Keeping them Honest: Beyond French and English language
Cameroon was two different nations with two distinct histories
The ongoing genocide in Southern Cameroons has dealt a devastating blow to any claim by those propagating the big, fat lie that Cameroon is one, united and indivisible.
By Ekinneh Agbaw-Ebai*
The regime in Yaoundé has totally lost the force of argument. Its blind use of the argument of force; the only option left for it, will fail because violence has never successfully prevented a people yearning for freedom from achieving it. It is important to remind French Cameroun politicians who hardly draw lessons from history that Cameroon was a union of two distinct nations involving two different peoples with two different histories and political culture, beyond French and English languages. Great efforts were made by East and West Cameroon to develop their resources and use same to better the lot of their people, as there was a sense of healthy competition among the two federating states. It is just enough to say that by unilaterally abrogating the federation in 1972, Ahidjo snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and Cameroon’s manifest rendezvous with glory was halted. This was probably the most wicked act ever perpetrated against Southern Cameroons and current efforts to defend this anomaly only gives a bad name to democracy as a government of the people; for the people and by the people.
After unification in 1961, French Cameroun and Southern Cameroons were developing at their own pace, under a federal system of government and the two nations were never one and indivisible. That French Cameroun lacked the main foundation of nationhood owing to the absence of a sense of belonging to one entity, as tribal loyalty competed with national cohesion, is a fact that contrasts markedly with the political maturity in Southern Cameroons. No one can dispute the abysmal level of understanding of French Cameroun politicians when it comes to the majesty of democracy. No one should be surprised, therefore, at their lack of sophistication in its practice. The French Cameroun political class has shown an impetuous proclivity to foster a recruitment process that allows the worst to access public offices. Politics in French Cameroun was so much debased that electoral competition was an odious rat race or an all-comers affair of tribal jingoists, political hangers-on and sundry jobbers, all lacking in the requisite knowledge for leadership and governance.
Unlike Southern Cameroon, primordial sentiments animated French Cameroun politics. In the 1956 elections into the French Cameroun parliament, Ahidjo’s UC party which won the majority was a loose amalgam of contending tribal interests comprising – Union de Diamare (Jean Akassou, Maigari Bello, Yaya Daicro, Kakiang Wappi, Mohamadou Ousmanou, Yerima Daicro, Ninine Jules and Guyard Joseph); Union de Bamoun, (Arouna Njoya and Seidou Njimoulouh Njoya); Union de Defense des Interests de la Benoue(Ahidjo, Babale Ousmanou, Buhari Bouba, Haman Aboubakari, Hadji Mohaman, Rene Tagrand); Defense des Interests de Logone et Chari (Garba Gueime, Sultan Marouf Youssouf); Union de L’Adamawa (Alfred Mandon, Nana Djafarou, Adamu Iyawa, Sekou Cheick); Defense des Interests de Margui-Wandala (Talba Malla, Haman Adama, Bobo Souaibo, Lamine Yerima, Andoulaye Yero, Amaoua Abdoulaye.
Andre-Marie Mbida’s party platform was basically a coalition of tribal groups which elected Gaston Medou & Ebo Ndoundoumou (Action Paysanne de Dja et Lobo); Marigoh Mboua, Ndibo Mbarsola (Defense des Interests de Lom et Kadei); Pierre Yinda, Yakana Jacques (Union Social pour la Lumiere, le Progres et Fraternite du Mbam); Jean-Baptiste Mabaya, Pierre Ninekam (Independante pour la Defense des Interests du Pays du Haut-Nkam). Also elected were Chief Djoumessi Mathias, Marcel Lagarde (Défense des Interests Bamiléké in Dschang ; Etienne Djuatio, Imatha Jean (Defense des Interests de Mbouda); Kamga Joseph, Pierre Ngayewang, Samuel Wanko (Union et Progress Bamileke in Bafoussam); Ekwabi Ewane, Gaston Behle (Auctotones des Moungo); Charles Assale, Francois Obam (Union Nationale in Ntem Valley) and Betote Akwa, Soppo Priso in Wouri. Needless to say there was no political party in Southern Cameroons, created to specifically articulate and defend tribal or sectional interests.
