The Cameroonian Conundrum: Autopsy of a Moribund Nation
May 11, 2011 § 1 Comment
By Dr. Peter Wuteh Vakunta
The ailing polity code-named Cameroon seems to be afflicted with a medley of ailments that have earned it a myriad of sobriquets:Clando Republic, Mimboland, Animal Farm, Gaullist Africa, Ghost Nation, and more. The purport of this write-up is to diagnose the illnesses with which our nation is afflicted. The end game is to be able to prescribe some dependable medicaments efficacious enough to resuscitate a nation from its death throes.
Alcohol is the opium of the Cameroonian people. In other climes, people drink alcohol on very special occasions, if at all. In Cameroon, booze is our national drug of choice. A meeting without itemeleven[i] is considered an abortive meeting. Little wonder, some of the talk shops [ii]that pass for meetings in Mimboland often result in drunken revelries. I was brainstorming the fate of Cameroon with a friend lately and here is what he said: “Try to get two or three Cameroonians at a round table to brainstorm about some matter of substance and you will come away disappointed, but get them to put on their traditional regalia and come for alcohol or to dance ndombolo and you will be humbled by their vibrancy!” [iii] With this irresistible penchant for alcohol, does it surprise anyone that we have become numbskulls, bereft of cognitive ability? The brain that is filled with bubbles of alcohol cannot think. Bacchus[iv] must be rubbing his hands in mock glee wherever he is lurking in Cameroon. Come to think of it, what are we really celebrating? The uncertain fate of thousands of University graduates who have been driven byChomencan[v] to become sauveteurs[vi], taxi drivers,bendskinneurs[vii] and wolowoss[viii]? Or is it our once beautiful roads that have degenerated into death traps that we are celebrating? The question begs to be asked again: what are Cameroonians actually celebrating on a daily basis in circuits[ix]and off-licenses? The sale of our fatherland to foreigners? When Longue Longue oralizes the auctioning of our natural resources, including crude-oil and forest products to the French, we simply scoff at him and scurry back to our booze as promptly as possible. Some sagacious man once observed that Paul Biya is governing a nation of nineteen million drunkards! Is there a dissenting voice? I urge my fellow countrymen and women to stay sober at all times. You snooze you lose, an expression which insinuates that we will miss out on a great many opportunities if we don’t remain aware or open to the goings-on in our country. How can we afford to numb our brains with alcohol when this nation is on the brink of an abyss? There is a vendetta around the corner. We cannot afford to snooze or booze!
Fear has crippled Cameroonians. Behind the semblance of bravado that punctuates our daily discourse, Cameroonians are inwardly compulsive cowards. Despite all the brouhaha: catcham! beat’am! catcham! killam! If Mr. Paul Biya were to walk down the streets of any Cameroonian city today without a bodyguard, you would be surprised to see how many people would simply take to their heels after identifying the nation’s ennemi numéro 1[x] This explains why the man is unfazed by the raving and ranting of his many detractors. Internally, he knows Cameroonians are a bunch of paranoid big babies. Who would have believed that Mr. Biya would go to Bamenda in 2011 and be hailed as Fon of Fons after all the trauma to which he has subjected the people of Abakwa? Our Ntarikon landlord even granted him audience! The legendary Bamenda man known for his tenacity and alacrity to chop fire has suddenly became melo. What is the genesis of this paralysis? Or dare I say hypnotizing fear? What become of the likes of Fon Mbinglo of Nso who, we are told, once declined to shake the hand of the Queen of England because in Nsoland, women do not shake hands with men. As we brace ourselves for the pending battle ahead, it is critical that we kill fear, like the Egyptians who buried their fear at Tahrir Square.[xi]We must bury own fear here and now. The 32nd president of the United States of America, Franklin D. Roosevelt, is reputed to have said: “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”[xii] We cannot subject ourselves to slow death each day on account of fear. That is what William Shakespeare meant when he observed that “Cowards die many times before their deaths.”(Julius Caesar, Act 1, Sc1). This quote suggests rationally that man should not fear death but instead confront it boldly. To fear death is to die already.
