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Hon. Wainchom Francis Isidore Nkwain – Life and Death

Monday 27 October 2014

By Innocent Chia

HON.FRANCIS-NKWAIN 1928 - 2014: The passing away of Senator Francis Nkwain on Sunday October 19, at the Yaounde Central Hospital, continues to echo disbelief and shock waves especially among family, friends, but also the community at large. A long time midrange fixture of the Biya regime, Senator Wainchom Francis Isidore Nkwain was a riveting polarizing regional political figure and cultural icon. Without pretense, he lived life on his own terms, loved boyishly, served loyally and cared tremendously for his own and himself.

The life of the party:

For those who came to know Hon. Francis Nkwain, he was this handsomely trimmed gentleman with an enthralling, absorbing presence and seamless dance moves. I was a kid when I met Bobe Francis Nkwain. He was visiting Cameroon from his diplomatic outpost in Russia. I was in awe of his dancing skills. His steps were graceful, never out of rhythm, and he was wearing a beautiful smile to match the effortlessness of his moves, alluring onlookers, and certainly converting admirers like me into lovers of Njang kom. He was never in a rush with his dancing, even as he aged, but there was no youngster that danced Njang or Chong with rhythm in their heart and soul like Bochong Wainchom Francis Nkwain.

Bochong Wainchom Francis Nkwain will be remembered for his dexterity with the spoken word, especially his native Itanghikom. At the few kom meetings that I attended as a youngster and at which he spoke, he held me spellbound, neither by ideology or wisdom of it, but by a stylistic and linguistic command of the Kom language (Itanghikom) that was akin, in my mind, only to Shakespeare and the English language. He kept an even-kill, soothing and sexy tempo, never raising his voice, even when his was a diatribe over the disdain that most Komrades entertained for his party, the ruling CPDM.

Diplomatic and Political Career

In the mid 1980’s Honorable Francis Nkwain was serving out his diplomatic career on a home stretch in Yaounde as the director of protocol at the Ministry of Foreign Relations. Prior to it, he had served as cultural attaché with Cameroon Embassies in Washington DC, London, Moscow and Nigeria. Some Kom colleagues in the Diplomatic corps included Bobe Alex Chia (of blessed memory) and Bobe Thaddeus Nkuo. (Bobe Nkuo was First Secretary of Cameroon in Washington at the time of the search for the missing Afoakom and demanded that it be returned to Kom from New York). Sources credit the late Rt. Hon. Augustine Ngom Jua, then Prime Minister of Southern Cameroons and a fellow Komrade, as the godfather of the diplomatic careers of his erstwhile peers - classroom teachers. As fate would have it, former President Ahmadou Ahidjo called on Hon. Nkwain to serve out the parliamentary term of the Rt. Hon Jua when he died.

Unlike his contemporaries, Jua and Foncha, Bobe Francis Nkwain never engaged actively in the independence politics of the day. He served out his diplomatic career without brouhaha or remarkable accomplishment and returned home for sunset.

Then life happened. Happenings included the death of Joseph Awunti, the presidential Minister in charge of relations with the parliament, in November 1987. According to unconfirmed sources, President Biya wanted someone from the same region to step into late Joseph Awunti’s shoes. Nkwain was selected. He went on to serve as Minister of Mines and then Minister Delegate in-charge of the Commonwealth.

Images (2)During his time in Biya’s cabinet, Hon Wainchom Francis Nkwain’s did not make easy or popular political choices for the convenience of others. His political bride was the CPDM and he made no bones about it. In the hay days of opposition politics in Cameroon, he never shied away from the frontlines of defending one-party rule, and paid a heavy price when his personal property was destroyed by foes that he labeled political thugs. Every turn he had, he took the battle to supporters of the opposition and chastised them on the futility of their platforms. Anecdotes abound of Hon. Nkwain taking the floor, particularly when Komrades were eating their fufu-corn and vegetable (njama-njama and khati-khati). He reminded them that his reason for addressing them while they were eating was because they were so consumed with downing the loaves of fufu it limited the possibilities of them heckling him. He would remind them that they were insulting the CPDM but eating all this good food made possible by the CPDM.

It is arguably to his credit, and many likeminded CPDM stalwarts of the Northwest Region of Cameroon, that the CPDM political party and regime has made significant inroads into the SDF fief. He showed resilience in the face of adversity, and their efforts, together with lots of other variables, dwindled SDF influence from 21 parliamentarians in the golden age of the party in the NW, to a mere 12 parliamentarians today. Agree with his brazen brand of politics and ideology or not, his question to his opponent was always one and the same – who in the SDF will give you the money to construct the roads, build hospitals, decree schools or build other public infrastructure? In his eyes, and those of his supporters, the party and the state were one. He would argue with anyone that he certainly earned the confidence of President Biya to be one in the handful of appointed Senators in 2013.

Personality, family and ethos -

Before his recent appointment to the Senate, Senator Francis Nkwain served as Board Chairman of the University of Dschang. Though a political appointment, it could only muddy the waters of a rather complex relationship with the “intellectual / academic class”. There was almost a mutual contempt for each other. Almost every Kom PhD holder, especially those who were lecturers and University professors in the mid 1980s and 1990s suffered one form of ridicule or nickname from his truly. Many saw it as a paralysis of fear which seemed to dictate that every Kom PhD holder was going to become the President’s next flavor du jour and probably compromise his position in government, even when he was in wait for the next appointment.

It is during his tenure as Board Chair at the University of Dschang that he penned the political treatise Cameroon: High Grounds for National Unity and Peace. The 203 page manuscript was published in 2008.

In his native Komland, the jury long returned on what Bochong delivered to his people, on the bacon that he did not bring back home for the development of his people. By his own very standards he echoed how a brother could not be atop of a mango tree and not feed his kinfolk with the best fruit. At worst, he intimated, just shaking the tree branches and doing nothing else would ensure that some fruits were dropping on his kinfolk. Many have suggested that once on the tree he grew wings that enabled him to pick just what he needed for himself. Hence, claims of Bochong Nkwain playing an influential role in the German grant for the construction of the Kom road have been debunked as hallucinatory. So too are claims of the granting a divisional status to Kom (to be credited to former Secretary General at the Presidency, Joseph Owona and an unnamed female Komrade), or of electrifying the village…or setting it up for the modern telecommunicatons age.

Given his diplomatic career; given his cabinet positions; and given his overall exposure, there was general shock at how he handled the most contentious matter of matrilineal succession in the Kom tradition. His choices were different. It is a credit to family strength that there was mending following prolonged acrimony and court adjudication.

Francis Isidore Nkwain left no doubt as to his deep love for the Catholic Church and faith, a faith that he came to in large part because of the faith of his mother, Nini Thecla Neng. Born in 1901, Nini Thecla Neng was credited at her funeral in July 2012 as one of the early Catholic faithful in Njinikom. She was 111 years old.

Francis Nkwain met and married his wife, Josepha Nguti in the late 1950s. The widow will be joining their seven children (six girls and a son), and grandchildren to mourn the husband, father and grandfather. Kom also mourns the loss of a son and title holder, Bochong Nkwain, who, at about 85 years of age, reportedly danced his last dance in Mvomeka, at the funeral of the mother-in-law of the man he served loyally and sacrificially, President Paul Biya. Senator Wainchom Francis Isidore Nkwain will be laid to rest during a State funeral in Njinikom.

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