By Dibussi Tande (Originally posted on the CAMNET discussion forum in 1998 on the 10th anniversary of EML's Death)
Had he not by accident of birth come from a minority tribe, monuments would have been raised to his honour in the Cameroons, for his thirty-seven years of counsel and vision to his people. N.N Mbile
Ten years have gone by since Dr. Emmanuel Mbella Lifafe (EML) Endeley, the first Premier of the British Southern Cameroons, passed away on June 29, 1988. Over the years, much has been said about and against him, particularly by a younger generation of Anglophone Cameroonians who still do not understand his naive romanticizing of the Nigerian option during the 1961 plebiscite, and his lukewarm attitude towards the so-called Third Option (i.e., the school of thought defended by P.M. Kale, that called for the complete independence of Southern Cameroons from both the Nigerian federation and La Republique du Cameroun).
What interests us in this article, however, is his vision on the possible fate of the English-speaking minority of the then British Southern Cameroons in a reunified and predominantly French-speaking bilingual Cameroon Republic; a vision which, more than ever before, is of supreme relevance at a time when Anglophones are constantly taking stock of their stormy marriage with La Republique du Cameroun, and are trying, for better or for worse, to chart a new course for themselves.
According to Mr. N.N.Mbile (Cameroon Post, July 29, 1988), Dr. E.M.L. Endeley was
"a descendant of the great Kuva, a giant war leader of the upper Bakweris who is reputed to have led the Bakweri armed resistance to the German occupation of Buea... Moved by the irresistible force of the blood of his ancestors, Dr. Endeley soon found himself... at grips with the mighty C.D.C. over the need for improved working conditions and better amenities for its 25,000-man work force... [the] preliminary to the much bigger anti-colonial struggle..."
This struggle was to take Endeley through the corridors of power both in Southern Cameroons and Nigeria, before propelling him to the enviable position of first Prime Minister of Southern Cameroons in 1958.
By the time Endeley became Premier, the struggle for independence-- or to be more precise, for integration with Nigeria or unification with the French Cameroons-- had become the key political issue in the British Cameroons. After initially flirting with the unification idea, Endeley became one of the staunchest opponents of the " Kamerun Idea " championed by the Pan Kamerunists who advocated for the reconstitution of the Cameroon "nation" within its pre-1916 borders. According to him, unification was not a priority, but an issue that had to be tackled from an evolutionary perspective, that is, if it had to be tackled at all... As he pointed out in a speech on May 25 1958,
"The advocates of immediate unification...still have to show the world how they propose in the interest and peace of all the sections concerned to achieve their aim. We of this government ... are convinced that far from being a priority issue, unification should only be achieved through evolutionary means..."
And in his most apocalyptic and probably most prophetic statement against unification on the eve of the plebiscite, he warned Southern Cameroonians that,
"If you vote for Cameroun Republic, you will invite a new system under which everyone lives in fear of the police and army. You will not be free to move about; you cannot lecture freely or discuss your political views in public; ...and you can be arrested and flogged by the police and even imprisoned without a fair trial ."
" Who amongst you ", he asked,
"would like to live in French Cameroun, a country red with the blood of thousands of innocent victims killed by terrorists and the Ahidjo regime...who amongst you will like to live in a country which lacks complete respect for human dignity and where you cannot speak out your mind freely or pursue your business in peace... Who amongst you will like your children to grow up in servitude?... That will be our lot if we join French Cameroun."
The majority of Southern Cameroonians refused to heed to his warnings, and voted for the Cameroun option on February 11, 1961. Once again in history, a visionary had been rejected by his people who refused to come to terms with his sense of foresight. Like a true democrat, however, E.M.L. Endeley accepted the people's verdict, and went on to contribute his own quota to the molding of the new Federal Republic. "The greatest legacy which Dr. Endeley left ", says Dr. Julius Ngoh (Cameroon Tribune, August 5, 1988),
"was, I think, the fact that he graciously accepted the decision of the electorate on February 11, 1961 and unleashed all his energies to achieve what voters had asked, without hesitating to counsel his colleagues to have in mind the interests and wishes of the Cameroonian people."
As Endeley himself pointed out at the end of the Foumban Constitutional Conference of July 1961,
"I have come here to set an example - that by working together, we can make a better country. If by this example which I have set with my colleagues we cannot produce a peaceful Cameroon, then we will be a laughing stock to the rest of the continent."
E.M.L. might have been "brash, scornful, supercilious and downright contemptuous of other politicians"; he might have been characterized by "intellectual arrogance combined with princely haughtiness ", but he was one who, according to Elive Peterkins (Cameroon Post, July 29 1988), "... was cleverly aware that where two cultures meet, the bigger one is apt to eclipse the smaller one".
Today, a majority of Cameroonians west of the Mungo have finally come to terms with EML's pre-unification prophecy. The most glaring manifestation of this change occurred on April 2 - 3 1993, when over five thousand Anglophone delegates from all over the country gathered at the Mount Mary Hill in Buea for the first ever "All Anglophone Conference"-- a conference that was supposed to analyze the state of the union between the former British Southern Cameroons and the former French Cameroun, and also map out a future course of action for Anglophone Cameroon(ians).
In what amounted to a posthumous vindication of the E.M.L. Endeley prophesy, the participants, among them some of Endeley's most strident pre-unification critics, condemned the "numerous indignities (and) humiliations", suffered by the Anglophone community in Cameroon since 1961;
"Our problem... springs from a breach of trust on the part of the Francophone leadership and from a lack of openness in matters of public interest. Within these thirty-two years our union accord has been violated. We have been disenfranchised, marginalized, treated with suspicion. Our interests have been disregarded. Our participation in national life has been limited to nonessential functions ... The opponents of reunification had warned against these forms of repression which even then were already being practised in La Republique du Cameroun. Today, thirty-two years later, Anglophones regret that they had not heeded to those warnings."
In a unanimous pang of nostalgia, the delegates recalled that;
"Before our territory attained independence in 1961, we had been practising parliamentary democracy in a politically pluralistic society which was far more developed than what obtains in Cameroon today, three decades later. We regarded democracy as a way of life, and as an ideal towards which to strive. We were neither saints nor angels; far from it. But we believed then, as we do now, that whenever a government becomes fraudulent and repressive, it is the democratic right of the people to change that government and vote in another."
In spite of his shortcomings, therefore, history will remember E.M.L. as one of the few Southern Cameroons leaders who lucidly analyzed the practical consequences of unification with La Republique du Cameroun at a time when collective myopia seemed to have gripped his people; one who foresaw that Southern Cameroons would become, to quote George Ngwane, "the biblical Jonah swallowed in the belly of the annexationist whale"; and whose dire predictions about the Anglophones' second class status within the bilingual Cameroon Republic ultimately came true in the most spectacular manner less than five years into the union (see, for example, the KNDP memorandum of August 1, 1964).
Close to four decades after his prophesy of Anglophone marginalization within the bilingual Cameroon republic, and one decade after his death, the Anglophone journey in the wilderness continues unabated. As the late Professor Obenson, pointed out after EML's death;
"There is no doubt that if we had had many West Cameroonians with the additional educational clout of Dr. E.M.L. Endeley, we would have been singing a different song today."
Copyright © 1998, Dibussi Tande