One of the cankers eating deep into the Cameroonian social fabric is ethnocentrism, alternatively labeled tribalism. Tribalism engenders corruption, influence peddling, self-interest, abuse of power and dereliction of duty. This hydra has killed meritocracy in our country! Our nation has been reduced to ethnocentric concaves locked in lethal battles. The Beti want to fend for the Beti; the Bamileke attend to the needs of the Bamileke; the Bassa would do everything necessary to look after the Bassa, even if this means flouting the laws of the land and hurting other tribes. Politics has been given an ethnic bent across the board. And that is why nothing seems to work in Cameroon. Until we begin to see ourselves as Cameroonians first this quagmire will persist for a very long time. Ethnocentrism permeates all the nooks and crannies of Cameroon, including academic circles. William Ndi fictionalizes this predicament in his play Gods in the Ivory Tower (2009). Gods in the Ivory Towerdepicts the University of Ngoa as a glorified secondary school where the credo of ethnicity determines who succeeds and who drops out as evident in the caustic remarks of Professor Guignol: “This is a place for smart civilized people! Not primitive non-natives like you!”(44) Clearly, ethnophobia and xenophobia are cankerworms that eat deep into the very fabric of what the protagonist christens “the village college” (2) where meritocracy has been put on the back burner. Professor Guignol does not veil his preference for students from his own ethnic group as his question illustrates: “Did I not ask you from the very first day whether he was from your neighborhood, Mvog-Akum? Again, whether his parents were friends of some kind?”(40) Professor Guignol is openly spiteful of Anglophone students: “These English speakers…! Do you think it is for nothing that we label them in our tongue, I mean French as ‘les gauchers?’”(40) As it were, Ndi barely scratches the surface of the now well-known Anglophone question in Cameroon. The cohabitation between Anglos andFrogs[xiii] is depicted in Gods in the Ivory Tower as a marriage of convenience. This play is a lampoon on the notorious Francophone-Anglophone animosity in Cameroon.
The Anglophone Question
You may remember Animal Farm, the 1945 classic written by George Orwell. Many in my generation had to read this book in order to pass the London General Certificate of Education (GCE) ordinary level examination. Over the years I have come to see the relevance of the message contained in this novel even more as I ponder the Cameroon Anglophone Question. The plot of Orwell’s book is centered on the dissatisfaction of farm animals who felt they’re being mistreated by Farmer Jones. Led by the pigs, the animals revolted against their oppressive master, and after their victory, they decided to run the farm themselves on egalitarian principles. However, the pigs became corrupted by power and a new tyranny took root. The famous line: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” (92) still rings true to date. The novel is a replica of what has come to be branded the Cameroon Anglophone Problem.
After fighting together to decolonize Cameroon, French-speaking Cameroonians now tend to lord it over their English-speaking compatriots. There exists a generation of English-speaking Cameroonians who now find themselves at a crossroads and would like to know where they really belong. Many Anglophone Cameroonians are now asking themselves why they are condemned to play second fiddle in the land of their birth. The unfair treatment meted out to English-speaking Cameroonians by cocky, condescending Francophone compatriots in positions of power is a time bomb that needs to be defused before it explodes to do irreparable damage. As Alfred Matumamboh puts it, “Anglophone Cameroonians still feel themselves a colonized people trapped in the clutches of horizontal colonization. Francophone Cameroonians keep on reminding them by their political word and deed that they are the masters while the deprived Anglophone is the trapped helpless servant to be maltreated and molested”(Online article). Unfair discrimination against Anglophones sows seeds of discord. The cohabitation between Anglophone and Francophone Cameroonians has been likened to a marriage of convenience by scholars and students of post-colonial Africa. In fact, some critics have compared the uneasy co-existence between these two distinct linguistic communities in Cameroon to the attitude of two travelers who met by chance in a roadside shelter and are merely waiting for the rain to cease before they continue their separate journeys in different directions. No other metaphor better depicts the frictional coexistence between Anglophone and Francophone Cameroonians.
