By Hassan Mbiydzenyuy Yosimbom*
“A Divided and Dividing Parliament cannot Stand: The Birthing of “Wirbalized” Views of Struggle and Resistance in Anglophone Cameroon”
In Chapter nine – “Views of Struggle” – of Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah, a tall elderly gaunt-looking Abazonian with a slight stoop of the shoulders (112) and a voice with compelling power and magic (112), the leader of the Abazonian Delegation that has come to Bassa to “say their own yes” (116) to the Big Chief in order to rescue the Abazonian water project from total abandonment by the disgruntled government, tells his fellow Abazonians that “the Almighty has divided the work of the world” (113). In his first categorization, the elder argues that “[t]o some of us the Owner of the World has apportioned the gift to tell their fellows that the time to get up has finally come (113) To others “He gives the eagerness to rise when they hear the call; to rise with racing blood and put on their garbs of war and go to the boundary of their town to engage the invading enemy boldly in battle” (113). Lastly, “there are those others whose part is to wait and when the struggle is ended, to take over and recount the story” (113). Asserting the importance of the third categorization in the Almighty’s world, the Abazonian elder explains that “[t]he sounding of the battle-drum is important; the fierce waging of war itself is important; and the telling of the story afterwards – each is important in its own way. I tell you there is not one of them we could do without. But if you ask me which of them takes the eagle-feather I will say boldly: the story” (113). The elder further points out that when he was younger if anyone had asked him the same question, he would have replied without a pause: the battle (114). To the elder, the story is chief among his fellows because recalling is great. To him, the story plays several important roles: It continues “beyond the war and the warrior; outlives the sound of war-drums and the exploits of brave fighters; saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of a cactus fence; escorts
” (114). It also “owns and directs us; makes us different from cattle; the [story is the] mark on the face that sets one people apart from their neighbours; [and it is] everlasting” (114). The elder stresses that “[w]hen we are young and without experience we all imagine that the story of the land is easy, that every one of us can get up and tell it. But that is not so” (114). He acknowledges that even though we all have our little scraps of the tale bubbling in us, what we tell is “like the middle of a mighty boa which a foolish forester mistakes for a tree trunk and settles on to take his snuff” (114). He concludes that the appointment of someone to tell the story of the community is always the responsibility of the Agwu, the god of healers, who picks his disciple, “rings his eye with white chalk and dips his tongue, willing or not, in the brew of prophecy; and right away the man will speak and put head and tail back to the severed trunk of our tale” (115). Furthermore, “[t]he miracle-man will amaze us because he may be a fellow of little account, not the bold warrior we all expect nor even the war-drummer. But in his new-found utterance our struggle will stand reincarnated before us” (115). I have quoted the Abazonian leader’s three categorizations at length because, first; there is a parallelism between them and Honourable Wirba’s and the Bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Bamenda’s roles in the November of 2016 through January of 2017 uprisings in the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon, and second; that parallelism provides a corollary between Wirbalized resistance and the Anglophone Matters that the Bishops presented in the Memo to the Head of State, Paul Biya, on the 22nd December 2016.
On December 13, 2016, a man with physical features and a voice like those of the Achebesque Abazonian elder, Honourable Joseph Wirba, an SDF parliamentarian from Jakiri, North West Region of Cameroon, delivered a rousing speech through which he told his fellow Anglophones that the time to get up had finally come. In an unapologetic voice Wirba told parliament that “a slave has risen in the master’s house”. He reminded Cavayé Yéguié Djibril, the Speaker of the National Assembly, that “there are two Cameroons that came together. If you are telling us like a state minister stood here last year and told us that what happened in Cameroon is like dropping a few cubes of sugar in a basin of water. Then tell us who is the sugar and who is the water?” He went down memory lane to argue that, “Our ancestors and forefathers trusted you to go into a gentleman’s agreement. That two people who consider themselves brothers could go to live together.” He then concluded that, “if this is what you show us after 55 years, then those who are saying that we should break Cameroon are right. They are correct! the people of West Cameroon cannot be your slaves. The people of West Cameroon, are not, you did not conquer them in war.” In the same manner that Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. showed deep commitment to black freedom in the USA, Wirba spoke with deep commitment to Anglophone freedom. He called on Anglophones to rise with racing blood and put on their garbs of resistance and go to the boundary of their Anglophone heritage to engage the invading Francophone enemy boldly in battle against marginalization and assimilation. In one of the most defiant voices ever heard during a parliamentary session in the entire African continent, Wirba