A country is worth its History. This is because, from the authentic history of any country, a conscious leadership is born and enabled to handle competently, not only the crucial issues of the hour, but also the planning (with a vision), of the important ventures of the future.
It is because of the type of national history that the citizens of a country are exposed to, that we today have a Cameroon character, a Nigerian character, a Ghanaian character, an Ivorian character and so on. For, this character always stands on a history, whether this history is true or false and, most unfortunately, it is this character that produces the leadership of each country which, in turn, dictates its pace of development or, in some pitiful cases, its pace of underdevelopment.
Today, many African countries lament about their leadership but the crucial question is this: On which history do these leaders stand? Do they know the true history of the countries most of them did not even apply to rule? What is to be expected of a leader who does not even know his country? I bet, very little.
So, this paper sets out not to lay the blame but rather the assignment at the doorstep of the Cameroonian historian – the re-writing of Cameroon’s history. And, like the clinical handling of any disease, the first step is a diagnosis: why has this history not been written so far? Why is the history we have today so superficial, fragmented, biased, battered, mutilated, doctored and full of gaps and disturbing silences?
The first reason is that most of our historians on both sides of the Mungo are not bilingual and have, consequently, found it difficult to explore and make good use of crucial documents written in their second received language, be it English or French. They have, consequently, not been able to benefit from the support that a writer gets from another’s findings, as they have continued grappling, each in the language he masters.
Secondly, many crucial documents about Cameroon history are rather found in Europe, especially in Germany, France and Britain and it has proved prohibitingly expensive, especially for young historians, to go to these countries and dig up the facts. Worse still, some of this information is still kept in the confidential or classified files of the secret intelligence services of these countries and is, consequently, still unavailable to historians.
Thirdly, most important Cameroonian political leaders of the first generation have died leaving no ‘memoirs’, biographies or any published documents that historians can use to understand the motives of most of their actions. To my mind, of all the politicians that have rocked the political landscape in Anglophone Cameroon, only Nerius Namata Mbile and Albert Wuma Mukong have left behind documents that can benefit a historian.
This is such a serious problem to Cameroon as a country, that if the children of those politicians who did not publish any document before dying are in possession of any, they owe a duty to this country to publish such a document or make it known that such a document exists. East of the Mungo, we have only Albert Eyinga and Monga Beti who have made serious publications about their political roles.
The fourth reason is that it took very long for Cameroon history to become part of the syllabuses of official examinations in Cameroon itself. Pupils and students spent their time on ancient history and European history, and only came back home to talk about such banalities as ‘Rio dos cameroes’ and ‘Too late Hewett’. So, historians were not motivated by a ready market for their books if they wrote on Cameroon history.
Fifthly, most Cameroonian historians of the first generation were government employees who took the selfish stand of defending their jobs and guaranteeing their promotion rather than writing the true history of their country. These careerists, rather than steering clear of writing, became official historians.
Lamentably, official historians, like court poets, only set out to please their masters. They magnify anything positive and only render in euphemistic or litotic terms anything negative. As a matter of fact, they set out to write the epic of their leader. That is why there is a disturbing absence of a sense of proportion and intellectual honestly in most existing Cameroon history books today.
They sixth reason is that most of the existing historians lack a sense of commitment. They write out of a desire for gain and not out of patriotism. Their goal is, therefore, not the development of their county but their profit. That is why most of them believe in, and respect ‘no go’ areas in Cameroon history.
The seventh reason is the antagonistic posture of the politician or the man of power towards the intellectual. This intimidates some would–be historians even from taking a decision to write and pushes those who dare to write, to self–censorship. This is an area where politicians need to review their stand because they are the ultimate beneficiaries of a true and authentic history of the country and the final victims of a false history even though it initially gives them the illusion of success.
The eighth obstacle, that the Cameroonian historian has always had, is government propaganda which uses many formulae, ranging from selective provision of information through doctored data to the fact that for a long time after independence, private media were either absent or very weak.
Furthermore, another difficulty of the Cameroonian historian, which might not be entirely of his own making, is the unconscious legitimising of a colonial viewpoint. Indeed, Cameroonian historians have often not had a Cameroonian point of view that is so present in the county’s oral literature and so have annoyingly repeated the same vocabulary as used by colonialists to legitimise colonialism and neo-colonialism.
Further still, existing textbooks are replete with very negative evaluative references to, and even subconscious prejudices against the “Union des Populations du Cameroun” (U.P.C.) and the opposition Social Democratic Front (S.D.F.), that even some of the major authors seem not to be aware of.
Consequently, this consistently exhibited bias and other errors of commission and omission, make their texts lack the required balance and objectivity of a valid history. Again, there is a failure on the part of our historians to incorporate Cameroonian interpretations of their history which are readily available in the oral literatures of Cameroonian tribes, especially as regard the colonial and post-colonial periods.
The penultimate difficulty of the Cameroonian historian, even today, is the induced absence of a reading culture in the citizenry. This means that, for the historian who chooses to write the true history, he can neither hope to have his book on the official school booklists nor count on an independent reading public for financial support. And he therefore, lamentably, finds himself only with the drinking adult population which calculates its money in terms of bottles of beer.
Last but not the least is the failure of mainstream churches to preserve our history by keeping vital documents and making them available to researchers. In most counties in the Western World, even when intellectual freedoms have been almost inexistent, the monasteries, seminaries and other such institutions have always safeguarded the truth for posterity. These institutions still need to prove that they have carried out this mission in Cameroon.
All said, it is very common today to pick up a book with a very lofty and attractive title on Cameroon history, only for it to fail the litmus test – woefully. So, we need to become conscious of our history as a crucial determinant of our development and, therefore, strive to create an enabling environment for true historians to emerge, so that a genuine Cameroon history can one day be written.
- France, Nigeria & Cameroon cooperating on release of kidnapped citizens (vanguardngr.com)