Community//

5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before Running To Be President Of The Republic of Cameroon

A Conversation With Akere Muna


A Conversation With Akere Muna


The brilliance and competence of Cameroonian Women is a matter of global recognition; be it in arts, culture, sports, academia and within international institutions both financial and political. Nevertheless, the system is setup only with men in key positions. To date, Cameroon has only one female Ambassador, while foreign missions and the Foreign ministry back home are loaded with seasoned female diplomats. The function of the Chief of a diplomatic mission appears to be the preserve of men. A quota system must be thought of and instituted across the board initially to break the mould. This must not be done at the expense of merit and competence. For a country struggling with issues of tribalism, nepotism and favoritism such a process must be managed on the basis of clear and transparent criteria in order to avoid another beast rearing its head as we struggle to destroy one. On the political side, this might be easier since it will be through a process of election that must respect the quota reserved on a gender basis.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Barrister Akere Muna, called to the Bar of England and Wales 40 years ago, Presently running for the office of President of the Republic of Cameroon a country in Central Africa. A well known anti corruption crusader on the African Continent and on the World stage. Among many other positions, he has also held that of President of the Pan African Lawyers Union, Vice Chair of Transparency International and Chairperson of the International Anti Corruption Conference Council

Marco: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “back-story”?

Thank you indeed for having me. My back-story? It is rather difficult to see where to start. Suffice it to say that I was born into a political family some 65 years ago. My Late father, Solomon Tandeng Muna, was a politician who was a government Minister, then Prime Minister, Vice President, one of the founding fathers of the Federal Republic of Cameroon in 1961 who later became Speaker of the National House of Assembly of the United Republic of Cameroon, which later became the Republic of Cameroon.

I admired my father’s devotion to public service and governance. This was motivating and caused me to start considering this as a path to follow. This is the idea that led me to the United States of America, admitted into the School of International Service (SIS) of the American University (AU), Washington DC, with the goal of pursuing a career in diplomacy. Before I could graduate, the climate of human rights in Africa was worsening, with the emergence of one-party states and military dictatorships, causing me to re-evaluate my path. I graduated from AU and decided to go to England and study law instead. Why England, and not the US where I already was, you may ask? Well, the English legal system and laws were closer to the system back home in Cameroon. The English-speaking part of Cameroon was once an English Trust Territory and most of the legal practice and traditions of the English are still maintained, all the way down to the wig and gown!

After being called to the Bar in England, I returned home and l joined my brother in his legal practice, one of the oldest in the capital city of Yaounde. We, of course, concentrated on bread and butter litigation, both nationally and internationally, but as the wind of change and democracy swept across Africa, we became very focused on human rights and issues of press freedom and democracy. Since the 90s, I have been heavily engaged in issues of Human Rights, governance and the fight against corruption. I have been involved nationally, regionally and globally with international organizations and institutions, global non-governmental institutions as well as international and regional financial institutions.


Marco: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you in the course of your career or campaign?

The campaign has me on the road constantly, traveling, meeting people and sharing all sorts of experiences with them. It is difficult to pick one story, but I will go with a recent occurrence. After a long trip, I was walking through customs in a European country. I was traveling light, with just one small suitcase. The customs officer was rather aggressive in attitude. He immediately asked me to open my suitcase. I almost protested but decided to remain calm. I had totally forgotten that at the top of the suitcase were four copies I had just received of a regionally known paper that carried me on the cover as a presidential candidate in the upcoming presidential elections in Cameroon, so you can imagine my embarrassment when he swung open the suitcase. The officer shoved the four copies to one side and started his search. His colleague, noticing the image on the cover, did several takes switching from the magazines back to me. Rather stunned, he asked me if that was me on the cover. The first officer took out a copy and asked for my autograph. I obliged. He apologized and showed me through. I thought it was rather funny how moods changed!

Marco: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story of a particular person that you helped?

I believe that three key sectors in a developing country like Cameroon are crucial: Health, Education and the Judiciary. So, if a country can sort out the health sector, the education sector and Justice, then the country is on the way to ensuring that it reaches the poorest of the poor. As Pope Francis says, you judge a country by the way it treats the poorest. In our countries these sectors are the most affected by corruption and you can guess who bears the brunt of this. So, the bulk of my fight has been the fight against corruption.

