Akere Muna is a grey-haired, bow tie-wearing, bespectacled, well-groomed 65-year-old with a professorial air. Soft spoken and with a modest smile (which, to some, might mask his political ambition), Muna, unlike most public figures, is fluent in English and French. So when earlier last month the Yaoundé-based lawyer and anti-corruption advocate declared his candidacy for president, astute observers of Cameroon’s political landscape were not surprised.
After all, Muna’s announcement came exactly a week after military forces cracked down on activists in the English-speaking regions killing scores of innocent citizens and pro-secession activists, who had vowed to hoist the blue-and-white striped flag of Ambazonia to mark Southern Cameroon’s Independence Day.
“It’s with a great sense of responsibility and humility that I have decided to inform you of my intention to run for the office of president of the Republic of Cameroon in the elections constitutionally scheduled for 2018,” Muna said in an audio recording, announcing his candidacy.
Muna’s announcement came exactly a week after military forces cracked down on activists in the English-speaking regions
Though this former president of Cameroon’s Bar Association is not the first candidate to publicly announce their intention to dislodge President Paul Biya’s 35-year reign —he was preceded by several, including French-Cameroonian comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala—he is the first high-profile candidate from Cameroon’s civil society to do so. Timing aside, Muna’s entry into electoral politics seems, at least for the moment, to have re-energised the country’s electoral discourse, which in the past year had taken a back seat to the “Anglophone crisis” in the former West Cameroon.
“The stability of our nation is in peril. Our institutions and systems of governance must be relevant to the hopes and aspirations of the people. The bond between citizens and their government must never break down,” Muna’s announcement said.
The stability of Cameroon is indeed at its most tenuous in decades, and notwithstanding Muna’s desire to reconstruct a new republic, he will have to navigate channels on both sides of the Mungo River that are inherently suspicious of the populist evocations of someone that in their opinion embodies the dynastic tendencies of the establishment.
The stability of Cameroon is indeed at its most tenuous in decades
Muna, who is visible in both local and international media on issues of governance, anti-corruption and accountability, currently serves as the Sanctions Commissioner of the African Development Bank. In his three decades in the public space, he has mostly avoided partisan politics and is not known to belong to any political party.
However, in the past year, Muna has been outspoken, especially on social media, criticising the Biya government’s bungled response to the “Anglophone crisis”, which began when trade unions representing English-speaking teachers and lawyers protesting marginalisation morphed into a general uprising, with certain factions demanding the restoration of the state of Southern Cameroons/Ambazonia.
In May 2017, Muna republished “Letter to my Francophone Brother”, originally published in 1995 in response to an influential regime insider who had expressed a desire for the country to vote on what official language to use. In the missive, Muna inverts the circumstances of the jettisoned reunification while pleading for solidarity from those across the linguistic line against a system that has failed a majority of Cameroonians, irrespective of geo-historical origin.
“Imagine that you leave your home and you are stopped by a policeman who spoke only English and considers the fact that you insist on speaking in French as an act of provocation,” he pondered.
Now, it is plausible that Muna’s decision to enter the race for president was engendered by the crisis, though his announcement did not specifically reference the crisis by name. It was coloured by the mood that has gripped the nation in the past year.
“Our union faces serious challenges; lives have been lost and many of our fellow citizens have been injured. Today our hearts and our prayers go out to all those who lost their dear ones. To the injured, we wish you all a swift recovery. Public and private property has been destroyed,” Muna noted.
A Slippery Political Landscape
Only time will tell whether Muna’s message of conciliation will resonate with the Cameroonian electorate; that is, if he is even approved as a candidate.
Dibussi Tande, a Chicago-based essayist and political analyst who has written extensively on Cameroon’s political history, is circumspect about the impact of Muna’s candidacy at this time in the electoral calendar.
“For starters, he does not belong to an existing political party, so he would have to run as an independent. And Cameroon’s elections laws make it virtually impossible for anyone to successfully meet the requirements to run as an independent,” he noted.
According to Tande, Cameroon’s vague electoral laws are just some of the many hurdles he would have to overcome as a candidate.
“Even if Akere were to create a new political party today, or be co-opted by one of the second-tier political parties in the country, he would have barely a year to set up or expand party structures across the country, build a solid party base, convince the electorate that he is a viable candidate, and then raise the funds to be able to compete on the same footing with major players such as the CPDM and SDF,” Tande said.
The electoral landscape aside, Tande also argues that while Muna’s visibility, reputation and name recognition are assets, in certain parts of the country, “where his father’s role in the dismantling of the Cameroon federation still evokes visceral reactions among many Anglophones,” those factors are a liability
Muna is not oblivious to the strong reactions that the mere mention of his family’s name elicits in certain cycles. He addressed the issue when it was brought up in a recent RFI interview, arguing that his father and other Anglophone politicians of that era, like John Ngu Foncha, were merely victims of their good faith.
“The fact that the others were of bad faith is sad,” Muna said, “and that’s why the Anglophones found themselves in a funny partnership, which I call the partnership of the horse and the rider.”
A progeny of Solomon Tandeng Muna, an architect of the union between English-speaking Southern Cameroons and La République du Cameroun, this Muna is not the first from the dynasty to run for president.
In the 2011 presidential elections, the candidate’s older brother, Bernard Muna, placed 10th, with 0,38% of the votes, in a field of 23 candidates under the banner of the Alliance of Progressive Forces (AFP).
The older Muna, who founded Muna & Muna, one of the country’s most prestigious law firms—where the younger Muna launched his career— in the early 1970s also condemned the government’s response to the Anglophone crisis and led a team of lawyers to defend some of the arrested in the protests that ensued.
That said, under normal circumstances, the significance of the Muna candidacy would not rest on the superficialities of his bloodline and pedigree, but nothing at this juncture in Cameroon’s brief history is normal – even less so its electoral system, which is mostly managed by officials beholden to the incumbent. Which begs the question: How does this founder of the country’s branch of Transparency International envision himself scaling electoral hurdles that others with more traction have failed to cross since Cameroon’s return to electoral politics 26 years ago? It will be a feat of monumental significance if he can.
Tande suggested that Muna could serve the Cameroonian people better by “towering above the partisan fray” in his role as an internationally recognised anti-corruption advocate and human rights activist. “Has jumping into the political arena, with its partisanship, diminished his national and international aura?” Tande asked.
“Only time will tell if Akere Muna’s presidential bid was a foolhardy endeavour or if it is just what Cameroon needs at this critical juncture in its history,” he added.