A Short Story of a Storied Statesman
Celebrating the Life and Legacy of
His Excellency, the Honourable Francis Isidore Wainchom Nkwain
Washington, DC, Saturday, November 1, 2014
Your Excellency, the Ambassador of Cameroon to the United States of America
Our Dear Mother, Mama Nkwain
My Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Dear Friends, Dear Mourners,
His Excelleny, the Honourable, Bochong Francis Isidore Wainchom Nkwain – Teacher, diplomat, parliamentarian and politician, Government Minister, Senator and Statesman, father and friend to many, has crossed over the other side of the Jordan River. The cross-over was as swift and smooth, as it was sudden and surprising to those of us left behind in this waiting room of death called life.
Today, we put on our garments of grief to mark the common passing of an uncommon Patriarch and patriot. Unlike us, Senator Francis Nkwain leaves us garbed in veritable garments of glory. The story of this storied Statesman is one that must be recounted with authority and authenticity. I am, indeed, privileged to have known him closely and to have interacted with him extensively over the last three decades, arguably the most flourishing and flamboyant of his 84 years on earth.
Senator Francis Nkwain’s narrative on life here on earth is full of insight, instruction and inspiration. His, has been a journey of consummate grace and gratitude. Senator Nkwain lived out each day of his life on earth in full awareness and acknowledgement of his blessings. He knew the Lord’s hand was upon him, and he wore upon himself the colorful garments of gratitude. Senator Francis Nkwain will surely be among those who will come before the Lord with gladness, who will enter his gates with thanksgiving and unto his courts with praise.
Genuine gratitude translates itself into selfless abandonment and sacrificial action. Senator Nkwain knew this, and while he lived, he utilized to the fullest his unique talents and special gifts to the service of fellow man, country and God.
He was a passionate patriot who believed in the brotherhood of all Cameroonians, in the unity and strength of our country, and in the good and glory of Cameroon. He understood that love, whether of man or of country, is a delicate flower; if you do not tend its garden, it will die. When in the early 1990s the North West Region rose up clamouring for change without a chance for political compromise, Bochong Francis Nkwain rose up in opposition against any political posture, urging for reasoned dialogue in place of diktats. His political loyalty and fidelity are deeply rooted in the political revulsion and revolt in the North West at the time. Minister Francis Nkwain was determined to re-establish and reflect the lost sense of calm, compassion, communion and confidence that is commonly associated with the people of his Region. He became the torch bearer of hope for a hopeless province and people, a true champion of the Cameroonian cause.
He had the gifts of voice and verve, of eloquence and exuberance, skillfully sharpened through successive years as a teacher, diplomat and parliamentarian. These qualities danced out of him like butterflies from a cocoon when Minister Nkwain was marshalling the process that led to Cameroon’s admission into the Commonwealth of Nations from 1989-1995. During this period, he visited all major commonwealth countries and attended most, if not all Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings (CHOGMS), making the case for Cameroon’s admission into the Club of Gentlemen. In a memorable 1994 trip round the world during which I accompanied him to the UK, India, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, Commonwealth leaders were astounded by Minister Nkwain’s passionate and convincing arguments, to the extent that, at each stop, the response was always “Cameroon couldn’t have selected a better advocate for her bid to join the Commonwealth” – a reference that
caused Baroness Chalker to chuckle and offer spontaneous assurance of support by the UK. In yet another milestone file in which his contributions are perhaps little known but very significant, I witnessed Minister Nkwain stir the ire of world leaders over the Nigerian invasion of Bakassi. Behind his cool charm and charisma was hidden a hot red determination and devotedness to duty, and duty done with diligence and dispatch.
He was an avowed optimist, refusing anything and anyone from robbing him of the great gift of hope. He saw nothing but possibilities where many would see only problems. As Minister Delegate at the Foreign Ministry, Pa Nkwain was called from the Presidency one Friday afternoon at 4 pm with instructions to travel to Harare, Zimbabwe, to represent the Head of State at a summit meeting. He was to travel with me, then a Senior Adviser at the Presidency. Not only were we informed late, we were left on our own to make all arrangements to be physically present in Harare for the summit opening on Monday morning. This seemed almost impossible to accomplish over a weekend, and I was almost boiling over with anger, when quietly, Minister Nkwain jumped behind the steering wheel of his car and rushed to his bank manager to whom he explained the situation, pleading for advanced credit to enable us buy air tickets, and for funds to be wire to us in Harare. Within barely
two hours of receiving the instructions, we were driving from Yaounde to Douala to catch our flight. That is probably the day I learnt to stop grumbling and realized that there is always a way out of any bind. Pa Nkwain avoided grumbling and gambling for personal profit.
