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Celebrating Independence Without Repatriating Ahidjo’s Corpse Is Farce – Dr. Dze-Ngwa 

Interviewed by Yerima Kini Nsom & Daniel Gwarbarah

One of Cameroon’s outspoken historians, Dr. Willibroad Dze-Ngwa says the repatriation of corpse of the first President of Cameroon, Amadou Ahidjo, from Senegal would have broadened the spirit of national reconciliation and appeasement in the on-going celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of independence and the reunification of Cameroon. The tough-talking varsity don stated in an exclusive interview with The Post over the weekend that it is unacceptable, and amounts to a farce that Cameroonians should celebrate independence while the remains of their first President continue to lie in a foreign land. Excerpts:

As a historian, what is your reaction to the on-going manifestation of 50th anniversary of independence and reunification of Cameroon?

I will start by congratulating President Paul Biya for recognizing these two dates. The two dates are very important because we must be able to state clearly that French Cameroun achieved independence on 1st January 1960. It is normal that all Cameroonians should come out to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the independence of Francophone Cameroun.

And when the President states that reunification has to be celebrated, that would be 1st October 2011. It is a very important date. That is the date of the independence of Anglophone Cameroon. This is because Anglophone Cameroon got her independence by reunification. By effective reunification between the two entities, I mean the former British and former French spheres that got effective reunification on 1st October 1961.

Not much seems to have said about the two dates before now…?

That was the irony of all of it. May be the first President of the Republic thought that celebrating the two days might be some waste of time and resources. And he thought that a middle point be sought and he thought that 20th May would be reunification day, effective reunification between the two former British and French political entities.

That is why 20th May became the National Day rather than the 1st of January. If it was the 1st of January, it would be like celebrating the independence of one part of the country. If it were 1st October, it would have been celebrating the independence of British Southern Cameroons. But I would have suggested that 1st October should have been more appropriate because it is the date of effective reunification of a people who were torn apart by colonial masters.

Considering the controversy shrouding the two historical dates of 1960 and 1961, which will you consider as the date of independence of Cameroon?

There is no Cameroonian historian who would not say that French Cameroun had independence on 1st January 1960. I don’t think there is any Cameroonian historian who would not say that British Cameroons had her own independence through reunification on 1st October 1961. I don’t think that there is any Cameroonian historian who would not say that they were two political entities which were internationally recognized by the United Nations as Trust Territories. The difference only comes when we are interpreting the facts and figures which I think many historians might insist to consider 1st January 1960 to be independence date of Cameroon.

While some of us would say by the time East Cameroon was achieving independence, the United Nations was busy struggling to get the Southern Cameroons to decide on the Plebiscite day. Whether they would wish to achieve independence by unifying with the republic of Cameroun or whether they would achieve independence by joining with the Federation of Nigeria. Now, this was well after the independence of French Cameroun. We are in 1960. So, if the UN was calling on the Southern Cameroons to decide on what form their independence would take, then I think that their independence came one year later, that is on 1st October 1961.

Are you saying that the SCNC is right to claim every 1st October as Independence Day?

We should be talking Cameroon. It is high time that 50 years, 49 years after, Cameroonians must be much more patriotic. We should not talk CPDM, SDF, SCNC, etc. I think all of these people constitute Cameroon. There is no reason why some of the historical dates in this country should be considered to be more important than others because they are no Cameroonians who are photocopied while others are authentic cameroonians. If we are pitting 1st October to be controversial, it is because of the handiwork of politicians. Politicians might want to manipulate this date in order to satisfy their political glories.

What is your view on the celebration of both dates?

It is recognition by the Head of State of the other entity of Cameroon. That Cameroon is not only a Francophone Cameroun. That Cameroon is the national triangle we have today. That every celebration should be inclusive. That Cameroonians should be able to come out all to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the independence of Francophone Cameroun. Just like all of Cameroon should come out and celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence and reunification of Cameroon. That should be 1st October 2011.

We have 1st January, 1st October and 20th May. Amongst these three dates, which do you consider as a historian to be the most important in the historical life of Cameroon?

The most important date according to me is 1st October. Cameroon is a nation of special creation, created by the goodwill of Cameroonians to live in concord harmony. Therefore, it is important to celebrate that date when the two peoples came together as one. They lived apart for several years. Since 1916, the territory was partitioned, administered by two colonial masters; they lived under two colonial legacies. And if these people, out of goodwill, decided to come together and gain effective reunification that should be the most important.

