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Biya’s Northwest Visit: Time For Forgiveness And Reconciliation 

By Francis Wache

In December last year, Mr Biya announced that he would be travelling to Bamenda on an undisclosed date before the end of this year to commemorate 50 years of the existence of Cameroon’s armed forces. That announcement was greeted with hoots of disapproval by some Northwesterners.

It reminded them, they said, of the horrendous crimes committed against the people of the Northwest for no other reason than that they came from the same area with Fru Ndi, Biya’s political archrival, who had dared to wrestle for the power Biya had controlled over decades. For such audacity, Biya and his cohorts seemed to have sworn to "teach the ‘Bamenda people’ a lesson." The lesson turned out to be as bloodcurdling as it was barbarous.
Consider the Ndu Massacres:

Under the orders of an overzealous SDO, Mr Arikai, the forces of (dis)order unleashed the most heinous and gruesome mayhem on the helpless population: they tortured, maimed, arrested, inserted broken bottles into the private parts of girls, mothers and grandmothers. Going berserk, they even ordered youngsters to copulate with their family members. It was not only obscene; it was insane. The soldiers were barbaric, inhuman; the crimes were macabre; loathsome. The atrocities were demonic.

Again, after the heavily rigged elections in 1992, where the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court publicly admitted that their (judiciary’s) hands were tied, the troops swooped on Bamenda, in particular, and the Northwest Region in general, with a vengeance. They raped and looted and killed with impunity. The acts of barbarity were enacted to a scale unknown before then – or ever since.

Fru Ndi, the man who claimed that his victory had been stolen, was held under house arrest. He and his acolytes were submitted to execrable and almost sub human conditions. The intention of the regime was to cow Fru Ndi and his supporters into submission. Once their spirit had been broken, the ‘thieves’ could cart away the electoral booty! It will be recalled that the Biya regime’s "civilizing mission" to the Northwest had started two years earlier when an armada of troops was deployed in Bamenda to thwart the launching of the Social Democratic Front.

Bamenda, on that memorable May 26, 1990, was a town under siege. Troops, carefully chosen from the ranks of those who nurtured anger against those they considered as attempting to rock the New Deal boat, took the town on a rampage. At the end of the exercise, the town lay supine. Six souls were slain. The "martyrs of liberty" (as they came to be affectionately called), mostly in their 20s, were mowed them with callous barbarity by the trigger-happy soldiers.

And, so, it will be against this despicable backdrop that Mr Paul Biya, "the President of all Cameroonians", will be visiting Bamenda, the headquarters of the Northwest Region. Biya will have to condemn and atone for the wanton snuffing of life of innocents who merely wanted to express the desire for a change in the manner the country was administered so that, they, too, could have a promising future.  After all, didn’t Biya, on taking the oath of office as the President of Cameroon, solemnly pledge to protect the lives of all Cameroonians? To have allowed the soldiers to act with such dastardly impunity was a failure on his part.

Consequently, he will be expected to stretch the hand of reconciliation by declaring, for instance, those who died during the political upheavals and turmoil of the 90s as "martyrs of democracy". This will show that he is magnanimous. Already, Mr Fru Ndi has confirmed that he is prepared to offer lunch to the President. From all sides of the political divide, people are holding their breath, wondering and hoping that the President would, for once, spring a surprise and meet the frontline opposition leader.

Nineteen years ago, when Biya visited Bamenda, the Fons violated tradition (no Fon -traditionally – is above another) and crowned him Fon of Fons. Since that day, nobody has ever seen the President in those parlous graffi native regalia. Let him, therefore, come to Bamenda bedecked in traditional outfit and score some points.

Earlier, another political party – the Cameroon People’s Democratic Party (CPDM) – had been baptised in Bamenda. In the heat of the Ahidjo-Biya imbroglio, Biya needed his own podium. He took to Bamenda and metamorphosed Ahidjo’s CNU into his own CPDM. That was in 1985.

Because the Bamenda people continued to be obdurate and intransigent, Biya decided to smite them where it would hurt most-the political nexus. He took the Prime Minister’s post to the Southwest. The Northwesterners then engaged in an orgy of mea culpa. They confessed political sins they had not even committed. The post of PM swung back to the Northwest in June 2009. Yang came in as timid appeasement. He is being watched closely. In sum, what has happened is that a whole people have been stigmatised and declared anathema.

For the man, Biya, who claimed that Bamenda (understand the Northwest) was his second home, the harassment he has visited on these people verges on sheer sadism. He must personally atone for the agony and anguish. Above all, Biya should speak in English to demonstrate that government’s policy of bilingualism is not just lip service. And, of course, as the Fon of Fons of the Northwest, he should, we must reiterate, come bedecked in his fonly regalia!

The above, to us, would constitute the substance of the visit. Any other thing will be folklore – peripheral. In his seminal book on reconciliation titled No Future Without Forgiveness, Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu says: "We all know just how difficult it is for most of us to admit that we have been wrong. It is perhaps the most difficult thing in the world. In almost every language the most difficult words are, "I am sorry".

Tutu further argues that, "it is important to remember so that we should not let such atrocities happen again… True forgiveness deals with the past, to make the future possible. We have to accept that what we do we do for generations past, present and yet to come." President Biya, in visiting the Northwest, might do well to reflect on the following words of wisdom from – again- Desmond Tutu: "A readiness to make concessions is a sign of strength, not weakness. And it can be worthwhile, sometimes, to lose a battle in order in the end to win the war."

Northwesterners – across the political spectrum – seem to expect that, beyond reconnecting with their President, they would benefit from following fallouts, among many, from the presidential trip: the construction of the Ring Road – which Biya promised to personally supervise 19 years ago; a State University and a Referral Hospital. Therefore, to show his intention of reconciling and rehabilitating the Northwest Region from its current pariah status, the President might consider granting them the above "minimum package."

The Northwest is, after all, the land of political juggernauts like Foncha, Jua, Muna, Achidi Achu, etc, people who, arguably, contributed in no small measure in making Cameroon what is today. What the President ends up granting the people could be interpreted as a vicarious recognition of the remarkable and invaluable contributions by these outstanding patriots. In the meantime, welcome to the Northwest Region, Mr President!

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