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The Death Of Ferdinand Oyono And Cameroon 

By John Nkemngong Nkengasong

Ferdinand Léopold Oyono is unquestionably one of Cameroon’s most outstanding figures, notably as a writer and politician.

As an early writer and critic of colonial malfeasance and one who occupied a myriad of top political and administrative positions in the country, his personality remains significantly contradictory: the personality of a writer with a harsh satirical vision of French colonialism in Cameroon and at the same time paradoxically, that of a fervent practitioner, watchdog and an instrument of neo-colonialism.

Since his death on the 10th of June, 2010, administrative clamour has been in favour of his rich political and administrative career – Ambassador, Permanent Representative at the UN, Secretary General at the Presidency, Senior Minister, king-pin of the ruling Cameroon People Democratic Party, among others.  Consequently, there is the tendency by the administration to evade any discussion about what is, in fact, Oyono’s most valuable contribution to the country and perhaps to humanity.

His novels: Une Vie de Boy (1956) translated as Houseboy; Le vieux nègre et la médaille (1956) translated as The Old Man and the Medal and; Chemin d’Europe (1973) translated as Road to Europe, will, for ages, bring Cameroonians into contact with their distressing colonial history – the callous realities of French colonial and neo-colonial administration in Cameroon.

The novels contributed, in one way or the other, to instil in the minds of freedom fighters and the crusaders for independence, like Um Nyobe, Ernest Ouandie and Bishop Albert Ndongmo, the need for Cameroon to take control of its own destiny without external monitoring. In other words, Oyono’s activist literature inspired the fight for independence which Cameroon is currently celebrating fifty years after.

His three novels reveal the French colonial enterprise in Cameroon as oppressive, extortionist, hypocritical and summarily disheartening. Either with inspiration from Oyono or by the dictates of his own ethical self, Mongo Beti carried Oyono’s concern about France’s untrustworthy colonial experience into the post-independence era. In his novels and, particularly, his essays:

Main basse sur le Cameroun, autopsie d’une décolonisation (“Cruel Hand on Cameroon, Autopsy of a Decolonisation” (1971), which was a severe critique of Ahidjo’s tyrannical rule and “Lettre ouverte aux Camerounais, ou, La deuxième mort de Ruben Um Nyobe” (Open Letter to Cameroonians, or the Second Death of Um Nyobe” (1986), equally a shattering critique of the Biya regime, Mongo Beti, in the same way as Oyono had done before him, denounced neo-colonialism which bequeathed unto the young nation, a culture of corruption, hypocrisy and exploitation, especially with the fattening compromise between the ruling elite  and the colonial mentor.

One keeps asking questions: how much of Ferdinand Oyono’s or Mongo Beti’s articulate anti-colonial insight has Cameroon taken into consideration during the 50th anniversary celebration of independence? Why did Oyono choose to die at this momentous moment when he would, himself, have been a living witness of the anniversary celebration of independence for which he contributed so much through his novels?

It is regrettable that the choice to celebrate fifty years of independence, ridiculously, does not provide room for history and, particularly, Literature, to be revisited. Although one or two maniacal intellectuals have given press interviews in which they have retold the history of Cameroon with deliberate distortion, there has been a conscious attempt to evade the truths about our past.

So, what are Cameroonians celebrating? What is the agenda or the program of the celebration? What are the objectives and what goals? Even the most astute of the country’s administrators or, to say the least, the members of the organising committee may not provide answers to these questions. The whole scheme seemed to have taken Cameroonians by surprise, even those who initiated it.

Yet, for fifty years, Cameroon has been saddled with a series of monstrous and very disturbing problems including dictatorship, corruption, tribalcracy, political buffoonery, squandermania, moral bankruptcy, kleptomania, social insecurity, the piercing Anglophone problem, among others, all masterminded by a neo-colonial apparatus which have subjected Cameroonians to a panoply of galling indignities.

Evidently, no nation would stand on its feet with such gruesome excesses, and although most pro-government political pundits would quickly brandish the existence of peace in the country as a commendable achievement, it is peace with excruciating pain, peace conditioned by the fear of genocide under the pretext of evacuating expatriates as has been the case in Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Togo, Chad, among others. For, none of the millions of jobless Cameroonian school leavers without a future, for example, would go to bed and sleep in peace in the name of peace.

Commonsense would support the fact that an anniversary celebration of a country’s independence is a moment of reflection, a moment of stocktaking,  a moment to review the past and provide alternative visions for the future, a moment to reconcile the present and the future with its history, a moment to celebrate past heroes and inspire in the hearts of generations to come the spirit of sacrifice for the wellbeing of the nation, a moment to reconcile factional interests, a moment to come out with effective strategies that would provide a more secure and harmonious existence for the future.

On the contrary, Cameroon’s administration seems to be terribly scared of the history of the country, especially that evident in the literary works of Ferdinand Oyono, Mongo Beti and others, possibly in a bid not to hurt the neo-colonial structure that nurtures and protects its contemptible governance.

