Mwalimu George Ngwane
Of recent and for obvious reasons, Cameroon’s Reunification story has occupied prime space on our media with historians, political scientists and the man on the street especially of the former West Cameroon extraction outdoing each other on unearthing the historical fossils of our family saga.
1961 Prime Minister Foncha returns from the United Nations
The thrust of the discourse, in the main, has been the tragic flaws of the 1961 Southern Cameroon politicians, West Cameroon’s role that led to the 1972 referendum and the reasons why for the last fifty years we former West Cameroonians have failed to unscrew the 1972 nail that was driven in the coffin of our statehood.
History is only relevant if it is a signpost of where the rain began to beat us and a barometer of how we have refused to be drowned in its flood. Every generation, in the words of Frantz Fanon, has a mission which it either fulfils or betrays. Beyond trading mutual accusations and conjuring metaphors of treachery and conspiracy theories lies the greater and collective task of charting a new dispensation. For indeed the political sins of omission or commission of an earlier generation should not be a permanent feature on the agenda of its succeeding generation.
In a world where gun boat diplomacy is supposed to be an exception, even though the so called superpowers in collusion with the United Nations, NATO and the International Criminal Court continue to debunk this logic by transforming Libya and Ivory Coast into theatres of resource conflict and regime change, the onus of making amends within our volatile political bondings in Africa resides in constitutional engineering and people-based choices.
A few examples come to mind. Tanzania was founded on the shaky union between a German/British colonized Tanganyika and an Arab-influenced Zanzibar. On April 26 1964, both states merged to become the United Republic of Tanzania but with Zanzibar retaining extensive Independence. This confederal architecture has considerably minimized agitations between the two parties.
Ethiopia’s limited and intermittent contact with the outside world enabled the country to escape colonization until the Italian occupation of 1935-42. Yet Eritrea, a former Italian colony that the United Nations made part of Ethiopia by Federalisation in 1952 and which Ethiopia annexed in 1962 succeeded in opting out of Ethiopia in 1993,albeit after close to thirty years of war, through an Eritrea-centred referendum organised from 23-25 April 1993. Drawing lessons from Eritrea’s war of secession, Ethiopia set up a constitution in November 22 1994 that enshrines the right of any kilil (region) to secede as long as sixty-one percent of the Parliamentarians in the Regional Assembly of that region agree. According to Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi “the crux of the secession clause does not lie in how fast regions may want to break away but on how equitable the Central Administration will treat the various regions”.
Since Independence in 1956, Sudan’s development has been hamstrung by contradictory identity-based policies derived from a racial binary of a Christian South and an Arab North. Unable to contend with the increasing racial, resource and religious rift between the North and South, a South Sudan-centred referendum organised on 9th January 2011 has resulted in South Sudan becoming Africa’s newest nation on 9th July 2011.
Agitations for self-determination still attract the people of Western Sahara in Morocco, the people of Casamance in Senegal, the people of Barotseland in Zambia, the people of Quebec in Canada, the people of Basque in Spain and of course the people of West Cameroon in the Republic of Cameroon.
What these examples portray is the heavy artillery of constitutional models and pro-people peaceful democratic paradigms that abound and which can fashion coexistence or separate neighbourhood between contesting parties within any fragile union.
African countries in search of sustainable peace and democratic development can no longer ignore the dissenting voices of any segment of their community. That is why the internecine Anglophone bickering that led to yesterday’s liquidation of their statehood need to be reversed from today’s pitiful arguments of resignation and fatalism to tomorrow’s creative and forward looking constructs.
The future belongs to those who recreate not those who regret. That is why I have distanced myself from the discordant debate on which town should eventually host the Golden Reunification Jubilee ‘celebrations’. As far as I am concerned the Golden Reunification Jubilee commemoration began in January 2011 and will end in October 2011 and what I regret is that so far Governor Abakar Ahamat’s Jubilee travelogue in the North West region has not been matched by similar conferences, art performances, exhibitions of the West Cameroon political, economic, cultural portraiture in the South West region. It is not the two or three day whistle stop tour by President Biya in any town of his choice that will tell the full tale of the triumph and tragedy of our fifty years as a bilingual nation.
What we need, and this is something we often avoid, is frank, free and fair discussions on the merits of Ahmadou Ahidjo’s speech on 6th May 1972 in the Federal Assembly that rationalized his advocacy for a Cameroon-centred referendum dissolving the Federal structure. According to Ahidjo, the cumbersome federal structures of the Federal system affected development. The maintenance of resources of three governments and four assemblies involved considerable expenditure-solving which could have been used in the economic, social and cultural problems of the country. The change from a Federal to a Unitary state would according to Ahidjo, lead to a better definition and rational allocation of responsibilities, simplify and clarify administrative procedures, lead to a more rapid dispatch of public affairs, eliminate duplications, bottle necks and overlapping within administrative channels and finally result in substantial national savings. And so without a West Cameroon-centred referendum, the federal structure was abolished on 20 may 1972.
The agitations have not been stemmed. Instead West Cameroonians have in various associations and platforms voiced their demands for a new political architecture. From South West Elite Association’s ten region federation, through the All Anglophone Council’s two-tier federation to the Southern Cameroons People Organisation zero sum option.
If countries recovering from conflict choose the pattern of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation commission as a recipe for nation building, then countries in the thick of internal agitations may choose a Truth, Justice and Renegotiation commission as an antidote to national polarization. 2011 is not just an election year in Cameroon. It is a year in which the fiftieth anniversary of Cameroon’s Reunification provides the present generation with opportunities to dare to invent the future rather than look back in anger.
If the present generation of former West Cameroonians especially organic intellectuals, erudite historians and the young Turks have nothing to offer towards a renegotiated discourse of the union, if they cannot provide a collegial leadership that sees beyond the unfortunate drama of yesterday’s actors,yes,if they cannot push their constitutional visions beyond the comfort zones of press releases, motions of support and media interventions, let them leave the souls of Foncha, Endeley, Muna, Jua, Kale,Mbile, Egbe, Abendong, Ajebe-Sone, Kemcha and Motomby Woleta to rest in perfect Peace.