On the day Eto’o got elected, I was travelling from Douala to Yaounde. I remember getting into the waiting room of the bus agency and seeing a little crowd perched around the television one corner of the room. The last time I had seen that kind of fervour around anything electoral was in 2018 during the post-election constitutional hearings. Bar football matches, you don’t see Cameroonians watching CRTV with that kind of interest.
And when Eto’o was proclaimed winner, you could hear loud cheers ring out through the entire Akwa. A few benskinneurs even drove by honking loudly. One could see that for the first time since 1990, the entire Cameroon finally understood the feeling of winning a fair election. It was palpable.
It is safe to say that beyond the hopes of a new dawn for football in Cameroon, Eto’o’s ascension to the presidency of FECAFOOT was to many an opportunity to show immaculate proof that although Cameroon is a normal abnormality, in actual fact, things can be done right. Until that time, the passport office in Yaounde was the only functional piece of institution in this country. It has since been corrupted – my friend was approached by a police officer last week when he went to make his passport, promising him to have his passport out that very day against a small bribe.
My friend eventually got his passport two days later. Without having to give a bribe. But let me not digress.
It can be said for most people that they wanted Eto’o to become president of FECAFOOT because he isn’t hungry. We have all witnessed his career and the astronomical amount of money he has been paid by many clubs. Eto’o is not known to be pop bottles and it is safe to assume that he is still swimming in his Russian money from his Anzhi days. Add to the fact that he had suffered in the hands of the management of FECAFOOT whilst a player and you can see why many Cameroonians believed that he was really out to make a difference.
In just eighteen months, we have seen a difference. Hosting the Nations’ Cup was a timely and whimsical occurrence; that plus the aura of Eto’o has been a springboard for great things. People have been going to watch local football games. Major sponsors have come back. We have not heard of any issues concerning players’ bonuses. The league has been undergoing reform. A mechanism for paying local players has been put in place. Eto’o succeeded with the amazing feat of pushing General Semengue out of the league. Anglophones even gave Ernest Obama a pass.
And then… and then… the honeymoon seems to have turned into the Red Wedding and the Walder Freys that were bidding their time in the shadows have emerged like dementors out of Diagon Alley.
What have we not heard over the past days? Voice note here. Threats there. Njalla Quan this. Ngameni that. Unisport du Haut-Nkam down. Opopo up.
To not see this coming is to be incredibly naïve and idyllic about Cameroon. FECAFOOT is an old institution and everything around it has festered. It was a very political institution and like everything politics in Cameroon, it was full of snakes in tall grass. Things have gone a certain way for a long time and Eto’o was very aware of the fact that he had to deal with those people. He may have had to make concessions and promises on the way to the top. And let’s face it, the man is no saint and can be a bit of a megalomaniac with first-person syndrome. And Cameroon being Cameroon, I am not even surprised that he’s being accused of those things.
The world is certainly not perfect and sometimes you have to do unspeakable things for the sake of progress.
But here’s what makes my backside itch in all this; the way Cameroonians in the vast majority have responded to the allegations that have fallen at the doorstep. Quite hypocritical, I must say. The whole country, for the most part, has adopted the positions of the three monkeys who neither see, hear, nor speak up against evil.
Everyone is fighting for Eto’o and the flimsiest arguments are made in his favour. It is interesting to take a backseat and watch all this unfold. That we are openly in support of a system of governance like the one that has held us captive for the better part of the last thirty years. A system which has no checks and balances, and in which power is concentrated in the hands of an individual who isn’t accountable to anyone. A system of governance where there is a strong personality cult and where any impulse and initiative is attributed first to the head boy before anyone else. A system of governance in which everyone is more focused on being in the good books of the head boy and on getting ahead by kissing his bum, rather than doing the work for which they were called to do.
Things may not be that gory at FECAFOOT, but boy are the signs there. I have seen banners proclaiming Eto’o as the “Saviour of Cameroonian football.” Is that familiar to you? I bet it is. And the more we turn a blind eye to these things because we believe the mission is more important than the method, we are only feeding the snake
At best, we could have sat quietly and let things play out. It is also hypocritical but at the very least it doesn’t embolden people to keep going on because they believe that the masses are openly in support of them and making excuses for them. Especially considering the weight of these allegations.
As much as we want things to change, it has to be done the right way. And that rings louder for us who have been walking on the wrong side of the governance pathway for years.
Perhaps we are not even ready for change and we will gladly vote for another Biya. After all, someone once said Frank looks like he will make a good president because he is handsome.