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February 11 Is Plebiscite, Not Youth Day – Dr. Dze-Ngwa 

One of Cameroon’s celebrated Historians and Political Analyst, Dr. Willibroad Dze-Ngwa, has stated that the celebration of February 11 as the National Youth Day in Cameroon smacks of a vicious attempt to distort historical facts. In an exclusive interview granted The Post in Yaounde on January 10, the varsity don called on the authorities to designate another day for the youth and let February 11 be given its right historical honour and celebrated as the Plebiscite Day. He warned that anybody who is trying to distort historical facts will be the loser, because, the facts are stubbornly undying. Excerpts:

The Post: Today is the 10th of February and Cameroonians are looking up to celebrating what is called the National Youth Day. Normally, historians talk about this date as the Plebiscite Day. How did the appellation “National Youth Day” come about?

Dr. Dze Ngwa: Well, we understand that in 1966, President Amadou Ahidjo decided to give to young people a Youth Day and February 11 was considered. To the best of my knowledge, I do understand that it was the Empire Day which was celebrated in British Southern Cameroons and it was very popular. The popularity stole President Ahidjo’s heart, so he wanted to make it national. That is how it started from 1966 and, every year; it has been celebrated as a National Youth Day.

It looks like the issue of the Plebiscite has been relegated to the background…?
One of the greatest regrets is that we are celebrating the youth but not giving them the whole essence of the date. I will want to state very clearly that history is a very stubborn subject which cannot be hidden. You cannot put it under the carpet. The 11th of February is Plebiscite Day. I think that’s how it should be called because the Cameroonian youth did not do anything on the 11th of February to get that day to be reserved for them. We are not saying that the youth should not be given a day to celebrate. I think to take a very important date like the 11th of February and give it to the youth is distorting history, especially as nothing is told to the youth on the historical origin of the date. You know, I conducted a small survey on third-year history students in the University. I wanted them to tell me the historical facts of 11th of February. I discovered that more than 90 percent did not know the historical facts of this date. Some youth think it is just a day that has been given to them by the State to recognise them, while others think it is a day to relax, listen to the President’s speech and get what opportunities he has for them.

Do you think that some people somewhere are trying to downplay the Plebiscite Day and for what reasons will they be doing that?
Let us be very clear that there has been a persistent and deliberate attempt to distort the historical facts of the country. That’s why we don’t celebrate the 1st of October as Independence Day. I should say that is why we had to force the hand of the leadership of this country to celebrate the 50th anniversary of reunification. So, I think there is the careful desire to distort history. Increasingly, we talk about the youth and peace building or cohesion. It is good to tell the youth about peace building and cohesion, but it is wrong not to tell them historical facts. I think if another date was given unto the youth, it will make more sense. The date, 11th of February, should be celebrated as Plebiscite Day. If you want to bury the Plebiscite Day and maintain the Youth Day, I think the Cameroonian people should go out and tell the youth what really happened on that date.

Since there is a deliberate attempt to relegate history to the background, could you just remind us of the historical importance of the Plebiscite of 1961, especially its contribution to the present dispensation?

The 11th of February is the date when the Southern Cameroons’ people voted overwhelmingly to, first of all, stay clear from Nigerian politics and, secondly, to start negotiating reunification. So, on that 11th of February 1961, the Plebiscite was organised by the United Nations. It was not for reunification. It was to decide the fate of the Southern Cameroonians. When they voted to stay clear from Nigerian politics, it was implicit that Southern Cameroons had nothing to do with Nigeria. So, Cameroonians now had to negotiate the terms of reunification. So, after the 11th of February, there were a series of negotiations that led to the reunification which only came on the 1st of October 1961. Regrettably, I had the opportunity to follow the National Citizens Programme that was patronised by the First Lady. I was very akin to know the kind of questions that were being asked to the youth and regrettably the distortion still continues. Nothing was mentioned of the Plebiscite or about reunification. This is very dangerous because, when we keep on pushing history to the sidelines, in the next 20 or 40 years, we are going to create a scenario where the young people will not even want to know where they are coming from. If you don’t know where you are coming from, you will not know where you are going to and we cannot be talking about peace in a divided society.

