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“Wirbalized” Resistance: Anglophone Cameroon Matters in Postcolonial Cameroon (3)

October 8, 2019

“The Conflicting Agendas of Cameroon Politics: The Culture of Francophone Power, the Power of Francophone Culture and the Powerlessness of Anglophone Culture/Politics”

By Hassan Mbiydzenyuy Yosimbom

High profile participants at national Dialogue in Cameroon. CPDM Deputy Secretary General Gregoire Owona in conversation with Cardinal Tumi.Picture credit AFP

Most importantly, the Memo captures the political unit/unity; political continuity/discontinuity; coherence/fragmentation. The Memo’s duality as a self-contained artistic unity and as a unit within a larger configuration make it an apt instrument for fragmentary, elliptical writing and juxtaposition of contrasting discrete units, yet at the same time the very fragmentation inherent in the Memo form encourages the creation of a compensating coherence and continuity on new levels. The Memo is thus charged with political paradox and contradiction (Altman 187). In line with the political continuity/discontinuity; coherence/fragmentation of the Memo, the Bishops stress that the discontinuity/fragmentation between Francophone has continued to be in the linguistic, administrative, educational and legal matters. Linguistically, “National Entrance Examinations into some professional schools are set in French only and Anglophone candidates are expected to answer them”, “[m]ost Senior Administrators and members of the Forces of Law and Order in the Northwest and Southwest Regions are French-speaking and make no effort to understand the cultures and customs of the people they are appointed to govern and “[t]he Military Tribunals in the Northwest and Southwest Regions are basically French courts” (9). In the educational and legal domains, there has been the “Francophonisation” of the English Educational Subsystem and the Common-Law System. This is achieved through “the flooding of state Anglophone educational and legal institutions with French-trained and French speaking Cameroonians who understand neither [the Anglo Saxon] educational subsystem nor the English Common Law [thereby undermining] Anglophone education and legal heritage and [subverting] the original intentions of the founders of the nation to build a bi-cultural nation, respecting the specificity of each region” (10). Administratively, there is “the Flooding of Anglophone Cameroon with Francophone Administrators” (9). On the one hand, Ministers, Directors General, Heads of Parastatals, Senior Divisional Officers, Heads of Law Enforcement Institutions, etc. are disproportionately Francophone and there seems to be a conscious effort being made to flood the Northwest and Southwest Regions with Francophone Heads of Service (9). On the other hand, the Magistrates, Senior Divisional Officers, the Divisional Officers, Commissioners, and Commandants in these Regions are disproportionately Francophone. The situation is being aggravated by the fact that Francophone principals are increasingly being posted to Anglophone schools and personnel in hospitals, banks and mobile telephone companies, “even those which originate from Anglophone countries, are predominantly Francophone” (9). The Bishops’ subtle argument here seems to be that such political discontinuity is caused by the absence of what Ortiz calls transculturation between Anglophones and Francophones or better still, the neglect of transculturation in governance. As Ortiz explains, “transculturation better captures the different stages of the transition from one culture to another because such a process is not simply the acquisition of a culture different from one’s own (which is what acculturation suggests); it also implies the loss of or uprooting from a previous culture” (96). To him, “the process implies a partial disacculturation and, at the same time, the creation of new phenomena, which could be called neoculturation [because] every cultural contact [abrazos de cultura] is like a genetic coupling between individuals: the newborn shares the features of his or her parents while being different from both” (96). Like Ortiz’s Cuba, Cameroon history “is one of intense, complex, and endless transculturation of numerous human masses, all of them in constant transitional process” (97) and any government that ignores that does so at her own peril. The Francophonecentric government’s preference for assimilation and acculturation at the expense of transculturation has had manifold social repercussions.

The discussion above has demonstrated that the Bishop’s Memo is talking about the possibilities of/for Cameroonian diversality, a project that would be an alternative to Francophonized universality and offers the possibilities of a network of national confrontations with marginalization in the name of justice, human rights, and epistemic diversality (Mignolo, 2002: 90). The Memo’s geopolitics of knowledge shows us the limits of any abstract universal, be it the universalization/nationalization/fundamentalization of the either the Anglophone or Francophone cultures or a new universalization of any European fundamental legacy in the name of democracratization and repoliticization (90). Thinking from the borders of Anglophone marginalization is a necessary condition for the existence of defrancophonizing projects. It is a necessary condition, because affirming defrancophonization implies to thinking and arguing from the exteriority of Cameroonian francophonization itself. Anglophone exteriority is not an outside of Cameroonian Francophonecentrism, “but the outside created in the processes of creating the inside” (Mignolo, 2013: 146). Furthermore, the discussion testifies that the interweavings of geopolitical power, knowledge and subordinating representations of the Anglophone other have a long history (Slater, 2004: 223). I have argued that together with this intertwining of power and knowledge the Bishops have located varying forms of subordinating representation which are equally geopolitical and cultural. Also, the assumption of Francophone supremacy has been going on together with a silencing of the Anglophone other. The silencing of the non-Francophone other has customarily been combining with representations that legitimize the power to penetrate and to re-order (223) thus justifying a marginalization project of enduring invasiveness. The non-Francophone society has been shorn of legitimate symbols of independent identity and authority, and its representation has tended “to be frozen around the negative attributes of lack, backwardness, inertia and violence” (223). The Anglophone zone/mind has become “a space ready to be penetrated, worked over, restructured and transformed” (223) and Wirbalized resistance, especially in its militant form, has been envisaged as being deviant, irrational and terrorist. However, the unitarists, federalists and secessionists diversity prove that just as there is no singularity of response to imperial Francophone power, there is equally no singularity of voices from the peripheries of the Anglophone world; instead, marginalized Anglophone selves are both “manifold and multiple” (Escobar, 1995: 215).

