The April issue of Les Cahiers Mutations (a spin-off of the French language daily, Quotidiens Mutations), carries a special investigative report on the failed coup attempt against the Biya regime in 1984, parts of which have been published online. 22 years after the coup attempt, the details of that event are beginning to get fuzzy in the minds of many, and stories of the gruesome coup aftermath characterized by indiscriminate arrests and summary executions now sound like urban legends to a generation of Cameroonians who did not live through the experience. In this regard, the Cahiers Mutations special report is a timely one.
The report, which includes interviews with a number of prominent individuals from the North who were jailed after the coup attempt, shines the light on a sad chapter in Cameroon's history which has almost always been narrated from the perspective of the victors. It shows how the events of April 6 -7, 1984 set off a deadly chain of events that swept away both the guilty and the innocent, and led to a massive and bloody purge of Northerners from the administrative, political and military apparatus.
Among those interviewed by is Captain Issa Ousmanou who was an aide de camp to both Ahidjo and Biya (pictured to the right with Biya); Hamadou Maloum first Governor of Adamawa province; Colonel Ngoura Beladji another former Ahidjo aide de camp; air force Captain, Mohamadou Mouktarou; and veteran journalist Jean Vincent Tchienehom, then Assistant Director of Programs at that national radio.
Also profiled is Guerandi Mbara, who alongside Issa Adoum then Director General of Fonader and the civilian leader of the coup, was one of the brains behind the coup attempt. Guerandi who was a 30-year old army Captain back in 1984, now holds a doctorate in International Relations the université René Descartes in Paris. He lives in Burkina Faso where he is a close confidant of Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore, a fellow classmate at the Yaounde Military Academy in the 1970s. Wild tales of Guerandi’s alleged numerous plots to overthrow the Biya regime still appear with mathematical regularity in the Cameroonian press.
Apart from Guerandi's case, practically all the alleged coup plotters interviewed by Mutations tell stories of long prison terms for crimes not committed, of being the victims of personal vendettas, of detentions in the most inhumane conditions, of ruined careers and broken families, and of the failure of the Biya regime to fully implement the 1991 amnesty that was supposed to fully restore their rights.
For example, although Captain Mouktarou successfully led the defense of the Yaounde airport against the insurgents, and was in constant communication with the military high command throughout the coup attempt, he was still arrested and sent to jail without charge. His 1991 release papers simply stated that he had been jailed for "unknown" reasons: “Those who fought under my command received medals of honor, while I lost seven years of my life. They destroyed my military career simply because I am from the North,” he laments.
Special reports like the one by Cahiers Mutations are, unfortunately largely absent from the Cameroonian media landscape. No matter one’s personal feelings about the events that transpired in April 1984, one can’t help but be saddened by the lives that were needlessly lost, or be angered by the viciousness of those who used the coup attempt as a cover to take over all aspects of national life, and to demonize and persecute hundreds of individuals who had served the country well, and had nothing to do with the failed coup.