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“Wirbalized” Resistance: Anglophone Cameroon Matters in Postcolonial Cameroon -2

September 27, 2019

By By Hassan Mbiydzenyuy Yosimbom*

File Picture.Prime Minister Dion Ngute holding a peace plant in Bamenda. Many are wondering if the dialogue he is leading will yield any results

“The Force of History or the History of Force: Writing Anglophone Cameroon into Cameroon History and/or Writing Cameroon History from the Anglophone Cameroon World”

The brilliance of the methodology of the Bishops’ Memo is that it is emblematic of oral storytelling, a style that flies in the face of the stolidity of the typical architecture of a novel with beginning, middle, and end. The Memo is a concert of “educated” voices that opens and closes with an epic voice that is at once omniscient and first-person plural. It recalls the immediate present of the crisis’s time but does so by reconstructing the historical pressure that generates the present. In it, the Bishop protagonists become a collective entity: that is, the masses of contemporary Cameroon, figured as historical agents with the capacity to overcome oppression; and its rousing cadence connects the story of Anglophones to a larger narrative whose historical scope stretches from the African-continental to the global. Looked at from the perspective of Wirbalized resistance, the Memo as a text illuminates the Anglophone world/problem through six functions of the epistolary technique. First, the letter functions as political bridge/barrier (distance breaker/distance maker). In conformity with their predilection for dialogue, the Bishops immediately prioritize the Memo’s function as a political bridge/distance breaker by opening the Memo with the submission that “[b]ecause of her role and competence, the Church is not identified in any way with the political community nor bound to any political system” (1). Consequently, this places her in “a uniquely privileged position to provide a balanced perspective on the current problem between the government of Cameroon and the population of significant segments of the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon” (1). To the Bishops therefore, the Memo is meant “to assist the government to seek a lasting solution to this problem and enable its citizens to live in peace and harmony” (1). The Memo’s mediatory property makes it an instrument that both connects and interferes. On the one hand, the Memo is an imperfect intercessor, calling attention to estrangement, whereas on the other hand, it is a mediator without which the government and the population of significant segments of the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon, even in the presence of each other, cannot communicate. As an intermediary step between indifference and intimacy, the Memo lends itself to narrative actions that move the government, the Bishops and the Anglophones in either direction (Altman, 1982:186). By calling attention to estrangement – “[i]n the eyes of West Cameroonians, Law No 84-1 of 4 February 1984, was incontrovertible evidence that the original intentions of our Francophone brothers and sisters were to absorb Southern Cameroon [because] [a]fter thirty-three years of union, [Southern Cameroonians] had all ended up as citizens of the Republic of Cameroon or East Cameroon” (4) – and attempting to mediate between the government and the community, the Memo is a demonstration that history is not (necessarily) written by the winners but also by survivors and that perhaps, the real Cameroon Anglophone history can also be written by Anglophone losers who refuse to lick their wounds and write self-justifications: “No matter what some self-appointed elite and spokespersons for Anglophone Cameroonians as well as government Ministers say in public, the participation of various strata of the population and the growing popularity of separatist movements among young and older members of the Anglophone community demonstrates that there is an Anglophone Problem” (4). As a form of Wirbalized resistance, the Memo’s function as a distance breaker or distance maker is an affirmation that Anglophone matters because the government cannot “dis-possess” the Anglophone cultural space, a heritage site that has developed a global resonance by attributing a demonic presence to that space. That is, Wirbalization of the Anglophone problem insists that the government cannot “dis-possess” a tangible site or subject of the past by branding it intangible and yet preserve and protect the traumatic heritage of its memory without which Anglophone history is silenced, and memory is made mute. As a bridge, the Memo affirms that the understanding of the Cameroonian world by far exceeds the Francophone understanding of the world; there is no Anglophone/Anglophone social justice without Cameroonian cognitive justice and the emancipatory transformations in the Cameroonian world may follow grammars and scripts other than those developed by Francophonecentric critical/social/political/cultural theory, and such Cameroonian diversity should be valorized (Santos, 2014: vii).

