Aug 25, 2012

Rene Sadi: Jacobin to the core!

By Tazoacha Asonganyi 

The German philosopher and sociologist Jürgen Habermas tells us that there are two schools of natural law: the Anglo-Saxon and the Continental. The Anglo-Saxon school is optimistic and believes that the natural is good and can be “corrupted” or “deformed” by an external intervention. The task of politics is to restore society to its natural freedom – a freedom that society itself is best placed to administer.  

In contrast to the above, the Continental (French) school of natural law begins from the premise of a corrupted society which must be guided by a state which can impose upon “disorganised” society; power is exercised to influence society in a “positive” or “corrective” manner.  

It is in the exercise of this concept of state power that the Jacobins emerged in France during the French revolution, guided by the principles of Continental natural law to prosecute a revolution they saw as the rational transformation of society by the state. Constitutions like those of Cameroon are directed by Jacobinism and provide a central place for power which is exercised to achieve state-led initiatives. Such constitutions contrast with those in which the place of power remains unoccupied, with checks and balances ensuring that strong institutions of power control and complete each other. 

It may also be the wish to keep the fire of the Jacobins burning that Charles de Gaulle created Ecole Nationale d’administration in 1945 as “a symbol of the Republican meritocracy” and “to democratise access to the senior civil service.” In imitation of the Gaullist tradition, our own such schools were opened and named ENAM to also democratise access to the senior civil service, but it is doubtful that our own products have been a symbol of Republican meritocracy.  

Indeed, following independence, Ahidjo created home-bred Jacobins mainly through instituting one-man rule with the self-serving ordinances he signed left and right, to raise the administration over all other forces in society. This was reinforced by one-party rule that made party barons the alpha and omega of society.The ordinances and one-party rule bred a mindset that was essentially repressive; it bred power barons that acted most of the time with impunity. These Jacobins, bred mainly in ENAM, never changed following Paul Biya’s taking over of the mantles of power and the creation of the CPDM – the society was still run by the same people who ran it under the CNU.  

By 1990, what became known as liberty laws were in place, but they were essentially the consecration of the overriding dominance of the repressive administration over all other forces in society. The laws were abstractions managed by Jacobins to protect their positions while leaving the people with the illusion of power and freedom.

It is to this repressive political environment that multiparty politics returned to Cameroon in 1990.The laws for the maintenance of law and order, for freedom of assembly and association, or for organising elections, all had enough openings to allow the administrative authorities and the Jacobins to remain on top of the situation. And so the administrative authorities-cum-CPDM militants fought hard to render opposition political parties powerless through harassment, economic and physical reprisals on their members, and through ensuring that membership in opposition political parties was a burden too heavy to bear, because it might mean loss of a job, the freezing of promotion opportunities, or exposure to violence and attacks on self or family members.

The right of assembly, association and protest was subject to prior declaration at the DOs office. In the spirit of the international instruments from which the freedom laws derived, it is assumed that the DOs are democrats - symbols of Republican meritocracy - that are interested in the advance of democracy, and that they would be interested in the spirit and letter of the laws. Most of the time, they have used the letter of the laws to suffocate any original democratic intentions that any of the laws pretended to have.  

In a democracy, debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and usually includes attacks on government and public officials. The behaviour of our DOs and other public officials leaves the impression that the citizens of Cameroon have no right to freely criticise the government they are said to have sovereignty empowered through the elections that were organised by these same authorities.  

Our laws are concerned with human beings. Our own men and women from ENAM have to become our own symbols of Republican meritocracy. So far, their behaviour in the field displays a depressing insensitivity towards the democratic needs of a very large portion of our society. Our laws have to protect the small citizens from the encroachment of government, and safeguard them from the arbitrariness and discretionary powers of small minds – like the Rene Sadis that recently banned Maurice Kamto’s outing, for the mere fear of the type of message the Professor was likely to give out!

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