Andze Tsoungui, one time Vice Prime Minister and one of the longest serving cabinet Ministers in both the Ahidjo and Biya governments died early last week in Brussels, Belgium. Andze’s career spanned close to half a century, beginning in 1958 when he was appointed assistant to the sub-divisional officer of Nanga Eboko. That same year, he was transferred to Douala as assistant to the head of the Wouri region. This was at the height of the UPC insurgency of which Wouri, along with the Sanaga maritime was a hotbed. After a brief stint in the East, he was appointed the Divisional officer for Mungo in 1961.By this time, the UPC insurgency had ended in the Sanaga Maritime, and the area of operations moved further west to the Mungo and Bamileke regions.
Andze Tsoungui’s primary mission was to crush the UPC rebellion by any means necessary. He carried out his mission “without concession” until 1963 when he was promoted to the position of Federal Inspector for the entire Littoral region (which included Mungo and Wouri). In 1965 he was transferred to the Western region still as the Federal Inspector (During the days of the federal republic, Cameroon was divided into six regions, each headed by a Federal Inspector whose job was similar to that of today’s provincial Governor). It was under his watch that Ernest Ouandié, the last historic leader of the UPC was arrested in 1970 alongside Bishop Ndogmo, and executed in January 1971 thus ending the decade-long UPC rebellion.
With the dissolution of the federation in 1972, Tsoungui became a Minister in Ahidjo’s first cabinet under the new “United Republic”. He subsequently held a series of key cabinet positions in both the Ahidjo and Biya region, including the position of Vice Prime Minister under Biya – a position he held until 1997 when he left Government for good...
As Paul Biya’s Minister of Territorial Administration (interior) in the early 1991 and 1992, he played a central role in crushing the nationwide opposition insurrection and the Ghost-town. Even more critical, he was the brains behind infamous October 1992 presidential elections, which President Paul Biya won thanks to what observers unanimously agree was a massive and well-oiled rigging machinery controlled by officials of MINAT. As the National Democratic Institute (NDI) stated in its 1992 interim report:
“The election system provided civil administration officials responsible to President Biya - including the Minister of Territorial Administration, divisional officers and sub-divisional officers — with excessive discretion in matters of voter registration and ballot tabulation, which many officials abused to further the political interests of the incumbent president.”
Without doubt, Père Andze, as the French-language media dubbed him back then, was one of the last survivors from that generation with an intimate knowledge of the unknown details of pre and post colonial history, from the bloody decolonization, the crushing of the UPC rebellion, the reign of terror under Ahidjo, to the emasculation of the Cameroon opposition in the 1990s.
Alas! The world will never get to know Andze Tsoungui’s version of these landmark events. Like the majority of key players in Cameroon’s pre- and post-independence history, he died without writing his memoirs or an autobiography. He therefore joins a long list of prominent Cameroonians on both sides of the Mungo who never bothered to write their memoirs thereby depriving future generations of Cameroonians of the right to know and understand their past. It was Francis Wache who once wrote in Cameroon Tribune (February 16, 1990) that “our historical heritage would be compromised if not jeopardized if those who are participating in the hurly-burly of our national life were to leave the stage without a written legacy.” Time is proving him right.
Beginning with the former British Southern Cameroons, neither EML Endeley nor John Ngu Foncha who served as Prime Ministers of the territory wrote their memoirs before their death. Similarly, Augustine Ngom Jua and S.T. Muna who all later served as Prime Ministers when the territory became known as the federated State of West Cameroon wrote their memoirs.
Similarly, of the original 13 Southern Cameroons representatives who sat in Nigeria’s Eastern House of Assembly in Enugu in 1952 (the Cameroon bloc), only one, Nerius Namaso Mbile, wrote his memoirs which were published in 1999. In this regard, Bate Besong was on target when he lamented some two decades ago (Cameroon Post, July 29, 1988) about the “paucity of Anglophone Cameroon autobiography, i.e., for its first generation politicians”. [As a side note of the original 13, only Pa Lainjo is still alive today. [Click here to read his interview in l’effort camerounais ].
As Dr. Julius Ngoh pointed out in the case of Dr. EML Endeley (Cameroon Tribune, August 5, 1988):
“There is no perfect human being – and this failure to leave behind an autobiography or memoirs may likely play into the hands of his detractors”.
It was the same song heard 17 years later when George Ngwane lamented in his eulogy to former OAU Secretary-General, Nzo Ekhah-Ngaky, that in the three decades after his resignation from the OUA and until his death in 2005, Nzo "became as politically silent as [his] Nguti grave… chose the path of retreat and reticence". As Ngwane rightly points out, the absence of a memoir from Eka-Ngaky has been a great disservice to disservice to Cameroon and Africa as a whole. This lament was also echoed by Xavier Luc Deutchoua (Mutations, June 18, 2005) who regretted that:
Nzo Ekangaki died in Yaounde without talking or writing, just like Charles Assale, Théodore Mayi Matip, Samuel Kame, Dooh Kinguè, Paul Soppo Priso, John Ngu Foncha and other personalities who guided the newly independent Cameroon. He has gone to the afterworld without writing his memoirs. (My translation).