Furthermore, the Memo reveals the political confiance/non-confiance opposition. If the winning and losing of confiance constitute part of the Memo’s narrative content, the related oppositions confiance/coquetterie (or candour/dissimulation) and amitié/amour represent the two primary types of relationships captured in the Memo. These distinctions, as well as the blurring of these distinctions, are a function of the Memo’s dual potential for transparency (portrait of soul, confession, vehicle of narrative) and opacity (mask, weapon, event within narrative) (Altman 186). This explains why the Bishops assert that for almost one month “a series of unrests and violence occasioned by the strike of the Anglophone Lawyers and of the Teachers’ Trade Unions of the English Sub-system of Education have led to the loss of human life and to the destruction of property” (1). From a political confiance/non-confiance opposition the Bishops affirm that there have been flagrant abuses of human rights, a premature end to the first term of the 2016 school year and a paralysed court system in the Northwest and Southwest Regions (1). The hallmark of the political confiance/non-confiance opposition, the Bishops argue, is that the government and the striking groups have reached an impasse because the “unrests are symptomatic of a deeper unease among the inhabitants of this geographical circumscription of our nation” (1). Despite the presence of both elements of political confiance/non-confiance, the conciliatory tone of the Memo registers the writers’ desire to focus on building political confiance/candour/amour. Thus, in order to demonstrate the deep-seated nature of the absence of confidence and thus political opposition, the Bishops introduce the Memo with a succinct historical background to the Anglophone problem in Cameroon. The aim here is not to teach the government a history she knows/should know better that them. Rather, it is their way of recognizing that divergent renditions of the union between West and East Cameroon may result in larger, complementary forms of understanding in which one enriches and animates the other from separate vantage points. By narrating the 33 year history of the Republic of Cameroon from when Kamerun was a German protectorate in 1884 to 1984 when Law No 84-1 of 4th February Francophonecentrically provided for a constitutional amendment that changed the country’s name from the United Republic of Cameroon to the Republic of Cameroon thereby absorbing Southern Cameroonians not as equals but as citizens of the Republic of Cameroon or East Cameroon (3-4), the Bishops contend that Wirbalized resistance contends that our perspectives on history, especially minoritized history, also change because history as an interpretation of the past changes because it is a human created artifact. Every generation of Cameroonians will interpret the past in ways that agree with its fund of knowledge and with current social theory. History is a conversation the present continuously holds with the past and therefore will always be a work-in-progress because the “present” is continually becoming occupied by new generations and new evidence is becoming available and new ways of thinking about evidence are being developed. Most importantly, the historical background supports the Memo’s insistence that Cameroonians need to have a sense of their past or matters in order to define themselves in the world of the present. One way wonder why the Bishops chose to begin a Memo on the Anglophone problem by returning to the ruins of the past. Yet, by harking/Wirbalizing back to the charnel house of historical memory/matters, they argue that a Wirbalized Anglophone justice relevant to our global age, “must take [the most brutal episodes/matters of Cameroon history] as a starting point, and build an ethically sound and politically robust conception of the proper basis of political community, and of the relations among communities” (Held, 2004: 178). Minority histories in part express the struggle for inclusion and representation that are characteristic of liberal and representative democracies. Conceived in this way, “minority histories”, like the Memo, are oppositional chiefly because they are excluded from mainstream historical narratives. The Memo confirms that the Anglophone accounts of the Cameroonian past need to be absorbed into, and thus made to enrich, the mainstream of Cameroonian historical discourse.

