YAOUNDE, CAMEROON —
Cameroon's main opposition political party the Social Democratic Front, SDF, is celebrating its 25th anniversary Tuesday amid criticism it has not lived up to the expectations of its supporters.
Social Democratic Front communicator Denis Kemlemo said his party was celebrating the liberty and freedom of speech it has brought to Cameroon since its creation in 1990.
Freedom of speech
"When the SDF was launched, it was a taboo to criticize the regime. It was taboo to say anything that was contrary to all the abuses that Cameroonians were facing. So many newspapers were seized, journalists arrested, some killed, in fact we were living under marshal law and so that was a big success that we break through that barrier, that obstacle, that barricade," he said.
Effiti Tashi Hannah, SDF vice shadow Cabinet minister for tourism and culture, said her party has failed to rise to leadership because they are victims of president Paul Biya's more than 30 years of power.
"Nigeria is a 16-year-old democracy, look at how far they have gone. We are 25 years [in democracy]. We can not carry out bio-metric elections with the small population we have. We are challenging them, they should carry out bio-metric elections. We want justice. We want peace," she said.
FILE - Ni John Fru Ndi Social Democratic Front, presidential candidate, speaks to his supporters during an election campaign in Yaounde, Cameroon, Oct. 8. 2011.
SDF chairman John Fru Ndi has led the party since its creation. He said when some of the party leaders, including two secretaries-general, resigned he was unfairly accused as one of those responsible for his party's difficulties.
"It is their democratic right. They came in on their own and they are going on their own. But you see, when they say that it is always because Fru Ndi has said no, you can not do it the way you want to do it. Look politics is not academics. I have done field work in politics and I have seen people who have no background at all in education come out as very good politicians. If you think that you still have something to offer, please don't be ashamed. Feel free to come back," he said.
Staying at the helm
Among other things, critics accuse John Fru Ndi of unduly perpetuating his hold on the party leadership. He said his stay at the helm of the party since it was created was democratic because he has remained the choice of the people he led.
"People keep telling me can you please tell us who is your successor. I was the first to send the youngest to councils. I was the first to send the youngest to parliament. I was the first to send the youngest to parliament. So when the time comes, from this lot people will chose," he said.
Besides his long stay in power, Fru Ndi has been accused of not being the charismatic leader he was when the party was created. Some of his collaborators say he changed his political approach towards Paul Biya when they met for the first time in 2010.
Cameroon ruling party member Elvis Ngole Ngole said president Paul Biya was not responsible for the resignations in the SDF and Fru Ndi's changing political vision.
"The kind of Cameroon that president Biya envisioned was a Cameroon which is a melting pot, a Cameroon in which every body contributes to the great destiny that we all want. He wants that Cameroon in which the sons and daughters, the young and the old, the men and the women work as one person so that together we can cement a kind of unity which generations beyond us will always consider as a reference," he said.
Two years after the SDF was created, John Fru Ndi won 36 percent of the votes in Cameroon's 1992 presidential election, which the incumbent president Paul Biya won with 40 percent of the votes as declared by the country's supreme court.
In 1997, the SDF won 43 seats in the 180 member parliament, but the number dropped to 16 in the current legislature.
Focus on the SDF's 25th anniversary celebration is on the struggle for democracy and good governance, social justice and equal opportunities.