Today, it is most likely that second and third generation political personalities from the former trust territory of British Southern Cameroons – former Prime Ministers Achidi Achu and Mafany Musonge immediately come to mind – will keep up this disheartening tradition as there is no indication that they are working on their memoirs or have commissioned anyone to write their biographies.
Praise must therefore be given to rare gems like Albert Mukong who published two tomes of his memoirs (Prisoner Without a Crime and My Stewardship in the Cameroon Struggle) both of which shed light on some of the dark practices of the Ahidjo regimes and Biya regimes and covered a 30-year period.
Although the situation is only slightly better in the French Cameroons, especially in recent years, it is still the same sad story. The territory’s first Prime Minister Andre Marie Mbida died without writing his memoirs; the same with former president Ahmadou Ahidjo. Others who played critical roles in Cameroon’s post independence history such as the notorious Jean Fochive who was the head of the secret police from 1960 until his dismissal in 1996 (save for a few years) also died without memoirs.
To date, none of the prominent actors of the new multiparty era have written a personal account of their roles in the major events of this period – the Ghost town campaign, the controversial elections of 1992, 1997, 2002, etc, numerous attempts at establishing viable opposition coalitions, student activism in the multiparty era, rebirth of Anglophone nationalism, etc.
To their credit, some players such as journalists Boh Herbert and Ntemfac Ofege (Prison Graduate) and Rtd. Justice Nyo Wakai (Behind the Fence) wrote about their experiences behind bars in 1990 and 1992 respectively. Cho Ayaba, a student leader in the mid-1990s and a founder of the Southern Cameroons Youth League (SCYL) has also published an account of his clandestine departure from Cameroon to Germany. Similarly, Ebale Angounou who was instrumental in the 1991 arrest of University of Yaounde student leader Senfo Tonkam also published his memoirs regarding his alleged ties to the Biya regime.
The Broader problem
The absence of memoirs, autobiographies and biographies in Cameroon is merely one facet of a much broader problem, i.e., the collective inability (or unwillingness) of Cameroonians to keep historical records for posterity or to even consider these records as important contributions to the national collective memory. For example, there are very few publications containing key political speeches, landmark declarations and documents of our times (save those of Presidents, Ahidjo and Biya).
How many of us can still remember the content of the document that sent Yondo Black, Albert Mukong and others to jail, and opened the political floodgates in 1990? Who still remembers Jean Jacques Ekindi’s famous “the single party is dead” speech that silenced the multiparty holdouts within the then single party the CPDM Or Celestin Monga’s open letter to Paul Biya in 1991?
How many Cameroonian scholars ever mention the speech made by Ben Muna, then President of the Cameroon Bar Association on March 27, 1990 at the Meridien Hotel in Douala which brought the Yondo affair to the public attention, transformed the bar association in a pro-democracy organization and served as a catalyst to public dissent to one-party rule in the country?
“I am convinced that the time has come for lawyers to take a stance… We are not behind bars but we are prisoners of our fear… Barrister Yondo might be behind bars, but here we are, the real prisoners, tiptoeing in order not to awaken our conscience… I call on the Cameroonian Bar to express in one clear voice, the problems of human rights in our country. I hope they will have the courage to do it.”
How many people are even aware that John Fru Ndi made a speech at the launching of the SDF on May 26, 1990? And what about all those historic speeches made at the All Anglophone Conference in Buea in 1993, including the mea culpa from Muna and Foncha? Did the AAC ever bother to publish a compilation for posterity?
The result has been collective memory which borders on collective amnesia. To borrow from Peyi Soyinka-Airewele, our collective memory is like “a chessboard of colored and blank patches” – blank patches that will never be filled up.
It should be pointed out, however, that the responsibility for this state of affairs is not solely that of politicians. The fact that someone is a leading public or political personality does not automatically make him or her a writer. Hence, historians, writers, journalists and other scholars also have a responsibility to assist key political figures in documenting their individual memories – memories which in their aggregate help build collective memory. Did anyone, for example, ever approach Nzoh Ekangaki to co-author a memoir about the Lonrho scandal that led to his resignation as OAU Secretary-General, or about his prominent role in the pre-plebiscite unification debates as President of NUKS-UK? Or has anyone bothered in these last few years to get 96 year-old Pa Lainjo to finally tell his Cameroon story? I doubt it.
For decades Cameroonians could end up in Tchollire, Mantoum or other political prisons if they dared – even in private – to articulate ideas that were contrary to the official discourse. This partially explains why entire generations of Cameroonians died without putting anything on paper, especially when their narratives of key events conflicted with the official line. People rarely kept incriminating documents that the Secret Police could stumble upon. Today, however, that excuse is no longer tenable. Even people still in active service such as General Pierre Semengue have written memoirs that not only talk about their role in key national events, but also give their personal take on the ongoing political process.
It is our hope therefore that the current crop Cameroonian politicians and other public figures will break from the past and start writing for posterity. Wishful thinking?