Oyono’s death at the high point of independence celebration is not an accident. It is a visionary signal to Cameroon’s leadership to rescind from voluptuousness and reconsider, in a  meaningful way, the objectives, goals and prospects of the 50th anniversary of independence celebration, to frankly revisit the works of prominent Cameroonian writers like Mongo Beti, Ferdinand Oyono, amongst others, who have illustrated in various forms of committed artistry, that independence was only  a smokescreen to provide more subtle and effective ways to facilitate the colonialist’s oppressive and  exploitative agenda.

Cameroonians and their leaders should take the opportunity to take stock of the problems and challenges of Cameroon’s 50 years of gory independence and provide lasting solutions for the future. While the administration, in its usual lavish mood, lowers Ferdinand Oyono into his grave showering praises on his administrative and political achievements, they should understand that Oyono’s works will forever remain the relic of our embittered colonial and neo-colonial experiences and his death is a pointer to the nation to review its past.

I strongly think that it is now time to change the page of history, to truly feel independent by discussing and seeking solutions to pitfalls of history. It is now time to go to the drawing board to determine the fate of Cameroonians in the course of the next fifty years. For this to be achieved, a number of key issues must be considered.

First, the overbearing influence of neo-colonialism on Cameroon’s administration must be checked if not eradicated. The strategic presence for 50 years of neo-colonial structures in the heart of the country’s military headquarters, in politics, education, forestry, trade and industry, research, amongst others, under the hypocritical voice of “cooperation,” has been severely condemned by Mongo Beti in Main basse sur le Cameroun, autopsie d’une décolonisation (‘Cruel hand on Cameroon, autopsy of a decolonisation’) and does not, certainly, represent the ideals of independence which Ferdinand Oyono sought to achieve by writing his novels.
The problem of official national languages needs also to be considered.

It is unfortunate that 50 years after independence, Cameroon is incapable of developing one or two national languages from its rich repertoire, languages that could run counter to the language of the coloniser, languages that should be taught in schools and university or even used in some official cycles. Why would any country celebrate independence if it cannot boast of a developed national language? Independence should provide room for the renaissance of indigenous cultural practices which colonialists suppressed.

The Anglophone problem needs urgent attention. While the festive drums of independence anniversary are throbbing loud in the nation’s capital, Anglophone Cameroonians still feel deprived of the rights and privileges of independence: Anglophones still consider themselves yoked in the burden of colonialism, worst still, by another colony.

But, while the government of “La République,” in compromise with neo-colonial scheme, has the task to ensure the complete annihilation of Anglophone colonial heritage and subject the people to a purely French heritage in defiance of the 1961 UN accord, there is an explicitly growing anti-French sentiment among the Francophones who, in the wake of globalisation within which the English language culture is the dominant factor, are beginning to clamour for Anglophone values which they had for long despised and which, to them, now provides greater opportunities worldwide.

Anglophone schools are today invaded by Francophone children and parents who find more satisfaction in the outcome of their children in those schools. This growing tendency by Francophones is substantial evidence of their rejection of France’s engrossment in the country.
So, what happens with this kind of meddling situation?

Cameroon can take advantage of this and fully implement the English language culture as the official culture as is the case now in Rwanda. With this, Cameroon will become part of the global economic community, instead of the limited or closed up relationships with CEMAC and France. Cameroon’s window to the world would be quite vast and provide greater opportunities in commerce, education, science and technology, political and diplomatic relations and so on. 

Whether Cameroon’s administration and its neo-colonial mentor are in favour of it or not, from the way things are going, within the next twenty years the English language will be decreed the main official language in Cameroon, not by an Anglophone but by a Francophone.

When President Kagame shut down the French Embassy in 2006 and two years later decreed that English would replace French as the official language of instruction in schools, there was no fuss about it. He certainly took into consideration the fatal damage caused his people by cruelty of neo-colonial construct. Of course, Kagame’s move is one which former colonies with similar experience seeking true independence are encouraged to adopt.

Furthermore, a revision of the Constitution is expedient; a Constitution which guarantees social security and checks the excesses that have rocked the nation in the last 50 years; a Constitution which guarantees the independence of the executive, the judiciary and the legislature for a more objective functioning of the state in the next 50 years. The true stature of independence can never be met if the judiciary and the legislature are controlled by the executive as has been the case with Cameroon in the last five decades.

If some of these factors are taken into consideration, then, we can meet with the pace with which Ghana celebrated its independence in 2007, sealed with the inaugural address by Kofi Annan in which he concluded: “What we need now is to keep building the progress which we have achieved, so far. To do so we must build a comprehensive strategy for the future, one which gives equal weight and attention to the three pillars of security, development and human rights.”

Meanwhile, we must excuse Ferdinand Oyono for going contrary to his literary vision and becoming the instrument of neo-colonialism. The fact is that the high profile administrator and politician is dead but the committed writer and conscientiser lives on. His writings remain the symbol of our embittered colonial and neo-colonial past, which must do everything to improve to pave way for harmonious nationhood the 50 years.

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