By Mwalimu George Ngwane
The trajectory after Reunification on 1st October 1961 has been one of pursuing paths of integration, negotiating bends of neglect and blazing trails of Preventive Diplomacy.
Reunification Monument in Mamfe
Little wonder then that what has come to be known as the Anglophone problem, the Southern Cameroon question or the West Cameroon debate has refused to be sunk under the Mungo bridge preferring to rear its hydra-headed body-politic above the turbulent waters of intellectual discourse and the tortuous tempest of a zero-sum rhetoric. Were the Anglophone problem a mere figment of the imagination of nostalgic idlers or an emotional outburst of political adventurers, it would have petered out forty-nine years later.
We either face the Reunification debate with frank, fair and fruitful discussions or submerge it in our national subconscious hoping that it melts away like butter in the sun. President Paul Biya’s rare recognition of and clarion call for the commemoration of fifty years of Reunification is indicative of how the symbol can often give way to the sublime and how history is not merely the narration of events but how those events impact on people and their environment. Like Chinua Achebe puts it “unless the lion recruits its own historian, the story of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter”.
The Reunification debate is first and foremost about the state of union between the expunged West Cameroon and the defunct East Cameroon states since 20 May 1972. It is about the commonwealth and common weal of West Cameroonians who without their exclusive consent were herded onto a Pact called the Peaceful Revolution and who out of patriotic fervour continue to congregate around the one red-starred flag as a common entity. Unfortunately more often than not, this patriotic fervour has been misconstrued at worst as sheepish docility or even sacrificed on the altar of identity-based marginalization or at best as a leverage for political tokenism or mere pontifications rendered to massage our epileptic memories. I make bold to say that nothing was so wrong with our Federated structure that justified its demise. The Reunification Pact was built on a solid rock of separate, equal and convergent sovereignty not on the shifting sand of unitarist architecture. And the greatest and nearest experiment that speaks to the concept of ‘divided, we stand’ is Tanzania.
The United Republic of Tanzania was born in 1964 thanks to the consummated wedlock between the mainland Tanganyika and the offshore islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. Forty-six years later, the island of Zanzibar with her numerical minority still feels at ease sharing the same political space with her numerical stronger yet economic and political sensitive mainland partner. The Tanzanian experiment has produced a mature democratic system of smooth power alternation, a vibrant culture of national belonging and a robust economic growth of 7%. Saddled from the beginning with a charismatic and visionary leadership incarnated by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Tanzania has been able to translate the trappings of nation building into the triumphs of an electorate-friendly party system, an umbrella national language and a respect for the dual historical heritage of the mainland and the islands. It could have been so with us had our post-Reunification leaders recognized the merit of a separate, equal and convergent partnership especially as the colonial legacy of two foreign languages cast an ominous cloud over our indigenous cultures and civilization.
What the Reunification Pact requires today is a restoration of a West Cameroon value system that was founded on national cohesion, a rehabilitation of a West Cameroon development infrastructure that is floundering in despicable rubble and a reinvention of a Cameroon political paradigm shift that defuses the omnipresent binary chasm of the host and the hostage, of parity not patronage, of unification not assimilation, of brotherhood not bondagehood and of what Mola Njoh Litumbe calls the ‘official’ not ‘njumba’ marriage.
The Southern Cameroon National Council gladiators would definitely not agree with me since for them it is not about a raw deal nor a new deal but rather a no deal. They are also part of the Reunification debate. The “one and indivisible’ Cameroon apologists which includes former West Cameroonians would not agree with me arguing for maintaining the status quo and requesting for more regionalization even if it does not amount to greater decentralisation. They are also part of the debate.
But what all this sums up to is the recognition that the Reunification Pact has become an incised abscess whose only remedy can be found by exposing it to the fresh air of continuous debate or better still the sunlight of a new consultation akin to the 1993 Eritrea and 2011 Southern Sudan. The Golden Jubilee of our Reunification provides all of us this unique opportunity.