Archive | July, 2013

The Place of the Tribe in the National Polity of Kamerun

19 Jul

By Nwanatifu Nwaco

Again I was on social media discussing with some friends when I posted the following status  update:

“ONLY IN CAMEROON: 1 country, 2 nations, 1 national anthem melody, 2 different lyrical notes, 2 verses, 2 major composers, sung in 2 languages, yet 1 mass effect.”

So my friend had this to say:

 “H.N: Im not sure there are only two nations: the fulanis, the Sawa group (from both sides of the Mungo), the Beti-Fang-Bulu (till Gabon and Eq. Guinea), the grassfields (Dshang and Banwa for instance) etc… If you take them as such, you will realise they have very strong ties beyond any Western linguistic affiliation. All these group put together make us A beautiful and marvellous people…”

To which I responded with the post below:

As pleasant as it should be, to define the nations within Cameroon within the prism of ethnic positioning can be very problematic. Agreed they are sub-national groups but they all subscribe to two distinct concepts of nations which by virtue of historical evolution and political sociology constitute heterogeneous nations in the quest to form one nation-state. Denial of the existence of two national identities to form one Cameroonian identity of diversity is part of our national problem and a reason for the lack of inter-cultural dialogue. Ethnic similarities in both nations were a main motivation for their reunification to form one country. Everyone in Cameroon has the right and obligation to become an Anglophone AND Francophone as their choice for public expression but not everyone can lay claim to being a Camerounian or a Southern Cameroonian because each has ethnic groups within it and a different colonial past and purpose for the future.Just so we’re clear, the former Southern Cameroonians in Cameroon are not an Anglophone ethnic group!!

The Fulani and Hausa in the north of Cameroon belong to ethnic groups that span the Sahel region from Senegal till Sudan. Does that mean they are a nation? They don’t define them self as such and are not in the process of pushing for the establishment of a common Fulani or Hausa homeland. The north of Cameroon was at different points in history a province of the Kanem Borno Empire and Adamawa empire / Sokoto Caliphate, all of which encompassed several modern African states. Reason why some Lamidats in North Cameroon still pay tributes to Emirs resident in Nigeria. Ahidjo also used this sense of ethnic Fuani distinctiveness from the Southern Beti-Fang people during the rifts with the Mbida regime before independence from France to threaten to reunite north Cameroon with Oubangi-Chari (Chad and Central Africa republics today) if their demands were not met.Why didn’t he chose to follow the former British Northern Cameroons who later integrated with Nigeria at independence? the reason is because French speaking northern Cameroon despite the ethnic links, it had a shared political history with French Equatorial Africa than it had with their neighbours in the west.
There are very few instances except for things like sports where they truly feel as one nation. Even out of Cameroon, many diaspora social groups still maintain and follow this sense of dual identity. One passport citizenship aside, right now there are two types of Cameroonians who are hoping that they could be just one Cameroonian one day in the future. Even though we might be unionists, we must accept this dualism, only then wil it stop being a stumbling block to becoming a stepping stone on the path to the formation of a one for all Cameroon Nation-state.

My Friend replied with the following:

H.N:  I am not an idealist, but I think the dualism you are talking about emerged just because of our colonized minds. We have overemphasized the French and English legacies to the extent of fighting and persecuting our own brothers on behalf of former colonial masters eg “British” Southern Cameroons. How honourable is it for me to speak French rather than my native Bamum language? How close could a Northern Cameroon citizen feel to a southern cameroonian in comparison to the nigerian citizen of Borno or Kaduna? Let me tell you that despite the French/English difference, the Bamum and the Nso for instance are very conscious of their brotherly ties. As well the Bakweris of South West feel much closer to the Dualas of Littoral (who all form the Sawa nation) than to the “graffi” man from Batibo or Nkambe. You might not know it but, the Fulanis have a continental federation called Tabital Pulaaku that reunites the Fulanis from 27 African Countries irrespective of their official languages (English, French, Portuguese and Arabic), on the heritage of the one and only Fulani nation spread across the continent and the world. We cannot ignore the Francophone and Anglophone heritage, but our fathers (though well intentined at the start) have for political interests allowed Western linguistic affiliation to overshadow our precolonial ties; which could have served to mould a real Cameroonian nation. It’s only an opinion though. If people keep fighting for recognisance instead of fighting to mould the new Cameroon original system that will blend our precolonial, colonial and POST COLONIAL heritage, we’re probably never to pull out of our black nation bondage…”

