Petrol Price Hikes, Bravadoes and Negotiations
Issa Tchiroma is in town again, professing his usual incongruities. As always, he is accompanied by political lackeys, hatchet men, spooks, conspirators and all types of dealers.
They are trying to manage the mood of the nation by sending us to wild-goose-chases following the price hikes in the petrol sector. They are peddling one confusing idea after the other, making the best effort to fool all of us.
And so noises about strikes, negotiations and agreements are filling the air. Mark you, there are no strikes, and there are no real negotiations. It is all about the lackeys and others we have mentioned above trying to increase the volume of currency notes they will take home by the time attention is turned to other issues to let the price hikes have their desired effects.
Those who know the story of South Africa know that it is trade unionists like Cyril Ramaphosa that used skills they had honed in negotiations with powerful mine bosses to bring an end to apartheid. He was head of the most powerful African trade union, the National Union of Mineworkers. It is in that union that he learned how to cut a deal, and about power which he regularly wielded "to bring mines to a standstill through strikes." As he says himself in "Anatomy of a miracle" by Patti Waldmeir, "The bosses outclassed us. We were not sophisticated in our approach to negotiation; all we had was a sense of injustice and a mission to improve the lot of workers, and the raw power of a strike…After being caught a few times with our pants down, we learned to do our homework…"
And so by the time the negotiation paradigm moved to centre stage in South Africa, Ramaphosa and his colleagues "had been through negotiations par excellence in the mining industry" as his opposite number Roelf Meyer would later recall, referring to the effectiveness of Cyril Ramaphosa in their negotiations.
All this is to say that the acts of bravado from so-called trade union leaders here in Cameroon lodged in air-conditioned offices are bereft of any negotiating power. Since they are always "negotiating" when their members are not active in bringing anything to a standstill, the "negotiations" always last just hours and the bosses – most of the time the government – always come out the winner. No real negotiated settlements; no real skill honed; no deal cut!
The years of structural adjustment (SAP) dealt a serious blow to our development, and left us with a new habit that ignores social policy in economic decisions. The set-up and management of the state in Cameroon condemns us to the reality that, increase in the prices of commodities like petrol enriches the state, but does not transform the lives of citizens. This is because of rampant embezzlement of state funds, filthy corruption, impunity and the greedy appetite of members of a regime that lacks vision, a conscience and a heart for a bleeding nation the regime has taken hostage.
We are suffering from the consequences of the policies of a regime that for over thirty years has shown a frightening incapacity to diversify our economy to broaden the tax base. This has left us with poverty and suffering because the economy depends too much on a mismanaged commodity like petrol. We are suffering the effects of the policies of a regime that daily trumps creativity and hard work by ensuring that individuals gain wealth mainly by embezzling state resources. We are suffering from the obscurantism of a regime that lacks exemplary leaders, while notion-of-support midwives abound. Indeed, they use motions of support as a parapet for regime failures.
It is no longer news that the claim that high petrol prices are subsidized by the government is false. The high prices are the result of the numerous taxes levied by the government on the very cheap commodity before it is sold to us. The low prices of petrol in oil producing Gulf and Middle East countries are testimony to this.
It is usually said that "black gold," as petrol is called, often brings hardship and misery to the societies where it is found. This seems to be the case in Cameroon because rather than being the motor of development and social advancement, the commodity is a major source of enrichment of regime barons, puppets, sycophants and peddlers of motions of support.
The future stability of Cameroon may need skilled negotiators to get us out of the impasse in which the society is immersed today. Trade Union leaders have to learn the tactics of generating standstills to gain the power of negotiation that they need to cut good deals for the people they claim to represent. Who knows? Those skills may also turn out to be useful to us all tomorrow.