If there is one positive thing the recent celebration of Cameroon’s reunification seems to have done, it is that it has awakened, for some, and re-awakened, for others, the desire to know more about what really happened in Foumban in June 1961. In that regard, I am impressed by the October-December 2013 issue of the Yaoundé-based Summit Magazine, ‘the brainchild of CRTV journalist, William Wassaloko. The lead story is entitled ‘The Re-unification Story’ with contributions coming from well-seasoned Anglophone minds – historians, for the most part!
It is almost entirely dedicated to the increasingly contentious issue of our 1961 reunification. Was Foumban really the Anglophone ‘Waterloo’ some say it was? The magazine was out on the stands before the recent celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of our union, which, ironically enough, came 53 years later. So we should in fact have been celebrating the fifty third, not the fiftieth anniversary. That said, let’s move on!
Since the Summit Magazine’s story came well ahead of the Buea event, the editors are perhaps already hard at work on one that would be dedicated to the controversial Buea event itself which, from every indication, seemed to have hovered around one man who, if historical truth were to be told, played no part in the said reunification story. Our finger is pointing to the present occupant of the Etoudi Palace, His Excellency Mr. Paul Biya. If we were to remain faithful to history, and not revise it North Korea-style, then Mr. Biya’s name should not even be mentioned in this reunification saga. Why? Simply because he played no part in it at all! From every indication, he was not even in the country during the period in question. More alarming still is the role some of the president’s overzealous supporters are thrusting into the waiting arms of his lovely spouse, Chantal, who is being called ‘the Mother of the Reunification’. It would seem she was not even born yet when the Foumban Conference was on! Habah!
That said, let me go back to my buddy Willy Wasaloko’s ‘Summit Magazine in which one finds the good and the not-so-good, mainly from the Anglophone side of the equation – and understandably so, the Anglophone having the sharpest axe to grind in this 53 year-old union.
In his “Foreword”, not “Forward”, as it unfortunately appears in the column, veteran journalist Peter Esoka, ‘Uncle P’, to those of the inner circle, — who has, over the years gained notoriety as the ‘President’s journalist’, well-known for being the only Anglophone journalist to be granted the ‘privilege’ to read the President’s speeches in the English translation; yes, Uncle P talks of ‘a tale of diverse versions’. Thanks, Uncle P. l think that is what it really is! This reunification palaver is really a huge elephant being groped by numerous blind men; surprisingly, no woman reached out, or was invited, to fondle it as well! Was that an oversight on the part of Summit Magazine, which didn’t deem it necessary to ask the woman folk to chime in her views as well?
The lead story, entitled “Revisiting Fifty Years of Independence and Reunification of the Cameroons: A Historical Perspective: 1960-2011”, is from the pen of Dr. Willbroad Dze-Ngwa, a senior lecturer of history at the University of Yaoundé 1. It’s difficult not to admire Dr. Dze-Ngwa’s rich analysis of historical events. He agilely delves into the struggles that led to independence and reunification on both sides of the Mungo, scrutinizes the faces of the personalities involved before zeroing in on the post-independence and reunification period, paying due tribute where, and if, any is due. Good job, Prof! Let me nonetheless raise one or two issues I seem to have trouble with. For example, your claim that ‘Cameroon is arguably the most practically English-French bilingual country in the world’! (p. 10) leaves some dust of doubt in my mind. What does that really mean?
I also see the thurifer holding sway over the historian when you send incense to tickle the sensitive nostrils of those who matter. Take a look at this: ‘Relative peace continues to reign in the country due largely to the wisdom and political craftsmanship of President Biya, the non-violent nature of the country’s main opposition SDF leader, Ni John Fru Ndi …’. Well! Well! Well!
