By Mwalimu George Ngwane*
The title of this article is inspired by that of Albert Chinualumogu Achebe’s most recent memoirs “There was a country”. The book defines Chinua Achebe’s life and experience during the Biafran war of 1967-1970. We all know that Achebe took the Biafran side in the war and even served his government as roving Cultural Ambassador. True to his maxim that ‘all writers should be commited,they should speak for their history, their beliefs and their people’, Chinua Achebe’s new compelling book could be interpreted as a parallel between his Biafra and the West Cameroon statehood even if the birth and demise of both are not hinged on the same historical trajectory. Achebe’s book comes on the heels of the official state burial of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegbwu Ojukwu, the Ikemba of Africa, who stood up in arms against the Nigerian government in quest of a Biafra nation and yet was buried a few months ago in the most glamorous pattern reserved only for time-tested heroes.
Reunification is a historical fact that carries with it individual narratives and corporate establishment intrigues inherent in every nation building experiment especially in Africa. Whoever mentions Reunification in Cameroon inadvertently evokes German Cameroons, Southern Cameroon, Republic of Cameroon, Federal Republic of Cameroon, West Cameroon and East Cameroon in that order. The irony is that our Reunification frenzy coincides with the commemoration of the ruby jubilee of a contentious ‘Peaceful Revolution’ which took place on 20th May 1972. 20th May dissolved the spirit, letter and faith of the Reunification bond or what was left of it. And most of us dead or alive were either out of complicity or complacency accomplices to this ‘revolution’.
My father was not only a devoted educationist but an unconditional party militant as far back as the days of the Cameroon National Union (C.N.U) when he would clad his children in C.N.U “ashwabi” in our very tender ages. The climax of his perceived party loyalty was on 20th May 1972 when he shepherded my siblings and I to the Customary court Hall Bamunka, Ndop, to vote for the Unitary state. I was only twelve years old. But I know why he did so.
As Headmaster of Council School Bamunka, he was invited on 11th February 1972 and on the Council school field to coach pupils who had failed their examinations and decided to abandon school. My Headmaster-father thought there was no better anecdote than the one that even the then President of Cameroon El Hadj Ahmadou Babatoura Ahidjo had failed the First school Leaving Certificate yet rose to become the nation’s Head of State. Four days after his public anecdote, plain clothes military officers swooped down on my father and locked him in the dreaded Brigade Mobile Mixte (B.M.M) in Bamenda. It was traumatic for me as the eldest child whose mother had been estranged from her husband. I had to attend to the rudimentary house chores and I was just twelve. My father was released thanks to a book called “As told by Ahmadou Ahidjo” from which he had lifted his anecdote that read “He (Ahidjo) was an inattentive but intelligent pupil and easily passed from one class to another until 1938 when he failed at the C.E.P.E (First School Leaving Certificate)”p.6. Therefore carting his three politically under-aged children into his Renault 4 to vote for an issue they did not master must have been, by my father-HM’s reckoning, atonement for what his detractors or a local overzealous administration termed an insult to Ahmadou Ahidjo. Yet I voted and I was only twelve.
By some twist of fate, some twenty years later (March 1990) I was arrested and detained in the B.M.M Ekondo Titi, Ndian Division while I was a secondary school teacher in Mundemba. It must have been traumatic for my first child (Masango) only two years old, seeing his father being dragged around by four gun-totting gendarmes and ordering his paternal grandmother (Ma Agatha) to lie on the floor and his own mother (Mami Masango) braving the ordeal while in the pangs of labour of birth to his younger sister. The young girl (Nzele) was actually named while I was serving two weeks of detention in the B.M.M. My crime was that I in collaboration with three colleagues (Ebini, Mengot and Njong) had published a newsletter called “Viewpoint” in which we had questioned the efficacy of bilingualism in Cameroon when a Minister of Education (Mr Joseph Mboui) could not speak English to the students in Mundemba but worse still why we as civil servants were levied to pay for the Minister’s visit to Ndian division. But this is another kettle of fish.
History has recorded the development fortunes of West Cameroon before my 1972 vote. History has it that West Cameroon had the trappings of sovereignty albeit minimal when compared to Abeid Karume’s Zanzibar but maximal when compared to Chinua Achebe’s Biafra. The Buea Declaration of April 1993 catalogues the nativity and crucifixion of West Cameroon in one of the most scientific discourses of our times. Adolf Mongo Dipoko has just published a new book called “The Anglophone Soul” which joins other organic intellectual voices in providing legal and legitimate catharsis for the West Cameroon statehood.
President Biya’s call for the Reunification jubilee is indeed the cherry on the cake. Local support committees for this Reunification jubilee have been constituted with members drawn from highly respected individuals but some of whom, without President Biya’s recognition of this historical fact, would have guillotined anyone who dared to raise his or her voice about Reunification. That is the paradox of revolutions. As a civil society actor and writer in politics, I know that nation building is not just a process, it is a project - a project that enables stakeholders to set out specific objectives, measurable impact, attainable goals, realistic rationales and time-bound monitoring and evaluation templates. Nation building is about the past informing the present and the present shedding light into the future. Nation building is not just about platitudes on peace, integration and unity as it is on social justice and equitable relocation of resources following the attendant law of derivation.
Even if West Cameroon is today a figment of yesterday’s memories, memories which are at variance with the forces of today’s realities, we must use this Reunification jubilee to channel the individual angst, the collective frustrations and nostalgia into some creative dialogue. The Reunification Jubilee provides us Cameroonians with a platform to engage those who hold religiously to yesterday’s memories and those who cling tenaciously to today’s realties. Reunification at 50 means we have come of age to expand our democratic space and deepen our democratic content through public debate. The Reunification Jubilee provides all of us an opportunity to assess the development dividend and development deficit of West Cameroon since the Federal bond was snapped on 20 May 1972. Such an evaluation should carry the full weight of the Reunification malady whose comparative diagnosis of the development status of West Cameroon from 1961-1972 on the one hand and from 1972-2011 on the other hand would eventually impact on the formulation and implementation of the country’s policies after the Reunification Jubilee commemoration.
Is it not just reasonable that the territory which was the precursor and product of Reunification and that swore to make Reunification work should now be on the scanner as a polity in her own right? Would it be asking too much if we at this moment put on the spot a wedlock where the excesses of one of the spouses seem to defy the logic of parity and partnership to embrace the law of the winner-takes-it all? As for me it would be suicidal to allow this golden reunification to be a lean harvest of isolated infrastructural gains and a bumper banquet of ego-massaging rhetoric while the macro vision of a national renaissance project remains peripheral. Posterity shall, like we are today heaping blames on the West Cameroon forbears of Reunification, hold us accountable if we fail to frontally address the gangrenous issues that underpin this defining moment of our golden binary existence.
*Mwalimu George Ngwane has just released a new book titled “The Cameroon Condition” 240 pp, April 2012 (an Anthology of 3 previous works) published by Miraclaire Publishers, Kansas, Missouri and obtainable online at Createspace.