By Canute Tangwa
What positive role did colonisation play in Africa and Cameroon in particular? On June 30, 1960, late Patrice Lumumba declared loud and clear to the newborn Congolese nation and the world: "We are proud of this struggle, of tears, of fire, and of blood, to the depths of our being, for it was a noble and just struggle, and indispensable to put an end to the humiliating slavery which was imposed upon us by force.
“This was our fate for 80 years of a colonial regime; our wounds are too fresh and too painful still for us to drive them from our memory. We have known harassing work exacted in exchange for salaries which did not permit us to eat enough to drive away hunger, or to clothe ourselves, or to house ourselves decently, or to raise our children as creatures dear to us.
We have known ironies, insults, blows that we endured morning, noon, and evening, because we are Negroes. Who will forget that to a black one said "tu", certainly not as to a friend, but because the more honourable "vous" was reserved for whites alone?
“We have seen our lands seized in the name of allegedly legal laws which in fact recognised only that might is right. We have seen that the law was not the same for a white and for a black, accommodating for the first, cruel and inhuman for the other.
We have witnessed atrocious sufferings of those condemned for their political opinions or religious beliefs; exiled in their own country, their fate truly worse than death itself.
“We have seen that in the towns there were magnificent houses for the whites and crumbling shanties for the blacks, that a black was not admitted in the motion-picture houses, in the restaurants, in the stores of the Europeans; that a black travelled in the holds, at the feet of the whites in their luxury cabins.
“Who will ever forget the massacres, where so many of our brothers perished, the cells into which those who refused to submit to a regime of oppression and exploitation were thrown?"
By telling it as it was, Lumumba sealed his fate. He was killed in very humiliating circumstances by forces that saw the positive role of colonisation. The Algerian war of liberation and the massacres that ensued is an apt example of the negative role of colonisation.
Yet, history textbooks used by high school students in France make scant reference to it. This is also true of French atrocities in Indochina that ended in the routing of the French army in Dien Bien Phu.
Few Kenyans, particularly those who lived the Mau Mau years would look at the British Union Jack with pride and longing. This holds same for Zimbabweans who fought a longstanding liberation war against Ian Smith, backed covertly by the West. In Kenya like in Zimbabwe and South Africa most of the arable and fertile lands are owned by whites.
In Cameroon, the negative role of colonialism included the forceful eviction of the Bakweris from their fertile lands (present day plantations) and their relocation to barren homelands by the Germans; genocide committed in Bamileke country by the French colonial administration in the guise of a war against UPC communist maquisards; elimination of prominent nationalist leaders like Felix Moumie, Ernest Ouandie, Um Nyobe, Ossende Afana, Douala Manga Bell and so on.
Last November, unemployed, uneducated, angry and rudderless black and Arab youths transformed their despicable suburbs in France into roaring infernos; setting ablaze cars and buildings. This was in apparent reaction to the electrocution of two of theirs who were fleeing from alleged French police brutality. It was also an indirect call for attention to their plight.
In reaction, French Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, an immigrant himself, used very harsh words - "scum" and "rogues" to describe the rampaging youths. The outburst fuelled the anger of the youths.
Then on December 13, French President, Jacques Chirac, retorted belatedly to the offensive remarks of his loquacious Interior Minister. He said; "In politics the choice of words is important, there is no category of Frenchmen…and when a person commits an offence or crime, he is a delinquent or criminal…that is what the law says…" (my translation). However, the damage had been done.
Still in November, the people of Martinique protested strongly against the visit of Sarkozy there. This was in reaction to the law on the positive role of French colonisation enacted in France and the harsh language of Sarkozy.
The celebrated Martiniquais novelist, poet, negritude champion and populist leader, Aimé Césaire, had already served notice to Sarkozy that he would not receive him. Sarkozy had to cancel his trip but vowed to make one later.