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All Southwest Forum, Platform For New Conscience – Dr. Chief Atem Ebako 

Interviewed by Ernest Sumelong

There has been so much hype about the up coming All Southwest Forum to take place on Saturday, January 29, at the National Social Insurance Hall at Mile 17, Buea. The Chairman of the Political Affairs Committee of the Forum, Dr. Chief Atem Ebako, who holds a similar post in the Southwest Chiefs Conference, SWECC, and a prominent member of the South West Elite Association, SWELA, says the Forum will provide a platform for a new conscience for the Southwest people. In this interview, Chief Atem Ebako, a medical practitioner and Chief of Talangaye Village in Nguti Sub-division, sheds light on the importance of the Forum and the prospects it portends for the development of the Southwest Region. Excerpts:

The Post: What is the conference all about?

Dr. Ebako: The purpose of the All Southwest Forum is to create conditions for Southwesterners to be able to share in a common vision and in a strategic plan, and to have common knowledge in defining events that are soon to come and that are already on the way. For example, we have to understand the importance of the Presidential Election; decentralisation, the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Reunification and, more importantly, to understand the Vision 2035 that the Cameroon Government has prepared that is already on its way in the first part known as the Growth and Employment Strategy Paper.

These are very important events and issues in the life of Cameroon. The Southwest must understand all these so that it mainstreams itself along these lines, so that it is not only a spectator but an active participant in all these events. So, the purpose is to bring together all Southwesterners where all these four issues would be addressed and common understanding would be made. In other words, we will be charting our way forward.

What will be some of the highlights of the Forum?

The key issues, as we have said, will be the political vision; we have to provide and share a common political vision. We will lay down the framework for mainstreaming the whole Southwest along the vision 2035. This can only be done when we would have put in place a strategic plan of development for the Region, alongside that of Cameroon.

How much has been done in terms of galvanising Southwesterners for that Forum?

Various committees have been formed to handle various aspects of a conference of that magnitude.But far and more importantly, there is the communication plan that has been put in place and for the time being, you must have heard of the jingles over radio and some of these efforts and the one you are now carrying, are all geared at communicating to the Southwest people that such an event is about to take place and what they expect and how they should come and participate in carrying out that kind of a project.

So, the committees that are already working are too numerous for me to name, but there is the Steering Committee that is coordinating the activities of the other committees, and is in the process of finalising everything.

What are some of the issues you will be raising on that day?

Well, as I said, the important aspect of the conference is to galvanise the Southwest people along four axes; the aspect of the Presidential Election; you know how important elections are for the life of a democratic society, and for that matter the Presidential Election. This issue will be addressed with the intention to get Southwesterners make a wise vote because the voting pattern in the Southwest, much as it has left a lot to be bothered about, has already shown signs that it can be directed towards the right path.

And so, this forum will only assist in furthering that movement of making Southwesterners vote wisely. Secondly, with the decentralisation process, you will understand, in a democratic society, local governance is so important in the lives of the population and the communities as well as that of the State, with respect to where local problems are addressed locally and local solutions are implemented locally. You will also agree with me that decentralisation in the 90s was what the Southwest proposed as a way forward for Cameroon, and eventually the 1996 Constitution provided for regional autonomy.

Now, after one year of implementing decentralisation, it is the time that the Southwest takes stock to see what they advocated for. With respect to vision 2035, there can be no gainsay any more in Cameroon that we now know where we want to be. It is important that Southwest people also know where they will be by 2035. It is not by a magic wand that we will get there but by our deliberate effort. So, we want to galvanise the Southwesterners to come up with such deliberate activity; what we will call a strategic plan of action.

Then you will remember that we were once ruled by a foreign power through another country, Nigeria, and the option was put to us; would we want to become independent by joining Nigeria or by joining French Cameroon, which had become independent. Naturally, we accepted on our own volition that we were going back to where we belong.

And so, 50 years after, there is a lot that has gone on the way. We have to celebrate that. So, it is not a matter of the State of Cameroon celebrating the 50th anniversary of Reunification but the people themselves; what do they have to show for the decision they made. That issue too will also be addressed. Those are the four axes under which the conference will be addressed.

If the conference was interpreted to be a forum where you want to direct the Southwest people to vote a certain candidate or a certain party, what would you say?

Well, one of the functions of leadership is to chart the course and provide the resources. And carrying out such a function will just be a matter of course. The Southwest Region cannot and will not afford to be on the fence. We have to know where we are going to, otherwise, how do we interpret our actions? So, the discussion on that day will focus on what political action we will consider as best for our stakes, our future and our destiny. We cannot shy away from that.

Southwest elite have been blamed for not doing enough to help their people out of disenclavement and to get good roads; what is your take on the role Southwest elite have played so far?