Senator Nkwain had character and the courage to act on his convictions. His many private correspondences to the powers that be, on practically all politically polarizing and even personally sensitive issues, are very telling. He always chose to communicate, not to complain. In any heated political discussion, he would shout down all the complainers and grumblers, but by night, he would cogitate and capture with characteristic candour and courage the good that must be done to keep our nation strong, united and prosperous. “Why do you always send out confusing signals about yourself by taking issue with others who complain about things that need redress, whereas in all your private missives to the Powers that be, you courageously put forth the same grievances?” – I once asked him after a near fist-fight between him and another compatriot. “What! Do you mean you see my write-ups to the big man?” he retorted somewhat surprised. “Yes, of course,
and as we speak, I have three of your powerfully crafted letters on my desk”, I responded. “The truth, Solomon, is best heard when spoken softly with humility”, he wisely concluded in admonishment. Minister Nkwain was the Nicodemus of North West politics – he earnestly sought the truth by night.
The Bochong was a big man with a boy’s heart. He carried himself with dignity and humility. He kept company with the old and young alike. He remained intensely curious and interested in understanding creation and the Creator. He looked for beauty and bounty in the world and sought freedom and felicity in all things. He laughed a lot, and would laugh to tears at anything he found funny. To him, the human world must have been a film of comic characters. He could mimic and mime situations with artistic dexterity. He was a storied dancer, and is fondly remembered and revered by many diplomatic colleagues with whom he served in world capitals from Lagos, London, Moscow, to Washington DC. In this, he was a true cultural icon of his native Kom – the land of song and dance.
His devotion to family was unparalleled. He loved and cared dearly for his wife Mama Nkwain, observing regularly their anniversary with a thanksgiving Mass and festivity in their home. His children were not merely family members, but also his best friends, too. After a long and successful public service career, he returned to spend more time with his beloved mother who preceded him in death barely two years ago at the venerable age of 111 years. What grace! Pa Nkwain was an offshoot of divine grace and favor.
I was honored and blessed to know him, to work with him and to become his son, his friend. I travelled the world with him, and shared the Word with him – he a devout Catholic, and I a traditional protestant with a hint of Catholicism from my early education in Catholic schools. Often, we would mumble our way singing the old Latin Mass and canticles. “You have changed the way I view Protestants”, he would tell me, perplexed to hear pious Catholic utterances from a non-Catholic. Senator Nkwain loved God, and reflected that love on a horizontal plane by loving man. He was compassionate and charitable. The standing rule in his house was to welcome any visitor with a drink, always before announcing the guest to him. He was that warm and welcoming. He opened the doors of his home to me and gave me a seat of honor in his heart.
He was a great soul. Great souls encourage others. Great souls empower others. And great souls emancipate others from the shackles of ignorance that inhibits; fear that freezes; want that weakens; and hate that hurts and harms. Great souls do not live for themselves – they live for others. That is His Excellency, The Honorable Senator Bochong Francis Isidore Wainchom Nkwain, my Minister, my Mentor, my Father, my Friend, my Hero.
I am truly thankful to him for memorable moments shared together; for songs of faith sung together; for the poetry of literally giant, Bernard Fonlon, which he so cherished and shared with me; for his infinite wisdom that made me see the hidden pain in all pleasures and the hidden pearls in all pain. For these, and for much more, I am deeply grateful to Senator Bochong Francis Nkwain. He taught me lasting lessons and inspired me with his fiery positive spirit. My one regret is that I failed woefully in his dance class. He was a world class dancer who stormed the stage in the company of the world’s clumsiest dancer that I remain.
It is with deep sorrow that I bid him farewell, yet I am forced to smile, knowing the Bochong is headed for glory land. When sorrow mixes with a smile, the product can only be a song of comfort.
I thank Natalie Sleeth for giving us this best loved song of comfort titled:
“In the bulb there is a flower”;
There’s a song in every silence,
Seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness,
Bringing hope to you and me;
From the past, will come the future,
What it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed, until its season,
Something God alone can see.
In our end, is our beginning;
In our time, infinity;
In our doubt, there is believing;
In our life, eternity;
In our death, a resurrection;
At the last, a victory;