The Memo also evokes the political writer/reader dichotomy. The Memo’s epistolary situation evokes simultaneously the acts of writing and reading, as correspondents alternate, within the same Memo, between the roles of narrator and narratee, of encoder and decoder. The readers’ consciousness explicitly informs the Bishops’ act of writing itself. The movement from the private to the public in the Memo, like in much of epistolary fiction, the Memo connotes political privacy and intimacy; yet as a document addressed to another, it reflects the need for an audience (Altman 186). As a narrative, the Memo’s narrators and narratee decode a Cameroon “of interlocking lives, projects and communities” (Held 173). By arguing that Anglophones are made up of secessionists, federalists and unitarists (5), the narrators/narratee assert that there is no “outside” – ideological, political or ethical – to the Cameroonian system/matters. In other words, whatever alienates Cameroonian interdependency, or annihilates cosmopolitan values, must be seen to be an effect of her internal dialectic – “a demonic dynamic – of the global condition itself” (Bhabha, 2007: 39). “Deadly danger to any [Cameroonian] civilization is no longer likely to come from without”, Arendt writes that “[t]he danger is that a global universally interrelated civilisation may produce barbarians from its own midst by forcing millions of people into conditions which, despite all appearances, are the conditions of savages” (Arendt, 1973: 302). As political writers writing for a political audience, the Bishops in line with the dictates of Wirbalized resistance, observe that Anglophone matters include but are not limited to marginalisation in human resource development and deployment, the treatment of the English language, the flooding of Anglophone Cameroon with Francophone administrators and workers, mismanagement of “West Cameroon” patrimony, the “Francophonisation” of the English Educational Subsystem and the Common-Law System, admissions into state professional schools and gradual erosion of Anglophone identity (6-8). Thus the “stateless” Anglophone minority represents emergent, undocumented lifeworlds that break through the formal legal language of “protection” and “status” because, as Balibar writes, they are “neither insiders or outsiders, or … insiders officially considered outsiders” (2004: 122).  Their indeterminate presence – legal or illegal – turns cosmopolitan claims of Cameroonian ethical equivalences and interrelationships into the chains of national alienage. As insider/outsiders they damage the cosmopolitan dream of a “Cameroonian world without borders” or l’humanité sans frontières by opening, in the midst of national polity, a complex and contradictory mode of being or surviving somewhere in between legality and incivility (Bhabha, 39). From a Wirbalized resistance dimension, the shifting dimensions of the inside/outside status of Cameroonian minorities frequently leads to the restriction of rights and representations in the name of say, the Anglophone enemy “within” who is seen as coming across the hegemonized Francophonecentric “border” from “without” (40). Wirbalized resistance argues that the very nature of the border has changed/is changing and “within and without are no longer territorial limits as much as they constitute complex conceptual and legal zones in the midst of the [Cameroon] political community” (40). By arguing that the government of Cameroon has been downplaying or even denying the existence of an Anglophone Problem;  Government Ministers (even those of former West Cameroon extraction) have been denying the existence of any such problem in the media and in public speeches and that government has been consciously creating divisions among the English-speaking elite, “remunerating some allies with prestigious positions in the state apparatus previously reserved for Francophones only, and repressing all actions designed to improve on the status of Anglophone Cameroonians in the union” (Memo 6), Wirbalized resistance affirms that the connection between cultural bigotry and political tyranny has been very close in Cameroon and that the asymmetry of power between the ruler and the ruled, which has been generating a heightened sense of identity contrast, are being combined with cultural prejudice or Anglophobia in explaining away failures of governance and public policy.

Christian Cardinal Tumi recently met with Prime Minister Dion Ngute and with recommendations from his own findings in the field

The Memo equally represents the here/there and the now/then political contrariety. The Memo’s narrative depends on reciprocality of writer-addressee and is charged with present-consciousness in both the temporal and the spatial sense. Through the Memo, the Bishops are engaged in the impossible task of making present both events and addressee; to do so they attempt to close the gap between their locus and the addressee’s (here/there) and create the illusion of the present (now)by oscillation between the then of past and future (Altman 187). In the Memo, one of the most important matters is the historical demonstration of the Gradual Erosion of Anglophone Identity. Describing the here/there and the now/then of Anglophone identity, the Bishops contend that “‘Anglophonism’ goes beyond the mere ability to speak or understand the English language because “[i]t speaks to a core of values, beliefs, customs, and ways of relating to the other inherited from the British who ruled this region from 1916 to 1961; [it is] ‘Anglophonism’ is a culture, a way of being which cannot be transmitted by merely learning a language” (11). Identifying contemporary political contrariety, the Bishops remind us that “Anglophone Cameroonians are slowly being asphyxiated as every element of their culture is systematically targeted and absorbed into the Francophone Cameroon culture and way of doing things” (11). To them, these include “the language, the educational system, the system of administration and governance (where appointed leaders are sent to lord it over people who cherish elected leaders), the legal system, and a transparent democratic process where elected leaders are answerable to the electorate who put them there in the first place” (11). From a decolonial perspective, the Bishops argue that “[t]he two All Anglophone Conferences (AAC I and II) of the early 1990s, the rise and popularity of the SCNC and other secessionist voices are born of the frustration of Anglophone Cameroonians of being ignored and ridiculed for asking for what they deem to be theirs by right, namely the preservation of their culture” (11). They further remind that “in his resignation letter from the post of first Vice President of the CPDM on the 9th of June 1990, J.N. Foncha cited in point 9 of the letter, as a reason for resigning, the fact that the constitution was ‘in many respects being ignored and manipulated’” (11). Foncha’s resignation confirmed Wallerstein’s postulation that a historical system, cannot be “egalitarian if it is not democratic, because an undemocratic system is one that distributes power unequally, and this means that it will also distribute all other things unequally. And it cannot be democratic if it is not egalitarian, since an inegalitarian system means that some have more material means than others and therefore inevitably will have more political power” (2000: 3). As a society in transition, debates about egalitarianism ought, therefore, to include four components: “a process of constant, open debate about the transition and the outcome we hope for; short term defensive action, including electoral action; the establishment of interim, middle-range goals that seem to move in the right direction; [and the] develop[ment of] the substantive meaning of our long-term emphases… a world that is relatively democratic and relatively egalitarian” (272-73). This explains why the Bishops end the Memo with a call for “justice for all”, insisting that “[e]very Anglophone group that has raised its voice in protest has chronicled a number of perceived injustices which either the group or the Anglophone community in general suffers” (16). To them, “[a]s long as these people, rightly or wrongly, continue to feel that they are the victims of injustice, we cannot build ‘the Island of Peace’ in Central and West Africa we have been proclaiming that we are, and we cannot develop our country without this peace either. We do not believe, in conscience, that locking up people who speak up against injustice (real or imagined) will kill dissent and bring peace” (16).

