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My Odyssey: Nfon Mukete Signs Off in Grand Style!

Monday 24 March 2014

Let me say it right from the start: “My Odyssey – The Story of Cameroon Reunification” (SOPECAM, 579 pages, 17 Chapters) is a good book, an important book, a very welcome book. History is always the loser when actors on history’s stage like Nfon Victor E. Mukete leave the stage without personal records of how they fared. He has succeeded to leave the impression in my mind that he is a big man on the reunification stage. “My Odyssey” did not have to wait until Nfon Mukete is 96, or until the reunification is 53 to be published; but as is the case in Cameroon today, if I say better late than never, many people may think that I am just borrowing Biya’s phrase used in Buea, as if I did not start hearing and using it since I entered primary school before reunification in 1961. Yes, better late than never!

I finished reading the book last weekend in Buea where I went as a “tourist” to see for myself the “changes” in the colonial capital that have become the talk of the town, so to say. When I talked about the book to some friends that attended the “reunification colloquium” at the University of Buea, they dismissed it with a wave of the hand, saying that they saw the book in the “colloquium” hall but paid no attention to it because they knew that Nfon Mukete could only write a “new deal” version of the reunification story. They were wrong!

True, Nfon Mukete can be said to be a child of two worlds. The first is the Southern Cameroons where he grew up, and in which he and his contemporaries used their “political capital” as an asset which they exploited to the advantage and benefit of Southern Cameroons, against the overwhelming, combined power of Nigeria and Britain. The second is the world Ikomi Ngongi paints for the present day Southwesterner (Anglophone).

By some interesting coincidence, not long after I put down the book, I read a write-up in The Post Newspaper titled “How to waste socio-economic, cultural and political capital and get punished for it,” by Ikomi Ngongi. He defines “political capital” as a tangible, palpable asset at the disposal of communities and constituencies, meant to be used to their advantage and benefit whenever it is necessary; as a people’s understanding of their own collective self-worth that raises their bargaining power to bring about deserved developmental and other benefits to a community.

Ikomi also describes Southwesterners (and I would say Anglophone Cameroonians) as people who seem to have lost their own sense of community and oneness of purpose in a society that has been horribly corrupted and devastated by greed and selfishness; people who are incapable of dealing with objectivity and of facing the truth; people who have lost their own souls, who are weak and cowardly, who are thoughtless, divided and “unpolitical;” people who do not know how to use their political capital. Indeed, he thinks that they are a people who continue to be “thankful” to a political system that “humiliates, abuses, marginalizes and disdainfully spits on them”; they have mortgaged the future of their children for present individual, personal, fleeting benefits.

So, Nfon Mukete with feet firmly planted in this second world painted by Ikomi, has written the story of his (their) exploits in his first world of Southern Cameroons. This has not affected the clarity of the narrative, but the constraints of his second world have tainted his conclusions and recommendations. Many such stories usually suffer from distortion of events by failing memory or by the willful manipulation of records by participants to improve their appearance before the bar of history. It is to the credit of Nfon Mukete that he does not fall prey to this because much of what he says is supported by “authentic letters of key players.”

There may be an “intrinsic goodness inherent in human nature,” to use words from the Foreword of the book, but human history tells us that left to their own designs, human beings cannot be trusted not to try to get the better of their fellow men; there is a natural human tendency, especially those charged with wielding the power of the state, to prey on their fellow men. This is why humanity adopted the Rule of Law to hem in power, and govern its exercise. Nfon Mukete’s two worlds are variously affected by the rule of law: in the first, the sacrosanct place of the rule of law and firm belief in its authority permitted them to use their political capital in their interest; in the second world, the virtual absence of the rule of law led to reneging on important agreements, even those signed into law!

Of course, Nfon Mukete’s generation made preparations both within their political parties and in multi-partisan meetings in Mamfe, Bamenda, Kumba, and other places, for their impending political contacts with “their brothers.” Because of the unpredictability of human nature, all such “contacts” are usually complicated operations that need laborious preparation, including elaborate simulation to guard against the incalculable of history. During such preparatory meetings, all types of scenarios are supposed to be played out in group discussions, or at least in the minds of the actors to prepare answers for all eventualities: what shall we do if the other people do this?; if this or that happens, what are the steps we will take to address them? Such thorough planning provides guards against all possible, embarrassing outcomes.

