By Andrew Nsoseka
Many in Cameroon and beyond are increasingly asking how Christian Cardinal Tumi, Archbishop Emeritus of Douala Archdiocese, who at the beginning of the Anglophone crisis was an outspoken sympathiser of the Anglophone problem, has of recent, seemingly evolved to a sympathiser of the government.
Many have suggested that his abduction, or probably negative impacts of the crisis, and separatists’ atrocities, or all of the above may be responsible for the shift in the Cardinal’s recent views, expressed in latest media outings.
Cardinal Tumi, who over the years, has been regarded as Cameroon’s moral voice, was one of the country’s prominent voices articulating the Anglophone problem when it resurfaced in 2016, and morphed into an armed conflict. Like many others, the Cardinal criticised the military option employed to quell down dissenting voices. The Cardinal had also questioned the nature of the political undertakings that led to the reunification of the two Cameroons, urging that there is a need to revisit them.
He has never been reserved when it comes to criticising the political steps that were taken after reunification which are largely blamed for creating the Anglophone Problem in Cameroon. Acts like the tampering with the Federal Constitution and doing away with pillar constitutional provisions that robbed Anglophones of their ability to have an idntoty and decide their fate as well as partake in the management of their affairs have mainly influenced the Cardinal’s sympathy for the Anglophone crisis and the actors spearheading it.
At the beginning of the crisis and even when it escalated, Cardinal Tumi remained one of those staunch critics of government’s action. Most of his public outings made government stakeholders uncomfortable as he spared no words in condemning government’s overall attitude and response to the issues raised.
The Cardinal who spearheaded the idea of a third All Anglophone Conference, said after listening to the various interventions of prominent voices in the Anglophone crisis, he discovered that the “leaders were not saying the same thing”. He said he then conceived an idea to hold a general conference of all Anglophones so that they can debate and come out as one front with a singular demand where in a dialogue forum, they can voice it out as one, to their francophone brothers whom they united with.
Asked at the time by Elie Smith, whether the Cardinal was tele-guided by the Yaounde regime, as many had claimed, the Cardinal responded, “Surely if there is any body to be pushed around in Cameroon, it is not Cardinal Tumi. I have my personal conviction”. He had said.
The Cardinal’s initiative which was embraced by all prominent religious leaders in Anglophone regions, finally did not hold, due to lack of authorisation from government.
In an Interview with STV’s Peter Nsoesie, the Cardinal said the separatist fighters whom has talked with severally, have come to him for blessings, and that he did bless them, and talked to them frankly. He said he told them that he condemns their attitude of killing those who do not share their ideology. “I told them, I disagree on three points, number one, your intolerance; those who disagree with you, you are ready to kill them, that is not the solution to your problem. Secondly, your intolerance with schools. You are now fighting against the future of your brothers and sisters. Who will rule with you? Will you rule alone if you come to power tomorrow? You will be intolerant to the opposition. You can’t imagine countries in the world without the opposition. Opposition is useful. And then finally, those who are abroad, they say for those who are in the bushes around the country, they contribute financially for their wellbeing in the forests. If you have money in the forest, what do you do with it? I told one, a relative of mine, a surgeon, to also come home with his wife and children, if he is serious, so that others should contribute money and give him to live and fight in the forest. Since then, he has not telephoned me.”
In an interview with CRTV’s Joe Chebonkeng, Cardinal Tumi once defended Separatist fighters, stating that “We pray for these boys in the bushes, we pray for the army. Most of the killing is done by the army, it is not done by the boys.
‘Do you have empirical facts’, Joe Chebonkeng asked, “of course, objective studies”, the Cardinal responded “and it is still going on. In Kumbo, 400 people have been killed, the Bishop of Kumbo Diocese and his priests have made a study and the majority of those who have been killed, have not been killed by these boys. They do not have the sophisticated arms that the army has, maybe if they had, they would have killed more, but they don’t have. The army comes in, maybe a rebel boy has killed a military officer and run away, the army comes in, enter a family and they kill everybody” ‘is that true?’, Chebonkeng asked, to which the Cardinal responded at the top of his voice, “it is perfectly true, and I am ready to die for it.”
The Cardinal who spearheaded the botched All Anglophone General Conference, in an interview with Equinoxe TV, had confessed that a survey conducted by the organisers to sample the preferences of Anglophones in Cameroon regarding the form of state was deliberately tailored to blot out the option of separation. He however stated that the majority of respondents opted for total separation, even when they tried to take away that option. “In our questionnaire to the Anglophones on the form of state, we tried to influence the Anglophone opinion, but we did not succeed. Therefore, it shows how deep the problem is.”
The Cardinal said when they asked respondents about their preferred form of state, they deliberately named just unitary, decentralisation, and federation, and intentionally left out the option of total independence, “69 percent of Anglophones said they wanted absolute separation, that was the word they used, that is to say, secession”.
The Cardinal said the respondents in the space provided for other options, opted for absolute separation. He said the report was drafted, and sent to the President, through the Prime Minister.
Expressing a personal view, Cardinal Tumi has repeatedly said in a dialogue, the option of separation should be on the table, and if the separatists convince others that it is the best option, it should be granted, especially as the two factions that make up modern Cameroon were once separated.
Cardinal Tumi’s Sympathy For Separatists Dwindles
On Thursday, November 5, 2020, Christian Cardinal Tumi and the Fon of Nso, HRM Sem Mbinglo were abducted in Babessi, as their convoy drove to the Nso palace, where the Fon had escaped earlier on, as a result of the crisis.
In Babessi, the two were abducted and hours later, the Cardinal was released. Following his release, Cardinal Tumi wrote a book titled, “My Night In Captivity” in which unlike before, he proposed that it would be best for the country, if the military takes over the whole country, including the troubled regions.
The Cardinal opined that in such a situation of military takeover, power is also taken from the separatists, and then the military organises an election in which a leader for the country is chosen, to bring order to the whole country. In some of his media outings, the Cardinal in his shift from a pro-separatists stand, rather suggested that the greater fight should be for the unity of Africa, so that the little fights like creation of new states can be put to rest.
Personally, the Cardinal says he favours Federalism as the best option. In Babessi, while in separatists’ custody, the Cardinal told them that he will rather opt for Federalism than secession. Like many Anglophones, the Cardinal might have grown weary of some of the atrocities carried out by separatists, and thus fears a scenario where they take over and build a society where opposing voices are not entertained. However, like any progressive voice, Cardinal Tumi still supports the option that all opinions should be entertained, and whichever the afflicted and concerned persons favour should be adopted.