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« Memory Lane (May 6, 1991): Bloody Crackdown on the University of Yaounde Student Movement | Main | Cameroon and "Motions of Support" »

Saturday, 07 May 2011

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J. S. Dinga

Even in the darkest of nights, there are a few bright spots in the sky. It is in this connection that I doff my hat to Dr. Peter Vakunta for his ability to take a look at the golden traingle and actually tell it like it is. No outsider can come and heal Cameroon better than its own sons and daughters. But that healing starts with a careful examination of the situation as it is, followed by whatever remedial action is called for.

Many options are probably at our beck and call but nothing can be initiated without first coming to terms with the fact of our collective predicament. If the famous Bruce Lee succeeded the way he did, it was simply because those he conquered allowed themselves to be taken one by one until they were all annihilated. Cameroonians are woefully fallling to the ruse of divide-and-rule! Cameroonians are a smart people if and when they choose to; the problem is to recognize what is at stake and stand up to be counted. We have very few leaders, a good number of followers, which is as it should be. But what we have too much of are a category that neither leads nor follows - the critics. Of course we need critics too but we have more than our share of this category. To do anything about our plight, we need to take a few steps back in time and start analyzing where we went off the rails. Others have done it, so can we.

How many people have ever heard of the Musinga Drama Group in Buea? Probably very few. Yet here was one entity that is trying to do for contemporary Cameroon what the likes of Victor Hugo did for France, projecting the society's foibles on to a screen so that they can search their consciences and wake up to the challenge. How many support Musinga? How many care about the fate of newspapers and news media in general? Yet, just as our internal immune system ferret and get rid of diseased cells and organs to save the rest of our bodies, so also do these news organs focus their searchlights on the evils and perpetratiors of evils of society, to expose and destroy them. Yet press muzzling has been the weapon of choice used by oppressive regimes and their "sous-prefets". Perhaps giving Musinga a chance and leaving our press alone is a good starting point.

Professor Vakunta, more grease to your elbows.

limbekid

I always appreciate an intellectual who interacts with the public beyond the classroom.

I don't think the average Cameroonian consumes more alchohol than the average Briton for instance, but as the article highlights, unlike the Brit, the Cameroonian has little to celebrate.

The flaw with this (and many other) diagnosis is the scant focus on socio-cultural issues plaguing the continent. Other issues worthy of mention would be: irresponsible parenthood; poor diet; an over-preoccupation with mundanities; a propensity for short-term seasonal planning; a disproportionate birth to productivity ratio (our technological per capita contribution is almost nil).

As for the Anglophone problem. Does the robustness of an argument make it right? One can argue (facts on hand) that the Anglophone has a case for marginalisation, but so too the other communities: the muslim North could defend a case for Shariah law, as well as Islamic Studies at tertiary level; the pygmies in the East could argue for more developmental imput in their region. If you think this is far-fetched, examine the Mbororo issue (http://ecas2007.aegis-eu.org/commence/user/view_file_forall.php?fileid=934). How does one become Anglophone? By birth, or by choice? Is one more proficient in English by virtue of being born Anglophone, or as a conscious professional choice? Jean-Emmanuel Pondi for instance, is technically Francophone, but he is also a Oxford graduate, has written tomes in English, and is as proficient as any Anglophone. Would he be any less a ambassadoral candidate for a English-speaking country?

A complete generational detachment from the current over-reliance on the civil service is the long-term solution. Insisting on proportional distribution (our share of the national cake) will always remain a difficult conundrum. Besides, such a solution only perpetuates and recycles old problems.

Emmanuel Elangwe

Now we are talking...I really enjoyed reading your piece, sir. I was especially intrigued with this section: Chronic inebriation.

Is alcohol really that big of a problem in our society? Are we to conclude that, if the alcohol consumption rate of the average Cameroonian should drop by half, we would see a corresponding increase in economic growth or personal well being? Will a "zero" alcohol policy boost economic growth? While the answers to these questions might be best answered by "experts", my humble opinion is...I don't think so. If "Alcohol is the opium of the Cameroonian people," it is fair to say, a ban on alcohol production/consumption will dramatically change the fabric of Cameroonian society for the better. Then again, are the any studies out there which support this theory?

