By Nantang Jua et Piet Konings (Culled from "Occupation of Public Space Anglophone Nationalism in Cameroon", Cahiers d'études africaines, 175, 2004)
The regime and organic scholars (Ahidjo 1968; Forje 1981; Fogui 1990) have often attempted to historicise Cameroon only in terms of its present mobilisation needs, in particular the construction of a national consciousness as part of the nation-building project. They are, therefore, engaged in an impressive dose of historical amnesia–willed acts of selective remembrance of the past so as to erase Anglophone identity and heritage from national history.
Anglophone nationalist leaders and scholars, in turn, have quickly recognised the importance of rediscovering Anglophone history as an invaluable political resource in combating the regime and raising the consciousness of the Anglophone population. They have therefore attempted to bring back Anglophone identity into the historical space, strongly contesting some of the myths created by the regime and organic scholars. We have only room here for a few examples.
Myth # 1: “Cameroon has always been one and no more”
One myth is that “Cameroon has always been one and no more”12. In creating this myth, the regime and organic scholars attempt to dismiss the role of the colonial state in “inventing” Cameroon itself and in creating two distinct communities on Cameroonian territory. Unlike Ardener (1967), they are arguing that Cameroon was already in existence before colonial rule and that colonialism only fostered a rupture in the pre-colonial conviviality and cordiality traditions that were “determining ancestral values”. Consequently, Anglophones should “transcend historical barriers” and return to the original situation in which all people in Cameroon lived together amicably and peacefully (Nkoum-Me-Ntseny 1996). Anglophone nationalists have instead constantly argued that the colonial state was far more important than the (largely mythical) pre-colonial state in mapping out the historical trajectory of the post-colonial state (Konings & Nyamnjoh 2003).
Myth # 2: Reunification was warm-heartedly and freely embraced by both parties
A second myth is that reunification signified a long-awaited reunion of people separated for many years by arbitrarily imposed colonial borders and thus was warm-heartedly and freely embraced by both parties (Donfack 1998: 35). Anglophone nationalists have instead provided sufficient evidence that the people in both territories were reluctant to reunite. Not only had the two communities gone through two completely different colonial experiences prior to reunification but they had also lived longer apart than together in a body politic.
The idea of reunification, which had been mainly propagated by the radical nationalist party in Francophone Cameroon, the Union des populations du Cameroun (upc), and Francophone immigrants in Anglophone Cameroon (Joseph 1977; Awasom 2000), had for a long time remained a mere slogan in Anglophone Cameroon and had simply been rejected by the French colonial administration and the majority of the Francophone political elite. Many Anglophones did eventually vote for reunification but only after they had been forced by external forces to abandon their preferred option of creating an independent state.
The idea of unification was not debated in Francophone governmental circles until February 1958 when the French High Commissioner, Jean Ramadier, assured Alcam, the territory’s parliament, of “independence as well as the union of the two Cameroons”–most probably a tactical strategy to appropriate the cherished slogans of the upc rebels and deprive them of their ideological platform. His caution that these issues fell within the reserved competence of the French government was superfluous because Anglophone Cameroon was terra incognita to the parliamentarians. Even when Ahmadou Ahidjo replaced André-Marie Mbida as prime minister in the course of that year, reunification was still seen as “un ajout du haut commissaire” (Gaillard 1994: 84-89).
Even on the eve of the un-organised plebiscite in Anglophone Cameroon in February 1961, reunification remained low on Ahidjo’s list of political preferences which, according to a United States intelligence report, were as follows: (i) to lose in both the Southern and Northern Cameroons; (ii) to win in the Northern Cameroons where his ethnic and religious brothers, the Fulbe Muslims, were in power, and to lose in the Southern Cameroons ruled by an elite with close ethnic ties to his opponents in the southwestern part of Francophone Cameroon; (iii) to win in both regions; or (iv) to win in the Southern Cameroons and lose in the Northern Cameroons13. This shows that Ahidjo, whose power position was still weak in Francophone Cameroon in the time preceding reunification, was more concerned with reinforcing his electoral base than with reunification per se (Awasom 2000; Konings & Nyamnjoh 2003). He did not want to upset the current situation and thereby cause a shift in power relations.
Myth # 3: The constitution of a reunified Cameroon was agreed upon in Foumban in 1961
A third myth is that the 1961 Foumban Conference was a historic event where estranged brothers mutually agreed upon a federal constitution for a reunified Cameroon. However, for Anglophone nationalists, the conference was an occasion where the Francophone majority used its superior bargaining strength to control negotiations and enforce a form of federation far below Anglophone expectations. Lack of respect by Francophones for even the minimal “consensus” arrived at in Foumban has been traumatic for Anglophones and has come to play an essential role in their collective identity and psychopathology.
