Wednesday, October 03, 2012
Author: Christian Cardinal Tumi
Reviewer: Emma Ngang Osong
CameroonPostline.com — President Biya’s often touted vision for Cameroon can be summarized thus: “to provide strong leadership and strong political will to fight corruption, improve governance, transparency, and accountability.” Against this mantra, Christian Cardinal Tumi, Cameroon’s first Cardinal, delivers a stunning indictment of the regime, offered by way of the social doctrine of the Church in his latest book, My Faith: A Cameroon to be renewed.
Whether given as part of a New Year message or as part of a speech when foreign dignitaries visit, Cameroonians have become anesthetized by a cocktail prescription of solemn and bland declarations from their leaders, taken alongside decades of economic downturns, corruption, youth stagnation, and rapidly degrading infrastructure.
Cameroon is an ailing nation in need of healing, not only pathologically but spiritually, echoes in the book. Her plight, as she forges ahead, is akin to the stoicism and courage of an athlete, whose broken joint is injected with pain-numbing steroids and tightly bandaged, yet still manages to deliver a good play on the field.
Cameroonians yearn for less rhetoric and more concrete actions from their leaders. The Cameroonian spirit endures, but at what price? The lofty passion that visions of a new and prosperous Cameroon might offer, thus seem ostensibly wasted under a regime wanting to rule men’s souls, but does not have a soul itself.
Cardinal Tumi opens his book with a reflection on the political and economic question: “What we are as Nation?” To him Cameroon is a nation that is not making progress. Consequently, a cross section of the nation reverts as apathetic and discouraged onlookers, who are dissociated and disinterested in political life, except for self serving purposes. This apathetic disengaged attitude, according to Tumi, breeds disgruntled and disgusted, “Cameroonians [who] do not take part in Parliamentary and Presidential elections…” (p. 21).
In his estimation, this disposition evidently exacerbates a numbing paucity and plurality of ideas, as well as, a healthy confrontation of those ideas in shaping social and political destinies. That the lack of or absence of political debate is impossible without the confrontation of ideas and plurality of opinions reminds me of the Philosopher, John Stuart Mills’ contention where he persuasively argued that “since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rare or never the whole truth, it is only by collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.”
A generation of citizens disinterested and apathetic according to Tumi, risk becoming a “shapeless multitude, an inert mass, exploited and manipulated…” (p.23) – it is a nation that has “ears but cannot hear and eyes but cannot see.” From these introductory statements, one senses quickly that the Cardinal intends to call it as it is, while offering a heavy dose of Catholic social teaching.
According to the Cardinal, a nation is many things. It manifests in the administration of the realm, where the Head of State and Head of Government is its first and foremost servant and steward. Attributes of a nation also manifest in a bureaucracy that “pretends to manage every area at hand, is [bound] to be ineffective” (p.26), quoting from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (CSDC).
A nation is a place where political communities and civil societies in the most democratic forms exist, to orient the nation toward a common good — not as instruments for perpetuating individual ends. Moving from these introductory lessons situating the Cameroonian within a nation and the failures of that nation to make significant progress, Tumi, in Chapter II, takes on the political and civil communities.
While it is not immediately clear why he charts that trajectory, few would disagree with his contention that both are interdependent and that “…it is in the civil society that the political community finds its justification” (p.34). Nonetheless, it is hard to see such justification in a nation where through a modified but ungratified constitution, a strong central Government, headed by the President, has unfettered powers to name and dismiss Ministers, Judges, Military officials, Governors, Regional Delegates, leaders of quasi-governmental organizations, and Mayors, serving at his pleasure.
He alone approves the appropriation and disbursement of budgets, without consultation with the National Assembly. Even in consultation with the National Assembly, where membership consisted of better than 85 percent of the ruling CPDM party members, it is difficult to envision a consultative or deliberative body that when consulted, can disapprove of the executive.
In a three part sub-chapters devoted to the Anglophone minority, Tumi makes the argument that ethnicity is the cause of marginalization of minorities in Cameroon and cultural inequalities invariably tilt power predominantly, in favor of the majority. This makes the English speaking minority’s ability to introduce meaningful policies that shape events in the country non-existent.
The reader also is reminded of the 1961 events in Foumban, where the overwhelming influence of French as the language of choice, was such that “at the conference table, the minority political community could not speak with that dignity, that authority of the French speaking Cameroonian…” (p.34). He notes that a colonial ally to this date, is still unwilling and uninterested in a culturally integrated Cameroon; it rather fosters assimilation. In his view, this lopsided Cameroonian political system is exacerbated further by a self-induced geo-political Northwest/Southwest Regional divide, still heavily influenced by the French, who reap the profit.
