Friday, May 24, 2024

Cameroon: Cameroon's Stalwart Political Leader John Fru Ndi Dies

Cape Town — Tributes are pouring in for Cameroon’s charismatic political leader and chairman of the country’s first political party, the Social Democratic Front. The party announced his passing on on June 12, 2023, in Yaoundé at the age of 81.

In the 1990s, when the wind of change was blowing through the African continent,  John Fru Ndi was the first to create a political party to challenge the one-party system that existed at the time. Despite pressure  from the ruling Cameroon People Democratic movement, he stood firm and lobbied for support – both from the international community and the local population whose quest for change in the country resulted in President Paul Biya and his party, the CPDM, backing down.

Born in Baba II, Bamenda in the north West region of the country,  John Fru Ndi joined politics in the eighties after completing his studies in neighboring Nigeria. Ironically, he started his political career in the CPDM but his approach didn’t fit and he ventured on his own with the support of other previously banned opposition parties like the Union De Population du Cameroun (UPC) that had been outlawed by Cameroon’s first president, the late Amadou Ahidjo.

His radical positions on the way the county was being run, and his fearlessness towards the regime gained him support from the general population. This radicalism culminated to what was known in the 90s as ‘Ghost Town’, where for months no one was supposed to be on the streets and there was also a total boycott of French products in Cameroon. This devastated the economy, forcing the ruling class to call for a tripartite talks which included civil society, political parties, and other state actors.

In the first multi-party elections in 1992, John Fru Ndi was declared runner-up, though there was a popular belief among Cameroonianians that he won and his victory was stolen. He was also declared runner-up in the 2004 and 2011 presidential. The 2011 elections was his last – due to age and ill health he declared that he was quitting politics and relinquishing the position of chairperson to the younger generation.

Though he has not been in the political limelight for some years, he is still revered by the political class and very much respected by the population. Though kidnapped several times by separatist fighters, his position on the Cameroon Anglophone crisis was constant. He formed the SDF on the basis of federalism and would not support the separatists’ quest to divide the county.


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