Now, let’s be clear on this issue; I have nothing against blaming as a game but to evaluate the performance of an institution such as SWELA or the elite, would definitely be a good exercise. Now, what has been the mandate of SWELA; what has been the mandate of the South West Chiefs Conference, SWECC? In my opinion and from what I know within, it is to give direction to the people of the Region with respect to where Cameroon is going.

From that perspective, I cannot say SWELA or SWECC has failed. But there are people who have adopted a different perspective to view these two organisations; grabbing posts from the Government and giving to their people. I don’t share that as the mandate of these two organisations.

Apart from the political era of the 90s and the 2000s, we have now moved to the stage where it is economic development. SWELA and the Chiefs Conference are once again called to give direction to their people. That is the best they can do. This time around they are going to go further by providing themselves a strategic development plan.

I think that what is important here is: what can SWELA do; what can SWECC do to develop the potential that is within the Southwest people themselves and in their environment to put into the benefit of the Southwest people in particular and Cameroon in general, rather than being spectators where the Government does things for them. And this is the purpose of this meeting that we call on Southwesterners to start doing things for themselves, with the support of the Government.

I am not talking about SWELA and SWECC per se, but individual prominent elite who spend time outdoing each other for positions and lucrative jobs at the detriment of their people…

Well, that is a fact. This is simply because they do not find themselves in positions of decision-making. Don’t forget that there are policies in the country and there are people who make them. These policies require systems, mechanisms and projects and you need to take decisions. Southwesterners are not within that sphere of taking decisions.

But for a long time, because they too have been part of that perspective I call civil service perspective where you only fight for posts, and since the posts are not so many and there are many people who want them, naturally, they will go in for competition. There they miss the point. When some of them have those jobs, which should bring something to bear on the Southwest, they never do. Their agenda is to have a job that benefits them.

But the Southwest has had two Prime Ministers, Ministers in key positions, MPs, Board Chairs and people in other important positions; what accounts for the fact that their people do not benefit?

Take the case, for example, that we had two Prime Ministers for 14 years or thereabout running, and during one of those periods we also had a Minister of Public Works, and the question would; be why has the Southwest not had good roads like I am told are found in other regions? My answer would be that these are individuals and they don’t completely make for the institutions. We should not forget that the decision-making process in Cameroon is one that is Presidential. The Presidency has overbearing power over whatsoever decision a Minister or a Prime Minister can take. A Chief of Service at the Presidency can overturn the decision of a Prime Minister.

He can do that because he is the one to work on whatever the Prime Minister would say before it goes to the Secretary General in the Presidency before it goes to the Head of State. At that level there is so much lobbying; at that level there is so much at stake. So, just the purpose of having a Prime Minister or the reality of having a Minister in itself cannot take such strategic decisions.

The Northwest appears to be more vocal and united on issues that concern their development but the Southwest is not. Would unity be an issue during the conference?

I have often heard of this comparison and I have also very vocally said I don’t take part in that kind of discussion because my perspective of development is not comparison. Sometimes when I want to joke over it I ask; the Northwest is said to be so united and so vocal; show me what they have had which benefits all the Northwest population.

Show me how that has impacted on the poverty in the Northwest. I am hard to get an answer. I take that to be a slogan. I don’t share this sing-song of the Northwest being vocal, being united. What I will like the Southwest to do is to have a common understanding of what they have as natural resources, what they have as human resources and how they can mainstream that into the development process of the country.

However, do you agree that disunity has been the bane of the Southwest?

Yes, I will tell you it is because of the perspective which the elite of the Southwest uses to look at the whole country. It is the public service perspective; I need this job, I have this job. Unfortunately, it is not they who attribute this job to themselves.

Someone else decides and when that decision does not favour one of them, they end up backstabbing and mudslinging one another. We have adopted a perspective which we want now to imprint after the All Southwest Forum, a community-driven perspective, which is intended to bring food, quality life and good standards of living to the general population and not to an individual, by way of exploiting and transforming our natural resources and not waiting on the Government to give us. It is the perspective, which the South West Chiefs Conference has been labouring for, for the last 20 or so years.

I am so confident that the All Southwest Forum will provide the platform for a new conscience for the Southwest people to see where they are going along the line of where Cameroon, too, is going.

After the Forum, what next?

We will execute. We will now be in possession of a development plan which we will now implement. That is the way forward. There can be no dream any more otherwise we will be left behind. The Forum will not create any other body; there are already so many bodies to execute such a plan.

What word do you have for the Southwest people ahead of this Forum?

The future is in your hands and the materials needed to build that future are right here in the Southwest Region; arise and make use of those materials; your natural and human resources, put them together and the future is yours.

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