Cameroon is like a mask dancing

(Revised and reproduced from Cameroon Post, No. 88, November 6-13, 1991, p. 11)

The early nineties were knotty times for Cameroon. As the country slowly untangled itself from the suffocating grips of over thirty years of a well-oiled repressive machinery put in place by the country’s first president Ahmadou Ahidjo, and used with such devastating efficacy by his hand-picked, French-approved successor, Paul Biya, violence spilled over onto the streets of just about every city and town in this country. The “wind of change” then blowing throughout Africa seemed to have caught Mr. Biya and his cohorts completely off-guard as they tried in vain to block it from touching this triangular oddity called Cameroon.

Attempts to block the “wind of change” from our land proved to be as efficacious as the putative efforts of that silly dog in Chinua Achebe’s proverb which tried to snuff out a fire by farting on it. Cameroon of the nineties looked to many of us like a dancing mask which you cannot see well by sitting or standing on one spot. I borrow there very liberally, and with no apologies whatsoever, from one of the greatest writers the Good Lord ever bothered to place on the surface of the earth: Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe, that incontestable, inimitable master of the use of proverbs, the infallible wisdom of our ancestors, which Achebe himself describes as the palm-oil with which his people eat their words. What a marvellous image!

Yes, Cameroon is like a mask dancing; if our leaders intend to see it well, they must leave the velvety cushions of bunkered palaces and go down the street where the dancing is taking place. By sitting tight behind the barricaded safety of sound-proof palaces, they cannot even hear the frenzied sounds of this apocalyptic music that has been assaulting our ears for months on end, as no enraged hand had as yet tossed a stone through their window-panes, as it has some of ours.  So, our leaders have been sitting very still, their ears plugged against this tumultuous rhythm storming the beaches of our ears and sending our heart-beats racing the race of death.

Cameroon is like a mask dancing. It is dancing and waiting for its leaders, who have holed themselves up in their bunkers, to step outside the door and join the dancing in the courtyard. It is dancing and waiting for the proponents of that “Holy Trinity”: Reconciliation, Dialogue and Consultation, to show their faces outside.

Since the announcement of the arrival in town of the said “Holy Trinity”, this masked triangle has already danced itself nearly lame; its drummers have nearly drummed their fingers numb; and its singers have raised their voices so high into the firmament they might end up rousing the Good Lord from His well-merited slumber and incurring divine wrath on Cameroon.  Yet, the evening is approaching and, to borrow an exquisite verse from one of Senghor’s poems, the feet of the dancers are growing heavy and heavy the tongues of the singers.

But where are our leaders? There’s no indication any of them will come out any time soon to join the dancers and watch this dancing mask up front, follow it from place to place, exhort its patience, take its pulse himself, read the message of despair in its eyes, sing praises to it the way those famous praise-singers, the griots, do whenever the Lamidos of the North set their sandaled feet and turbaned heads outdoors.

Instead of joining in the dance, our leaders are summoning dancers and spectators alike to “dialogue” sessions behind the cloistered safety of their bunkered homes. Each invitee has come out from those “dialogue” sessions saying what a beautiful smile our leaders are endowed with. Yet, this our triangular mask is dancing out of control. If it does, what shall we have to smile about? I wonder.

When this mask reached the University, our leaders should have followed it there and joined our young sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, to assuage its tantrums. They should have joined the young ones to create a symphony of harmony out of that cacophony we hear rising from that “seat of learning”.

But Cameroon is like a mask dancing; if you want to see it well, you must not remain seated or standing on one spot. Those of us who have either joined this macabre dance of our own volition or have been caught unawares in the eye of its storm, have heard this wounded mask groaning, have felt the pulsating rhythm of its pumping heart and now shudder at the thought of it ever running amok.

I wish our leaders had been in the streets of Douala the other day to see that strange hearse, a wheelbarrow bearing a child, way below his teens, struck down by a murderous bullet. That bizarre hearse was being riotously escorted by the participants in this dance of death that has been rocking the very foundations of this triangular mask we call Cameroon for the past several months.

Our leaders will not be the first to leave the barricaded safety of their homes to calm the revolutionary masses on the territory they master so well, i.e., the streets. I saw Gorbachev turn down an invitation to a foreign conference to go down the mines and factories of his homeland to dialogue with his people.

One lesson our leaders should have learnt from Gorbachev, though, is that when your country is on fire, you do not junket around the globe; you stay with your people, listen to them, talk with them, appease them; not threaten them. Do like Gorbachev; send one of your subordinates to receive, on your behalf, whatever ‘rewards’ our foreign ‘friends’ may have for you, and stay home.

Cameroon is a dancing mask on fire. Its leaders should come out of hiding and talk with the youth torching our cities, dialogue with the masses setting fire to their accumulated frustrations. That’s what, I believe, reconciliation, dialogue and consultation, that ‘Holy Trinity’ being bandied about from behind barricaded homes, is all about.

Should our leaders fail to meet the people and talk with them and snuff out this fire, the people, in their frustration, may decide to go to our leaders, and all we may have left to bequeath to our children may only be a charred triangular mask. Would that not be tragic?



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