I posted a second reply thus:
 To advocate a return to the pre-colonial setting will be far more hazardous in this era of global interdependence. As extreme as it may sound, the only true reunification of Cameroon is if the German territory of Kamerun as of 1916 was reconstituted.We know what that will cost the whole sub region right? Besides the OAU charter had commanded states not to alter the boundaries they inherited at independence, may be if they were a little flexible with this clause, many nations today wouldn’t be stateless-trapped or divided between states.

 Cameroon over time German Kamerun British Came...

My opinion about Cameroon sub-nations  is not based on colonial languages inherited by our entities but rather about the institutional and state systems brought along into the union by each component. We’ve been cohabiting and running parallel legal and educational systems for example since independence. Nationalism is bigger than tribalism or ethnicity, even though the latter could be an agent to attain the former. But in our case the politics of exclusion and marginalization have polarized our state elites into regional factions who interpret everything by their tasteless unwritten power sharing deal for constitutional institutions. Personally I think the will of Cameroon is in a deadlock as to how and what it needs to sacrifice in order to move to the next stage in our much sung reunification and national integration. 
Concerning the anthem, the Prof. Emmanuel Pondi committee to review the anthem declared the Dr Fonlon version as not being authentic! How is that so? Originally composed in 1928 by a group of students, reviewed in 1948, it was adopted officially in 1957 by Former French Cameroun before their independence in 1960. Dr. Fonlon composed the lyrics of the English version in 1961 following the reunification to suit the melody of the French version but it was only adopted in 1978. Does this mean until then West Cameroonians continued singing ‘GodSave the Queen’ or simply chewed lips to the French version of the anthem? That is a serious nationality question my friend, because Dr Fonlon felt the need for English speaking Cameroonians to be able to reflect their colonial experience and common aspiration within the union with themes that reflected them. If the reunificationists meant real republican business, they would have rather harmonized these two versions into the same lyrics in both national languages or better still launch a national song contest to select a new anthem altogether rather than asking that a translation of the French version be used instead. So to claim the English version as being ‘wrong’ is denying the input of the other state component to the political birth and destiny of the country. Now do you agree with me me that it takes two or more nations to be one homogeneous nation?

I just hope we can all develop and share thoughts on this dual sense of identity for a national identity in Cameroon with the assumption of being unionists and not as secessionists. 


Are You Married to a Culture or a Spouse?

16 Jul

By Nwanatifu Nwaco

This post was motivated by a question posed on a social media forum whether the opinion of parents on the ethnic origin of ones choice of spouse does matter in the modern world? So I decided to put my self within the mind set and time consideration of a typical Cameroonian parent so as to get a social picture of what and how they thought and used to judge the pre-agreed notion of their initial disapproval or influence on their kids choice of spouse based on ethnic origin geography and social anthropology.

 Our parents are not totally wrong when they ask about the ethnicity of our spouse to be i must say. Sometimes it’s not just prejudice that motivates them, it’s also a matter of experience from social observation and interaction with these other cultures that exposes them to some negativity or positiveness towards another ethnic group. Before one gets married, love is always blind to every other social judgment and consideration but once married, cultural dynamics kick in hard.
  Parents usually want their future in-laws to be within geographical proximity and linguistic similarity. In my own travels within and out of Cameroon,  I have come across certain cultures  which though they thrill me, they do not resonate well with me to   see my child wedded in them. In certain cultures the way women are treated distastes me to ever see my daughter wedded in them. In others, the concept of the husband is so different from mind in such a way I doubt if a son of mine given his up bringing within my own cultural interpretation can ‘survive’ in it. The inconvenient truth is that in our cultures, marriage is not just an issue between two individuals but it is more of a ritual which unites two extended family structures and everything that follows and brings with it.
  Sometimes parents preference for intra-tribal to inter-tribal marriage is in the fear of the unknown or simply to maintain their cultural identity which is fast being eroded by modernity.  I have heard people from the same village deny their child’s choice of spouse for reasons like: 
– Their grand parent was accused or a popular practitioner of witch-craft!
– Too many deaths in that family!
– Their men are polygamous and celebrated cheats!
– They chased us or seized our farmland!
– They’re uneducated, non-working treasure seekers.
 – We used to be one family with them before we separated due to this or that quarrel!
– You’re related to each other (your mother’s cousin’s sister’s nephew’s uncle’s niece’s step sister)
 – Their women are reputed for infidelity
– Their customs and traditions are too or not too strong as ours!
 – They are warlike in nature and character!…