 Based on the Memo’s subtle argument that “the groundedness of multiplicity can help us avoid the pitfalls of essentialization – romanticizing the resistant other, while bypassing the societal violence, polarization and alienation (Slater 228), the conclusions are as follows: What happened in the North West and the South West Regions of Cameroon in November and December of 2016 and has continued to the present was neither a simplistic Anglophone riot nor a class rebellion. Rather, that monumental cataclysm was a multiregional, trans-class and largely genderless display of social exasperation. For all its ugly Anglophobic/Francophobic resentment, its air of melodramatized adolescent carnival and its downright ferocious deportment, it communicated the discernment of powerlessness in Cameroonian society. Suave, gubernatorial/ministerial/presidential attempts to reduce its meaning to the pathologies of the Anglophone underclass, the criminal actions of terrorists/Francophobes, or the political revolt of the oppressed urban multitude missed/messed the mark. Of those arrested, maimed or killed, most claimed to eschew the ruling party or opposition party political affiliation. What Cameroonians and the global community witnessed in the North West and South West Regions was the consequence of “a lethal linkage of economic decline, cultural decay and political lethargy in [Cameroonian] life” (West, 1994: 4). The demand for the recognition of Anglophonecentrism “was the visible catalyst, not the underlying cause” (4).

The meaning of the earthshaking events in the North West and South West Regions has been difficult to grasp because most Cameroonians have continued to remain trapped in the dominant framework of the dominant pseudoliberal and conservative ideologies of who is an Anglophone Cameroonian, which with its Francophonecentric vocabulary leaves Cameroonians (especially Anglophones) “intellectually debilitated, morally disempowered, and personally depressed” (West 4). The sudden disappearance of the North West and South West demands from public dialogue is testimony to how complicated a serious engagement with minority issues is. Cameroon’s truncated gubernatorial, ministerial and presidential public discussions of minority marginalization have continued to suppress the best of who and what Cameroonians are as a rainbow nation because they have continued to fail to confront the complexity of Anglophone marginalization in a candid and critical manner. The predictable pitting of “liberal” Anglophones against “conservative” Francophones has continued to reinforce intellectual parochialism and political paralysis.

The gubernatorial, ministerial and presidential notion that more government programs and subventions can solve postcolonial Cameroon’s minority conundrum is simplistic because it parochially focuses solely on the economic dimension of a rather multifaceted problem. And the Francophonecentric idea that what is needed is change in the moral comportment of the proterrorism Anglophone urban dwellers highlights spasmodic immoral actions of youthful exuberance while ignoring the government’s public irresponsibility. The common denominator for these views on the Anglophone problem is that each still sees Anglophones as what Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women calls “problem people”, rather than as fellow Cameroonian citizens with problems (West 5). This paralyzed and paralyzing framework encourages “liberals” of the Francophonecentric government to relieve their guilty consciences by providing peanut public funds directed towards the “problems”; “but at the same time, reluctant to exercise principled criticism of the [Anglophones, the government denies] them the right to err” (West 6). Similarly, conservatives of the same government blame the “problems” on Anglophones themselves and thereby render Anglophone social misery invisible or unworthy of public attention” (6). Hence, for Francophonecentric “liberals”, Anglophones are to be “included” and “integrated” into “their” Cameroonian society and culture, while for “conservatives” they are supposed to be “well behaved” or “tamed” in order to become “worthy of acceptance” by their way of life (6). Thus, “both fail to realize that the presence and predicaments of [Anglophones] are neither additions nor defections from [Cameroonian] life, but rather constitutive elements of that life” (6).