told the Speaker of the National Assembly in particular and the Francophone-dominated parliament and government in general that after more than 50 years of cohabitation with East Cameroon, West Cameroonians were fade up with a political union that had only succeeded in creating Francophone Prosperos and Anglophone Calibans. Wirba repeatedly quoted Martin Luther King Jr.’s idea that “when in justice becomes law, resistance becomes a duty.” Wirba’s speech highlighted two distinctive features of a genuine advocate of freedom: authentic anger and genuine humility. He was visibly upset about the condition of the Anglophone Cameroonians. When Cameroonians saw him speak or heard his voice, it was projected on a gut level that the Anglophone situation was urgent, in need of immediate attention. Cameroonians even got the impression that his own stability and sanity rested on how soon the Anglophone predicament could be improved upon; he was angry about the state of Anglophone Cameroon and that anger fuelled his boldness and defiance. This boldness and defiance constitute what I identify in this essay as “Wirbalized Resistance”, the “Wirba force” or the “Wirbalization” of the Anglophone problem. In stark contrast to most present-day Anglophone political leaders “who appear too eager for status to be angry, too eager for acceptance to be bold, too self-invested in advancement to be defiant” (West, 1993:58); in dissimilarity to present-day Anglophone political leaders who “when they drop their masks and try to get mad (usually in the presence of [Anglophone] audiences), their bold rhetoric is more performance than personal, more play-acting than heart-felt”(58), Wirbalized Resistance makes sense of the Anglophone plight in a poignant and powerful manner and avoids contemporary Anglophone leaders’ oratory that predominantly appeals to the Anglophone community’s sense of the sentimental and sensational (58). With Wirbalized Resistance, even aggressiveness is accompanied by a common touch and humble disposition towards ordinary Anglophones. It preaches that humility which is “the fruit of inner security and wise maturity” (59) and insists that “to be humble is to be sure of one’s self and one’s mission that one can forgo calling excessive attention to one’s self and status” (59). This explains why on June 21, 2017, Wirba came back to the same parliament and asserted, “I am back for the same purpose; you cannot shut the mouth of the people forever. I am back and I want us to go back to issues that have to do with West Cameroon. I am asking Parliament to put the issue of West Cameroon on the table and let us talk about it. That is what I have come for.” He further affirmed the government’s indifference to the Anglophone’s plight by reiterating that “the people cry out and they don’t listen. More than a million students are out of school for over six months and the National Assembly cannot talk about it. Businesses have been shut down.”
More pointedly, Wirbalized Resistance through its unapologetic tone, “revels in the accomplishments and potentials of Cameroonians, especially those with whom one identifies and to whom one is linked organically” (59). It abhors the relative absence of humility in most Anglophone political leaders because that absence is symptomatic of “the status-anxiety and personal insecurity pervasive in Anglophone middleclass Cameroon (59). Wirbalized resistance is the product of what one may (with inspiration from Cornel West’s idea of “race-transcending prophetic leaders” (61)) refer to as the hallmark of an Anglophone-transcending prophetic leadership. It requires “personal integrity and political savvy, moral vision and prudential judgment, courageous defiance and organizational patience” (61). The most disturbing thing about the reception of Honourable Wirba’s speech was not only the mean-spirited attempt of Cavayé Yéguié Djibril to stop him but also the spineless silences of some parliamentarians of Anglophone origin – both revealed the predictable inability of most ruling party politicians to talk candidly about the marginalization of Anglophones in Cameroon. Less than a month after Honourable Wirba’s call to battle, the Bishops of the Bamenda Ecclesiastical Province, in Achebesque terms, were appointed by Agwu, the god of healers, to tell the story of the Anglophone community. Agwu picked these men of God as his disciples, rang their eyes with white chalk and dipped their tongues, willing or not, in the brew of the Anglophone prophecy; and right away the men spoke and put head and tail back to the severed trunk of the Anglophone tale. These miracle-men amazed Cameroonians not because they are fellows of little account, but because they are not the bold warriors Anglophones all expected. They are not even the war-drummers. But in their new-found utterance, the Anglophone struggle suddenly stood reincarnated before all Anglophones. These Bishops, Agwu’s disciples, produced a Memo, an epistolary expression of “minority history” that authenticated them as democratically-minded historians fighting the exclusions and omissions of mainstream narratives of the Cameroonian nation. The Memo is a challenge to official or officially-blessed accounts of the Cameroonian nation’s past by these champions of Anglophone minority history. As a critique of the grand narratives of Francophonized and Francophonizing Cameroon history, the Bishops used the Memo as ammunition in the process to argue that the Cameroonian nation “cannot have just one standardised narrative, that the nation is always a contingent result of many contesting narratives” (Chakrabarty, 1998: 15).
