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Opinion: How October 1 brings back to the forefront of public consciousness disputed symbols of statehood in Cameroon

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How October 1 brings back to the forefront of public consciousness disputed symbols of statehood in Cameroon

Years before Muteff opted out of mainland Abuh to become a standalone village, Abuh as the name of the Second-Class community confers, was a revered symbol of villagehood. Situated off the jaws of Liakom, the seat of the traditional administration of the Kom Kingdom in Boyo Division of the Northwest Region of Cameroon, Abuh was not only venerated for its strict adherence to the culture and traditions of the Kom people, but also for the highest producer of quality Grade “A” arabica coffee in the whole of West Africa. With proceeds from the coffee, Abuh parents could conveniently sponsor their children in any kind of standard educational establishment, in and out of the country. That was good enough reason for every son and daughter of Abuh land to be proud of who s/he was, and to belong.

Just like Divisions, counties, regions and nations are named after geographical features, Abuh derived its name from the fact that it is holed down the valley adjacent the undulating Laikom hills and hosting the most enigmatic and touristic royal palace cave, ‘ifo’oh’.

Not only the name Abuh was a reverenced symbol of villagehood but the equally revered mystical deity of the Order of Natang Yoh. Before the separation, Nantang Yoh just like the Cameroon National Anthem before now, was the rallying cry of all Abuh people. Although the mystical order was lodged on the Muteff side of mainland Abuh, the fear of the diety was the beginning of wisdom throughout the valley.

Fast forward to after-independence of Muteff from Abuh. The nantang juju had dressed up one fateful day, and crossed over to Abuh village for the ‘crydie’ of a certain Yong Nguoh-an influential member of the Order who had passed away. Given that the ‘crydie” was on a ‘contri sunday’, some Abuh villagers violently objected to nantang yoh performing their dance on a ‘contri sunday’ in Abuh. One of the protesters was heard telling who cared to hear, and particularly members of the nantang yoh fraternity- that they should not think they only parted ways as villages; they also parted ways in the manner of doing things, going forward.

Not only nantang yoh that used to be a symbol of identification and source of protection for the people had become a divisive symbol, but also the goats head (atu’abvi’ in kom and ‘Isi Ewu’ in Nigeria), from the ‘chong’ fraternity during dead celebrations. Perhaps, it should be said that just like the name of country- Cameroon-since became the single source of dispute for Cameroonians of both divides, the goats head were the single source of the struggle for the independence of Muteff.

Being a delicacy to the typical kom man, just like the coveted gizzard, Muteff community leaders protested the fact that the Abuh 2nd Class leadership had wanted to continue consuming goats head from dead celebrations in Muteff. They saw this act, and others injustice and outright marginalization and had no choice than to wage the struggle for autonomy. And so, the village name-Abuh-that had been the strongest identifier for people from that area soon became the single source of disunity and division.

This division was demonstrated in triumphant detail when during a fundraiser for Fundong Area Development (ABADU), the Muteff delegation led by a certain Jacques Sani insisted they would only hand over their contributions if the announcer at the Fundong Grandstand publicly acknowledged that the money was being contributed by a village called Muteff. When the announcer consulted with the Union’s President General, David Mbanghinu, himself of Abuh extraction and he turned down the condition, the Muteff delegation returned home with their envelope to quickly launch their own independent development union.

And so, as with the case with the geographical expression called Cameroon, there’s been no time in history where symbolic motivations have found expression in public discourse as in the last five years of the Anglophone minority conflict.

Symbols of statehood like the country’s name, the national anthem, the national colours (flag), coat of arms, the seal, the motto, official languages, national day, the currency and probably international (ISD) dial code, vividly bring back to the forefront of public consciousness, memories of October 1, 1961. On this day, nationals of the former British mandated territory voted in a plebiscite to become independent by joining the former French mandated territory of Cameroun.

During that overwelming vote, it was unanimously agreed that the symbol of statehood that would be a uniting factor for the two Cameroons was the name of the country. Hence, Federal Republic of Cameroon was adopted. To show that any tampering with this symbol of statehood could only ignite the germs of division, the federal constitution in its Article 47, was articulate on the fact that the form of state shouldn’t be tampered with. Unfortunately, the other party never respected it. And so in 1972, the country’s name was changed to United Republic. As if that wasn’t enough, another change was effected in 1984 thereby, bringing many on the West Cameroon side to look back to October 1, 1961, in anger.

With the events of 1984 and the ringing secession alarm bells by Barrister Gorgi Dinka, all the other symbols of the statehood of 237 have continued to suffer disrepute. The ragging deadly conflict since gave opportunity for those challenging Yaounde authorities to begin inventing their own national anthems. They since claimed that ‘O Cameroon, thou cradle of our fathers…’, fail short of fulfilling their dreams and aspirations, as wished by the founding fathers. Rather than pledging to restore the peace and unity of the fatherland, they since took up guns against such symbols of statehood.

One of the symbols of statehood, the Cameroon flag that was adopted in 1975 since also came into dispute. The green that stood for hope, the red for unity and the yellow for sunshine and prosperity, have since been a contact point for distress and animosity for minority Anglophones. From the moment Yaounde authorities started getting stingy with stars by reducing the original two stars on the flag down to one, the perception from the point of view of anglophones was that of assimilation. Interestingly, those fronting for the new state of Ambazonia seem to demonstrate their generosity with stars as the proposed flag they usually fight running gun battles with government each time they try hoisting in Anglophone territories each October 1, is peopled with countless stars.

Just like the missing star that since became a veritable source of conflict in 237 since the 1984 arrangement, English and French as official languages of Cameroon and symbols of statehood, have been the constant source of division. Recall that the overwhelming arrogance and dominance of the french language over English, especially in education and common law courts, was at the origin of the current deadly conflict.

And penning this piece on this October 1, 2022, I can’t help but wonder why and how May 20 became Cameroon’s National Day and key symbol of statehood, while Yaounde authorities never want to hear about or organize celebrations marking October 1, a historic plebiscite day that reunited a people once divided through a UN Trusteeship arrangement.

Scholars have therefore, been articulate on the fact that in order to advance legitimacy in democratic institutions and to ‘resolve conflicts within pluralistic societies fairly and peacefully, good symbolic representation must be taken into consideration given its substantive and descriptive dimensions’. The Cameroon of today, and going by the disputes brought about by our existing symbols that have so far been sources of division rather than unity, quickly needs to be honest and ready to bend-over-backwards, to reimagine the nation our forefathers sort to forge on October 1,1961.

Other forward-looking countries have organized referendums on the need to change divisive symbols of statehood. Why can’t Cameroon do same for divisive symbols like the name of the country, the national anthem, the flag, the national day, and why not, the currency.

*Colbert Gwain is digital space citizen/native, author, radio host and content creator @TheColbertFactor

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