Myth # 4: The 1972 Unitary State was the outcome of a massive vote by Cameroonian people
A fourth myth is that the unitary state was the outcome of the massive vote by the Cameroonian people as voluntarily expressed in the 1972 referendum. Anglophone nationalists have instead pointed out that, given growing Anglophone disillusionment with the union, the referendum results were more likely a manifestation of the regime’s autocratic nature than of the Anglophone population’s support. In other words, fear prevented Anglophones from expressing their objective interests. The ballot box was far from secret, election results were fixed beforehand, and it was neither politically wise nor politically safe to hold and express views different from those of the president, let alone oppose in word or deed any of his plans or actions. In 1991, Solomon Tandeng Muna, who was prime minister of the federated state of West Cameroon and vice-president of the federal republic at the time of the referendum, admitted in a radio interview that he had not dared to reveal to Ahidjo the true feelings of Anglophones about the referendum because it would have been tantamount to signing his own death warrant (Boh & Ofege 1991: 16).
Strikingly, Anglophone nationalists have also been deeply concerned with naming and the removal of historical documents by the government. Although such issues may initially appear somewhat “banal”, they turn out to be closely connected with the symbolic construction and preservation of Anglophone identity and heritage.
Anglophone nationalists refuse to recognise the government’s designation of 20 May, the date of the inauguration of the unitary state in 1972, as the country’s National Day. Since the early 1990s, they have continued to boycott celebrations, declaring it a “Day of Mourning” and a “Day of Shame”. They also indict the regime for declaring 11 February, the day of the 1961 plebiscite, as Youth Day. They see the persistent failure of the government to highlight the historical significance of this day as a conscious attempt to reconfigure the nation’s history. They have thus called upon the Anglophone population to mark 11 February as the “Day of the Plebiscite” and 1 October as the “Day of Independence” as alternative days of national celebration. On these days, Anglophone activists have frequently attempted to hoist the federation, the United Nations or independent Southern Cameroons flags–attempts that were often brutally challenged by the security forces.
Anglophones have also continuously resisted government attempts to change the historical names of localities in their territory. They have particularly opposed the change of name of Victoria, a coastal town named after Queen Victoria (Courade 1976), into Limbe, the name of a river that flows through the town. This renaming of localities in Anglophone Cameroon has often been presented as a government attempt to promote what Mobutu has referred to in Zaire as “authenticité”. Government failure to implement a similar policy in Francophone Cameroon is clear proof that its avowed goal was to erase the Anglophone identity and history14. Anglophone nationalists have re-introduced the name of Victoria during political liberalisation. Even Anglophones who tend to support the government’s project of nationisme seem to be ambivalent in their attitude towards renaming. While they usually attempt to erase the name Victoria from the public space, they sometimes appear to align with the “subversives” by respecting the name of the local football club, Victoria United, and maintaining the name of their own local college network, the Victoria Old Boys’ Association (voba).
Whatever the motivation, the removal of certain documents by the central government from the archives in Buea was also seen by Anglophones as an attempt to erase the institutional memory of Anglophone Cameroon. Anglophone perception was strengthened by the belief that the archives were a repository for documents that could give the regional population an insight into what really transpired before, during and after the Foumban Conference. It was even rumoured that one of these documents envisaged secession should Anglophones be discontent with the outcome of the conference after a stipulated period of time.
Remarkably, in the wake of the death in 1999 of John Ngu Foncha, the Anglophone architect of reunification, another rumour rapidly spread in Anglophone Cameroon that this particular document, almost the holy grail of Anglophone nationalism, which the government wanted to remove from the Buea archives, had actually been in the custody of Foncha after reunification. He was said to have handed it over to Augustine Ngom Jua, his successor as prime minister in 1965. Following Jua’s dismissal in 1967, it would have been recovered from his office, sealed, and returned to Foncha who had hidden it in a relative’s grave in the Mankon Catholic cemetery in Bamenda. Ambassador (retired) Henry Fossung, a leader of one of the scnc factions, claimed that Foncha had given it to him shortly before his death. Arguably, this is a variant of “grave digging” by a leader in quest of legitimacy. However, it acquires some respectability when it is placed in the perspective of a deep Anglophone concern with its past and identity.