It would have been enough to dismiss the now infamous Buea Declaration as the ranting of overzealous, self-seeking, and misguided CPDM courtiers, parading themselves as Southwest elite. But against the backdrop of the Anglophone problem and the embarrassing spectacle of political scavengers stumping around the national stage as leaders, the Declaration cannot be allowed to stand without the benefit of a response. Expectations were high that a meeting called and chaired by former Prime Minister, Peter Mafany Musonge would undertake a patriotic, honest and frank diagnosis of the present situation and chart a Pan-Anglophone way forward out of the impasse. To the utter embarrassment of the nation, it turned out to be a spectacle of odium with xenophobic attacks on Northwesterners, who were vilified and blamed for the ongoing teachers and lawyers’ strike that has grounded schools and crippled the justice system in Anglophone Cameroon. By any streak of the imagination, the sycophantic rally was more than disgraceful, unconscionable and irresponsible. This divisive clamor and inflammation of primordial sentiments is unpatriotic and unacceptable and all Southwesterners should feel a sense of outrage at this unbelievable shame that was contemptuously perpetrated in their name.
What happened in Buea was an aberration which fits the pattern of elite impunity in which meetings are goaded and rented crowds are requisitioned to agitate and influence political direction in the name of public engagement. At the risk of overstating what is by now so obvious, the fact that the strikes persist is proof that, these self-appointed guardians of the Southwest estate do not represent Southwesterners; their shameful and sycophantic gratification to the corridors of power notwithstanding. To these self-acclaimed elite, these pertinent questions are just appropriate: who made them leaders? Can they truly claim a mandate of Southwesterners to speak on their behalf? Were these elite unaware of the arrest and detention of Anglophone Consortium leaders; the ongoing abductions, rape, torture and killing of innocent civilians, including university students? Are they so insensitive, so emotionally disconnected and lacking even the basic humanity to empathize? How would any of them feel if their own daughters were abducted and raped? If they truly cherish the interest of the Southwest as they claim, wouldn’t meetings on these issues be a more edifying higher calling than partisan politicking?
In convening the forum, Musonge showed leadership. But by joining the perfidy of playing up primordial sentiments, the former PM; now Senator and Grand Chancellor of National Orders; to whom much has been given; and from who much is expected; misread the political climate and veered off the path of statesmanship into the quagmire of political grandstanding; denigrating beyond measure, his person, the office he holds, the institution of the Senate he represents and all Cameroonians as a people. For a detribalized Cameroonian to have committed such a great blunder and colossal error of judgment, so late in his career, is beyond disbelief.
As if Musonge was not shocking enough, Chief Tabetando boasting that the government-imposed internet shutdown and social media communication blackout in Anglophone regions was at the behest of Southwest elite, was a deeply distressing sight beamed to the world. Coming from a legal luminary and Senator, with the gravitas to have a clear understanding of government and politics, this is unacceptably irresponsible. With his petulance and foul temperament, Chief Atem Ebako set a new low, in what, unfortunately, has become the unedifying trademark of his favorite pastime - graffi-bashing. Chief Ebako obviously lacks Musonge’s urbane disposition and Chief Tabetando’s pedigree and power of elocution. But traditional rulers ought to be wise and profound men, able to sift the fad from the enduring and offer their views with such premium as would distinguish their voices from the rabble. His claim that strikes in the Southwest are perpetrated by Northwesterners is confounding.
But even more embarrassing was Prof. Nalova Lyonga. In a fit of bad judgment, she directed a barrage of condemnable invectives at students of Northwest origin, blaming them for strikes and unrest at Buea University, where she is the vice-chancellor. Lacking in the cultured intonation expected from someone in academia, this perverted kind of politicking is uncomplimentary to her status and beneath her office. In the judgment of an average sense of decorum, her garrulous banter betrayed a moral weakness of asinine proportion which is inexcusable. Certainly, Prof. Lyonga needs to execute her office with greater competence and grace than she has done.