Besides, while French Camerounians were electing Frenchmen to represent them in parliament, the March 1957 elections into the SCHA produced a constellation of candidates representing the different political parties which served as platforms for nation-building ideas and a breeding ground for leadership and policy articulation. There was a robust opposition which was the motor-force of democracy. In Victoria Division, Dr. EML Endeley (KNC) and PM Motomby-Wolete (KPP) were elected. NN Mbile (KPP) and FN Ajebe Sone (KNC) were elected in Kumba; Ambrose Fonge (KNDP) and SA Arrey (KNC) emerged from Mamfe. In Bamenda Division, ST Muna (KNC), VT Lainjo (KNC) and JN Foncha (KNDP) were elected; in Wum, two KNDP stalwarts, AN Jua and P Mua were elected; in Nkambe, Ando-Seh (KNC) and P Nsakwa (KNDP) were elected. Five of the six elected NA members were KNC – JM Mukambi (Kba), TC Lekunze (Mfe), HD Tankoh Tah (Bda), JE Kum (Wum) and W Nformi (Nkambe). John Manga-Williams (Victoria) was an Independent. Power alternation was one of the cornerstones of Southern Cameroons democracy because of the presence of a strong opposition with a distinct ideology and policy to the governing party.
Such a vibrant opposition was nonexistent in French Cameroun. For example, in the April 1960 elections into ALCAM, there were no competitions for the 44 seats in the North where Ahidjo’s UC party held sway. Once Ahidjo with the support of Aujoulat took over the UC leadership from Ninine Jules, his strategy was to cripple the opposition. By 1963, Ahidjo had virtually stifled all political parties and there was just one party in French Cameroun. In a streak of authoritarian madness, Ahidjo then undertook an insidious lynching of West Cameroon democracy in 1966 when all political parties were disbanded to form the CNU. The Federal Republic of Cameroon officially became a one-party state. Going forward, power, money and vanity became instruments of statecraft in the hands of CNU barons.
In addition, the Southern Cameroons civil service was very apolitical. Cabinet Secretaries were career politicians but the bureaucracy was run by Permanent Secretaries, who were not allowed to participate in politics. This tradition was maintained after unification as PJ Alpress, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources was appointed Chief Electoral Officer for the first post-independence election under the federated state of West Cameroon in December 1961. The reverse was true in French Cameroon where at independence in I960, a civil servant, Ahmadou Ahidjo, was handpicked by the French to become head of state. The tribalism, impunity, nepotism, abusive patronage and notorious corruption that is the official currency of governance in Cameroon today had its roots deeply embedded in the political culture of French Cameroun, where political leaders drew their electoral strength from tribal associations like Ngondo (Soppo Priso); Kumze (Chief Djoumessi Mathias); Bassa Mpo’o (Mayi Matip); Efoula Meyong (Charles Assale) and Koupé (Ekwabi Ewane).
And unlike in East Cameroun where traditional rulers were appointed by the colonial government and forced to wear official uniforms with ranks on their epaulets, the West Cameroon House of Chiefs was an integral part of the governance architecture and served as a quasi-upper legislative chamber. It is trite to say that there can be no democracy without democrats. Southern Cameroons having entrenched the democratic culture and ethos, a man could leave office, but the institution stays. In circumstances such as this, there is usually a predilection to invoke primordial sentiments that are inimical to nation-building. To the ordinary Francophone, government is a profit-making business and political power is a selfish tribal equation, where holders of high public office have to cater to the tribe above all else. Southern Cameroonians see high public office as a call to service; whereas to Francophones, a cabinet appointment is an invitation to “come and chop.” It was normal for an incoming Minister in French Cameroun to replace all his top-ranking collaborators with his tribesmen because “it is their turn to chop.” In such situation, the stress to governance and efficient delivery of democracy dividends from sycophancy, indiscipline, corruption and mediocrity cannot be over-emphasized.
Despite the preachments of Francophone politicians about the imperative of a one, united and indivisible Cameroon, the ethnic reactionary politics of self-preservation still pervades their psyche. A very telling situation that was a national embarrassment was when President Biya publicly declared all-out war against Anglophone terrorists. That Biya would descend to such shameless demonization of Anglophones, especially amid the ongoing genocide when the nation is in mourning and sober soul-searching, is the height of insensitivity and sheer dishonor for the dead and brutalized. In the judgment of an average sense of decency, Biya’s action is a moral weakness of asinine proportion.
In conclusion, a nation can never outgrow the performance of its leader. Such is Cameroon’s tragedy at the moment. The failure of leadership by the President, who by authority is assumed to be the father of the nation, is highly disturbing. If the president views Anglophones with such hatred, does it therefore surprise anyone why some of the president’s henchmen have been beating the drums of war? Given his apathetic refusal to dialogue, Biya wittingly or unwittingly sent a message of disdain and unwelcome to all Anglophones, including those in his cabinet, that they are terrorists, instead of patriotic citizens with a different vision on how the nation should be governed. Biya’s depth of ill feeling towards Anglophones is unhealthy for a nation in distress. He must therefore be told in whatever language he understands that Southern Cameroons and French Cameroon are not one, united and indivisible; never were, and never will be one, united and indivisible!