I founded the local branch of the global corruption fighter, Transparency International, in Cameroon at a time when my country was classified as the most corrupt in the world. This did earn me the wrath of the powers that be. My clients, many of whom were international clients working with the government, were gently advised to stop dealing with us or loose their contracts, and our business fell by 80%. However, we stuck to our guns. Corruption is like a cancer — when in eats into a society, it destroys systems and produces the most unbelievable behaviour that at times defies simple expectations of solidarity and humanity. For example, an aide who had worked with me for 28 years died. He left behind a widow and five kids. I am called upon to assist them now and again. Late one night, I received a call from this family because his widow had been bitten by a snake, she had been carried to the hospital and the nurse would not attend to her unless she paid upfront! This is a snakebite we are talking about, where every second is a matter of life and death! I was forced to ask for some money to be quickly borrowed while I dispatched the amount needed along. That is corruption for you, where the poorest suffer. In this case, this widow suffered because corruption destroyed our health system.


Marco: Which specific things do you plan to do to help the vulnerable in your society?

The erosion of social justice in Cameroon is a main cause of the vulnerability of many citizens. This is manifested through tribalism, nepotism and favoritism. A growing class of people therefore find themselves falling through the cracks, with no one to speak for them. Now, more than ever, it is important to work together to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable in Cameroon. In order to help the most vulnerable, I intend, among other things, to :

– Rethink the form of the state in order to institute a governance model that is inclusive and ensures the proximity of those to their citizens. This is essential if we will reestablish trust between citizens and the state.

– Reduce administrative red tape, for example through the digitization of public services and records as well as the automation of processes through the use of information technology.

– Ensure higher representation in decision-making instances — ensuring that groups such as youth and women always have a seat at the table.

– Implement systems that ensure transparency and accountability, such as collaboration with media and civil society organizations in government projects, the publication of contracts awarded by the states, the establishment of an independent administrative body responsible for the auditing of public services and state corporations.

-Institute a zero-tolerance policy towards corruption. The poorest of the poor bear the brunt of the consequences of this ill in our society, so we must fight it ferociously.

Marco: What is the status of women in your country. Do the laws of your country take women into account? What needs to be done to create greater parity in representation?

The brilliance and competence of Cameroonian Women is a matter of global recognition; be it in arts, culture, sports, academia and within international institutions both financial and political. Nevertheless, the system is setup only with men in key positions. To date, Cameroon has only one female Ambassador, while foreign missions and the Foreign ministry back home are loaded with seasoned female diplomats. The function of the Chief of a diplomatic mission appears to be the preserve of men. A quota system must be thought of and instituted across the board initially to break the mould. This must not be done at the expense of merit and competence. For a country struggling with issues of tribalism, nepotism and favoritism such a process must be managed on the basis of clear and transparent criteria in order to avoid another beast rearing its head as we struggle to destroy one. On the political side, this might be easier since it will be through a process of election that must respect the quota reserved on a gender basis.


Marco: This is clearly not an easy job. What drives you?

Simply a desire for justice and equity. There is no reason why two equally brilliant and dedicated citizens should not have an equal shot at success. There is no reason why who you know should matter more that what you know. A society must be built on the basis of reward for effort and government action must place the citizens at the center of its actions. There is no reason why specific legislation dealing with the needs of disadvantaged groups such as the physically disabled should not be put in place. Some of these structures do exist nominally in Cameroon, but their concern is more about the survival of the complicated bureaucracy they have themselves generated than it is about catering to those who are in need and should be the target of their policies.


Marco: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first ran for office” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

· The high cost of running for office

· The level of lack of trust of politicians

· The level of disillusionment of the youth

· The sad nature of road infrastructure

· The basic needs that one cannot find in primary schools

Cost of running for office

Cameroon has no elaborate law on campaign contributions. The government in power that controls the government coffers as well as the government institutions, agencies and departments, has no interest in making things easy for potential competitors. Raising campaign funds becomes very difficult and hazardous for those who do not want to be seen as financing the forces of the opposition. Any democratic system which pretends to offer the very minimum conditions for a level playing field must have an elaborate political campaign contributions policy. Those who contribute for opposition candidates do so discretely and secretly but remain overt and noisy as to how much they contribute to the government in power. There are actually fundraising rallies in which amounts paid by individuals are the object of spectacular announcements.

