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Remembering, Celebrating Key Dates In Cameroon 

By Paulinus Jua

Dates are of paramount importance in the life of an individual, a community, a country and a nation. Dates make countries, identify nations and nation-states.

•    The 1st of January 1960 is the Independence Day of the Republic of Cameroon i.e. the day French Cameroon, a UN trust territory, became independent from France. Today it is simply New Year day in Cameroon.

•    The 11th of February 1961 is the day when the British Southern Cameroons, a UN Trust territory as it then was, voted under a UN plebiscite to achieve her independence by either joining the already independent Republic of Nigeria (1st October 1960) or the already independent Republic of Cameroon (1st January 1960). Our parents voted to join the Republic of Cameroon. Today the 11th of February is simply Youth Day in Cameroon since 1963.

•    It is also important to point out here that on the 11th and 12th of February 1961 the British Northern Cameroons, after a foiled 1959 UN plebiscite, voted to achieve her independence by either joining already independent Republic of Nigeria or the Republic of Cameroon. Our brothers voted to join Nigeria and on the 1st of June 1961, became the Sardauna Province of Northern Nigeria.

•    The 1st of October is little known in Cameroon BUT this is the all important Reunification date; when the people of British Southern Cameroons achieved their independence by joining already independent Republic of Cameroon to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. The Union Jack was lowered and the flag of the Federal Republic of Cameroon hoisted. British Southern Cameroons became the Federated State of West Cameroon.

•    The 20th of May is National Day in Cameroon. This commemorates the 1972 referendum ushering in the United Republic of Cameroon.
•    In 1984, the United Republic of Cameroon, by decree, reverted to the Republic of Cameroon     

Dates, therefore, are very important in the political history of Cameroon and its institutions as they serve “not merely to recount what has been, but to share in moulding what should be,” Prof. Bernard Fonlon in the Cameroon Cultural Review, Abbia.

We commemorate anniversaries in our lives in honour of events and persons e.g. birth, death, wedding, independence, reunification and so on. We look back with pride and rejoice over the birth of our country BUT do not celebrate the 1st of January as Independence Day. We rejoice over the reunification of British Southern Cameroons to French Cameroon BUT do not celebrate the 1st of October.

We rejoice over the ICJ judgment confirming Bakassi as Cameroonian. As we rejoice over territorial consolidation, the question that should come to mind all the time is; are we doing the right things to keep Cameroon ‘one and indivisible’? What Cameroon do we want to bequeath to our children? Is it a united country or a fragmented country?

Nation building is an ongoing process in Cameroon. The feeling of oneness, love and unity can only be self imposed on a people by a common history, education, culture and a common destiny. Nationalism is a feeling that cannot be imposed by decree, law or force. The effort at nation building is one that must take into consideration all the many specificities of our country to achieve unity in diversity. The diversities must be recognised and converted to our strengths.
No court of law can adjudicate on national unity.

Only Cameroonians can decide to feel Cameroonian, irrespective of our diverse origins. Has any aspect of our national life ever attracted the kind of common support given the national football team by Cameroonians during its campaigns? The Government is the major facilitator in this noble mission of nation building. They can make or mar. In the light of the topic under review; does the recognition or non-recognition of the dates chosen above contribute in nation building or destruction?

National unity is easily achievable in Cameroon. Dialogue is the magic word. If dates have to assist us as a country, they should equally and more so assist us in the noble task of nation building. No distortion of historical facts intentionally or unintentionally, by acts of commission or omission and for whatsoever purpose and intent, should be tolerated.

Ahmadou Ahidjo, fondly remembered as grand camarade, batisseur de la nation, for good or selfish reasons, started the distortion process when, in the 1960s, he refused to attach the relevant significance to the above dates.

Cameroonians were forced to forget their independence day, empire day, plebiscite day and reunification day, among others and remember only the 20th of May which some people challenge today. Maybe it is for these same reasons that people shudder or are made to shudder at the mention of his name. But he is an integral part of our history. Our history did not begin with the present regime. It will not end with it.

Historical facts are true whether good or bad. Parts of German Kamerun were ceded to Chad, the Central African Republic, Congo and Gabon, after the 1st World War. French Cameroon became independent on the 1st of January 1960; the British Southern Cameroons achieved its independence by joining the already independent Republic of Cameroon on the 1st of October 1961; the 11th of February 1961 is plebiscite day; April 6, 1984, is part of our history; May 26, 1990, is our history. The examples abound.

Dates do not necessarily derive their importance from the importance we subjectively give them. We owe posterity a duty to make our today which tomorrow will become their history, an era of the good and the beautiful. It, therefore, behoves us not to try to distort our history but to recount it as it is in order to share in moulding what should be.

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