Could you state clearly the political significance of not highlighting the Plebiscite Date, when it comes to celebrating it? What is the implication, especially with regards to the Anglophone problem?

After the Plebiscite of 1961, Southern Cameroonian politicians had to negotiate reunification and it was based on well defined principles, that is; the Federal Constitution. There were articles which were very clear as to how the reunified people of Cameroon should operate. The articles protected the minority rights of the Anglophones. If Article 47 states very clearly that the federal status quo of the country should not be tampered with, it simply means that Cameroon was supposed to be a Federal Republic up till this date. But when the Federal Constitution was violated, many things and many people were being pushed aside. I should say, marginalized, because, when in 1984, the name of the country moved from the United Republic of Cameroon to La Republique du Cameroun… let me pause here to state that the Republic of Cameroon was the name of the francophone part of Cameroon at independence. So, if in 1960, there was La Republique du Cameroun and in 2015, there is La Republique du Cameroun, then two things have happened: either the Anglophones have been assimilated or La Republique du Cameroun has seceded from that union. There is, therefore, a need for dialogue… frank dialogue among Cameroonians.

In Cameroon, we have inadvertent and willful forgetters of history. The former forgets to remember the historical facts while the latter deliberately, remembers to forget certain parts of our History. What message do you have, as a historian, for these persons, given that most of them are Government officials and historians?

The message I have for every Cameroonian and anyone trying to distort historical facts is that, there is no Cameroonian who is more of a Cameroonian than the other. Nobody or a group of persons should, at any time, think that this country belongs to them alone. This is because there is the tendency of us and them among Cameroonians. When we are posted to Government, we develop a blind eye to the realities for selfish reasons and that is why I said that history is stubborn and no matter what is done to conceal history, it will not be hidden. It might just be planting some evil seeds that will explode somewhere along the lines. Let me quote a top Government official, I should say a member of the SCNC who happens to be a top member of the judiciary of Cameroon, who said that Southern Cameroons is another Boko Haram in the making. The Southern Cameroonians are crying and they are making pledges. We know them, we know what they are talking about, we know the truth… but we are concealing the truth from them. Today, we are on a peace-building mission; we preach peace-building, acceptance and reconciliation. But when there is a systematic marginalisation and discrimination of an entire entity, I think it is pure evil. This systematic marginalisation is going to get to its inelastic point one day. The elasticity might be elastic now but someday it is going to be inelastic.

In Cameroon, we have some form of dichotomy between pro-establishment and anti-establishment historians. Is that your reading of the controversy as well?
All historians, to the best of my knowledge, agree on the facts and figures. What they don’t agree on is the interpretation and misinterpretation of the same facts and figures. Somebody, for instance, will say that Cameroon has two anthems; another person will say let’s forget about the two anthems for national cohesion and move on. But some of us will say we don’t need to move on, let us stand and harmonise the anthem. Also, if we are going to say that Southern Cameroons has two days of independence, some historians will say no, Cameroon had independence on the 1st of January 1960. That is not history, it is wrong. We have two dates of independence and we should be able to celebrate these two dates of independence. So, when these facts are clear, some people, maybe for selfish reasons, might want to distort the facts and figures for political reasons.

Where do you belong; pro-establishment or anti-establishment historian?
None of the above. I just want to be an intellectual and an intellectual is neither here nor there. I am objective. Being objective will mean painting history as it was, for tomorrow’s sake. Not those who write history with a chalk on one hand and a duster on the other hand. So I just want to be an objective historian who paints the facts as they are for the sake of harmony, the truth and for the sake of genuine intellectualism.
Interviewed By Yerima Kini Nsom & Marriane Enow Tabi

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