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Book Review: How United Is The Republic Of Cameroon? 

Title: How United Is The Republic Of Cameroon?
The unification of institutions of the Republic of Cameroon)
Author: Dr. George Atem
Publisher: ANUCAM, 2011, 265pp
Reviewer: Tazoacha Asonganyi — The defining moment of Southern Cameroons – Anglophone – history in Cameroon is its unification with the Republic of Cameroon, marked by the plebiscite of February 11, 1961, and effective unification on October 1, 1961.One of these days, Paul Biya will be in Buea to commemorate what he calls 50 years of Cameroon’s reunification.

In preparation for the event, articles, books and other art forms are coming up to jolt our memory in various ways. One of such contributions is Dr. George Atem’s recent book titled “ How United is the Republic of Cameroon?” and subtitled “The unification of the institutions of the Republic of Cameroon since 1961.”

The book is written in eight chapter as follows: 1) The Origins of Unification, 2) The Foumban Constitutional Conference, 3) Consolidation of Unification, 1961-66, 4) The politics of the abolition of the Federation 5) Consolidation of the unitary state under President Ahmadou Ahidjo, 6) Effective Unification of Cameroon under President Biya, 7) Education in Cameroonian unification, 8) Unification in social services and institutions.

Chapter One is a recall of the emergence of Kamerun under the Germans in 1884, the exit of the Germans and the partition of German Kamerun between the French and English. “Pre-unification groups and associations” are then presented, including the Cameroon Youth League, the Cameroon National Federation and the Kamerun United National Congress.

We are also presented with political parties in “French Cameroons” – Union des Populations du Cameroun and Union Camerounaise; and in “British Cameroons” – Kamerun National Congress, Kamerun People’s Party, Kamerun National Democratic Party and One Kamerun. The chapter concludes with a description of the “conduct of the plebiscite.”

Chapter Two describes the “Foumban Constitutional Conference,” and defines various types of constitutions (Federal and unitary) and government systems (cabinet and presidential).Chapter Three describes various instruments that were used by Ahidjo to integrate the activities of Southern Cameroons into those of the Republic of Cameroon to create and streamline the provision of various goods and services in the country.

Chapter Four recalls Ordinance No. 62/OF/18 of March 12, 1962, the institution of the list system of elections, the referendum of 1972, the advent of the one party system, etc. Chapter Five describes how Ahidjo abolished East and West Cameroon, creating 7 provinces with appointed Governors; his eventual resignation in 1982, and the rift that ensued between him and Paul Biya.

Chapter Six recalls Law No. 84-001 of February 4, 1984 to abolish the United Republic of Cameroon and exhume the “Republic of Cameroon” to become the name of the whole country, the transformation of the CNU to CPDM, the multi-list election system, the reintroduction of multiparty politics, the presidential election of 1992, the tripartite conference and the resultant 1996 constitution.

Chapter Seven suggests that the creation of the “Federal Bilingual University” in Yaounde and of bilingual colleges and the modification of the Anglophone school system to a seven year strand with the replacement of the 8-year “standard” system with the present 7-year “class” system, were meant to contribute to the unification process.

The last Chapter, Chapter Eight, presents “unified’ social services and institutions like electricity and water, and the effect of unification on private businesses, Churches and civil society groups like the Bar Council. After putting down the book, the reader may ask whether Dr. Atem answered the question that constitutes the title of his book. Since he uses phrases like “consolidation of unification,” “consolidation of the unitary state” and “effective unification,” he himself may answer in the positive.

As for me, I think that manner in which the “consolidation” and “effective” processes came about still leaves the question hanging. It is George Orwell who described history as a palimpsest. The dictionary says that a palimpsest is a piece of writing material from which one writing has been erased to make room for another, often leaving the first faintly visible.

Judged with such a yardstick, history books like Atem’s would suffer from two effects: they are usually a reproduction of facts that are already common knowledge with different arrangements and a few new facts; and they help to perpetrate errors and false information included in previous texts. However, some history texts enjoy a lot of dispassionate analysis, judgment and perspective, and so are not merely palimpsests. Atem’s “How United Is the Republic of Cameroon?” is mainly narration with very little analysis.

A school of history holds that to be objective, the historian should do no more than present the comprehensive and fully documented result of their research; there should be no subjective commentaries and editorialising. The “facts” should be presented and left to the reader to interpret as they choose.

Well, in societies where perceived or real oppressed and oppressors live together – like Anglophones and Francophones coexisting in Cameroon – their “facts” may not always coincide. The oppressor-historian would like history to be just a narration of how things came to be. The Anglophone/oppressed historian – from the community with ‘The Anglophone Problem’ – cannot afford the luxury of presenting “facts” and allowing readers to interpret as they choose.

After piecing together the facts of how things came to be, the historian of the “oppressed” should engage in critical analysis and interpretation to say what those facts mean. Only such an approach can be meaningful to finding solutions to past wrongs; to figuring out what should be done.  For sure, a historian of the oppressed should not use history as a vehicle for indoctrination and manipulation of public opinion, but history should help to raise the consciousness of the oppressed; it should contribute to influencing who we are and who we want to be.