Now an easy way out all depends on the agency of the two lovebirds in question. What can they do or should they do as individuals with full functioning faculties or do as adults according state law regarding the age of maturity? In the post-modern context, they’re supposed to subscribe them self to the family law definition of the state to which they are nationals. But again given our culturally conservative reality as Africans whereby the family is our social assurance, how do we go about it! It is far easier to singularly arrive at the decision to marry while living abroad despite parental disapproval to whomever one choses to marry in some cases, than to arrive at this same decision when living in Cameroon where there is the direct influence and access to family relations to ones private space and emotional decision.

Grand parents are not comfortable when they’re obliged to speak English or French to their grand children instead of their mother tongue. Given the strong matriarchal or patriarchal traditions that reign in most of our village origins, it means that in times of social activities such as funerals and marriage ceremonies the dynamics of rites and spacial distances ache many parents. As such the natural convenience is to stay within the ethnic group, the tribe, the clan or the village.
   In the diaspora, Cameroon though a nation of several ethnicities becomes a homogeneous sample pool from which children born and raised abroad by Cameroonian expatriates are encouraged to marry from, the prejudices we hear at the national level about certain ethnic stocks are here shifted to other African countries: such as Ethiopians, Zambians or Nigerians are this or that, meanwhile in Nigeria you also have sub-national ethno-linguistic groups. Not to mention the reactions some parents project when their child marries a non-African race – White or Asian. This is viewed as a typical worse case scenario for the culturally conservative. In a summary, the fears are no of a racists character but are more a matter of cultural insecurities towards unknown as well as known cultural attributes and expressions of others.

Even those who have defied parental sanctions and proceeded with purely a civil marriage still face the possibility of being ostracized by their families and communities as long as they didn’t perform a customary law marriage rite to seek the consent, appeasement and union of the bridal and groom families. Exceptions or tolerance only comes in when the points raised in objection to their marriage don’t materialize and in that situation there is a change of stance but still they must seek parental approval or do a traditional wedding, even if their children have become grown ups. More often, the fear of being disowned by ones own family is enough to obtain submission or bring to obedience of the family will, a love-crazed defiant person. However, this doesn’t rule out the known reality that there are exceptions and culturally liberal families. Tribalism might as well be the seed of nationhood just as it is the seed of national segregation, it is the default reality of many Cameroonians as expressed in their names, social associations, political parties and pressure groups, types of commercial activity and even in the configuration of the administrative and political hierarchy of the state.

Despite all these cultural judgments, ethnic fixations, prejudices and stereotypes, the fact is that as our rural communities become more urbanized and digitalized, our comfort zones of cultural sensitivities and securities are bound to be weathered and eroded so as to give way to new and liberal social codes of ethics as we strive towards a heterogeneous urban collective or common definition of nationhood. However, the dystopian reality is that all over the world, Africa and Cameroon, the greater majority of people still marry within their race, nationality, ethnic group and village of origin.


Did Cameroonians Betray Biya?

