An Open Letter to Cameroonians…
Dear fellow Cameroonian,
How are you? I hope fine, though I doubt it. I doubt it because I hear you grumbling all the time.
One of my earliest memories is of family gathered at an Aunts house at Ecole de Poste, Yaoundé. It was a small two bedroom apartment with cold walls and a musty smell as a result of being built on the marshes. As we children sat on the grey concrete floors poorly covered with a tattered plastic carpet we listened to the adults grumbling about the president and the ruling party, CPDM, as the members marched in a parade televised. As groups marched with their right hand over their hearts and their left hands raised adoringly towards the president in salute, we heard the grownups speculate and mumble about how millions were being mismanaged; how this person or that was being bribed or bribing; how SDF should have won the ’92 elections; etc.
That memory has re-occurred in different houses with different Cameroonian relatives and why not, in different countries at different times of my life. The grumbling is always there; in a taxi or bus as we dodge crater-like pot-holes or stop to give some uniform-wearer (I don’t want to spoil the term title: police officer) a thousand francs note. It is there when salaries are delayed because of some technicality that has to be corrected only in some illusive office in Yaounde (and correction is not for free o!).There is grumbling when the latest shake down reveals that 20 billion had been embezzled (the money you shall never see), there is grumbling when’ concours’ are written registering 20.000 candidates for just 20 spots to be filled, there is grumbling when election time comes around and we see no change, there is grumbling in the church, there is grumbling at schools when teachers see their salaries and the size of their classes, when students are about to graduate and join the sea of unemployed, there is grumbling in the hair dressing salons and poisonneries (cold stores) when lights go off for days and there is no one to hold accountable. No one to query for the days of business services and goods lost. There is grumbling in the bars, almost always in the bars, over bottles of Guinness and 33 Export no matter the price per bottle….
Till I came to the conclusion recently that my dear beloved Cameroonians, we have what one would call a “form of discontent”. We give the impression of displeasure but it is all a charade. A very inbred charade. For our actions show that we are content just the way we are. Now dear brother don’t get upset because the truth hurts. Let me prove my point eh? Let me show you how I know you are content, let me show you why…
I know you are content because you talk much but do nothing. And even when you do, it is not to solve/address the problem but to eat your own share of the national cake. Case in point; those who have set up one of the over 200 political parties in the opposition, who we hear nothing about till election year when they vie for “campaign allowances” never to be heard from again.
I know you are content because you do not show up for elections, saying “after all what will change?” Well, nothing will if you don’t do something. I know you are content because you invest ten times the energy you would need to address your situation in Cameroon into the glorious pursuit for a foreign visa or blue passport…
I know you are content because you are ever ready and willing to bribe your way through the ‘concours’, the red tape in offices, the not having all car documents etc. and of course you expect a little “motivation” when it is your turn too.
I know you are content because you ignore your history and as a result repeat it.
I know you are content because rather than fighting for your own language not to be considered “les patois la” you learned to speak theirs…
I know you are content because you, yes you my neighbor who had grumbled about how “this man needs to step down” “this man is spending our money in France” “This man is a shame of a leader” after all that grumbling, I saw you run to the road when you heard his car was coming up from Mutengene. I watched you and many others who had grumbled and insulted that “shameful leader” I saw you people jump up and down in ecstasy waving your hands in the air and smiling. And not a hint of grumbling could be evidenced. It was as if you were not all the same grumblers, like you had forgotten or forgiven that which had disgruntled you, including the gendarme standing before us with tear gas and other weapons in his hands and belts ever ready to attack should we attempt to go too close.
I know you are content because for over 30 years the same person has ruled you and you have done nothing but talk behind his back then fawn over him with wishes of “many more years” and motions of support when put on the podium (Ah ah! You could at least say “no comment” than to do that about turn na).
I know we are content because we don’t yearn for change as much as we yearn for a chance to be posted or given some title or the other which would grant us our own share of the national cake…then we do all the things we have formerly complained about.
I know you are content because you left from Tombel, Bafut palaces, Jakiri, Akwaya and Bakassi (even Bakassi oh!) to march past in parade before a man you had grumbled and complained about. You are definitely content because you even brought him gifts. Chiefs and Fons bowed low and carted heavy “symbols of their respect and admiration” till I was sure the foreigners in the grand stand were envious of the adulation.
I’m sure you are content because that is the impression you give the head of state whenever he takes time out of his busy jaunts and decides he cares enough to look. You hurriedly fix roads, forcefully repaint houses, build new structures with some money that was there but somehow not here.
Yes, you are content and Sister mine, I know why. I don’t blame you at all oh!
Why would you not be content when landing a government matricule is the equivalent of winning the jackpot (to be paid in small monthly amounts of course)? As some say “You care you go work, you care you go play Solitaire you go still receive your 150K “
Why would you not be content when state University education is 50.000frs up to PhD! (we have never cared to check who is doing the subsidization) and then that same 50.000frs is being given back at the end of the year, and we take oh! In fact we strike to take.
Why would we not be content in a country where if someone steps on your toes (and you have enough money) you could always get the police to “handle them” (what poor man knows their rights enough to speak out)? Why would we not be content when there is always a way to bribe/pay out of a sticky situation, or into a better one?
Why would we not be content with a president who stays in power for years on end when for us to hand over as president of harvest committee in church is a problem (we know the taste of power and like it just as much as any bottled drink)?
Why would you not be content when our first lady represents us well, the majority of happy bleachers in our population and our president does what most of us would do if we were him?