Another school holds that all history is fiction, so there is room for many different stories, there being no such thing as historical accuracy since all scholars are biased. Thus, one history book and version of events is as good as another with a different version, since all truth is subjective – being what you want it to be.
If we remember that systems are not void of people; that people invent, initiate and perpetrate systems; that history is produced from the activities of people – of individuals and groupings, it is difficult to believe that all history is fiction, or that truth is subjective.
One historical act which is either a truth or a lie is the charge usually thrown around that Foncha received a copy of the proposed constitution from Ahidjo and hid it from his peers. Atem states in his book that “JN Foncha had received the draft proposals of the constitution of the Republic of Cameroon, submitted to him by Ahmadou Ahidjo, Very surprisingly, JN Foncha treated the proposal as a private document and never tabled it for discussion…When the Foumban conference began on 17th of July 1961 President Ahidjo who was presiding told the participants that, contrary to their expectations, the Southern Cameroonian delegation had not seen the proposals from the Republic of Cameroon…”
The proceedings of the Foumban Conference have since been in the public domain.  It is known that at the request of the Anglophone delegates (not because Ahidjo said that they did not see the proposals as stated by Atem!) they had from Monday 17 – Thursday 20 July to study the draft constitutional proposals to their satisfaction. The Southern Cameroons delegation met under Foncha to examine the proposals in detail, ably interpreted by Dr. Fonlon.

If a copy of the document was given to Foncha before Foumban, it would have obviously been in French; it would really be ridiculous for Foncha to hide a document whose content he did not understand because it was in French. Further, it is difficult to understand that the problem of hiding such a document existed among the Anglophone politicians but it was not mentioned by any of them either in the Bamenda pre-conference meeting or in Foumban.

Interestingly, Atem states correctly in his book that “…no new constitution was ever written…minor amendments were made on the constitution of the Republic of Cameroon which was extended to the Anglophone territory…” So what is the fuss about hiding of Ahidjo’s proposals all about? The Foumban conference documents do not indicate that Ahidjo said at any stage that “proposals” were not seen by the Anglophone delegation. The problem of Foncha hiding a document is obviously a defect of history being a palimpsest.

Atem seems to have been misled by Julius Ngoh who was himself misled by Malcolm Milnes. As for related information curled from Mbile’s biography, there was no need for a person like NN Mbile who actively campaigned for a vote against the Southern Cameroons joining the Republic of Cameroon to indulge in revisionism and self-serving fiction (like the hiding story) in his biography.

I do not think that those who voted to join the Republic of Cameroon are more Cameroonian or more patriotic than those who voted to join Nigeria. One way or the other, it was the free expression of their democratic opinion on a national issue – a defining characteristic of people in Southern Cameroons at that time. Dates are important in history, but when they are presented in disorder as they are in Atem’s book, they do not help us to read the minds of actors. When some dates are put in chronological order, they help us to delve into Ahidjo’s mind.

For example, following unification, he signed his famous obnoxious Ordinance of Repression on March 12, 1962; this was followed on June 29, 1962 by the arrest and eventual imprisonment of four opposition leaders who opposed him publicly. This brought a chill to the politics of the nation and gave him the courage and free hand to rule according to his whims and caprices, unchallenged.

And so he started talking and acting tough. On July 4-8, 1962 at the UC Congress in Ebolowa he described Southern Cameroons as the “Southern part of Cameroon,” and the Republic of Cameroon as the “mother nation;” in December 1961 he signed decree No. 61-DF-15 of 20 December 1961 to divide the country into six regions each of which was placed under an Inspector of Administration, a civil servant he appointed that was directly responsible to him – an unconstitutional arrangement.

On September 1, 1966, he launched the one-party CNU; in 1967, he ignored article 39 of the Federal Constitution and, against all expectations, appointed Muna PM of West Cameroon; he later moved to abolish article 39 in 1969; on February 23 1970, he dropped Foncha as Vice President of the Republic; on May 20, 1972 he organised a referendum to abolish the Federation!

When Paul Biya came to power in 1982, it is under the cover of the repressive ordinance that he proposed, and eventually promulgated, a law to change the name of the country to the “Republic of Cameroon.” Mukong, Gorgi Dinka and others that questioned some of these happenings were arrested, harassed and thrown into jail.

Historians and legalists need to indicate if such acts by a regime of exception like Ahidjo’s and Biya’s under the cover of the repressive Ordinance are binding on a people who freely and democratically decided to join the Republic of Cameroon under very clear terms. Interestingly, Atem states in his book as follows: “Whatever views people may express, the fact is that the event of May 20, 1972 was an important landmark in the history of Cameroon.

It brought the country together, consolidated the unity of the people and institutions despite some of the negative effects, especially on the Anglophones…Whatever opinions people may hold, the name “Republic of Cameroon” came to stay and some day perhaps only historians may know that at a point in time the country was divided into British Cameroons and French Cameroons….”

Here, Atem is trying to be dispassionate about issues that are shocking to many Anglophones. He should better know that, in politics, no law is ever final; no fight is ever finished. History is the survival and development record of a people: their accomplishments and defeats, their ups and downs.

There is no shame in the fear Ahidjo’s Ordinances created in the Southern Cameroons politicians. There will only be shame in the silence continued fear breeds in most of us, resulting in our inability or refusal to say clearly that much of what has been done in Cameroon so far will never endure without threatening the essence of our coming together in 1961.

First published in the Post print edition no 01429

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