Readers familiar with Cameroon, have no problem relating to his depiction of a disenfranchised Anglophone minority. With the exception of the harmonization of the Penal Code to end the dichotomy between the English Common Law and French systems, in quoting Bernard Fonlon, His Eminence reiterates a complete obliteration of West Cameroon influence in the Nation.
That the Anglophone minority needs protection is a reading in the political machinations of systems designed to keep tight reigns on both friend and foe. For this, some might argue that minority or not, the nation is in the grips of economic and political asphyxiation, making an argument for equality, subordinate to the greater cry for meaningful change across all spectrums of the nation. As the Cardinal takes pain to list some of the ‘moral tortures’ inflicted upon Anglophones –the reader can find for herself/himself, a litany of unpardonable moral tortures, inflicted on the people, with particular references to Anglophones
Before offering how the Anglophones can and should be protected, an unexpected statement pops up in the early parts of this chapter. He asserts… “one of the biggest groups that has much embarrassed successive governments of our country is the English speaking minority group.” (p.32). While it appears he offers no further explanation, readers are left to infer for themselves what the writer intends by this statement.
Perhaps the Anglophones have embarrassed by: failing to maintain their culture; to seek greater autonomy or even independence; or in working for the common good. Moreover, perhaps, they failed in their duty to promote the freedom and dignity of others, even when opting to adopt the culture of the majority.
While at times one cannot infer the contents of a chapter or a section by the title, Chapter III is an exception. In “The evils that are destroying our country”, a quick read of the sub-title gives the reader all that she/he needs to know. I take exception to the section titled: “A democracy not yet sure of itself.”
Prefacing that “The foundation of democracy is the natural law, which is the sharing of the eternal law” (p.50), the Cardinal takes pains to draw a three-legged stool; natural law, eternal law, authentic democracy, all intricately linked. Underpinning all democracies is the natural law – as believers, he notes natural law preceded by the eternal law. So, in the natural law, our human dignity is already prescribed. In the eternal law, it is sanctified, all other systems, the Cardinal notes, exist in relation to perpetuate these things. Anything contrary does not stand.
And so, a democracy not yet sure of itself, is really a question of whether Cameroon is a democracy through “formal observances of a set of rules [or] is the fruit of a convinced acceptance of the values that inspire democratic procedures” – i.e., human dignity, human right, the common good.
The question then arises: to what extent does a Cameroon law guarantee peaceful changes by the people, effective stewardship, and containment of ethnic politics? Here, the reader begins to grapple with the existential question: “what is my role and that of others in issues of human dignity, good versus evil, the pursuit of knowledge and freedom from harassment?”
It comes as no surprise for those who have followed the work of the Cardinal in fighting injustices in Cameroon to see that Chapter Four titled “Corruption” is the longest chapter in the book. It is a sobering account of what should aptly be titled, borrowing from Tumi’s own words, “The moral tortures inflicted on a nation.” Here, the reader comes face to face with an array of evils.
From his vivid narration, it is incomprehensible why the collective will of the people is yet to upend such atrocities and pervasions. Too many to list, the reader should take stock for herself. Here. Tumi revisits in greater detail how state apparatuses, communities, families, and individuals are now co-conspirators in their moral demise. But not to be mistaken, he also lays the blame squarely at the door steps of President Biya and authorities, who have presided over this moral torture for three decades.
If you are looking for a rich philosophical analysis of God and creation, you will not be disappointed reading the second half of the book. The world belongs to God, because he created it. Nothing can be done without God (p.131). An entire chapter focuses on proving the existence of God, using writings by St. Thomas Aquinas.
The simple, lucid, and graphic everyday language that characterized the first part of the book, transforms into heady matters and occasionally inscrutable thesis often left in philosophy books. If the first proof of God’s existence has you thinking ‘Socratic’ style, be prepared for more in this chapter. Proof that God exists “is beings that are capable of not being – cannot themselves explain their existence” or From page 140, “…we do not make God to our likeness.
God has all perfections that are found in the things He has created, because the perfection that an effect has, cannot be less in its cause  but the perfections in the effect are relative because they are mixed within perfection (effects are relatively perfect) when we attribute to God perfections found in things He has created, we have to deny from those things what limits them and raise of them as infinite” Once the reader gets past the next three chapters, Tumi returns to less philosophical reading.
