How I feel about 11th February - #MyHopefulBrothers #2
The GOOD thing about taking the time to write an article is that I can calmly collect and express my thoughts. That was also the refreshing thing about having a blog some of you may recall….or nah. Im thankful to Deb for letting me borrow her platform to express myself as a cool, calm and collected Jennifer. Not in the moment, from reading a Facebook comment or twitter mention or from hearing about the arrests, kidnappings killings of her brothers- Jennifer.
I am not new to the Anglophone problem. I was the best History student in my A Level class (A Grade of course) and it was beyond just listening for exams. I have a real passion for History, for stories that occurred before me and how they shaped the life I live now and how they may shape the life I lead in years to come. My History teachers had the same passion. I remember Mr Seino vividly. “Legend”, to say the least. He had taught my uncles and older cousins and had just moved to my school in Lower Sixth. I was nervous when he spoke of analytic thinking, essays, grading on 25 and no one scoring above 16. First day in class they let you know “World History” and “African History” are Paper 3 of the GCE A Levels and combine for 30%, Cameroon History is Paper 2 and is 40% and MCQs are Paper 1 and combine for 30%. You start thinking: to pass the GCE, I have to master Cameroon History then. Mr Seino could tell from the 1st day how much love I had for the subject. My 18/25 was no surprise in the 1st test. It is in that same light that Ms Akonumbo who taught African History fell in love with me and most importantly my Cameroon History teacher: Mr Tangong who is now of blessed memory.
My History classes felt like the movie Sarafina to me. I thought someone is going to break in here and arrest my teacher for constantly telling us: “The Foumban Conference was a SHAM!” I am grateful today for Mr Tangong who dared to teach the syllabus truthfully even if a lot of us may have listened for the sake of passing. I have engraved with a time stamp in my One Note my life projects/dreams and it includes “winning CNN African Journalist Awards for my documentary titled ‘My English Cameroon through My Eyes’”. It’s safe to say that I was always aware of being “ANGLOPHONE”. I want to trace back to the time when I first recall feeling Anglophone and not English speaking Cameroonian. Born in Yaoundé to a dad from Bouraka, somewhere in Mbam et Inoubou and a mom from Akum, I spent months every year of my life in Mile 4, Akum for as long as I can remember. I attended funerals, weddings, went to the farm, church, toghu-wearing festivals, spent 7 years in secondary education and had long holidays there. I took pride in that culture very young. I spoke Enlgish and French in school, at home and in Church and remember being “Miss Bilingualism” in High School. But that was never enough to make me feel like a Cameroonian alone and not ANGLOPHONE. “Anglos” and “Bamenda” were very common terms in the town where I grew up and for as long as I can remember; they were said with contempt and usually implied ‘primitive’ or ‘inferior’. It could have been for a young girl with shaved hair, or a girl with mixed coloured outfits or for those who simply didn’t express themselves in French properly.
Bamenda, where I come from was a symbol for all things English speaking. The best way I can describe Bamenda is HOME. Not just for me but for everyone. Life was gooooood in Bamenda. The town was clean, food was affordable, and crime was low. Bamenda to me meant being my brother’s keeper, a sharing people, a hardworking, just and resilient people. All I learnt in my History classes only went to cement that feeling. Bamenda had been one of the big four divisions of the British Administration in Cameroon which was split into Victoria, Kumba, Mamfe and Bamenda(later split into 3: Bamenda, Wum and Nkambe). British Southern Cameroons was thriving before independence. We had a parliament, airports, the CDC, secondary educations institutions and a functioning system of governance. We had the economic and political potential to become an important territory in Sub Saharan Africa. Somebody somewhere felt that we were going to be better off assimilated into Nigeria or into French Cameroun. And we found ourselves compelled to make a choice between the devil and deep blue sea. The devil here for Nigeria because we had lived with them for years and knew it was absolutely out of the question and French Cameroun, the deep blue sea from which we had long been separated and with whom we kept little or no ties and did not know so well. It was a marriage of convenience. Only difference in the English system, when you left your parents to become an adult you left for good with little or no advice and help afterwards. But in the French system, you parents continued to depend on you and you continued to depend on them.
This choice has lived to hunt Southern Cameroonians of several generations. Not because this marriage was destined to fail but because nothing was done to make it work. There has been systemic political and economic oppression of a formerly separate territory. There was no such place as Cameroes, Kamerun, Cameroon, Cameroun before 1884! What was formed by colonial masters, we took as our fatherland and we did nothing to make everyone in it feel like this was the land of his/her fathers in its entirety. The CDC that existed since 1947 is now completely run by French Cameroonians. Crude Oil was 1st discovered in the 80s in British Southern Cameroons and the SONARA created to manage it. After over 40years of independence, we still had no educational system and were threatened with complete eradication of what we managed. We were obliged to go to Yaounde to further education because there was simply no Anglophone school for Higher education. A series of strike actions including suspending schools led to the creation of the GCE Board in 1993 as well as the University of Buea.
The autonomy of Southern Cameroons has been systematically demolished since its independence on October 1st 1961. The creation of a unitary state and unitary political system and the centralisation of power in Yaounde have worsened the situation over the years. Important dates in Southern Cameroons history have no importance in the current state of Cameroun. Southern Cameroons is one territory which voluntarily elected to get into a union with La Republique du Cameroun on 11 February 1961. Nobody forced us into it although we were limited with our choices. Nobody can also forcefully keep us in it. This is not an ANGLOPHONE problem in the context of Cameroun because we all suffer from the effects of bad governance. This is a question of the self determination of a people who have felt like outcasts in a marriage they joined on their own. Treating it as a problem within Cameroon that can be resolved with governance adjustments is not enough. It is not a quest for decentralisation. It is a quest for autonomy. The question here is of the right to manage its legal, educational and political systems of governance whether that is within a greater union or not. 11th February is not only Nelson Mandela’s prison release date. It symbolises the start of a union in West and Central Africa of a people kept apart for over 40 years. Life had changed a lot and older people made a decision for the future of younger people and their generations to come. It was and is not impossible to make this Union work but today Southern Cameroonian YOUTHS are out again complaining about the same issues every generation complains about: “THIS UNION IS A SHAM AND DOES NOT WORK FAIRLY FOR ALL OF US IN IT.”
11 February 2017 will be a day for me to reflect on the History of the place I come from, to mourn the current arbitrary arrests, internet shut down, injured and loss of lives for voicing legitimate concerns, to regret the deterioration of this Union and to reflect on the way forward.
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