More often than not, the perpetrators of this macabre game of divide and rule are French-speaking political leaders who take delight in fishing in troubled waters. In doing so, Francophone leaders indulge in stoking the flames of animosity and whipping up sentiments of mutual suspicion on both sides of the Mungo River at the expense of nation-building. Many of them have been heard making abrasive statements intended not only to cow Anglophones into submission but also to make them feel unwanted at home. Yet these self-styled leaders would mount the podium to chant to the entire world that there is no Anglophone Problem in Cameroon. This is utter hogwash, it seems to me. The plain truth is that there is a palpable feeling of discontent and unease among Anglophone Cameroonians. Questions that remain unanswered are numerous: Are Anglophone Cameroonians enjoying equal treatment with their Francophone counterparts in the workplace? Are Anglophone Cameroonians having their fair share of the national cake? Do they feel at home in Cameroon? These and many other unanswered questions constitute what has been dubbed the Cameroon Anglophone Question.
The Cameroon Anglophone Problem manifests itself in the form of complaints from English-speaking Cameroonians about the absence of transparency and accountability in matters relating to appointments in the civil service, the military, the police force, thegendarmerie[xiv][i] and the judiciary. In short, the AnglophoneQuestion raises interrogations about participation in decision-making and power-sharing in the country. This is not a figment of anyone’s imagination! It is real and tangible. The Anglophone Problem is the cry of an oppressed people, lamenting over the ultra-centralization of political power in the hands of a rapacious oligarchy based in Yaoundé, the nation’s capital, where Anglophones with limited proficiency in the French language are made to go through all kinds of odds in the hands of gloating Francophone bureaucrats who see English-speakers as anathema. The Anglophone Problem stems from the obnoxious attitude of French-speaking Cameroonians who believe that their Anglophone compatriots are unpatriotic, and therefore, should be asked to seek refuge in another country. This bigotry compounded by conceit has given rise to the rampant use of derogatory slurs such as “les Anglophones sont gauches” [xv][ii], “c’est des ennemis dans la maison” [xvi][iii], “ce sont les biafrais [xvii][iv] and so on.
The consequence of this anti-Anglophone sentiment is the birth of the misconception that Anglophone Cameroonians are unreliable, untrustworthy, and therefore, undeserving of positions of leadership in the country. This explains why key ministerial positions in Cameroon are the exclusive preserve of French-speaking Cameroonians. Anglophobia has also led to the appointment of Francophones with no working knowledge of the English language to ambassadorial positions in strategic countries like the United States of America, Great Britain, Germany, Nigeria and South Africa where they wind up making a complete fool of themselves linguistically and culturally speaking.
The corollary of this frictional co-existence is mutual distrust, a phenomenon that has been exploited maximally by Cameroonian politicians, including the Head of State himself. One only needs to ponder the manner in which the president has used the position of Prime Minister as an effective tool to play North-westerners against South-westerners beginning from Simon Achidi Achu to date. Who says nurturing ethnocentrism is not politically expedient? Undoubtedly, avaricious self-interest is at the root of all this rigmarole. We are not asking anyone to repudiate his ethnic origin. We can choose our friends; we cannot choose our parents. At the same time, Cameroonians must guard against balkanizing the nation along tribal lines.
In this essay, I have attempted to lay bare the anatomy of a malignant Nation-State. Cameroon is sick, very sick indeed. In 29 years we have gone from the posture of a buoyant Africa in miniature to that of a skeletal nation in decrepitude. Yet, our leaders continue to wine, dine and tango at the expense of the proverbial man in the street. The call is ours to halt this dementia by all means necessary. This task is ours. No outsider can do it on our behalf.
© Vakunta 2011
[i] Drinks served at the end of a meeting
[ii] Meetings characterized by futile deliberations that engender no action plan
[iii] John Dinga, email communication, May 6, 2011.
[iv] Bacchus was the Roman god of partying and wine.
[v] Chronic employment in Cameroon
[vii] Bendskin drivers
[ix] Beer parlors
[x] Number one enemy
[xi] Liberation Square) is a major public town square in Downtown Cairo.
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