Why would we not be happy when there are two drinking bars for every church?
Why would we not be happy when the performance of our football team is more of a priority and gets more analysis on the national news station than the annual budget?
Why would we not be happy when despite the tribalism and nepotism being as rampant as they are, they benefit us every once in a while… it is like playing Wheel of Fortune, you win, you lose… The fact is there are disadvantages in our underdevelopment. To whom little is given little is required.
Of course we should be content, we don’t have the Boko Haram of our brother west of us in Nigeria (who somehow thrive despite the wahala), we do not have the starvation and malnutrition of our neighbors up in Tchad, and thank God we don’t have the gruel slaughtering of the C.A.R. We are content with good reason, we are too nonchalant to strive for better, and all too aware of the “worse” all around us to risk the passive peace that we enjoy…
But my comrade, fellow Cameroonian in this letter I have only one thing to ask you: Please stop talking while eating. It is disgusting, it is unsightly and it is damn annoying. Why grumble with the same mouth you just used to give “motion for support”? What makes me say all this now you may wonder? Let me answer you.
This past week the president had an official visit to the southwest supposedly for the celebration of the reunification of Cameroon which happened 53 years ago. The week’s program included a debate as starters which casually outlined some parts of history and just as casually omitted some others. I don’t want to go through a history lesson here. But I will outline a few points just for thought;
1- On the 1st of January 1960 La Republique du Cameroun gained independence from France (Though our relations today say different. But that’s another story)
2- A year and a month later, British southern Cameroons held a plebiscite on the 11th of February to decide whether to join the Federal Republic of Nigeria as another state or return to their brothers and be one. They mostly chose the latter (despite E.M.L Endeley’s warnings)
3- A conference at Foumban later had a constitution drawn up for the Federal Republic of Cameroon where West Cameroon (Former British Southern Cameroon) and East Cameroon (Former La Republique)would each govern themselves. Their own resources and culture etc would remain theirs but of course under one federal leader: A president and Vice from each state respectively.
4- On the 1st of October 1961 as Nigeria gained independence so did Anglophone Cameroon. And on that day we re-unified with our brothers of La Republique.
5- Fast forward years of peace and relative prosperity later… Biafra occurs in Nigeria and scares our then president. He decides that a federation is too shaky - not consolidated enough - and he wants to ensure that the whole country remains “one” especially as oil has been “discovered” in the West. He cannot just break the constitution so he sacks his Vice President (an obstacle and easily replaceable one) and then organizes a referendum on the 20th of May 1972. On this day citizens all over the country are asked to choose if “They would want a United and Indivisible Cameroon?” (I’m sure most of them thought they already had that). It gets interesting … underneath that question (it is said) the options were “Yes or Oui” for bilingualism of course (read in your most sarcastic voice). So there was no way out and that is how we became the United Republic of Cameroon…
6- Some many years later after an attempted coup and without much ado or reason… our current president dropped the “united” such that what is now printed on our passports just reads “La Republique Du Cameroun”.
Now that you have those clearly outlined facts, let me query you on what exactly we celebrated this past week? Has our history not been distorted? Every year on the 1st of October a CRTV journalist proclaims another hooray to note La Republique’s anniversary of independence, but if you can recall on the 1st of October gendarmes swarm the roads of the Anglophone regions not permitting them to hoist flags or celebrate what was not only their independence day but as the President himself noted in his most recent speech THE REUNIFICATION DAY. Why is that day not our national day? Why do we rather celebrate a day as of 1972 on which most of the country was tricked? Why is 11th of February not recognized in the memory of the plebiscite but camouflaged under the cover of “youth day” (International Youth Day is celebrated on 12th of August)? Why are we finally celebrating our golden anniversary of reunification on the 20thof February, 2014? A day of NO historical consequence not to mention 3 years late! And then our leader casually quips “Better late than never” which reminds me of his “les Apprentis Sorciers” of 2008. But above all I want to ask my fellow Cameroonians why they allow it?
Why not show that you know your history, your right from your wrong? In the making of the reunification monument was any care given to incorporate symbols of our past? Heroes? Dates? Anything? This past week you we were given the opportunity to defend our own. To do something for ourselves and once again we did nothing but fawn at the person we deride on a daily basis. The president is beginning to look like someone with a country full of “fair-weather” friends. I do not blame him for a SINGLE flaw in this country because at the end of the day not only do we passively encourage it by doing nothing, we actively destroy ourselves.
So dear brother, dear sister I appeal to you to SHUT UP and STOP THE GRUMBLING, stop complaining about this or that, because you are the problem, not the president. I have never seen the president stand on the road to collect a 500 FRS note as bribe. I have never seen the president go to an office to pay to have their child’s name added to a list. I have never seen the president at Soa with money striking a deal to “buy” results. I have never seen the president force a young university girl to sleep with him for a pass in a course. I have never seen the president discriminate between his girl and boy child as to who goes to school or who gets married. I have never seen the president sell the same land twice as some “royalty” do.
You know those “Christians” prone to say “satan made me do it” or “It is the work of the devil” when caught red-handed in crime? That is how you sound when you blame the President for the bad road in your quarter or the fact that you have not had electrical power for days on end. People (yourself included) are responsible for so much and fail to go to work on time, fail to do what they are supposed to and in their lack of functioning things fail. Don’t blame one man for what would not have happened if a 1000 of us cared for more than getting our own share of national cake! So dear brother/sister I write to you pleading. Please stop grumbling, you sound like a broken record.
Sincerely, the Youth Watching You…