By Mwalimu George Ngwane*
The Nigerian trade and cultural week organised by the Nigerian High Commission in Cameroon from 16-22 March 2009, had for theme “Exploring new frontiers of cooperation through trade and culture”. Coming against a backdrop of a chilled relationship due to the protracted conflict over the Bakassi peninsula that was laid to rest on 14th August 2008,the trade and cultural week aimed at promoting meaningful cooperation through trade and culture, sharing experiences in the management of human and natural resources, and promoting tourism between Cameroon and Nigeria.
Apart from the intellectual exercises, there was a grand cultural parade showcasing colourful dance troupes from the Cross-River and Akwa-Ibom states Nigeria a panoply of dance groups from Cameroon. It should be noted that both countries share much in common and could benefit from each other in the areas of boosting cultural tourism. The rich monuments, sites, museums and natural flora and fauna found in Limbe, Kribi, Waza park,Ndawara ranch and Ekondo Titi beach in Cameroon complement the immoveable cultural patrimony like the Olomo Rock, the Obudu cattle ranch, the Yankari Game reserve and most especially the TINAPA project in Nigeria. Yet even though Nigeria and Cameroon are culturally homogenous with common ethnic groups and cultural patterns across the borders, trade remains insignificant as compared to the volume of trade between each country and the European world.
While such cultural diplomatic stints need to be encouraged at the formal level, cultural cross-fertilization has always existed informally between the Nigerian and the Cameroonian people even before the Bakassi conflict and its resolution. Intercultural dialogue and cultural export have been manifested in the areas of music, fashion, literature, belief system and film. The influence of Nigerian music in the early 60s and 70s with genres of high life perpetrated by E.C. Arinze, Victor Olaiya, Victor Uwaifo, Bobby Benson etc on Cameroonian radio stations and “Tea-time” parties was very discernible. The counterpart “juju” music by King Sunny Ade,Chief Ebenezer Obey and Shina Peters; the afro-beat of Fela Anikulapo Kuti and the traditional flavours from Oriental Brothers,Ikenga Super stars etc could not leave any music lover in Cameroon indifferent. With these hyper musical influences on the Cameroonian cultural landscape came an effervescent fashion taste with trouser designs called “apaga” and special shoe model called “salamanda”. Today Afro hip hop and tropicalised rhythm and blues by P Square and 2 Face Idibia as well as Gospel music popularized by Agatha Moses make Cameroon the magnet of Nigerian musical prowess and success. The magazine culture from Drum, Spear, and Ikebe to Newswatch, Tell, Concord and This Week still occupy the subconscious of Cameroonian journalism and culture. Before Dr. Enoh Tanjong and his JMC team in the University of Buea started churning out great journalism minds, most of our best Anglophone journalists got their training in Nigeria.
Influences of Nigerian literature, from Amos Tutuola through Cyprian Ekwensi, Chinua Achebe to Bessie Head and Wole Soyinka still bear their marks on Cameroon’s Anglophone sub system of education. Nollywood or the Nigerian Film industry whose foundations were laid by tele-theatre by Ken Saro Wiwa and Zebrudaya has taken the Cameroonian youth by storm with the young people reading the lives of Nigeria actresses and actors like a subject in their forthcoming class examination.
The Pentecostal culture from Nigerian churches provides stiff competition with the orthodox culture of our belief system to the point where Olumba Olumba and now T.B Joshua are held in spiritual high esteem. Indeed the overwhelming evidence is that Nigeria’s marketing strategy in arts and culture has transformed Cameroon to, at best a consumer society and at worst, a Nigerian cultural clone. Therefore any attempt at fostering cultural diplomacy between Nigeria and Cameroon would vantage the latter more because of the huge cultural market that exists in the former. To conquer the Nigerian market Cameroon must first of all prescribe its own cultural policy that depends on originality, diversity and mutual beneficial partnership. Cameroonians need to be more aggressive in some of their best art spaces like culinary art, visual art, cultural tourism, traditional wrestling, tropical architecture, indigenous knowledge system, coiffure and theatre. Nigerians on the other hand would have to be more cultural tolerant and open so their love for their own does not border on the fringes of cultural xenophobia. The commitment made by the government of Cameroon at the end of the Nigerian trade and cultural week to reciprocate a similar event in Calabar, Nigeria come October 2009 should be a formal platform for moderating the balance in cultural diplomacy that has so far seen Nigeria hold the better end of the stick.
*Mwalimu George Ngwane is writer, panAfricanist and Culture Consultant. His new book “The Power in the Writer or Collected Essays on Culture, Democracy and Development in Africa” can now be ordered through www.amazon.com.