appearance of majority Francophone support and more than 80% financial backing were too strong. Money given to the SDF during Fru Ndi’s foreign visits never got accounted for, withdrawal of funds from the party’s national treasurer was done at his whim, and using the party to make money especially in the North West province became a norm known to a few in his clique. And so began the gradual transformation of the SDF from the political movement that most Cameroonians considered it to be, to a political business of Fru Ndi and his clique.

By 1996, as his family matured, Fru Ndi the businessman dominated. Principles, and especially those for the national aspirations of the struggle became secondary. There was muted call for protest or resistance from Fru Ndi when the establishment cheated the SDF out of its rightful share of councils in the Council elections of 1996, especially in the Francophone SDF strongholds. It defied logic in 1997 when he fervently pushed the SDF to accept the 43 seats allotted to it by the establishment during the highly fraudulent Parliamentary elections, and go to a parliament of 180 seats when the party had more than 70% of national support, especially since the majority of the party’s union nationalists or civic-nationalists opposed it. When his close collaborators in parliament led by Joseph Mbah Ndam, betrayed the honor and national objectives of the party and used their positions in parliament to accumulate personal wealth, selling the image of the party in the process and killing the spirit of collective self-sacrifice that the civic nationalist propounded as the flame to keep the spirit of the struggle alive, Fru Ndi was acquiescent. After all, the SDF chairman got monthly chunks of the proceeds from the loyal parliamentarians and council heads as agreed upon percentages of their salaries that he alone knew about. Added to these kickbacks were other unsanctioned benefits his go-between parliamentarians worked out for him from the establishment.

From 1997, Fru Ndi’s fight focused more against the revolutionaries and union nationalists in the SDF than against the Biya regime or the establishment as a whole. Many insightful people thought at the time that something was fishy since his major rental property was under lease by a French company, even though he was purporting to be leading the opposition to boycott French businesses.

In the SDF convention of April 1999, he gave orders to his “Boys’ to ensure the defeat of those who were beginning to question the direction he was taking the party to, that is, those who were not stooges. Prominent amongst these rising voices were Professor Asonganyi, Andrew Akonteh and Dr. Samuel Tchwenko. Andrew Akonteh lost in the elections, but Dr. Samuel Tchwenko emerged as the second most popular figure from the convention.  Fru Ndi’s obsession to silence those party figures who refused to be sheepishly loyal, who opposed his rising personality cult, who decried the derailment of the party and who were beginning to be vocal in questioning the corruption in the party, was again revealed when he directly intervened to make sure that the Kumbo candidate who was vying for the post of North West provincial chairman never got elected. By 2000, the SDF was on the fast lane of becoming irredeemably dysfunctional, taking on the form of other political parties like Kodock’s UPC, Bello’s NUDP and Ndam Njoya’s CDU that had become open businesses working for the establishment.

By 2002, the SDF had fully become hijacked by a mafia-style clique under the patronage of Fru Ndi, a clique that had no vision for the “New Cameroon” (New Cameroon), a clique that had become an obstacle to change like the French-imposed system that the struggle was meant to change.

When asked by a prominent pro-SDF European diplomat of the measure of support the SDF had in Cameroon, Fru Ndi’s reply was “about 60%”.
     When told that they (European diplomats) estimated SDF’s support at above 70%, Fru Ndi acted surprised.
     “Then how come SDF has not made it to power?” the diplomat asked further.

That was at a time when Fru Ndi had found his comfort zone within the pro-SCNC, pro-union government and Ngemba circles of the SDF. That was at a time when Fru Ndi had pushed the SDF into parliament, thereby accepting the 43seats the SDF had been allowed to have (24% of the total number of seats in the parliament). Fru Ndi had sold the SDF cheap against the advice and pleas from the union nationalists, revolutionaries and intellectuals in the party; he had turned his back against the forces in the party that had given the SDF its relevance. Fru Ndi and his clique had become an obstacle in maintaining the SDF as an effective opposition to get rid of the Biya regime and change the anachronistic French-imposed system. Just like Arafat, Stalin and Savimbi in the movements they led to prominence and then held hostage and dragged into irrelevance, Fru Ndi had become a problem in the SDF, a fact recognized by the true exponents of change within the inner ranks of the party, as had members of the inner ranks in the cases of the afore-mention names. The French welcomed this roll back of John Fru Ndi, the former CPDM member who apparently turned his back on the CPDM only to turn around again and start working with his former CPDM comrades. The diplomatic corps knew that. The Biya regime was overjoyed by the fact that Fru Ndi had transformed the SDF that committed Cameroonians had crafted a national movement out of, into a political business in the likes of Bello Bouba’s NUDP, Ndam Njoya’s CDU, Frederick Koddock’s renegade UPC, Diakolle Diasalla’s MDR. etc.

Even so, most Cameroonians were not aware of the fact that Fru Ndi was now serving the interest of the French-imposed system. It became blatantly evident in 2002, when he signed a pact with the establishment, behind the back of the party’s National Executive Committee, accepting 13% of the seats the establishment allocated to the SDF even though the party was the most popular across the national territory. Even after the National Executive Committee met in a session and voted not to accept the fraudulent results of the elections, Fru Ndi and his clique of collaborators overturned the National Executive Committee’s decisions days later. This blatant disregard of the democratic tenets of the party opened the eyes of the revolutionaries and civic-nationalists in the party to the fact that Fru Ndi had transformed the SDF within a decade from a great political movement into a business, and then into a racket. Disillusionment set in full swing and the cream of the SDF started leaving the party, in a process that now makes the SDF a pale shadow of its historic self of 1990-1997.