Let me welcome Professor Victor Julius Ngoh, then of our ‘lone Anglosaxon University of Buea’, UB, “The Place To Be!” He is inarguably one of those who have extensively and surgically analyzed this Anglophone-Francophone ‘marriage’ that seems to stand in such dire need of skilled counselors. In an earlier issue of this same magazine, Prof had sparked an interesting debate over claims, which some critics said were non-verified, that Dr. John Ngu Foncha, had indulged in some hanky-panky deals with Ahidjo, going as far as to enter into secret deals with the latter for the juicy post of vice president. That claim has been hotly rejected by none other than Dr. Foncha’s stately wife, Mrs. Anna Foncha, herein cited from an earlier interview, but who admits not to have taken any interest in her husband’s political discussions. Prof could perhaps argue – and I don’t know if he has ever done it – that since she remained cloistered in the kitchen, while her husband debated state matters with his political colleagues in the parlour, such a deal might have been inked unbeknownst to her. But no one, not even Prof Ngoh, seemed to have taken the pains, as academic honesty requires, to ask Dr. Foncha himself, when he was still with us, why he deemed it necessary to hide documents from his colleagues at the Foumban Conference and why the secret deal – if there was any — with the Fulani man. Quite a lapse in judgment on the part of the historian, it would seem to me. But, that is not our concern here.
In his contribution this time around, Prof Ngoh does skillfully steer clear of any such controversy as he gives a dense analysis of the political happenings that took place prior to independence and during the Foumban Conference. Somehow my attention was caught by the anecdote about the venue of the creation of the KNDP party. It was, if we believe the professor, and there’s no reason not to, founded in a bar in Bamenda run by none other than Augustine Ngom Jua in person!!. Habah! Wallahi! I loved that!
The froth of beer and the bubbles popping up from the bottom of a cold ‘jobajo’ have been known to spark off great creative ideas in Cameroonians, even those in the rough and tumble world of party politics. There’s always one for the road! Since we are in the realm of the beer bottle and creativity in Cameroon, I was recently impressed by a man who created a ‘university’ in Bamenda. A few years down the line he distributed so many honorary doctorate degrees in a single ceremony held in the Catholic Cathedral in Mankon, of all places, that the Ministry of Higher Education became alarmed and declared his university efforts null and void. When the press wanted to know what had motivated him to create his university, he said he had a vision in which he saw his university rising from a bottle of beer as he sat one afternoon drinking in a bar! Ah, the bottle sure does wonders to the creative mind in this dear Triangle of ours! Lord, have mercy!
Back to Professor Ngoh’s contribution. In it, the image appears of a KNDP that played its cards very close to its chest, virtually shutting the other parties off, which, if that is really what happened could not have made the KNDP a very popular partner in the dispensation, to put it mildly. The overall feeling at the end of the professor’s contribution is of a man who masters his field well and talks sense. Well done, Prof! Keep it up!
Another eye-catching contribution comes from Professor Lovett Elango, a historian whose credentials raise applause in academic circles the world over. I doff my hat to you, Prof Elango; or rather, l take off my red-feathered cap, exposing my bald head to you, Sir, as a sign of my profound respect. It’s good to see sons and daughters of this land, who have made a name abroad, dropping the bush-faller label and coming back to the mother land, imperfect though many things seem to be around here. You are molding young minds at the University of Buea by sharing your wealth of knowledge with them. Great job, Sir!
Prof Elango’s contribution zeroes in strongly on what he sees as the Anglophone politician’s failure to capitalize on the wealth of legal expertise then available to him. Prof feels that because of their deep distrust of intellectuals, Foncha, Endeley et al. preferred to go to Foumban unaccompanied and were thus taken to the drycleaners by Ahidjo and his cohorts, who were surrounded by a battery of French legal experts. He quotes the now well-known suspicion Foncha is said to have nurtured towards Dr. Bernard Fonlon. He compares and contrasts the Anglophone and Francophone politicians of the day and comes to the conclusion – debatable, at best — that the Anglophones were drowned in Foumban because “they were teachers, Grade II teachers, Grade I perhaps…”who had made their lives in classrooms and in their regions. For their part, Francophones ‘had been used to playing politics which was more directly dictated by agendas of Paris’ (p. 29). He nonetheless admits that some Anglophone politicians already had experience from contacts with Lagos, some of them, notably Endeley, Mbile and Motomby being more ‘cosmopolitan’ than the others. That was still not enough to lift them out of the pool into which they were dumped without life jackets in Foumban. Ah, Prof, really!
For his part, my good friend and ICT teacher, Tande Dibussi distances himself from the increasing assertion that Anglophone negotiators in Foumban were inexperienced and illiterate. He backs up his claim with a well-nourished list of Anglophone intellectuals, notably lawyers, who would not have wilfully sat idly by while the destiny of their nation was being auctioned to the highest bidder. He mentions ‘pro-unification lobbies whose members were products of some of the best universities in Nigeria and Britain’ as well as ‘other Cameroonian and British administrators, legal and constitutional experts’, who helped the politicians prepare their case for Foumban (p. 340). So, where was the problem?
