Home page > Writing and publishing in Africa > The Vultures Are Circling
| More

The Vultures Are Circling

Saturday 23 March 2013

By Joseph M. Ndifor (Opinion Writer)

Nineteen sixty was an exciting year. At the crack of dawn on November 9, then-Senator John F. Kennedy, cruised to victory in that year’s U.S. presidential election. Kennedy had chosen Lyndon Johnson, a powerful Senator from the State of Texas, as his running mate. When Kennedy was slain three years later on November 22, 1963, Johnson —sworn in as President aboard Air Force One as it flew back to Washington, D.C. following the assassination—went on to deliver what Kennedy had primarily considered Johnson capable of, and why he had selected him as his Vice Presidential candidate back in 1960: Passage of The Civil Rights Act of 1964!

And so was the year 1974: on the night that U.S. President Richard Nixon knew he could no longer govern and would have to resign (in disgrace) over the Watergate scandal, another Senator, Barry Goldwater— a man who wouldn’t put up with any blather— approached Nixon and bluntly informed him that turning in his resignation (which Nixon later did in August that year) from the presidency would be best for his country.

Notice my emphasis on the word “Senator” in describing the landmark achievements that these men delivered to the American people?

Forever obsessed with titles—“Fon of Fons”, “Honorable member of parliament from Upper Widikum”, etc—Cameroonians are now bracing themselves for yet another title for their politicians this April: Senator! On February 27, in what Cameroon Post sarcastically labeled “Biya takes nation by storm”, President Paul Biya slated April 14 for Cameroon’s senatorial election.

You might argue, as some are wont to do, that it’s condescending taking swipes at the idea of creating a Cameroonian Senate, or at those aspiring for the senatorial seats, especially when compared to what that title— “Senator” — conjures in the minds of those that have followed U.S. Senators and their achievements over the years. But far from it: the argument in this write-up isn’t that Cameroonians don’t deserve that title. Rather, it’s because of the bad precedent that has been set for years by the current National Assembly, which calls into question what purpose an Upper House would serve when it comes to legislative achievements.

After all, a large number of U.S. Senators, including the aforementioned J.F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, once served in the U.S. House of Representative, an equivalent (after April this year in Cameroon) to the present Cameroon’s National Assembly (setting up a good precedent) before being elected to serve in the U.S. Senate. (In fact there is an old adage that says, “Every [U.S.] Congressman looks in the mirror and sees a Senator-and every Senator looks in the mirror and sees a president”.)

And why won’t Cameroonians scoff at the April election—tainted as it is by indirect suffrage—when senatorial races in the United States are often highly contested? You earn that title the old-fashioned way: Hard work, discipline, and the healthy exchange of ideas between contestants.

I followed the tough senate race between current New York Senator Charles Schumer and Alfonso D’Amato back in 1998 and — heck! —it hammered home the reason why Americans call their Senate a special club. In fact, so intense is the senatorial race that between 2000 and 2002 alone, two highly respected U.S. politicians—Governor Mel Carnahan of Missouri, and Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota — lost their lives while campaigning to be senators. And wouldn’t it be a mockery, in the case of Cameroon, that someone, without been fully vetted by the people, would parade around with such a title?

But as those who would become Cameroonian senators after April this year flaunt around with that title, remind them about these three issues: That a senator is a politician who, after promising his or her constituents a hospital or a clinic, doesn’t sneak into Europe or North America for his or her own medical treatment.

That a senator — like Lyndon Johnson did way back in 1964—is a politician who delivers (to his country) a “Civil Rights Act”, which in Cameroon would entail hundreds of human rights issues.

That a senator—and this may be a note to those aspiring for the senatorial seats within the CPDM camp — is, like Barry Goldwater did in 1974, a politician who can bluntly tell the president of his or her country that resignation (following numerous transgressions committed by that president) would restore the sanity of the country.

And that these, in your humble opinion, are the criteria that the title—Senator—means.

See online: The Vultures Are Circling