Nfon Mukete and his contemporaries did not engage in such thorough planning, so they have been variously criticized for it. This is why he states candidly that “A lot of criticism has been made about the [Foumban] Conference and its decisions. But quite frankly I really do not see what difference I [degreed and experienced] could have made in it. Ahidjo made a famous statement during the 49th Meeting of the Fourth Committee of the UN in 1959 when he stated (capitals are Mukete’s): ‘WE (FRENCH CAMEROONS) ARE NOT ANNEXATIONISTS. IF OUR BROTHERS OF THE BRITISH ZONE WISH TO UNITE WITH INDEPENDENT CAMEROON, WE ARE READY TO DISCUSS THE MATTER WITH THEM, BUT WE WILL DO SO ON A FOOTING OF EQUALITY.’ We had no reason to doubt the sincerity of this statement. There was no issue involving a struggle by warring factions fighting for conquest over the other party…”

Hindsight is usually richer in wisdom than is usually available at decision point. Indeed, Nfon Mukete pleads that “We should not assess events at the Foumban Conference as they appear in hindsight in the 21st Century, but instead as they looked to protagonists in the 1950s and early 1960s.” Yes, hindsight tells us that their image of essentially good “brothers” united in the quest for reunification was misplaced; they failed to integrate the fact that even a “brother” could be equally as dangerous as the Ibos that humiliated, abused, marginalized and disdainfully spat on them. That is what Ikomi Ngoni says our “brothers” are doing to us today! It is all about power: the behavior of the Ibos was a reflection of the power they wielded in Southern Cameroons governance. Nfon Mukete and his peers could have learned from the history of other peoples like Americans who discovered shortly after their independence right back in 1776 that their own “brothers” (Americans) could be equally as dangerous as the English they had just got their independence from. It is the search of Americans for self-understanding, their realization that people in power - brother or foreigner - would not on their own realize the common good, that led to the answer articulated in the American Constitution of 1789.

So what should be done? Nfon Mukete responds that “….I must say that what the leaders of this beautiful, God-given and blessed country should do is to reflect deeply on what is needed to remove mutual suspicions…” He also says in the Preface of “My Odyssey” that “This book can be read at many levels: the literal meaning given by the words on the page; the philosophical level: a good book has a hidden message, a moral lesson to be learned.” At the philosophical level, I would say that Nfon Mukete’s book is a candid call for our own search for self-understanding to provide our own appropriate answer that is long overdue. If his generation did not accept that Ibos and others should humiliate, abuse, marginalize and disdainfully spit on them, there is no reason for this generation of “Anglophones” to accept it from their “brothers.” Although Nfon Mukete’s book is only concerned with his exploits in his first world, his expression of disappointment at the neglect of the English language, the rampant corruption and embezzlement of public funds, and the absence of true decentralization are clear indicators that he is not totally happy with the state of present day Cameroon – his second world.

Nfon Mukete describes many people in his book as “staunch reunificationists: JN Foncha, ST Muna, SA George, AN Jua, AW Mukong, WNO Effiom, Nzo Ekhah Nghaky, B Fonlon, Gorgi Dinka, I Malafa, Tamajong Ndumu, VA Ngu, Ndeh Ntumazah, and many others. One of the credits of the book is to bring these players and many others closer to the reader for critical examination. The fact that some like Foncha and Muna since apologized for their mistakes related to reunification, and others like Mukong and Gorgi Dinka think that the decision should be reversed, while others of French Cameroun origin that he also mentions like R Um Nyobe, F Moumie, E Ouandié, A Kinge and other had a rough time in the reunited Cameroon speaks volumes about how their reunification dream fared, and about the present state of the country.

PM Kale, EML Endeley, LN Namme and NN Mbile were founding members of the NCNC in 1944; PM Kale, LN Namme and JN Foncha were founding members of the CYL in 1944; VE Mukete wrote an article in West Africa Magazine in 1945 criticizing the division of Kamerun by the Milner/Simon Line. These incidents and many more brought out in the book argue strongly for the indigenous origin of the reunification struggle in Southern Cameroons; they debunk the hoary myth that Southern Cameroonians were influenced in their decision by people of French Cameroun origin settled in Southern Cameroons. The volt-face of RJK Dibonge who became a “rabid integrationist” only strengthens the argument.

The ganging up of Endeley and his party/government against a sick and dying SA George of Mamfe Constituency and his sorry treatment by the government until his death would have surely been of interest to politicians of the other myth of the SW/NW divide if it was Foncha’s government, not Endeley’s. The incident is a strong message that what a province, a region, a people need above all else, is a strong society of well informed, critical and engaged citizens capable of giving themselves the right institutions and the right leaders – strong institutions in a weak society can also be as oppressive as strongmen.

The mastery of the English Language by the author of “My Odyssey – The Story of Cameroon Reunification” and the authors of the various documents published in the book is another irrefutable testimony that the standards of today’s education are far lower than those of yesteryears. The reader will not only enjoy reading the words on the pages, but will obviously enjoy indulging in the exercise of decoding the “hidden” philosophical message in the book.

What is sure is that some people are made for troubled times; others for routine. More importantly, some people are meant for sowing the wind, and Nfon Mukete is one of such; others are for reaping the whirlwind, and the present generation is burdened with that.

Tazoacha Asonganyi

Yaounde.

See online: My Odyssey: Nfon Mukete Signs Off in Grand Style!