By Joseph M. Ndifor
History is replete with events that have defined a people. The American Civil War, for example-an event that almost tore the nation permanently into two halves-witnessed the indefatigable efforts by Abraham Lincoln who pulled the Union back together. Ironically, in another civil war almost a century later, the United States attempt- beginning in 1962-to prop up the South Vietnamese government against its neighbor, was defiantly repelled by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese, culminating in the fall of Saigon in 1975.
Do events also define who Cameroonians are? I worry that the best answer to that question may be found in the just-ended charade called “presidential election”. Like other presidential elections before this, and in light of Cameroonians’ apathy about them, elections are supposed to be lenses through which the world sees us: where are we headed, our tolerance, cultural values, emerging political trends, etc. But having sold our souls to the devils, do all these considerations matter anymore?
On a recent cold October afternoon, I ran into three African military officers-from Tanzania, Senegal and Botswana, three far-flung corners of the continent- dispatched overseas by their home governments to receive advanced training. In a bantering mood, I told them I was in search of “a few good men”.
“What for?” the Tanzanian quipped.
“To overthrow an illegitimate government”, I retorted.
After a few jokes and the revelation that I was from Cameroon, they all burst out in laughter.
Ah! “Your country recently held a presidential election. How did it go this time?” the officer from Botswana, with a smirk on his face, asked.
Even before I could answer, these men, all from African countries that have experienced smooth transitions of one government after another since their respective independence, jointly said that Cameroonians have lost their “dignity” as a people and should consider the consequences.
After I exchanged a few more uncomplimentary comments about Cameroon’s leadership crisis with these officers, and feeling even more crestfallen, I left the scene in a huff. You might get a chuckle out of this story, and perhaps I am reading too much into a casual conversation, but I cannot help thinking that therein lays our window to the world.
Amid this decay and dismay, however, what also bewilders me is the fact that largesse, especially from unscrupulous government officials, is now synonymous with leadership. Even before his arrest for alleged graft, former GM of the Shipyard and Industrial Engineering Corporation, Zaachaeus Forjindjam, had, without a single voice raised in opposition, single-handedly carved out a fiefdom for himself and minions, called Meforbe, within the village of Baforchu.
For the moment, though, I’m more concerned with those Cameroonians who ought to know better but who seem to have resigned themselves to this dictatorial style of the regime. And I worry that the blame game on who precisely should bring about changes -as if there are some Cameroonians designated as agents of change! - has taken a twist for the worst. Some Cameroonians in the Diaspora-accustomed to using this forum to throw invectives, anonymously, on opposition leaders like Fru Ndi back home for this sour state of affairs-have failed to realize that it’s our collective responsibility, however small, to push for the changes that we so much yearn for the homeland.