One of the values of democracy as the people’s government remains its support of, and respect for, free speech in an open decision-making process. In this regard, everyone is entitled to his opinion. Yet this process is verily endowed by the dignified public comportment in deeds and words called decorum. It is a denigration of the collective spirit and a negation of the inviolability of the Cameroonian people, for holders of hold high public office to cheapen their exalted position as leading lights of the people with comments which portray them as imprudent loose cannons and anarchists. In civilized democracies, even just for reasons of decency, of self-respect, of a sense of propriety, and consideration for best practices in public office, these elites would have been relieved of their duties for bringing their public offices, to so much odium. This absence of stately comportment displayed by persons, who by authority and common trust are supposed to be epitome of civility, is highly disturbing as it sends the wrong message to the lower rung of the political ladder. If the sensibilities of law-abiding citizens are assaulted by bigotry and intolerance; does it surprise anyone why there is a high level of official rascality by mediocre politicians like Mayor Ayuk Takunchong in Mamfe and his Buea counterpart, Patrick Ekema, who, willfully and ignorantly, lack the requisite leadership capacity and temperament for governance?
Graffi-bashing is nothing new; it has gone on for so long, and has become something of a political culture for Southwest CPDM elite. True, NW/SW relations have had its challenges, which have been overplayed for propaganda purposes by selfish politicians and elites on both sides. These elite seem blinded by messianic delusions not to realize or accept that times have changed. Fact is, there is much that unites Northwest and Southwest than divides them. And in the context of the Anglophone fight against marginalization, the unhelpful reasoning that the Northwest is responsible for the economic retardation of the Southwest is patently misplaced and has no redeeming political value. It is a claim of crass ineptitude, to see demands for a return to two-state federation as a ploy by Northwesterners to dominate the Southwest in a future Anglophone state, because of their demographic advantage. The present generation of Southwesterners have nothing to fear from Northwesterners and the discord being sown by some Southwest elite suggest crass ignorance or outright mischief and betrays a lack of political sophistication. Anglophones are politically savvy to see through the hypocrisy of those fighting to maintain and expand their private economic and political estates on the back of our collective misery.
Animosity towards citizens from another region of the country is not only wrong and downright divisive; it is a brutal assault on national unity and a violation of the constitution that gives every Cameroonian “the right to settle in any place and to move about freely.” Nation-building is not a task for simpletons or irredentists. Anglophone and Francophone intellectuals and opinion leaders have a responsibility to educate those who pretend or actually do not understand that unity and sovereignty are better when peacefully negotiated than when forcibly foisted. Forced nationhood is not only wrong; it breeds conflict and serves no useful purpose. Within one generation, the forced Soviet empire collapsed like a pack of cards into different entities. Yugoslavia disintegrated into a collection of warring states. Germany once forcibly divided eventually evolved into one country. Eritrea came out of Ethiopia even as Menelik II had sold Djibouti to the French almost 116 years ago to fund the modernization of Addis Ababa. Sudan was forced to let Southern Sudan go after years of war as a result of injustice from centralization. Within just a quarter of a century, India, the world’s largest democracy, evolved from one territory into three countries (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh).
The Southwest elite who met in Buea must understand that Cameroon cannot make progress with the current centralized arrangement which encourages indolence on the part of some while they feed fat on the resources of others. Of course, it appears the only people who do not understand federalism are those cocooned in the corridors of power. And many of them dishonestly interpret federalism to mean a political ploy to break up the country. This divisive and puerile misrepresentation of federalism as secession by politicians and elite is dubious, self-serving and unpatriotic. With all the benefits of federalism, including the fact that all regions in the country have one comparative advantage or the other to exploit in strengthening fiscal federalism, the issue now is how to reform governance institutions to create a true federation with viable, autonomous regions running their own affairs.
It is worth reiterating that elite imperviousness to reason and lessons of history will continue to endanger Cameroon’s unity. And such disposition as seen in the government so far to the issue of federalism will do more damage to the unity of the country than anything else. President Biya should no longer be fooled; the proponents of federalism are the true patriots who want a solid foundation for a united and prosperous Cameroon. The parochial irredentists who interpret federation as breaking up Cameroon are the real enemies of the nation.