The Memo engenders the political closure/overture; political discontinuation/continuation of writing. The dynamics of the Memo’s narrative involves a movement between two poles: the potential finality of the Memo’s sign-off and the open-endedness of its being a segment within a chain of dialogue (Altman 187). However, the dialogical tone of the Memo ensures that the Bishops favor the pole political overture and continuation. Thus, as a segment in a chain of dialogue, the Bishops argue that like other historical systems, the Republic of Cameroon has reached its point of demise because small inputs are having large outputs. (Wallerstein, 1999: 1). To them, the cause of that demise is the Anglophone problem. They state very succinctly that the Anglophone Problem is five matters: first, “[t]he failure of successive governments of Cameroon, since 1961, to respect and implement the articles of the Constitution that uphold and safeguard what British Southern Cameroons brought along to the Union in 1961” (6); second, “the flagrant disregard for the Constitution, demonstrated by the dissolution of political parties and the formation of one political party in 1966, the sacking of Jua and the appointment of Muna in 1968 as the Prime Minister of West Cameroon, and other such acts judged by West Cameroonians to be unconstitutional and undemocratic” (6); third, “[t]he cavalier management of the 1972 Referendum which took out the foundational element (Federalism) of the 1961 Constitution” (6); fourth, “[t]he 1984 Law amending the Constitution, which gave the country the original East Cameroon name (The Republic of Cameroon) and thereby erased the identity of the West Cameroonians from the original union. West Cameroon, which had entered the union as an equal partner, effectively ceased to exist” (6) and fifth, “[t]he deliberate and systematic erosion of the West Cameroon cultural identity which the 1961 Constitution sought to preserve and protect by providing for a bi-cultural federation” (6). The Bishops recommend that in order to solve the Anglophone problem, the government must exercise honesty because “the former French President, Jacques Chirac, the Commonwealth, the European Union, and many others have recognised that there is an Anglophone Problem and advised that the government of Cameroon and the discontented Anglophones engage in dialogue” (13). It is only through honesty can the government avoid sowing disaster for the future, giving way to extremist tendencies in the Anglophone community born of frustration thereby looking the beast in the eye, confronting it together and overcoming it for the sake of peace and unity in Cameroon (13). Even though the Bishops declare that it is not for them to dictate to the Cameroonian people what form the government should take or what solutions should be provided for the problems we have highlighted (12); and that “the Church respects the legitimate autonomy of the democratic order and is not entitled to express preferences for this or that institutional or constitutional solution” (12), they warn that “[t]he government’s continued denial of any Anglophone Problem, and its determination to defend the unitary state by all available means, including repression, could lead to an escalation of Anglophone demands past a point of no return, and this is not something any responsible citizen would wish for their country” (13). The solution to the Anglophone problem thus requires an exercise in “diatopical hermeneutics” (Pannikar 1988: 129) or “pluritopical hermeneutics” (Mignolo, 2000: 185) because  the distance to overcome, needed for its understanding, “is not just a distance within one single culture (morphological hermeneutics), or a temporal one (diachronic hermeneutics), but rather the distance between two [the Anglophone and Francophone cultures] (or more) cultures, which have independently developed in different spaces [West Cameroon and East Cameroon] their own methods of philosophizing and ways of reading intelligibility along with their proper categories” (Pannikar 129).

*African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA)Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Urban Management Studies (CUMS)University of Ghana, Legon . The article is the second of a three part series


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