To engage in a serious and fruitful discussion of the Anglophone’s marginalization, the government needs to begin not with the problems of the Anglophones but with the flaws of the Cameroonian society – flaws that are rooted in the historical inequalities between Francophone Cameroon and Anglophone Cameroon and the longstanding cultural stereotypes that have continued to be the defining traits for Anglophones. How Cameroonians set up the terms for discussing minority issues shapes their perception and response to these issues. As long Anglophones continue to be binaristly viewed as “them”, the burden falls on Anglophones to do all the cultural and moral assignments necessary for healthy Anglophone-Francophone relations. The implication is that only certain Cameroonians can define what it means to be Cameroonian – and the rest must simply “fit in” or “fit outside.” The paucity of courageous leaders symbolized by Atanga Nji who, in October 2016, defiantly denied the existence of an Anglophone problem live on television and was latter appointed Minister of Territorial Administration inMarch 2018  to the frustration of both Anglophone and Francophone Cameroonians – so apparent in the response to the events in the two Anglophone regions – requires that Cameroonians look beyond the same elites and voices that continue to recycle the older antagonistic frameworks. Cameroonians “need leaders who can situate themselves within a larger historical narrative of this country and our world, who can grasp the complex dynamics of our peoplehood and imagine a future grounded in the best of our past, yet who are attuned to the frightening obstacles that now perplex us” (West 13). The void of genuine Francophone/Anglophone equality continues to sit like a festering sore at the center of the crisis of the Francophonecentric Cameroonian leadership and the predicament of the disadvantaged/marginalized in Cameroon will continue to worsen unless Anglophone leadership graduates from Anglophone-effacing managerial leaders/elite and Anglophone-identifying protest leaders/elites to Anglophone-transcending prophetic leaders/elite (West 59) imbued with “personal integrity and political savvy, moral vision and prudential judgment, courageous defiance and organizational patience” (61).

Anglophone-transcending prophetic leaders/elite must accept the double consciousness of being a problem and at the same time a solution. Cameroonians must realize that double consciousness is a normal and ever more universal condition of contemporary subjects and a structure of democratic feeling. Even though Du Bois once called it a curse, double consciousness could also be a double blessing for Anglophones and Francophones and for Cameroon in general. Anything less will impoverish both. To paraphrase Du Bois, in the desired transcultural merging the Anglophone/Francophone wants neither of their older selves to be lost. The Anglophone would not Anglophonize Cameroon, for Cameroon has too much to teach the world. The Anglophone would not bleach his Anglophone soul in a flood of Francophone Cameroonians, for s/he knows that Anglophone blood has a message for the Cameroonian world. S/he simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both an Anglophone and a Cameroonian, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows Francophones, without having the doors of opportunity slammed roughly in his face. The end of Anglophone striving is “to be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture, to escape both death and isolation, to husband and use his best powers and his latent genius” (Du Bois, [1903] 1965: 215). It is true that the difference between acculturation and this syncretic/transculturation program may be lost on some Cameroonians, since they have been trained/forced to value assimilation/Francophonization as the process of becoming Cameroonian. But judging from the honest content of the Bishop’s Memo, there is good reason to believe that double consciousness can enable conversation between Anglophones and Francophones who respect the differences that separate them, because they acknowledge stubborn differences that fissure their own identities (Sommer, 2000: 176). Perhaps double consciousness would ensure Cameroonian democracy by embracing the particularities of citizens who must be tolerated in their difference from others (176). Perhaps double consciousness would help Cameroonians achieve what Sommer calls “A Republic of Hyphens” (174) – Anglophone-Cameroonians, Francophone-Cameroonians, Beti-Cameroonians, Sawa-Cameroonians, Graffi-Cameroonians, Anglophonized-Francophone-Cameroonians, Francophonized-Anglophone-Cameroonians, etc., – where citizens are imbued with oxymoronic identities that enable them cultivate space for personal self-fashioning, political flexibility and the refusal to fit in. But double consciousness would also teach Anglophone-transcending prophetic leaders/elite the ability to combine the Abazonian leader’s/Achebesque categorizations of being initially the revolution’s timekeeper, then the revolution’s warrior and later the revolution’s historian.

The Bishops have translated the Anglophone struggle into a language that the Cameroonian world can feel and invited us all to read ourselves into the Anglophone marginalization story, not as supporters but as participants. And in doing so, they have unleashed an international insurrection of hope against the forces of global oppression. The Memo is an echo that breaks barriers of the local and particular, an echo that recognizes the existence of the other and does not seek to overpower or attempt to silence it, an echo of a rebel voice transforming itself and renewing itself in other voices, an echo that turns itself into many voices, into a network of voices,  a network of voices that resist the war of marginalization that Francophonecentrism  wages on Anglophones,  a network of voices that do not only speak, but also struggle and resist marginalization. The Memo proposes a theory of pluralist tolerance. Only by identifying with this conflictual ambivalence between cultural appropriation and alienation, can one make a moral alignment between hybrid forms of identity. It stresses that cultural memory, however, is only partially a mirror, cracked and encrusted, that sheds its light on the dark places of the present, waking a witness here, quickening a hidden fact there, and bringing Cameroonians face-to-face with that anxious and impossible temporality, the past-present (Bhabha 43). Caught in the ambivalences of these double-lives of their times, we, Cameroonians need to make an effort to tell each other our hybrid stories: part yours, part mine, a part that is written in a language of mixed bits and pieces that is as yet unresolved (43); caught in the midst of developing an Anglophonized and Francophonized vocabulary of values and wishes which engages the double aspect of the national ideal, the Francophonecentric government of Cameroon needs to build a Cameroonian pluriverse because as Mahatma Gandhi expressed so eloquently earlier in the century, “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any culture.

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

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