Why Biya regime should forever be grateful to Fru Ndi.

As the emblematic National Chairman of the Social Democratic Front, Ni John Fru Ndi, begins the journey to his final resting place, Thursday July 27, 2023, many analysts have been looking down memory lane to take stock of his remarkable contributions to the political history and socioeconomic growth of Cameroon.

A keen look at Fru Ndi’s political actions depicts a huge imprint on Cameroonian politics, which cannot be underestimated. Fru Ndi played a significant role in the fight for democracy in Cameroon. 

His efforts impacted the political landscape of Cameroon in several ways. His forceful creation, in 1990, of the SDF, Cameroon’s first opposition party, projected him to the political limelight and arm-twisted President Biya to accept, albeit reluctantly, multi-party democracy.

Fru Ndi’s SDF challenged the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, CPDM and promoted democracy in Cameroon. 

The creation of the SDF paved the way for the return to the multi-party system in Cameroon. Fru Ndi and SDF supporters organised protests, rallies, strikes and their efforts paid off. In 1992, Cameroon held its first multiparty presidential elections, and the SDF earned 36% of the vote. 

John Fru Ndi was a charismatic leader who inspired many Cameroonians to fight for democracy. His efforts inspired others to fight for democracy and justice. 

His legacy in the 90s was extremely brave and moved the entire nation, uniting the country. Political analysts have advanced several reasons the Biya regime should forever be grateful to Fru Ndi.

 

Forceful launch of SDF, ushering in multi-party politics

In 1990, John Fru Ndi stunned the nation and the international community, when he launched an opposition political party, defying a ban by the CPDM government. Six people were killed and several others wounded as the population clashed with defence and security forces at the forceful launch of the SDF in Bamenda, on May 26, 1990.

During the launching of the SDF Fru Ndi said “…democracy has never been handed over to the people on a platter of gold…you should know that the struggle for democracy is not easier today than it was in Greece 2,500 years ago”. 

After Fru Ndi and his cronies launched the SDF amidst resistance from the CPDM regime, Biya, not long after, carved in, announcing a return to multi-partism. 

This singular act gave Biya a clean image in the international community as somebody who was willing to democratise the country. Fru Ndi gave him this opportunity. 

It gave Cameroon the place as one of the first countries in the CEMAC Subregion to have bowed to the wind of change that was blowing across the world.

Political analysts therefore indicate that those who say Fru Ndi is the father of democracy in Cameroon and not President Biya, as some CPDM apologists claim, may be right after all.

 

Boycott of 1992 parliamentary election

About two years after the launch of the SDF, there was the parliamentary election of March 1992. The popularity of the SDF at the time was at its peak as many Cameroonians, who had been frustrated with the system, saw the SDF and its leader, Fru Ndi, as saviours. 

However, the SDF boycotted that election, insisting that the CPDM was planning to rig it and that an independent electoral commission must be put in place before any election was held. 
But seemingly unknown to the SDF, the CPDM had, according to pundits, not fine-tuned “its rigging machinery”. CPDM supporters, who had over the years run for elections on a single party list, were not used to multiparty politics. 

No doubt, therefore, that the CPDM failed to secure an absolute majority to control the National Assembly. The CPDM had 88 seats and the UNDP came second with 74. In order to have an absolute majority, the CPDM had to form an alliance with the late Dakole Daisalla’s MDR for its six seats.

Political analysts say if the SDF had gone in for that election, it most likely would have had an absolute majority. They point to the fact that if the UNDP, that was not as popular as the SDF, could have had 74 seats, then a stronger party like SDF would have had won by far more. They note that electors voted UNDP because of the SDF’s absence and so saw the UNDP as the next opposition party to vote for.

The same analysts say if the SDF had gone in for that election, won, and controlled the National Assembly, things would not have been the same in the country as no government bill would have passed through the National Assembly easily. 

It makes meaning to indicate that the electoral laws that ushered in the October 1992 presidential election, which Fru Ndi contested and ‘lose’ to President Biya narrowly, was voted by the majority CPDM and MDR MPs, who were voted at the March 1992 parliamentary election.

To this day, political analysts continue to argue that SDF’s decision to boycott the 1992 parliamentary election, paved the way for Biya’s life presidency project.   

The argument that would remain unshakable, according to some political observers, is that the Biya regime would have long quit the scene, if Fru Ndi and the SDF had not committed the blunder of boycotting the 1992 parliamentary election.

That is one of the reasons analysts say the Biya regime should forever be indebted and grateful to Fru Ndi.

 

Refusal to go to war despite intense pressure

Meanwhile, the SDF took part in the 1992 presidential election, with Fru Ndi running as the candidate of the Union for Change, which grouped several opposition political parties. But when the Supreme Court, sitting in for the Constitutional Council, declared Paul Biya as the winner, with 40%, as against 36% for Fru Ndi, violence erupted in most SDF strongholds across the North West Region. Fru Ndi declared himself winner and was put under house arrest.

There were external and internal forces ready to support Fru Ndi to pick up arms and take power by force. But Fru Ndi, despite all pressure to do so, refused, insisting that he would not walk on people’s blood to become to get to Etoudi.

Observers say given his popularity at the time, if Fru Ndi and the SDF had taken up arms, this may have plunged the country into civil war which may have led to the collapse of the Biya regime.  SDF’s refusal to take up arms thus let the Biya regime to stay in power.

When violence broke out in Bamenda in particular and across the country in general, following the declaration of the results of the 1992 presidential election, a state of emergency was declared in the then North West Province and Fru Ndi put under house arrest.

Fru Ndi’s level-headed acceptance to be placed under house arrest has been hailed by political pundits as a decision that calmed flaring tempers that could have degenerated into violence.

 

Refusal to transform SDF into Anglophone movement

Following the first and second All Anglophone Conferences, AAC 1 (1993) and AAC 2 (1994), in Buea and Bamenda respectively, the Southern Cameroons National Council, SCNC, was born out of Anglophone frustrations, calling for what they termed the “restoration of the sovereign state of Southern Cameroons”. 

All the SCNC leaders needed, was for Fru Ndi, who had a strong following, to come in and put his weight behind the movement. Observers say if he did, things may not have been the same again, especially given the fact that every word that came out of Fru Ndi’s mouth at the time was taken as gospel. 

But Fru Ndi refused joining the SCNC or transforming the SDF into an Anglophone movement. He insisted that his party, the SDF, was not a preserve for Anglophones, but a national party.

It would be noted that many bigwigs of the SDF threw in the towel and joined the SCNC because of Fru Ndi’s refusal to abandon the SDF ideals for the SCNC ideology. 

A prominent SDF Founder, the late Albert Mukong, was the first to shut the door on the SDF, when Fru Ndi stood his grounds that the political outfit would not be transformed into an Anglophone movement.

Many say if Fru Ndi had succumbed to pressure to transform the SDF, in the early 90s, into an Anglophone liberation movement, the threat it would have posed to peace and national unity, would have made the current crisis in the two Anglophone Regions a child’s play.

Moreover, the strong argument has been, and remains that, the Biya regime, in the early 90s, was not mature and experienced enough, to withstand any Anglophone pressure group, that would have been championed by Fru Ndi.