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. 

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