The President takes us around Cameroon on the trail of the country’s president after he goes missing one morning. The president leaves the presidential Palace and takes a trip, making several stops and managing to stay ahead of the media and others searching for him. We follow him on his journey, learning along the way about the man and the leader, and experiencing the ways in which his decisions as president for the past 42 years have affected the entire country, as well as his own personal relationships. It emerges that the president is looking for a successor, who will take over the country when he leaves presidency.This movie paints the picture of the president through the eyes of four different people: The journalist Jo Wood’ou of ‘Canal D’; an old friend of the president’s, now a political prisoner; his eventual successor; and a conscious rapper named Valsero. We are treated to contrasting perspectives of the president, but from each angle, he is regarded as having failed at his job as the president – 42 years on.
The President is a timely and exciting journey not only with the president of Cameroon after he goes mssing, but also with many other Africans as we explore the challenge of bad leadership at a time when more and more people across the continent are becoming aware of their power as citizens to change the status quo. The President depicts Cameroon as a country crumbling under the weight of decades of bad leadership and corruption – an image that unfortunately, is very familiar to many Africans. To see the similarities between the problems faced in Cameroon and those we experience in East Africa brings sharply into focus the fact that bad leadership and corruption are a continent-wide experience. From the disgruntlement of unemployed youth to the silencing of voices of reason, this movie tells the story not only of Cameroon, but of modern Africa.
A notable aspect of Cameroon’s political situation is that the president has been in power for several decades - a situation similar to that in African countries like Uganda and Zimbabwe and until recently, Libya. As a result, responsibility for the country’s problems is placed squarely on the president’s shoulders. In the movie The President, the power of the people to change their societies is only recognized towards the end. The outspoken rapper Valsero tells the president that it was his job to eliminate corruption and to establish a good system in the country – and that he has failed at his job.
This state of affairs does not speak of the entire continent however, as although the problems we face may be similar, our political situations differ. A common adage in Kenya for example, is that ‘a society gets the leaders is deserves’ – implying that the leaders of a society are simply the mirror image of the people. The buck stops with the individual first, and then with the people, and then with their leaders in the struggle to create a better society. This is likely because in Kenya, the political situation changed with the introduction of a new constitution allowing only two terms for each president. The president of the day cannot be blamed for having set up the detrimental systems that caused decadence in the society – only, perhaps, for perpetuating them.
While the movie unites the president’s journey with music lyrics, news clips and interviews to clearly tell its story in the mockumentary style, the place of a group of prisoners in the story remains vague. A group of men held in what appears to be a political prison take great interest in the president’s disappearance and secretly share information surrounding the mystery. Although one of the president’s old friends is held in this prison, the place of the other prisoners in the story isn’t clearly expounded. Also lacking is the urgency experienced by the security forces that are tasked with finding the missing president. The missing leader is able to ride fearlessly in an unremarkable car on the off-roads of Cameroon, visiting various people but we do not see the race of security forces to find him.
At the end, this movie speaks not only to African leaders, but to African people. It calls the presidents to do their jobs – to establish good systems, in which the people can flourish – to eliminate corruption, and to serve the best interests of their people. It also calls on the people to take up the power in our hands to fight the decadence within which we find ourselves – to recognize our position in the fight to build better societies. Indeed, many Africans will relate to this story – while we enjoy the trip across Cameroon, we also take the time to reflect on our own situations and the politics of our continent. And we take return home with the words of the rapper Valsero: “When the body is ill, it is because the head is not right.”