In this essay, I attempt an exegesis of the Bishops’ Memo as epistolary aesthetics whose content qualifies it as minority/apocryphal history, border thinking, decolonial thinking and an epistemology from the South. In the course of my analysis, I interdependently use the word matters as a noun designating issues that concern Anglophones and are of important to their wellbeing; and a verb denominating the insistence that Anglophones form an indispensable part of Cameroon’s past, present and future. For all its disturbing polysemic malleability, my usage of the concept “matters” in these two interdependent senses circles back and touches the tail of other Cameroonian minority writings, participating in what Ben Okri describes as an “African aesthetic” which “is bound to a way of looking at the world in more than three dimensions. It’s the aesthetic of possibilities, of labyrinths, of riddles . . . of paradoxes” (1992: 87–8). Proceeding from an affirmation of human subjectivity, and assuming an individual’s capacity to produce history, my polysemic use of Anglophone matters remains solidly humanist in orientation, attempting to provide a fascinating but often-neglected alternative to the anti-humanism that has continued to characterize mainstream Cameroon history. Anglophone matters as noun and verb acknowledge that there is difference, but not inferiority or antagonism, the usage attempts to generate a cultural model which respects, rather than fears, undecidability, complementarity, and otherness. The Anglophone matters in/of the Memo suggest that minority history “describes relationships to the past that the rationality of the [mainstream] historian’s methods necessarily makes ‘minor’ or ‘inferior’ as something ‘irrational’ in the course of, and as a result of, its own operation” (Chakrabarty, 2000: 101). The Memo testifies that the cultural and political work of the subaltern or minoritized historian (in this case the Bishops) is to “try to show how the capacity (of the modern person) to historicize actually depends on his or her ability to participate in nonmodern relationships to the past that are made subordinate in the moment of historicization [and that] [h]istory writing assumes plural ways of being in the world” (101).
The projection of the Memo’s Wirbalized resistance is not to say that other Anglophone writers have not been critiquing Anglophone marginalization. Rather, the point is that because the Francophone has continued to be all over the Anglophone in an outwar of marginalization and the Anglophone has been all over the Francophone in an in-war of emancipation lead by Anglophone writers, Wirbalized resistance’s unremitting defiance becomes crucial in any de-colonial project that will start from the weaker end of the Francophone imperial/colonial/hegemonic difference. Unlike most critiques of Anglophone marginalization, Wirbalized resistance is an intensified form of de-linking that requires analysis of the making and remaking of the imperial/colonial Francophone differences and visions and strategies for the implementation of equality leading to de-colonization of Anglophone power, knowledge, being and the English Language. That defiance aims “to remove the anchor in which the “normalcy effect” has been produced as to hide the fact that the anchor can be removed and the edifice crumbled” (Mignolo, 2010: 352-3); it asserts that “[t]he future could no longer be owned by one way of life, cannot be dictated by one project of liberation and de-colonization, and cannot be a polycentric world within [Francophone] categories of thoughts” (353). It insists that “[a] world in which many worlds could co-exist can only be made by the shared work and common goals of those who inhabit, dwell in one of the many worlds co-existing in one world and where differences are not cast in terms of values of plus and minus degree of humanity” (353). Wirbalized resistance is the intensification of liberation projects that have emerged and are emerging in Anglophone Cameroon; opening the possibility of Anglophones and Francophones entering into a pluri-versal dialogue of equals in a common march toward a Cameroonian world in which “Free Life” will be the horizon in which many worlds will co-exist with a pluri-versal and not a uni-versal vision.
This commentary draws on the Memorandum presented to the Cameroonian Head of State, Paul Biya, by the Bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Bamenda on the current unrest in the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon to demonstrate that the emergence of Anglophone-nationalist sentiments in these Regions of Cameroon from November of 2016 through January of 2017 to the present, especially among young people, is a revolt against a sense of always having to “fit in”. The Memo bears witness that the variety of Anglophone-nationalist ideologies from the moderate views of John Ngu Foncha’s “unitarism” through “secessionist Groups”, “restorationist” and “Federalists” to Mancho Bibixy’s “coffin revolution” and Joseph Wirba’s “duty of resistance”, rest upon a foundational truth: Francophone Cameroon has been historically weak-willed in ensuring cultural justice and has continued to resist fully accepting the humanity of Anglophones. The commentary further affirms the Memo’s argument that if double standards and differential treatment abound, Anglophone nationalisms will continue to thrive. The Memo suggests that to establish a productive framework for Anglophone-Francophone interdependence, Cameroonians need to begin with a frank acknowledgement of the basic humanness and Cameroonianness of each Cameroonian. Cameroonians must recognize that as a people, they are on a slippery slope towards economic strife, social turmoil, and cultural chaos. The November 2016 through January 2017 to the present upheaval forced Francophones and Anglophones to see not only that Cameroonians are not connected in ways they would not like to be but also, in a more profound sense, that this failure to connect binds Cameroonians even more tightly together. The commentary concludes that there is no escape from a Cameroonian intercultural interdependence yet enforced cultural hierarchy dooms Cameroon as a nation to collective paranoia and hysteria – the unmaking of any democratic order.
*African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA)Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Urban Management Studies (CUMS)University of Ghana, Legon . The article is the first of a three part series