By Mwalimu George Ngwane*
Born out of the quadruple heritage of her pre-colonial existence, her clash with German civilisation, her contact with British colonialism and her birth to the Federal Republic of Cameroon, Buea’s trajectory in the comity of cities has been fraught with sharp bends, steep hills and smooth paths.
Residence of the Commissioner of British Southern Cameroons in Buea (c) National Archives UK
As an administrative metropolis in the years of yore, Buea hoisted the green, red and yellow flag with the two golden stars shedding the light on a union of two states that was founded on equality and co-existence. It was then that Buea carved her niche as a political capital which hosted the shakers and movers of West Cameroon politics.
In the trinity of her brief stint with Nigerian politics, past experiences in West Cameroon democracy and future flirtations with the then United Republic of Cameroon, Buea stood tall facing the Fako mountain in all elegance and aura. That was when the Prime Minister’s lodge towered her stately splendour over the city like the Eiffel Tower in Paris. That was when the West Cameroon House of Assembly became the epicenter of political discussions like the Houses of Parliament in London. That was when the lone Catholic college in Sasse was the territory’s fountain of academic excellence like America’s Harvard University. That was when the melodious sounds from the Rock Steady Orchestra, the Buea Mountain Hotel Orchestra, Ngu and the Seven-seven orchestra and the West Cameroon Police orchestra made night life in Buea as epicurean as South Africa’s Sun City. That was when work ethics in the Administration was not routine but creative like the painting brush of Max Sako Lyonga. That was when Upper Farms Buea produced pasteurized milk and fresh vegetable; when ornamental flowers paved both sides of the major road and when Buea Town Green was a reputed touristic Golf course. That was when the ‘maley’ juju dance, the ‘nganya’, the ‘moteo’, the ‘pala-pala’ and the mountain race added colour and content to culture. Ah! The mountain race, first introduced by Guinness Cameroon S.A on 10th March 1973 and won by John Ekema, was conceived and controlled by the Buea people because the mountain is their immoveable patrimony. That was when Joseph Ewunkem’s Prisons Social Football Club embodied the pride of a people like Edson Arantes do Nascimento alias Pele’s Santos Football Club in Brazil.
Yes, even in the haze of a foggy weather, Buea dwellers could see and hear the ding-dong clock at the Old Secretariat building now housing the Gendarmerie Legion like the Big Ben clock in London. The Federal option had offered us the missed opportunity to link our inter-urban roads with tar, to benefit from the derivation policy of a mineral resource rich territory, to maintain the transport infrastructure of Kumba to Ediki, the Tiko International Airport, the Besongabang aerodrome, enhance hydroelectric power through the omnipresent Yoke, sustain vocational education through the mythical Ombe, and render the Limbe deep sea port economically viable and functional. The Federal template provided us with a leverage to transform raw materials from our large agro-industrial establishments into finished products, boost a robust economy thanks to our local business magnates and we would have taken a quantum leap to a middle income territory sixty-three years before the decisive year 2035.
Buea made law legal and rendered values valuable for both the social highs and economic lows. Democracy was not just a matter of periodic elections but a matter of the best practices of governance and at the cutting edge of democratic development. Even when ethnic demography and pedigree were controlled by the pursuit of greed and nepotism, the voices of the people through an ebullient media held back the excesses. For it was then Tataw Obenson alias Ako-Aya lived the axiom that the pen is mightier than the sword even if the sword was always mightier than the holder of the pen.
But Buea was not just a post- Reunification experiment. In fact it seemed Buea derived her vigour from her indigenous substrate on which the brave warrior and mountain king Kuva Likenye mobilized an ill-trained ragtag army to stand up in arms against German exploitation of the Bakweri people between 1891-1894. Ah! Kuva Likenye ‘whose hands waved the spear and loaded the gun and whose dreadful voice roared and scattered the multitude’. Kuva in turn may have been spiritually inspired by the mountain god Ifasa moto, or the mountain goddess Liengu la lelu or the mermaid Liengu la naluwa or maybe by the founding father of Buea Eye Njie Tama Lifanje.
Kuva Likenye went ahead conscripting in the Bakweri pantheon departed iconic figures of the land like Manga ma Nambeke,Paul Monyongo Kale, Peter Ndembe Motomby-Wolete,Emmanuel Mbella Lifafa Endeley, Peter Efange, Pa Ekonde, John Ekema, Becky Njomo Ndive, Sammy Mafany, Martin Zachary Njeuma, Anne Mojoko Mbongo Musonge, Nathaniel Mofeme Ewusi.
But Buea’s glitz and glamour was not the creation of only the ‘sons of the soil’ and ‘daughters of the dust’. As a cosmopolitan city, Buea needed a rainbow coalition of indigenes and non-indigenes who had a stake in her political, cultural, economic and touristic development.
Today, Buea is ready to host the Reunification jubilee. Her clean and lit streets, sprouting market centres and rich human resources are all waiting to showcase what her incumbent Mayor, Mola Moki mo Mbella, calls Buea’s ‘legendary hospitality’.
Of course a lot still has to be done to improve on and give names to minor roads (street), build culverts and bridges and erect public taps in the city’s neighborhood. The predicament of the ex-Tole tea workers still camping in the Labour Office, the location of the Great Soppo market, the equipment situation of Radio Buea, and the issue of a lone SONEL centre serving all of Buea and her environs need to be addressed by the concerned authorities in Buea and Yaounde.
As the flame of the Reunification festival is being lit in Buea this year with the construction of a three-star hotel which I hope shall be named “ Kuva Hotel” because it is on that location that Kuva Likenye defeated the Germans in 1891,and in times like these when water from our taps is becoming as scarce as the River Musole,when infrastructural developments beckons for a facelift like the roads in the South West Region, when restoration architecture needs serious rebranding like the Buea Mountain Hotel, when the cultural zones of silence need to be broken like the state of the West and East Cameroon fraternity since 1961, yes, in times like these all vibrant state and non-state actors must synergise to make Buea what the Agricultural show of 1972 deprived her of. Like the Bakweris say “lia loko asa kaka lomba” which means ‘one hand cannot tie a bundle’.
Yet we should not be fooled by the euphoria of pedantic rhetoric from Yaounde and forget the realities of unfulfilled promises. The Reunification commemoration shall not necessarily be the panacea to our stalled developmental disease. No, it is the national vision of balanced development, the steadfastness of local leadership, the fruition of a highly decentralized system, the availability of financial resources, the coherent advocacy of the South West people, and the political will to continue the Mount Mary conversation of April 2nd and 3rd 1993 that will add value to the much needed Buea renaissance.
For Buea to be born again, a critical mass of development thinkers and doers must asses the journey from Buea’s glorious past to her ambitious future without fear or favour. I have no doubt that it is in recognition of these facts that President Paul Biya elected Buea to be the Reunification capital of Cameroon in this year of our Lord 2012.
* Mwalimu George Ngwane is the Coordinator of the Task Force for the Civil Society Reunification Forum 2012