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Cameroon Will Fall Apart If 

Interviewed By Yerima Kini Nsom

Professor Verkijika G. Fanso, History Professor at the Yaounde University I for more than three decades, has warned that Cameroon will continue to be a lame country if the authorities do not urgently seek a solution to the Anglophone Problem.

He told The Post that if Government continues to ignore the Anglophone Problem, the country will fall apart. Fanso says the Anglophone Problem was exacerbated in 1984 when the Head of State, unilaterally, signed a decree changing the name of the country from the United Republic to the Republic of Cameroon.

He argues that the move was a deliberate distortion of History, in a bid to ignore the Anglophone entity of United Republic of Cameroon. Besides, the erudite don disapproves of the stigmatisation of J.N Foncha by some Historians, while he blames the British for practically ‘dumping’ Southern Cameroons. Excerpts:

The Post: You are well known within the academic circles in Cameroon but the public may not know you very well?

Prof. Fanso: I am Verkijika G. Fanso. I hail from Nso. I had my FSLC from STS Kumbo. I studied directly as a teacher, since I went to a Teachers’ Training College to do Grade III and II. I attended St. Peters College Bambui from 1960 to 1964, with a break in 1962, when I taught the Grade II section. I studied for my Advanced Level, London GCE, on my own. I tried to go to CCAST Bambili but it was abortive because I went there without informing my authorities.

I was teaching then with the Catholic Mission. They said "no" I should come back, they would not authorise me. But that gave me determination. I used the time when I left CCAST to study on my own and passed in many papers, including English at the GCE O Level. Then I got my A Levels. By that time, I was teaching in a Catholic school in Muyuka. I was later posted to teach in Sasse College at the end of 1967.

While teaching in Sasse, I was invited by the Education Secretary in Buea to do a teacher’s practical teaching examination at GTTC Soppo, where I spent about two to three weeks and was issued a certificate. Shortly after that, I was given the Canadian International Development Agency scholarship alongside six other Cameroonians to study at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, where I graduated with a degree in Education with History and Anthropology.

I proceeded to England and studied at the University of Birmingham, in the Midlands, where I was awarded my Masters degree in History in 1974. When I came back to the country, I was employed to teach History at the University of Yaounde, on part-time basis. I was recruited officially on October 3, 1974. I attained my PhD in 1983. I am married, with three children.

You came in when Cameroon History was not taken seriously. Did you fight for Cameroon History to be taught in schools?

Yes. My first lecture class was a third level graduating class. I taught them the History of the colonisation of Cameroon. It was the History of German Cameroon and the students admired it. They were amazed because they had never been taught Cameroon History at all. Myself, when I did history for the Ordinary and Advanced Levels, there was no Cameroon History. There was hardly ever any African History, as a matter of fact. When I started teaching here, I faced a lot of difficulties.

There was one history book, which was written by Rev. Fr. Engelbert Mveng, who was then a Professor at the Department of History that was not being exploited. So, when I realised this difficulty, I decided that after I finish with my PhD, I would embark on the right profile; Cameroon History. I am happy that, maybe, that helped quite many of the teachers in secondary schools to start teaching Cameroon History.

Have you ever got into trouble with the regime because you call a spade a spade?

By my nature; I have always tried to be straightforward. In 1993, for example, I was leading a group of Anglophones, Cameroon Parents and Teachers Association, CAPTA, which we formed here in Yaounde. We marched to the Ministry of Education. The Minister then was Robert Mbella Mbappe. We were protesting against Francophones marking the GCE. They were marking here at Ecole Normale. We said Anglophones do not mark the BAC.

They attacked us with water canons and many people were wounded. Shortly after that, I read in a newspaper, whose copy I think I have somewhere, that they were discussing at the Prime Minister’s office that I was urging Anglophone teachers at the University of Yaounde to resign so that we can take up the struggle for the liberation of the Southern Cameroons.

I said, I am an Anglophone but I do not divide my students in class, some of my colleagues are Francophones and no one could deny that fact. So, I would not deny my Anglophonness for whatever threat that comes.

As an experienced History teacher, would you say there is an Anglophone Problem?

Of course, there is an Anglophone problem. As far as I am concerned, it is a constitutional problem. People have tried to reduce Anglophone Cameroonians to a tribe or something. We always get the expressions, the Betis, the Bamilekes, the Bassa and then the Anglophones, as if they are a tribe or an ethnic group. The issue is that when Foncha and Ahidjo were negotiating about reunification, they agreed on the minority issue.

Ahidjo said it in a public lecture at Tiko during the campaigns that Francophones would not use their numbers and size to squeeze or overpower Anglophones. He assured everyone with documentation distributed to this effect. So, we can see that before coming into the union, we had already thrashed that. We agreed that it would be a federal system. 

A clause states in the Foumban Constitution that you could revise the constitution but do not jeopardise the federation. So, Ahidjo violated the Foumban Constitution in the so-called referendum in which people were taken unawares and went massively for it. That referendum was unconstitutional.

Some people say when you call it an Anglophone Problem you miss the point; that it is a problem between two states, Southern Cameroons and La République du Cameroon?