The level of trust

Cameroon, in close to 60 years of independence, has had only two presidents. It went from a single-party state to a multi-party state, set up and managed by the former single party. The rules are made to ensure that the opposition parties never accede to power. This kills all accountability, which has engendered complete mistrust between those governing and those they govern. Promises are made, projects are planned, yet corruption increases and nothing moves forward. The citizenry has now just gotten to the point where there is total absence of trust. Voter registration has decreased dramatically. My mission on the campaign has been to rekindle hope and ask for trust. The recurrent question is how they can trust anyone after decades of lies and stagnation.

The Youth

Two weeks ago, I went for a walk about in a popular market. A young man stopped me. He told me “I have a lot of friends. Just give us money and we will vote for you”. It was a clear indication to me of how far the termites have gone, gnawing at the very fabric of our society. Unemployed youth are now so hopeless that they do not look at life in perspective. Many seem disillusioned at the prospects of a future in our country. When the youth lose hope, it becomes impossible to imagine the future. I looked at him and told him “What you should be asking for is a fair shake at opportunity, and not just money.” I explained to him and asked him to register and vote. I told him his concern about his future must start with his involvement in the upcoming elections. The young man has now joined the young volunteers seeking to be change agents towards a brighter future.

Infrastructure and primary school needs

When one looks at the riches of Cameroon one can’t help but be appalled at the level of poverty and the sad nature of the infrastructure. In the mining sector alone, Cameroon has a high potential of mineral resources with 52 types of mineral substances:

– Precious stones (gold, diamond, sapphire, platinum, graphite, etc.).

– Energy related substances (petroleum, natural gas, lignite, schist bitumen, uranium, etc.).

– Metallic substances (titanium, bauxite, cobalt, nickel, iron, chromium, magnesium, lead, zinc, tungsten, etc.).

– Building materials related substances, marble.

– Mineral resources with important reserves: crude oil, natural gas, titan oxide, bauxite, and uranium and iron ore.

The country, however, is marked by the absence of transparency. The level of illicit financial flows from the country indicate the level of corruption. The resources have been hi-jacked by a few greedy oligarchs.

The timber industry alone is very rich, but yet children sit in classrooms with no benches or desks and they listen as the large trucks haul away their timber for shipment out of the country. How, then, do we expect them to be optimistic about the future?


Marco: After listening to you I have the impression that you are saying the elections are going to be so rigged that you do not stand a chance!

You have a point. We are well aware that it will be a battle hard fought. However, Cameroonians have never wanted a change more than they do now. They feel the need need to change a leader who has been in the position for 36 years and who is 85 years old and has been unable to deliver positive results for Cameroon. As one Archbishop put it “If the President loves his country, he should not run”. Well the President has decided to run. I firmly believe that no machine of fraud and election rigging can surpass the determination of a people to bring about change. A united opposition and a determined people will position my country towards a New Republic.

Marco: I cannot end this interview without talking about what is now known in your country as the Anglophone problem. Now you have almost 200,000 internally displaced persons, 40.000 refugees in neighboring Nigeria, close to 400 people killed and the violence is only increasing. What is actually going on?

Thank you for this question. I must start by saying it is the suffering of the people that fuels my determination to run for office. To sit idly by would be accepting to be complicit to injustice.

Cameroon was a German colony after the treaty of Berlin in 1884, which saw the partition of Africa. After the First World War, German colonies were placed by the League of Nations under the custody of certain countries. They became United Nations Trust Territories when the UN replaced the League of Nations. Cameroon was a UN Trust Territory administered by Britain and France. The English ended up managing the Northern and Southern Cameroons and the French managed East Cameroons. I will spare you the complications of the colonial history and say that Cameroon evolved into a Federal Republic with two distinct states on English speaking and the other French speaking. This situation evolved into a unitary state, which was very centralized. The issues raised by the management of an Anglophone minority in a predominantly francophone country failed to be addressed. As governance worsened in the country, the complaints of the Anglophone minority were ignored. The judicial, and education system of the Anglophones became more and more distorted and protests by teachers, lawyers and students met with fierce repression. The total failure by the government to address the issues raised has now snowballed into the unrest being witnessed today. Francophones and Anglophones are unanimous in agreeing the problem has a solution — changing the government.

Originally published at medium.com

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.