Ben Muna, who is the son of one of the founding fathers of Re-unification, the late S.T Muna, also looks back at the rough road from Re-unification, through the socio-economic and political evolutions and mutations within Cameroon’s two main entities, to the present date, in the following interview granted The Post in Yaounde recently. Read on:
Celebrations marking the 45th anniversary of the 1972 Referendum are just over. As Citizen of former British Southern Cameroons who has lived the evolution and the mutation of events from Reunification, what particularly were you celebrating?
I wasn’t celebrating, I was in my house. The fact is that West Cameroon and some politicians at the time had a particular dream – this dream definitely hatched from the political atmosphere in Africa at the time, which was led by visionaries like Nkrumah, Ezikiwe, Julius Nyerere, Kaunda and others leading the Anglophone world who dreamt of a united Africa. Before Europeans came, Africa was not drawn up in Maps, States and Nations.
Africa was a gathering of different communities and tribes and ethnic groups who were ruled by their Kings, Chiefs, Fons or Sultans and so on. There were no national boundaries, no passports, no barriers. You could move from one part of Africa to another and you will be received, whenever you arrived, by people of that place.
So, our forefathers were moved by the fact that, the boundaries dividing our country were artificial and divided our communities, ethnic groups and tribes and so these needed to be united.
Therefore, behind this Pan-African movement, Cameroon, especially English-speaking Cameroon, thought that it would be a good thing in the Pan-African spirit and Africa Unity to start by uniting Cameroon; not because there was any country called Cameroon before colonization, but because the spirit of African unity accepted that to move forward, they had to overlook the boundaries which have been drawn up by the colonial masters in the Berlin Treaty of 1884.
This spirit of African unity is what made politicians like Endeley – even though he eventually lost the dream – when he led the Cameroonian group of 13 to leave the Eastern House of Assembly in 1953, the KNC which was the Party in power at the time talked of separation and eventual Unification.
So, Endeley was, I think, as my father said, was the forefather of Reunification, the rest is history. At the time, the majority of people in French colonies had the ambition of becoming very respective French men. It was the way they had been taught to think by the French. France wanted its colonies to be “France D’autre Mer” which is France overseas.
So, people in the African French colonies were groomed to be Frenchmen. They were more looking for attachment to France. They were very few francophone countries in Africa that revolted, like Republic Guinea. The rest were congregated in Territorial Assembly created by France to side-step the demand for independence.
Some of the Francophone political leaders, like Leopold Sedar of Senegal, who was a very highly educated person and had been made a member of the French academy, suddenly discovered that being a member of the French Academy didn’t take him anywhere as he was not fully accepted by all in the French Academy.
He started to wonder why and suddenly he stumbled on the fact that it is because he was black and that’s why he started the Negritude Movement. This background is so that we know, because, it is clear that our fathers of reunification did not know how the French colonisation affected our brothers and sisters in the French Cameroons.
Is there nothing to write home about our national unity?
You see a country and a nation is great because of its people. The Unity of Cameroon cannot be measured by the unity of the geographical boundaries of Cameroon.
It is measured by the fact that the people of Cameroon are happy in their geographical area called the Republic of Cameroon now, and treat each other with respect, love and build bridges across our different communities that, maybe in 100 years, a nation of one people will emerge. It is hypocrisy and not exact to say now that we are a nation of one people. We are a nation of a collection of tribes and ethnic groups.
That’s history, and that’s how God made us. For example, God made the people of Kom, Bali, Bamilike, Bulu Country or the North and Far North and so on. God made all of us and we have different languages and different cultures.
Is this what has truncated the dreams of the Founding Fathers?
I think that if you are building a nation, and if it is your dream that together we can build a prosperous nation, and if you find yourself facing a nation in which thieves and robbers are protected, in which violence is what is given priority to, a republic in which lying to the people is part of how you govern the people, then, you cannot celebrate that.
Was Southern Cameroons an Independent State before reunification?
We must go back a little bit to the fact that, the Cameroon Republic of 1960, was a Trustee territory as well as Southern Cameroon and the Northern Cameroons, so we had three entities. These three entities was a territory which was seized as punishment from the Germans after the 1st World War.
The little bit of the territory in the West of the North of German Cameroon, beginning from lake Chad down to the Bight of Biafra, was sliced off and given to the British as a Trustee territory.
The rest of the country was given to the French, including a big chunk which is now part of the Central African Republic. When you hear some of our Francophone friends talk about Unity of the former German Colony or territory, it is false. Their so-called nationalism is limited to the part of Cameroon which was given to the British.
If you remember, Ahidjo declared a day of mourning because of the loss of British administered Northern Cameroons. Why did Ahidjo not attempt to get back from the French, the large chunk of German Cameroon which the French had unilaterally sliced off and joined to the Central Africa Republic? Why did he not declare a day of mourning for its loss?
If the Ahidjo Government were really people who are nationalistic, the first thing would have been to ask France to give back the part of the territory of the joint colony which it was cut out and put as part of Central African Republic. We are, therefore, a Trustee territory. However, let us be very careful on what we say the Trusteeship Agreement was.
The Trusteeship Agreement was not a contract between Cameroon and the United Nations or between Cameroon, United Nations and Britain. The agreement was an agreement between the administering power which for the former German Cameroons was France for the East Cameroon and Britain for the Northern and Southern Cameroons. It was a contract between the colonial powers and the United Nations.