By now, you get a sense Tumi wants no ambivalence, as he offers definitions for almost every key word or phrase. As elsewhere, he defines creation and ends with “[God] is Master of the law that gives joy to the heart, and life to all. He concludes that without God, can we do anything good for our country? How Tumi gets here is what makes parts of his book interesting. Call this a sermon or homily, at the end, the reader is left to ponder the questions raised here and earlier in the book.
The section on God and evil peaks interest, as too often the question arises. If God in His goodness created the world to show His perfection, a God perfectly wise, infinitely good, does not like evil, why is there evil in the world? Readers will be disappointed if they expect to see a clear cut answer. But evil, Tumi notes, is explained by man’s rationality; by what he chooses through free will that introduces sin making man alone, responsible for sin.
Chapters 8 through 12 is considered Tumi’s personal response to the moral tortures outlined in the first part of the book. He begins by offering his credo and concluding that political systems that do not subscribe to this creed in real and concrete terms “lose the legitimate reasons for their existence and should be democratically put aside.” (p.167).
One sees direct links from Chapter Four to his creed. It is unmistakably clear Tumi believes the origins of legitimate authority is divine – established by God and as such, “there is no authority except from God and so whatever authority that exist have been appointed by God” and must be used to serve His people.
Stating rather subtly that autocratic regimes have existed up until now in Cameroon, Tumi’s credo asserts “that successive political regimes in Cameroon must be chosen by the people” (p.170). He maintains that a nation of equals between the governed and those who govern should exist. This, in his opinion, is a noble mission that strikes one as Celestial.
I am more inclined to accept a proposition that there be a modus operandi, where excessive tribalism is replaced by a culture of collaboration, as people with common interests as he offered earlier in chapter II, i.e., the need for equal participation in forging a new culture for Cameroon. I particularly liked the section on the practices of human virtues that “guide our conduct according to reason and faith” (p.172) And thislends credence to C.P. Vakey’s book, To be Holy is to be Human.
What strikes a tender cord in one’s heart is that the constant pursuit of good is only possible by loving God and neighbor. It is impossible to govern without God and a radically transformed Cameroon is one, where the people fear God, which is the beginning of wisdom, to paraphrase Tumi.
Leaving God aside for a moment, even for the atheist or secular individual, the message of doing good and avoiding evil cannot be lost. One is either an avid consumer of all things God; His awesomeness to put it mildly, or you are for all things good, to put it simply, or you are for evil to put it bluntly.
The natural order of things does not favour the latter in any great measure. Essentially, Tumi argues for a new Cameroonian –a Christian politician who makes known to others, the goodness of God by “usus pedagogus, usus notivtaus, usus normativus” (p.199). But would this be viewed as a proposal for theocracy?
A bit repetitious, this book seems at times cumbersome, but mostly written with the simplicity of one who holds no airs about his depth of scholarship, his grasp of the Cameroon socio-cultural and geo-political landscape; mainly as one who understands human agency in both secular and within the Catholic Christian domains.
This book is both a profession of faith – a creed, as it is a dream for an ailing nation. This book offers for the Christian, a reaffirmation of her/his beliefs; God, man, love of both, the first and central teaching of the Catholic Church. In this book, they are offered as the cure for the moral tortures of a nation. Those with more secular thinking on all things democratic should look elsewhere.
Perhaps, the best part of My faith: A Cameroon to be renewed, is in its interesting mixture of styles. It ranges from the more conversational storytelling to academic discourse. Parts of the book depict a raw violence and capriciousness, interspersed with uplifting and reassuring text.
Tumi captures and reproduces the intense feelings the average Cameroonian experiences everyday. However, it is advisable to read the entire book before coming to that conclusion. Tumi incorporates a heavy serving of doctrine, making parts of the book look like a long sermon.
Emma Ngang Osong, is a Systems Engineer with the Federal Aviation Administration, Aviation Safety Division. She is also an adjunct faculty at The Catholic University of America and Argosy University, Washington, D.C. She has a passion for advocacy and periodically volunteers her time to various charities.
She holds a Doctorate in Management and Leadership from the University of Phoenix and Masters in Electrical Engineering from the Catholic University of America. She lives with her family in Maryland. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
First published in The Post print edition no 01378
See online: Book Review: My Faith: A Cameroon to be renewed