-Corantin Talla re-visits the students’ movement in Cameroon
By Ajong Mbapndah L
Created in 1991, the Students Union body at the University of Yaoundé dubbed “Parlement” was a fundamental actor in the early stages of the struggle for democracy in Cameroon. Many believe that the threat posed by the activities of Parlement at the lone State University of the time precipitated the creation of other Universities by the government across the country. Led by Corantin Talla, the Association was a thorn in the flesh of government. Talla says multiple frustrations on the living and studying conditions led to the creation of the Association. Though the government accused the Association of been a fabrication of the opposition, Talla says Parlement was created by Students to cater for their interests. The strategic alliance it formed with the opposition was to sanction a government which had failed to respond to the grievances of the students in particular and Cameroonians in general, he explains. Talla, who graduated in 1992 with a Degree in Biology, says he was perplexed when the former Minister of Higher Education Titus Edzoa expelled him from the University when he was already on exile in Nigeria.
Now in the USA for some 17 years, Talla who says self serving and opportunistic opposition leaders derailed the struggle for change is proud of the contribution that Parlement made to the struggle. The students of Parlement selflessly gave their all to bring about positive political change in Cameroon Talla contends but regrets that the change that Cameroonians yearn for remains elusive. A graduate of Public Administration from the University of Florida, Talla who currently works for a Global Information Technology says it is time for patriotic forces to synergize resources and strategies towards the common objective of building a truly free and democratic country. Talla still believes that the Youth hold the key to the change Cameroon needs and for this to happen, they must break free from the faux mentorship and leadership of politicians who continue to use them in furtherance of selfish designs.
.PAV: Corantin Talla, you were the leader of the students’ movement in Cameroon known as “Parlement” may we know how it was created?
Corantin Talla: The “parlement” was created as a result of the multiple frustrations of university students about their living and studying conditions. Moreover, the students were vehemently opposed to the cancelation of the election of their representatives by the then minister of high education, Joseph Owona. In fact, the university was overcrowded; there was no adequate library and other amenities for students were so lacking. More importantly, the university administrators as well as the Minister Owona Joseph were trying to impose their handpicked student representatives after unilaterally canceling an ongoing student election. The above-mentioned reasons led to the creation of ‘Cameroon Students’ Parliament’, dubbed ‘Parlement’, on April 2nd, 1991. The main leaders at the inception of parlement were Talla Corantin alias General Schwarzkopft, Yimga Yotchou Blaise alias ‘Abu NIDAL’, Waffo Wanto Robert alias General Collin Powell, Chebe Elsie alias Margaret Thatcher and many other less known members of the initial leadership. As far as the name Parlement is concerned, I personally chose that name for our student movement on April 2nd, 1991 and publicly announced the creation of the Parlement in front of thousands of students that day, in front of the restaurant U. I chose that name because it was a forum where all the students could utter their grievances so that we could deliberate on the appropriate demands and actions against a government that had failed to resolve our problems.
PAV: Who were some of the people you were associated with in the leadership of the movement and there is this confusion as to who actually was the students leader, was it you or was it Senfo Tokam?
Corantin Talla: The real leaders of parlement included the names I gave you earlier and other students like Chah Orlando, Eyock, Njock, Chebe Pius, Bakeson Rick, and Christopher Atene Acha. Senfo Tonkam was not a member of the leadership at the inception of that popular students’ movement. I was the President of Parlement and Senfo Tonkam was the President of ‘la coordination des Etudiants Camerounais -CEC (National Coordination of Cameroon Students). The CEC was a legalized organization, whereas the ‘Parlement’ was a clandestine but legitimate movement of pro-democratic students. Senfo Tonkam even granted an interview in Cameroun Tribune in which he denounced the activities of the Parlement. It is amazing how the CEC later claimed to be the Parlement. That is the true history of the creation of Parlement.
PAV: We will like you to clarify a few things that were said here and there about the parlement, one it was a tool used by the opposition to fight Biya and the CPDM and secondly its membership was full of Anglophones and Bamileke students.
Corantin Talla: The Parlement was a movement created by the students in the interest of students. The parlement was never a tool in the hands of opposition. But at one time we formed a strategic alliance with the opposition under the banner of the ‘coordination des parties politiques et associations’, (Coordination of Opposition parties) and later on under the banner of ‘Union for Change’ and ARC-CNS. We participated in those opposition gatherings because we wanted a change of the regime that failed to solve students’ problems in particular and Cameroonian problems in general. In short, the parlement was an independent association of grown up students who knew how to think and organize themselves.
PAV: It may have started as a student movement but it aligned itself so strongly with the opposition, why so considering that as students at the time, the CPDM government had you guys on a reasonable monthly allowance, and took care of feeding with a restaurant at your disposal?
Corantin Talla: The monthly allowance and restaurant were just tools used by the government to distract the attention of students from their critical problems, such as the lack of academic infrastructures and the lack of elected student representatives, who could serve the interests of the students instead of promoting the interests of the government on the Campus. It was okay for students to sing ‘Paul Biya toujours chaud gars” during the national day. But it was not okay for them to have dissenting ideas or to freely choose their leaders. That is one reason why my comrades and I decided to fight the system from the nation’s capital and later expanded our battle fields in the provinces.
