Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.It is in these terms that Chinua Achebe starts his epic novel, Things Fall Apart, written in 1958. It is, in fact, an excerpt of the poem by W.B. Yates, “The Second Coming”. Chinua Achebe’s novel is more or less about the transition from colonial Nigeria to independence, viewed through the life of Okonkwo, an Igbo wrestler.
Cameroon is itself at the crossroads of a transition and, whether we accept it or not, the signs are glaring. A population, of which 70% is under 30 years and worried about its tomorrow, is slowly choking under the stranglehold of a group of oligarchs whose only worry is about today and their self-preservation, totally oblivious to the inevitable nature of change: that today is tomorrow’s yesterday, and tomorrow always comes. The scary fact is that, in less than a year, those who govern us have effectively leveraged the diversity of Cameroon into a tool divide our nation. By preventing citizens – Common Law lawyers and Anglophone teachers – from exercising the basic right to demonstrate which is enshrined in our Constitution, they set off a spark and today, months later, we find ourselves in a situation where things seem to be falling apart. We are now divided between secessionists, federalists and those seeking decentralization. We are divided between Francophones and Anglophones. We are divided between North Westerners and South Westerners. We are divided between Bamilekes and Betis. We are even divided between Ewondos, Bulus and Etons; between the Bamouns and the Bamilekes. The non-homogenous nature of regions makes them tailor ready for division. You find the Mbam in the Centre Region, the Bassa in the central region, people of the Sawa origin in the southern region, people of Sancho in the Menoua Western, and so on. Muslims and Christians in the north live together as one and seeds of discord are sown at convenience. The list goes on.
This is the delicate balance on which our country sits. If we are to survive and thrive, we must listen to each other and constantly engage in honest dialogue about the future of Cameroon. Any form of arrogance and reckless discrimination, regardless of the nature, instigator or perpetrator, can only threaten this delicate balance. The visit of the prelate from Douala who is the head of the Episcopal Conference was either ill-advised or ill-conceived, or maybe even both. So here we are; the church that was the rock and only survivor of this quagmire with the chance to be a moral voice and a strong mediator is now weakened by the perception that it too is now divided. The “Eglise Evangelique” has also gotten its taste of the virus of division favored by a climate in which we now tend to concentrate on what divides us than on what we have in common. The Bishop of Bafia was found dead on the shores of the River Sanaga, a couple of days after his car was found on the Ebebda Bridge over the Sanaga. The strange thesis of suicide was immediately proclaimed even before the body was found. Now it is clear from the declaration of the Episcopal Conference, that the venerated Bishop was the victim of a callous crime. So, whither are we bound? As regards what is now known as the “Anglophone Problem” (I always use this appellation with hesitation because I have never understood whether it means the Anglophones have a problem, or that Anglophones constitute a problem, and if so for whom?) certain measures have been announced as an answer to the complaints that were put forward by the teachers and lawyers.
The simple fact is that an academic year has been lost, lawyers are still on strike, many Anglophones have been forced to escape into exile and others remain in prison. Internet that was disconnected was brought back after 93 days and an outcry that was echoed over the whole world against such a collective form of punishment. We emerged from the saga with a world record of the longest-running Internet blackout – a record in which some have taken pride as proof of power, with some even expecting the deprived regions to feel grateful for the reconnection. Anglophone prelates from all the oldest churches of Cameroon (Baptist, Catholic and Presbyterian Churches) have now been dragged to court. An unfortunate atmosphere has been created in which being an Anglophone now constitutes the first indices of being a secessionist, a troublemaker or a potential terrorist. I speak with the certainty of one of those who have been so classified.
That is what it has come to, for those who worry for the country, seek equality equity and dialogue. That is what it has come to, a situation in which, when one makes concrete proposals after factual and reasoned analysis of the facts, one can be branded a potential enemy of the nation. If the ever-increasing trend of bad governance is not reversed very soon, we will wake up in a country that none of us recognize. The first step will be to reverse certain unfortunate results of the knee-jerk approach we have had in response to the outcry of our Cameroonian brothers and sisters. National healing is the primary guarantee for national dialogue. So what should we do to start the healing? On the Matter of Ongoing Criminal Proceedings: It is generally accepted that the release of all those arrested will boost the goodwill and pave the way to dialogue. The law actually allows for this.
As regards the detainees and the different trials going on in the Military Tribunal Regions as well in the courts in the Anglophone regions, against citizens, clerics and prelates, it is important to recall the provisions of Article 64 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Code which states: “The Procureur General of a Court of Appeal may, by express authority of the Ministry in Charge of Justice, enter a nolle prosequi, at any stage before judgment on the merits is delivered, if such proceedings could seriously imperil social interest or public order.” This provision of the law describes the exact situation we are in. It is applicable to the ordinary courts. An equivalent provision exists for the proceedings instituted before the Military Jurisdictions. This is section 12 of the Law No.2008 of December 2008 Organizing Military Justice Anyone talking about peace and reconciliation in good faith should immediately resort to these provision, to put a halt to the current situation, which is accelerating the country’s glide towards division and conflict. I remember assisting my brother, Batonnier Bernard Muna, in drafting the Amnesty Law that was proposed to the then Secretary General of the Presidency of the Republic of Cameroon, Mr. Sadou Hayatou, for the attention of the Head of State. It was sent to Parliament and adopted in the interest of peace and reconciliation. A telex message was even sent from the Presidency congratulating Bernard for his patriotic spirit. Today, here we are, Cameroonians, asking for this.
International organisations and NGOs have joined the chorus. We should heed these calls and save our nation from further division. Those who sought refuge in arrogance and repression must certainly realize that this is choking the country.
By Akere Muna