So, we, as Cameroonians, cannot even invoke any clause in it as a breach to any agreement entered into by us, all we had were rights under it. The creation of a Trusteeship Council by the United Nations in 1946 was meant to be an organ which now supervised the administration of the territories given to the mandated powers after the 1918. After the First World War, some of the German plantation owners were allowed to come back, especially in Southern Cameroons.
In that case, one of the reasons of the trusteeship agreement was that, we should be developed and led eventually into independence. That was the agreement between the UN acting through Trusteeship Council and the Administering Authority which in the case of Cameroon was Britain and France.
When the question of independence of the Trust Territories came before the United Nations, the question of Unifying with Nigeria or with the Independent Republic of Cameroon came up. Most people are aware of the historical process which led to reunification.
To cut a long story short, there was a big debate at the UN as to what the two questions which had to be put to the people of Southern Cameroons. By that time, in 1958, Endeley had completely converted to our remaining within the federation of Nigeria. Everything that he did was politically designed to concretize this policy.
Foncha, my father (ST Muna) and other leaders of the KNDP, on the other hand, wanted independence before Unification. At that time, the African countries were against the politics of the Balkanisation of Africa in the late 50s. When, finally, we went to the UNO for the two questions, some countries did not want a small country like Southern CameroonS to have independence. So, they said, no, let them have independence with Nigeria or East Cameroon.
If you factor in the fact that African unity was the guiding principle at the time, you will now see why they did not accept Foncha’s proposal that the first thing to do is to give us our own independence, so that we could then negotiate our unity with whomever.
It was a big debate and Endeley kicked against this. Foncha even went so far to ask for the prolongation of the Trusteeship agreement; he said Southern Cameroons was not ready because it had no trained administrators, magistrates, judges, lawyers, technical personnel and so on, and our development was still far behind that of Nigeria. The Nigerian Bar was founded in 1901, but here we are in 1958, without even one lawyer.
Govt has tacitly slammed a ban on any discussions bordering on Federation and claims its action is in the spirit of the founding fathers of the reunification. What is your take?
The founding fathers started reacting at the All Anglophone Conference of 1993. Foncha and my father were there and others and they said; ok; let us hold a constitutional Assembly and thrash the problem. True to himself, President Biya did not react.
Finally, he created a constitutional committee in which I and my father were members and we both resigned. The constitutional committee was a sham; it was a cover-up for things that have already been arranged.
If they were alive today, I don’t think that their vision of the failure of unification principle will change. Maybe, because they were the people who started this thing, they will be more radical than some of us. When you are betrayed, you have anger, what the politicians, Ahidjo followed by Biya, have done is to betray the goodwill of people like Jua, Foncha, Muna, Endeley, Mukete and many others.
A Government that deals with human beings knows that the society evolves just as human beings and therefore for any Government to decree unilaterally that Cameroon is this type of State or that type of State is definitely an undemocratic Government. A Government which speaks the truth, first of all, has to have an election of a Constituent Assembly. A Government does not fall from heaven.
In our days, the Government was elected by the people and is the servant of the people, not the master. A Government cannot issue decrees and say this is possible, that is not possible and so on without consulting the people.
But the founding fathers endorsed the Referendum of 1972…?
Do not confuse the Referendum of 1972 with what is happening today. The evil of Cameroon is not a Unitary State; the evil of Cameroon is bad governance.
If the Unitary State is now challenged, Federation is proposed, after all, the failure of all the attempts to rectify the errors have been made. We have seen that our own ways of thinking in Southern Cameroons are different from the East Cameroon way of thinking.
I think that, for this country to remain united, they should only bring back the Federation, because, there is an attempt by certain politicians to assimilate us and abolish our own way of life. We are two different people with two different cultures and under international conventions, we will be recognised as a national group.
The abolition of the Federation only gave room to people who do not have the interest of the people at heart to operate. In other to protect our own interest, we say; let’s go back to the Federation.
So, what is the way forward?
Very easy, by convening a constitutional Assembly and then see how we can build this country together, it is not quantum physics. When we talk about democracy, it is all about consulting the people and knowing what they think and it is applying the wishes of the people to the nation.
What is your advice to the different protagonists in the crisis?
First of all, I believe that there is a God who exists and he has piloted my life, so far. This Almighty God, has given us principles by which we live and one of the most important which Christ decrees is “Love your Neighbour as yourself”. Any decision which is taken by Government which is not guided by love but by the show of power and authority is unchristian.
Therefore, I advise Government, to be a Government which fears God, a Government which loves the people. The people of diverse racial groups, they will make mistakes, there will be a prodigal son who will sell his share of the property and go and squander the proceeds and come back. Some people call President Biya the father of the nation and I will say, he should live up to this fatherliness.
As far as the people, especially of the Southern Cameroons are concern, I will say that any decision that is taken out of bitterness and hatred cannot be a good decision. Any decision that is taken that abuses human rights will be dicey. Those who are fighting for rights should be able to consolidate and fight for rights for different solutions.
I think that most Southern Cameroonians agreed on the problems we have, they are only dividing on the solutions. The first thing we have to do is try to look at the problem and say there are the solutions, not say that the solution brought by a, b, c is a bad solution and you start pointing fingers, saying this man is a traitor and so on.
Interviewed By Yerima Kini Nsom and Sylvester Atemnkeng
The Post Newspaper