PAV: So what became of your comrades, it appears you guys all faded into obscurity as there is no visible face playing a leadership role in Cameroon politics
Corantin Talla:It is true that many comrades have abandoned the struggle for several reasons. But there are still many of us who continue to fight for the course of genuine democracy in Cameroon. I personally continue to fight from my exile in the USA as you can see from the multiple protests we have organized in front the Cameroon embassies on several occasions when there are critical issues that occur in the life of our nation. For instances, the NGO called Conscience du Cameroun that I head, in conjunction with other associations of the Cameroon Diaspora organized a huge protest against the change of constitution in 2008, campaigned for a boycott the 2011 election mascarade in Cameroon.
We also engaged in many lobbying actions in the USA and Europe under the Banner of the United Front of the Cameroon Diaspora. We will continue to fight for the change of the current regime that lacks the political will to facilitate the implementation of political reforms that could bring about genuine democracy and a state of law in Cameroon.
As the president of Conscience du Cameroun, I am tirelessly working to sensitize and mobilize young Cameroonians in particular and Cameroonians in general for the final assault on the system that has pauperized the vast majority of Cameroonians; given up our land and all our natural resources to foreigners; that has perverted the moral values of Cameroonians and transformed our country into an ocean of corruption.
PAV: Parlement was indeed a strong force for change, in retrospect, do you have any regrets or do you think things would have been done differently by your group to help the struggle for change in Cameroon?
Corantin Talla: The students of Parlement selflessly gave their all to bring about positive political change in Cameroon. They were not, like many opportunistic politicians of that period, interested in holding government or political offices. They were the true combatants. But unfortunately, they were betrayed by their own people they helped to free from prison like Daikole Daissala, Issa Tchiroma Bakari and the likes of Kodock, Bello Bouba and other power-hungry selfish opportunistic politicians. Despite all the drawbacks as a result of those multiple acts of treason by senior politicians, the former Parlement leaders, most of whom have been in exile for close to 2 decades, are finalizing plans to return to Cameroon to finish the battle for democracy they started in 1991.
PAV: Looking at the generation of students in Cameroon today, what do you think of their response or involvement in the challenges facing the country?
Corantin Talla: The youth of Cameroon feel betrayed by politicians of both sides of the political spectrum. Hence, their lack of interest for politics and their distrust of the political system. The youth of Cameroon should cease to be the followers of discredited politicians and take their destiny into their own hands and demand for democratic reforms in Cameroon. The youth and conscience du Cameroon will work hands in glove to bring about genuine democratic changes in Cameroon without counting on divine intervention or any foreign power. In short, the youth should rise up and create the necessary counter-power needed to force the dictatorial Regime of Biya to leave power and give way to genuine democratic reforms by a transitional leadership chosen by the people.
PAV: You now head an Association known as Conscience du Cameroon; may we know what it does and what bearings it has on the political landscape in Cameroon?
Corantin Talla: Conscience du Cameroun is an American NGO that the government of Cameroon refused to register in Cameroon in 2009. However, as an organization whose mission is to promote democracy, peace, and development in Cameroun, we have organized many protests in the USA against the Cameroonian dictatorial regime; we have participated in the creation of the United Front of progressive Cameroon movements in the Diaspora. And more importantly, we have help Cameroonians in the Diaspora in terms of academic, legal, and professional integration.
We have also created a synergy between progressive forces of the Diaspora and local progressive movements. We have helped to strengthen the civil society in Cameroun. Now, our main goal is to sensitize and mobilize Cameroonians
so that we can bring down the current regime or force them to agree to a consensual implementation of political and electoral reforms that will bring about genuine democracy in Cameroon. We reject the recently voted electoral code in Cameroon and warn the government about the consequences of their unwillingness to open the political system to genuine democracy for the sustenance of peace and social cohesion in Cameroon.
PAV: You certainly interacted with a lot of political leaders in the 90s and there are all still in place today, which of these leaders impressed you most and what is your take on the democratization process?
Corantin Talla: None of the leaders impressed me the most. But I did recognize the then courage of Fru Ndi, the selfless leadership of Pr. Jean-Michel Tekam, the determination of other leaders of the opposition as well as the students’ members of le Parlement. I thank all my former comrades of le Parlement wherever they may be today and call upon them to get ready so that we can be back to finish the job of liberating our people from the shackles of neo-colonialism and local dictatorship of President Biya and his creatures.
PAV: Cameroonians agree the need for change is even more acute today than it was in the early 90s but things are not evolving as fast as many want, where do you think the change Cameroonians want is going to come from and how?
Corantin Talla: The change in Cameroon will come from Cameroonian themselves and not from some hypothetical external or foreign power. We Cameroonians have to wake up from the Stockholm syndrome and take our destiny in our own hands. We should not count on any godly help but on our own actions. The civil society and genuine opposition as well as the progressive movements of Cameroon in the Diaspora should form a united front for political reforms in Cameroun. And then the front should sensitize and mobilize Cameroonians towards the creation of a powerful counter-force to the entrenched dictatorial regime of Yaoundé.
PAV: Last question Sir, your reaction to the recent arrest of Prime Minister Ephraim Inoni and Minister Marafa and your opinion on the whole operation Sparrow Hawk which has seen the arrest of Government Barons
Corantin Talla: The arrest of anyone deemed corrupt, including Marafa and Inoni is a good thing for the Cameroonian people provided that the judicial system is not used to punish innocent people. Nevertheless, all the thieves and embezzlers should be arrested without discrimination. More importantly, in the end the man who incarnates the system, President Paul Biya, should be held accountable for his own economic crimes.
PAV: Thanks very much for granting this interview
Corantin Talla: Thanks very much too.