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CPN Vewesse 

By Julius Wamey

If the late and much lamented Mr. CPN Vewesse, who died on Martin Luther King’s birthday, January 15, had a nickname among his peers, none of us youngsters who knew of him and later knew him had ever heard it. He did not sound like the sort of person who’d stand for such frivolities as nicknames. He was a serious-sounding CPN Vewesse, as he signed his newspaper columns and usually indignant letters to the editor.

CPN Vewessee

As a kid fresh out of secondary school, with an avid interest in news, I learnt about CPN Vewesse when I started reading the old Cameroon Post and the Cameroon Times of those days. First, his incendiary rhetoric, rendered in flawless English captured my interest and held it. Then the passion behind his ideas on social justice and equity for the poor began to resonate in me and have inspired my thinking to this day.

Such was the faith of my peers and I in the sincerity of his fierce passion for good that I never hesitated to believe an apocryphal tale whereby he stared down a squadron of gendarmes armed to the teeth and forced them to dismantle a roadblock during one of the numerous confrontations he had with our Cameroonian evil forces of so-called law and order.

When I did finally meet him in person in the eighties, my long-held views of him shifted only slightly. He was not the perpetually angry man I’d envisaged, but an engaging personality with the ability to dominate a roomful of ‘big people,’ with a piercing gaze and passionate but reasoned discourse.

He wore his attitude of a man comfortable in his perceived mission to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" with amazing ease. When I met him in any one of the watering holes favored by the Anglophone elite of the day, be it the Mountain Club, the Victoria Club or Club 58, he’d be ensconced on the bar counter, trading friendly insults with the other bar patrons, most of whom were residents of the local Senior Service quarters. Many of them would also be less qualified for their positions than he was.

A Harvard man, by way of Makerere University, Vewesse could have easily outpaced most of his peers up the corporate or public service ladders, such as they were. But he chose to stand firmly by the side of the working poor, probably seeing in them his own hardscrabble upbringing in Babanki and the struggles of his parents.

Thus he took up the cudgels of the labor movement and proceeded to do battle with the corporate and government grandees who have presided over the massive abuse of workers’ rights in Cameroon from independence to this day with near impunity.

Nowhere was Vewesse’s combativeness and passion for justice more evident than when he took up the crusade for an autonomous GCE Board and his militancy in the nascent SDF party. Nor was his altruism more apparent than in his determination to stay out of the unseemly scramble for lofty positions in both institutions. In both instances his primary concern was the rights of the downtrodden and the commonweal of the Anglophone community.

There is little doubt that in the ‘matutu’ houses around the CDC camps and club houses of Sonel and other industrial corporations in the Limbe area, talk would now turn nostalgically to the heroics of CPN Vewesse as he fought for the rights of workers to fair wages through contract negotiations and safer working conditions, organizing industrial actions and strikes.

These workers and fellow travelers on the hard road to a more equitable workplace will fondly remember his courage the court battles he undertook on their behalf and the hard-fought victories they gained with Vewesse fighting the government and corporations to a standstill.

Above all, workers all over Cameroon will remember, as they wait for Cornelius Patrick Vewesse to be returned to the land of his forefathers, that he was a great champion of the little guy, who died fighting so that the least among us should be able to live a life of dignity. A devout Christian, he lived his Catholic faith in deed on a daily basis, translating the church’s numerous nostrums on selflessness, charity and humility into urgent action.

CPN Vewesse may not receive a state funeral with a 21 gun salute, but the depth and sincerity of feeling at his funeral shall surpass anything a head of state could hope for. Many more tears shall be shed for him than for any prince, prime minister or president.

Julius Wamey is a writer and editor based in Fairfax Station, Virginia, USA

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