2 Jul

By Nwanatifu Nwaco

As funny as it may sound, Biya in the past five years has embarked on an image cleansing agenda and legacy seeking plan. He wants to bow out with some credits to his name. If you doubt me, check out his poverty reduction strategy paper currently implemented. Besides Cameroon has become ‘a major construction site’ if I want to paraphrase him. We need to sometimes move away from this staunch opposition mentality that views everything from government as being bad or ill intentioned. The man has locked up his best friends for a start to re-win the credibility he had before 1988, he has championed central African regional integration in monetary, institutional and infrastructure terms- with new trans-African road networks to his neighbours, a regional parliament and community passport. 

There is an ongoing surge in developing the education sector, the legal system, a nascent electoral system and energy potentials of Cameroon with two new ports, an extended and marked for modernization rail system, thermal and hydroelectric power plants, new markets and trade with Southern bloc countries have reduced the sway held by the traditional western partners. Mineral exploitation governance has improved and diversified. A state department in charge of the diaspora has even seen the light of day to promote and coordinate the input of the Cameroonian diaspora. By the time he finishes his repentance and confession, we’ll wish we forgave him only when we realize he’s no longer there. The problem is we’re all deeply drowned in the anti government thinking so much so that we can’t see any ray of hope’s light! 

Yes, our problems as Cameroonians are very material but nowadays they’re more mental! Government is calm but it’s citizens are in a state of mental emergency to eat the national cake wherever they have access to public office. The problems of tomorrow will not come from Biya but will come from you and I who chose to do nothing when we could do something! We bribed to go to the ‘Grand Ecoles de l’Etat’ not because we wanted to serve Cameroon but more because we wanted to be where we can bleed and bleach the state and our fellow compatriots.

Tomorrow Biya will have a legacy that he knew the diagnosis for the worms eating in his stomach and took some medication to rid himself of them, the only flaw being that the worms had developed immunity to the drugs he was taking to remedy his system, his apologists shall blame the opposition and politically apathetic Cameroonians for failing to enter coalitions with him for the common good of Cameroonians, for favouring the spoils politics of exclusion and ethno-linguistic marginalization in the administrative and economic distribution of national goods and services!  The business people who are importers-exporters, the customs, taxation and other trade officials, law and security officials are not free from the guilt or accusation of dragging Cameroon into the mud with their demand and payment of bribes to under-over-value their goods and services, to lend their skill and expertise towards the repression of agitating citizens or aid armed groups to dispossess people of their properties.

Biya may have kept a brood of bad companions but for the Cameroonians who went to Enam, Cuss, Ens and other civil service personnel recruitment institutes of learning, whom after graduation and integration into public service and were posted to job stations rather chose to move abroad with these skills while still earning salaries back at home, meanwhile their compatriots roamed the secretariats of ministries searching for employment opportunities are in  no way innocent. All those who got the opportunities they now have not because of the grades they made in school but more because of the mediocre family members and friends they had in positions of influence and decision making are guilty of corrupting this country.

The clergy men who stood by and watched the youth and faithful of their creed visit hate and injustice against others or indulged in social vices without their call to order are no better. The private sector employer is to be blamed when they probate a job seeker for more than six months on little or no wage just to fire him at the end to hire another to repeat the same selfless free service kills entrepreneurship and career ambitions in youths, this has pushed many into make ends meet jobs or into total reliance on government for employment.

 The thousands of self-exiled unemployed graduates whom despite economic and academic breakthroughs abroad have vowed not to transfer their skill and newly earned  capabilities back to Cameroon have equally done dis-service to the country. We’re anti-democratic when we accept 90 year olds into our first ever senate without a word of dissent or taking up the mantle and call of leadership to put forward ours or a youth’s candidacy for public office, we’re accomplices to our weak institutions when we fail to articulate and aggregate for the establishment of constitutional institutions 20 years after they were created.

 Biya does not have a monopoly over the woes and murky waters in which Cameroon has sank so deep, Cameroonians are responsible for their failures to become dynamic citizens and patriots by their over-dependence and survivalist preference of a centralized government as though communism was embedded in their consciences, far away from the reality that they were part of a very competitive people and  market driven international political and economic system. Democrats like tyrants come and go, but the  tyranny of the democratic masses always remains.  The day Africans will stop criticizing and support their “repented” leaders in the governance system is the day change will come for real.