When we call it the Anglophone Problem, it is because it is affecting a group that came into a union through a constitution. But we could as well call it a national problem; a problem between two states, because, what has been going on which Anglophones (call them the SCNC or anything) will resist is any attempt to assimilate or annex that territory in any way.

Though there are few people fighting for the Southern Cameroons, there are many people behind them. They now call this country the Republic of Cameroon. The process of changing the name was illegal. You cannot just take a pen and sign and change the name of a country. That means you want to say Anglophone Cameroon does not exist anymore. I have written and published about it.

What do you say about Foncha and the Anglophone Problem?

Sometimes when I listen to people talk about the past, blaming Foncha, saying he did not do this or that, or that he was selfish or did not have negotiation skills, I ask the question; how long was the Anglophone Problem identified?

The Anglophone Problem began with the change of the name of this country from United Republic to La République in 1984. How long did Foncha have to take us out of Nigeria, to organise the plebiscite? What have we, who have had all the education as doctors, magistrates, lawyers and constitutional lawyers and professors done to change what Foncha did? The AAC I in Buea tabled documents but they were thrown away. What would you do with such people?

They changed everything in the agreement and now they want to act using the power of size and authority and whatever to trample on you. What do you do? Continue to cry as we have been doing? Foncha and Muna went to the UN before they died and said this is not what they agreed on.

Some of your colleagues, historians, insist that Foncha was selfish and had a hidden agenda that was not in the interest of Southern Cameroons…?

There is no politician who can claim to have had things done the way they wished or wanted or who can claim to have taken the right decision all the time. Now, some classified documents are coming out which show that the British were determined not to allow the third option in the British Cameroons plebiscite, because of the fear that if the third option came, everyone would vote for it. They felt that if they narrowed down the options to two (reunification and integration) everyone would vote for unification with Nigeria, given the situation of West Cameroon at the time. The British interest lay with Nigeria, not Cameroon.

It came to them as a surprise. If the results from Northern Cameroon and Southern Cameroons were put together, the votes could have been in favour of reunification for Northern Cameroon and Southern Cameroons. So, to begin saying that they did not do this or that, is actually out of question.

I want to see people write positively about what Foncha did, instead of just blaming him. Foncha had good education for the level at the time. He was able to march straight with politicians in Nigeria.

Look at seasoned politicians like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Aboubakar Atafawa Balewa, Ubefami Awolowo, Amado Bello and others. If Foncha succeeded in getting Southern Cameroonians out of Nigeria, it means that he was tough. When he started negotiating with these people, he thought they were politicians over there (Nigeria) who would respect decisions, constitutions, gentlemen’s agreement and ideas; they turned out to be something else.

They deceived him. They could have deceived anybody. Nobody in the world could have survived the agenda which Ahidjo had behind him without letting anyone know. To say that Foncha and Muna were interested in being Vice President and Prime Minister or whatever; does that mean there wouldn’t have been any minister or vice president from Southern Cameroons if we reunited?

The constitution says if the President comes from East Cameroon, the Vice President should come from West Cameroon, no two of them should come from the same state. So, saying Foncha was promised the post of Vice President is being mean.

What is the way forward? You know about the SCNC and the Banjul ruling which Government has virtually ignored…

The way forward is not taking up arms or bringing violence in any way. That does not solve the problem. We cannot hope that we will solve it like Southern Sudan or by declaring secession and going away. I think what can happen and what will happen is that, one day, they will sit round a table and examine the Anglophone issue squarely. Until that happens, Cameroon is a crippled country. If the Anglophone Problem is not studied, if it is not discussed and if it is not redressed, the problem will continue to be.

Blood has been spilled over this issue and, you know, anything which blood has been spilled for cannot just vanish. They will continue to agitate. The best thing for the authorities is to come at once and listen and put it on the table. We believe in Cameroon and one Cameroon. We should do everything to keep it one. If we are not doing anything to keep it one, I am afraid one day we will fall apart.

I was part of the AAC I in Buea, which the authorities tried to stop from holding. During AAC II in Bamenda, gendarmes chased people to stop them from discussing. What were this AAC I and II for? To get points of discussion that could be put on the table with other sections of the country so that we look at them together. But the authorities stayed away.

When you listen to some of your colleagues in the University milieu shower undue praises on the regime, how do you feel?

My position is that, when you want to write history, you write it as it was. History is based on facts. The facts I have are the same facts you have. We can differ in the interpretation. If only people were different in interpretation, then, one would say yes; if the interpretation is logical to the fact, then one would say, well, that is how you see it. That is why we call some people liberal historians, some conservative historians and others communists or socialists, to distinguish one historian from another.

But, regrettably, there is now some type of history that is not history, especially when you listen to politicians talk because they want to please their constituencies and get votes. People read newspapers but it is not everything you find in newspapers that is a historical fact. People produce policops here and there without any research and investigation. Some are also saying things to please authorities either to seek promotion or appointment.

Those things come together to help to distort the history of this country. I will appeal to my students and colleagues that they should know that this country has gone through lots of difficulties that should not be taken for granted. They should teach honest history, like honest historians and help this country to develop.

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