Again IMHO, where others see a problem, I see a vital and viable economic engine. The "alcohol" industry in Cameroon has created and still creates a wide array of private sector jobs in engineering, marketing, distribution, sales etc. Some of these jobs are highly skilled and high paying jobs. This industry also brings in a huge tax revenue for the State. whether this revenue is put to good use is a discussion for another day. The "alcohol" industry has led to a boom of small business owners in every corner of the national triangle in the form of bars, night clubs (whether you like'em or not), trucking owner operators...etc!

Cameroonians DO drink...but not as much as some might want to make us believe. A simple research-online- points to the contrary. Cameroon doesn't rank amongst the top 30 nations of the world in alcohol consumption per capita. We are not in the top 5 rank in Africa when it comes to alcohol consumption per capita. Alcohol consumption being beer, wine, hard liquor, local/native brews as well. We are not in a class of our own when it comes to celebrating with alcohol, if you doubt it read the Bible and or any other ancient texts. It's funny though, the world's top consumers of alcohol are also the most advanced economies...shouldn't that be the other way around?

J. S. Dinga

If we sincerely expect to move forward in this debate, we ought to avoid the temptation to use fallacious arguments and comparing things that are definitely not comparable. Those who have lived through our short history of cohabitation know that the terms Anglophone and Francophone were coined to designate the geographical entities - English-speaking and French-speaking areas of the country brought together at unification. Rendering the concept murky by singling out smart individuals who have mastered the English language(Jean Emmanuel Pondi) or extracting tribes(Muslim north, Pygmy east) in the Francophone zone and elevating them to the bogus invention called "Anglophone tribe" has been the unfortunate ruse used by those with an agenda to trivialize the divide, thereby downplaying the injustices at the root of the problem.

As for alcohol consumption, no one doubts the fact that people resort to it to narcotize themselves as a way of coping with some of the underlying problemns. Alcohol drinking is only one way of filling the gap that should logically have been taken up by useful activities like studying or working. The notion of "deuxieme bureau" survives only because an effete system allows it, having turned its back to parameters like GDP, aqccoountability and others used for measuring progress.

limbekid

@ John Dinga,

Just wanted to point out that a staunch supporter of the Anglophone cause, once chided me on this forum, for using the terms "Anglophone" and "Southern Cameroonian", interchangeably. Anyway, as you acknowledge, the concept is "murky".

Emmanuel Elangwe

@LimbePikin
Fanned and Faved: The concept is "murky".

J. S. Dinga

The inescapable ingredient is geography. Francophone, like anglophone Cameroon, occupies a distinct area of national territory. Those interested in playing legerdemain with the issue can go ahead and do so.

Also, from Ahidjo to Biya the number of Cameroonians of English expression who served as translators and interpreters at the Presidency of the Republic are legion - the Mbelems, Yangos, Mongwas, Chumfongs and tons of others - yet none of them has ever claimed to be francophone! Our master dribblers who have mastered the English language and now want to pass for anglophones know what game they are playing.

It may sound superfluous but at this stage of the game it is important to remind our prevaricatrors that Anglophone Cameroon has tribes as well.

Emmanuel Elangwe

@J.S. Dinga
Can you further expatiate on geography being the inescapable ingredient? (If you don't mind). Is it fair to ascribe the term Anglophone to a Bamileke who resides in either the S.W/N.W Region? Would a Hausa resident of Kumba be considered an anglophone? Do you have to be a descendant of any of the indigenous tribes of these 2 regions to be considered an anglophone? I understand the history, don't get me wrong, just confused as h&ll with the geography thing!!!

I'm also curious to know what are those specific problems indigenous only to the N.W and S.W Regions, and I will not settle for answers like: francophones call us names, Francophones are corrupt and rude ( as I gathered in the Op-Ed above)...etc. My opinion (more wrong than right) has always been that the is a Cameroon Problem...corruption, nepotism, clientèlism, underdevelopment a gogo...etc.

I guess it's a really MURKY issue.

Douala

Wow!! this is one of a piece. I think it was written by a great mind that Vakunte is. I always feel happy when i read such piece of intellectual work that tracends the sould and make you believe in a better tommorow even whne there is actually no hope and very less options.

J. S. Dinga

Great minds always seek to know more and it is good for society. People who ask genuinely always find their answers from a steadfast search.