Die-hard Fru Ndi supporters, of which I was one until 2002, and of which former Fru Ndi aide Herbert Boh was, still refused to believe that the firebrand SDF chairman had sold out, despite mounting evidences.  However, in the first senate elections held on April 14, 2013, that is 17 years after the 1996 constitution established the Senate as the upper house of parliament, Fru Ndi shocked even the “Doubting Thomas” within and outside of the SDF by backing the ruling-party’s candidates in other provinces, while the CPDM backed SDF candidates in exchange, a swap of support that brought to the limelight what had been a Fru-Ndi/Paul-Biya arrangement to maintain the establishment in Cameroon, even as the country sinks into abyss, even as its neighbors who caught up with Cameroon’s economic progress a decade ago, advance into the future with a sense of direction that now makes Cameroon the sick country of the central African region, a country that supplies cheap labor and crime to its neighbors, yet a country whose people possess a resourcefulness that is the envy of other Africans. For a people whose Diaspora outshines the Diaspora of most African countries and nations of the world, the stifling existence of the Cameroonian establishment made up of the Biya regime and the so-called opposition of which Fru Ndi’s SDF is the leader, is an affront to their dignity and the future of the Cameroon.

Today, the vast majority of the genuine advocates of change agree that Fru Ndi’s actions have been symbiotic to the existence of the system. For the Biya regime to survive, Fru Ndi has to survive as the head of the opposition. He would be there to lead the SDF to contest fraudulent elections, and in the end accept fraudulent results which would give legality and legitimacy to the CPDM government and the Biya regime, thereby perpetuating the anachronistic French-imposed system or establishment that the vast majority of Cameroonians have been rejecting for close to seven decades. Today, the SDF, like the CDU, NUDP etc. has become a party of the establishment, a party of the anachronistic French-imposed system.

John Fru Ndi, the business man who joined politics and thrived in a corrupt system that rewards members of the corruption clique, fooled Cameroonians in 1990 that he had left the establishment. In doing so, he successfully snuggled himself into the ranks of the new advocates of change and became the head of the political party that picked up the banner dropped by Ruben Um Nyobe, Felix Moumie and Ernest Ouandie following their killings by the Franco-Ahidjo mafia called the Cameroonian establishment. In doing so, he found himself at the forefront of a century-old struggle to lead Cameroonians to freedom, liberty, prosperity, democracy and independence. But then, in a Machiavellian act, he turned around and delivered this party, the SDF, into the arms of the establishment, thereby killing the spirit of the cause and betraying the hopes and dreams that Cameroonians had been sustaining for decades to see change in their beloved country.

John Fru Ndi would be remembered in history as Cameroon’s biggest political traitor. He betrayed hope all right, but the fact that he still hangs on to power and the position as the head of the SDF he has successful marginalized into a regional party today, makes it extremely difficult for genuine advocates of change to mount a clear and targeted challenge to the establishment. That is the case because the SDF he is leading and the other so-called opposition parties he colludes with, have become the decoys of the establishment. In their desire to stay relevant and make money, these so-called opposition political parties attack the genuine advocates of change even more than the ruling CPDM and its satellite political parties. These self-centered and self-delusional opposition leaders and their cohorts in the Biya regime that together constitute the system in Cameroon need to be phased out for Cameroon to be saved and a “New Cameroon” founded.

For a little while longer, the specter of John Fru Ndi, Bello Bouba Maigari, Ndam Njoya and the other heads of opposition party, whose purpose is to bolster the establishment and make Paul Biya and the French-imposed system relevant, will continue to haunt the Cameroonian political scene---

Written September 2004 and modified in 2016


Western-(French, American, British)-backed Dictators in Africa


Paul M. Biya: Cameroon’s 'lion man'

Image result for paul biya of cameroon pic

In Africa's only country where those who campaigned, fought and died for the the country's  reunification and independence from colonial rule under the banner of a civic-nationalist party called the Union of the Populations of the Cameroons (UPC), have never made it to power; in the country called Cameroon where the system established by France in 1958 that excluded more than 80% of the intellectuals, ignored the voice of  the population and has expanded over the years into a racket of French-imposed and supported marionettes that are completely detached from the interest of the country, Paul Biya is the face of  the six-decade Franco-Cameroonian political mafia that in its broader implication is called "FrancAfrique".

Paul Biya was handed the position of President of Cameroon in 1982 from his predecessor Ahmadou Ahidjo who was imposed on the Cameroonian people by France before the new French Gaullist government allowed French Cameroun to become a member of the United Nations Organization. Since then, the second Cameroonian head of state has successfully maintained himself in power despite the opposition of the vast majority of Cameroonians by tapping on the tacit and open backing of foreign powers and corporations.

As Randy Joe Sa'ah wrote in 2012 on the BBC in a profile of Paul Biya "He may have adopted his nickname late in his political career - after the country's football team, the Indomitable Lions, reached the quarter-final of the 1990 World Cup - but the 79-year-old has employed the tactics of lion from the start."...

In fact, Paul Biya devours those Cameroonians who oppose him or appear threatening to his stay in power.  In this profile page culled from the BBC, we find out how and why the land that was the founding base of the Free French Forces that went on to liberate Paris from Nazi rule in 1944, the land that the former German colonial masters called "The African Pearl", the land that is variously described as "The Microcosm of Africa", the land that some call the most enlightened in Africa, is trapped in a dictatorship that has driven its best brains and hands out of the country; we are given an insight into the nature of a country that boasts the biggest US investment in Africa, but that cannot shake off an anachronistic French-imposed system that foreign powers find conducive to maintain for the sake of business, a system whose maintenance is Paul Biya's only guarantee of his continuous stay in power.