Dibussi agrees with the others that the lack of political trust among Anglophone politicians was largely to blame for their debacle in Foumban, but goes further to stress that ‘… the fate of Southern Cameroons was sealed long before the June 1961 Foumban Conference, or even before the Plebiscite, and that by the time this conference took place, Southern Cameroons was doomed- not even the most astute negotiators from Her Majesty’s Government could have saved it from the clutches of Ahidjo’s La Republique’ (p. 34).
Dibussi’s view seems to be largely shared by the renowned Cameroonian historian, Emeritus Professor of history, Dr. Verkijika Fanso, who is clear in his assertion that ‘Ahidjo’s secret plan behind the plebiscite was the eventual annexation of Southern Cameroons.’ Ahidjo, according to Prof Fanso, definitely had a hidden agenda in his gandoura. He “gradually turned things around in order to annex the Anglophone territory” to the dismay of people like Foncha, Endeley, Jua, etc. The Professor is bitter with those he believes have been unjustly accusing Foncha of betrayal of the Anglophone cause, seeing the latter more as a victim than a traitor. He asks ‘How could Foncha know that ‘sacred’ agreements with a ‘brother’ Cameroonian leader, like Ahidjo, would not be treated as gentlemanly by the president?’ He then further challenges Foncha’s critics by asking: ‘What have all the Anglophone intelligentsia of today done since 1993 (from AAC1 and 2 to SCNC) to achieve anything better that Anglophones have today from the Francophone leadership that continues to hold their state hostage? … Rather than [continuing to] heap vexatious criticisms against the statesman, we should count the number of our own fingers pointing back to us for our own failure” (p.25). Quite some soul-searching challenge there, Prof!
I think it’s a good thing that the Proceedings of the Foumban Conference themselves are presented here; they make interesting reading. There is a semblance of unity between the heads of the Anglophone parties: Foncha and Endeley. They all seem to realize what is at stake, that is, the importance of a deeper reflection on the constitution. At one time, they ask for the suspension of the deliberations so the Southern Cameroonian delegation could examine the Ahidjo draft constitution in detail. Later, when the session is called to order, Dr. Endeley takes the floor and gives the Southern Cameroonian proposals, the result, he says, of “great thought by legal experts’ (p. 21). This assertion does give credit to Dibussi’s strongly held view that legal and other experts did play a useful role at what turned out to be the Anglophone ‘Waterloo’ in Foumban. Bad faith, and what Fanso refers to as Ahidjo government’s notorious disregard of gentlemanly agreements, are therefore at the root of the Anglophone problem in this country – although some claim no such thing as an ‘Anglophone problem’ exists!
Ahidjo’s forked-tongue response to Endeley’s presentation already points to the direction he would take in his blatant violation of that same constitution a few years later. Listen to him: “… the value of a constitution is not measured by the length of its articles, but by its well-thought out and reasonable application by men animated by the same patriotic spirit and by the same desire to build a national community in the bosom of which all strive to work for the common good, prosperity and peace, and putting aside all partisan interest’ (p. 21). That’s the trickster for you, right there! He would later doctor the said constitution to suit his whims and caprices, leaving the likes of Foncha and Endeley panting for breath in the dust of disbelief.
The only fly in the soup in this issue of the Summit Magazine seems to me to be Chairman Fru Ndi’s interview. True to form, the Chairman dodges questions asked and answers questions not asked. His views, that were largely unrelated to the reunification issue, are not worth wasting time over. The other mishap comes from Fon Angwafor of Mankon’s interview. It’s not from the Fon’s answers but rather from the journalist who asks about rumours that the Southern Cameroons delegation had been ‘well attended to by a bevy of beauties’. Why our journalists continue to rely on rumours, especially those relating to below-the-navel activities in matters as fraught with political consequences as the future of our people, remains a mystery to me. Such irrelevant concerns constitute an irritating distraction over which the enemies of our people must be chuckling as they celebrate their ‘victory’ over bottles of beer.
Fifty years after reunification, how truly united, unified, or re-unified are we? The answer blows in the wind.
Douala, May 24, 2014