In answer to this lingering question, which my good friend Amougou would gladly categorize as "un faux probleme", I can state off the bat that Hausas in Kumba or Bamenda antedated unification and the introduction of the words Anglophone and Francophone. The same is true of Bamilekes in those towns. Frankly speaking, tribalizing this problem is the saddest thing any honest citizen show want to throw into the mix.
One elegant method to circumvent and not address this vexing anglophone problem has been to elevate this category of persons to the fictitious "eleventh province".

And now that we are at it, the late Professor Bernard Nsokika Fonlon was the epitome of bilingualism in the history of Cameroon. No one ever lost sleep over his identity as an anglophone simply because he spoke Moliere's language so much better than the rest of us. Also, those using this very issue to render even more murky a clean cut issue have never had to debate "where" to take their final exit from this troubled life. To know who is anglophone or francophone, just follow coffins bearing the remains of this category that seeks to distort a people's history. I am keenly aware of an aberration where residents of Tiko voted what they thought was one of their own into the National Assembly only to wake up to a parliamentarian crusading for a province for his tribe!

limbekid

I hope we don`t derail from the initial intention of this article (diagnosis of issues plaguing Cameroon).

On the side issue of Anglophone/Francophone, I guess what I`m trying to point out is that, ethnicity is a stronger unifier (identifier) than language: the former is encoded in the DNA, while the latter can be adopted. As such the issue of "Anglophoneness" will always remain cloudy. To clear the air I hope we can all agree, Southern Cameroon refers to region of origin, while Anglophone refers to the defining characteristic.

It is a political reality that Anglophones are a numerical minority in Cameroon but that should not blind us to the fact that there are universal issues afflicting the greater majority of Cameroonians (unemployment, poor infrastructure, poor nutrition, encroaching deserification in the North, educational isolation, health issues...). These should be our concern. We should not kowtow to the interests of political aspirants building a career on the sentiments of the greater public.

Emmanuel Elangwe

@J.S. Dinga
If language is not a primary indicator of "Anglophoness" and you shun tribal identification as an indicator of that identity, will it be safe to conclude that "residency" of those 2 regions suffices to qualify an individual as "Anglophone"? Geographical areas are just...geographical areas, people plus whatever agreed upon social contracts constitute a village, city, region or state. A closer look at the various "tribes" indigenous to these 2 regions show a wide spectrum of people with very differing cultures and customs...a 50 miles journey in any cardinal direction will put us through at least 2 or more different tribes...What is the social glue holding these people together? If not the language (English/Pidgin) what? British colonial nostalgia? Less than a decade of West Cameroon quasi autonomy?

The Cameroons union has not been a perfect one, I will be the first to admit. I'm just concerned about an eventual balkanization just for short term political gains (IMHO). I might be wrong (and it happens ever so often), but I'm really enjoying having this conversation with you. I'm learning as we go, and I appreciate your patience with my curiosity.

J. S. Dinga

I take no particular pleasure in monopolizing such an important discussion or in repeating what has already been articulated. Frankly I too love to read other people's ideas to help me fill the lacunae in my own understanding.

Having said that, what else can I add than that the problematic terms "Anglophone" and "Francophone" came into being as a human coinage at a given time to describe preexisting entities over defined geographical stretches of national territory? Inadequate as these terms may appear today, they did serve a useful purpose when they were first coined. It was never a question of going into any of the geographical areas to make an inventory of resident tribes or intellectuals; it was just a way of designating those who were evolving under former British colonial Administration (Anglophone territory) or French colonial Administration (Francophone territory).

The bone of contention today is that secondary issues like tribes and ehtnic groupings in one or the other have been elevated and equated to the original classification to accomodate persons who have studied and mastered "the other" colonial language. Insults and other derogatory epithets which Dr Vakunta documents are simply the product of falure to address the main issues. By hyping this category of individuals who straddle the famous(East/West) divide, we do injustice to the majority who rightly lay claim to the original classification. It is disingenuous to create new Anglophones and new Francophones out of our more enterprising citizens and then reduce the original claimants to nought simply because no one takes up their case.

Additionally, when a multiplicity of factors exists for a particular phenomenon, problem solving requires some degree of prioritization so that the major issues are tackled first. In our approach we have simply lumped everything together as if they are equally weighted. Surely chronic alcoholism cannot supercede the notion that Cameroonians of English-expression are being treated with levity by the majority French-speaking congeners, a fact at the root of all the brouhaha!

limbekid

J.S. Dinga, no need to apologise. It would be a less interesting site if there was no content.

red bottom

I follow you VIA GFC and I love your blog!

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