According to you, what is the whole idea behind the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Cameroon’s independence and reunification? 

It was a very bright idea for the President to come out and say Cameroonians should recognize their heroes. The heroes were found in both parts of Cameroon. Beginning with Cameroon as one from 1916 to 1919, we should be talking of Alendré Douala Manga Bell, who came out very strongly to say we are against the Anglo-French partition of Cameroon. He came out with the One Cameroon idea.

I consider Reuben Um Nyobe to be the Father of Cameroon’s reunification. We should be talking about diehards proponents of reunification like John Ngu Foncha, the Munas, the Endeleys at one point, the Juas, Um Nyobe, Roland Felix Moumie, Abel Kingue, etc. All of those people were the key figures of the independence struggle in this country. The irony however is that, the independence of Cameroon was handed over to the people who were not purely nationalists.

Why do you think the colonial masters did that?

First and foremost, geopolitics, power position, international relations, the game of permanent interest played a great deal. Of course, political independence had to be given but the colonial masters had to stay on hand to control. Therefore, they needed people who were there to protect their interests. Even when these nationalist struggles went on in French Cameroun, André Marie Mbida was brought in to be the first Prime Minister of French Cameroun.

Remember André Marie Mbida did not win the election. He had just 20 seats out of the about 80. It was rather Amadou Ahidjo who had 30 seats. Therefore, Amadou Ahidjo would have been the first Prime Minister of French Cameroun. But then, because of manipulation, the idea of Catholicism, the crisis in Algeria, may be the French thought that another Moslem in an emerging African country could give them headache. So, they preferred to negotiate and bring in André Marie Mbida who won the second position to become Prime Minister. Ahidjo became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior.

When the French realised that their own candidate, André Marie Mbida, antagonized both the Cameroonians and the French, they started plotting ways to see into it that he resigned. And of course, they masterminded his resignation. They then requested Ahidjo, his Deputy to take over.

The UPC wanted immediate independence for French Cameroun, immediate reunification with British Cameroons and no foreign intervention. But when Amadou Ahidjo came out, he stood for the three principle ideas: immediate independence, immediate reunification and collaboration or cooperation with France. We are in 1958. Arrangements were made for independence in 1960 for French Cameroun.

What role did John Ngu Foncha play in the successful reunification of the two political entities?

If we have to bring in the influence of John Ngu Foncha, then we should be able to recognise him as an exemplary patriot who remained steadfast. He was very consistent with his idea of secession from Nigeria and ultimate reunification with French Cameroun.

Of course, his political party at that time, KNC was led by EML Endeley. When EML Endeley decided by 1954/1955 to start flirting with the idea of reunification with Cameroon and association with Nigeria, Foncha stood firm and pulled out of the KNC and founded his own political party, the KNDP in 1955 with the idea of secession from Nigeria and reunification with French Cameroun.

Remember that in 1955 when he was founding his political party that was the year UPC was banned in French Cameroun. And some of the UPC militants who moved over became militants of KNDP and adopted the idea of secession, independence, no foreign intervention. Even before independence, there was collaboration between the peoples of Francophone and Anglophone Cameroon. I think Foncha and Ahidjo played a wonderful role in the struggle.

And immediately French Cameroun achieved independence, they went into negotiation on what form reunification would take. And of course, they still insisted not to join Nigeria arguing that they have never been part of Nigeria thus prompting the UN to organise the plebiscite. And during the plebiscite of 11 February 1961 under the canopy of KNDP and Foncha, a greater majority of Southern Cameroonians voted for secession from Nigeria and reunified with French Cameroun.

What is your appreciation of the on-going festivities marking the 50th anniversary celebration of independence and reunification of Cameroon?

I strongly wonder how effective the celebration is at the national level. All events seem to be concentrated in Yaounde. Much is not being heard from the various regions. Celebrating in itself is however a good thing and we need to congratulate people like the Minister of Culture for doing much.

The glaring unfortunate thing however is that, much seems to have been reduced to pomp and enjoyment rather than celebrating the national heroes and events. It is regrettable that we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of independence and reunification when the corpse of one of the architects, Amadou Ahidjo, is still lying in Senegal.

Even in the course of the festivities, very little is being mentioned of the fathers of independence and reunification. History has been put on the sideline as historical facts and figures are still being misinterpreted. We should have thought that the 50th anniversary should have been time to truly reconcile Cameroonians. Much interest seems to have been diverted to making money. Cameroonian historians have not been brought into it in their numbers.


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