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May 20, When Slaves Hail Their Captivity Day 

By Peterkins Manyong

President Paul Biya is an exceptionally lucky man. Just like his "illustrious" predecessor, Amadou Ahidjo, he is ruling a country where people celebrate everything. They don’t only celebrate births, marriages and deaths, they also celebrate enslavement.

Youth marching past on May 20: How much do they know about this day?

May 20, is actually supposed to be a day of national mourning for Southern Cameroonians. This is because it was on this same day, 29 years ago, that a make-believe referendum was carried out to complete an enslavement process begun in 1961, when they were ordered to choose between "yes" and "oui"

But ironically, it is a day of celebration, when the slaves join their masters to sing and make merry. Cameroonians are so inclined to celebrating that they don’t care to know why they are doing so. Until the Cameroon GCE came into existence and included in the syllabus the study of Cameroon History, the Biya regime was comfortable with the idea that people celebrated days like Youth Day and May 20 without knowing why. Even with lessons on Cameroon History, the regime has never taken the pains to give any explanation.

Despite his claim that he brought democracy to Cameroon and should be remembered in that light, Biya’s decisions on the Southern Cameroons are far more dictatorial than those of Amadou Ahidjo who never made any such claims. Ahidjo tried, at least, to give a semblance of democracy in his actions. He tele-guided the Foumban Conference of 1961 where Anglophones and Francophones had a semblance of dialogue. The conference was intended to draw a constitution of the Federal Republic of Cameroon, even though Anglophones ended up being hoodwinked.

In 1972, there was a referendum, though a make-believe one, which ended with the change of the country’s name. The fact that the result was not a hundred percent means that Ahidjo acknowledged the right of some Cameroonians to say NO. This contrasts sharply with what transpired in 1984, when Biya unilaterally changed the name of the country from United Republic of Cameroon to the Republic of Cameroon.

Following the SCNC’s "Force of Argument, not the Argument of Force" slogan, Biya led Francophones to secede from the union with Southern Cameroons. This is because the name Cameroon now bears is the one which East Cameroon had before it was joined by West Cameroon. In effect, therefore, the Francophones and not the Anglophones are the real secessionists of Cameroon.

They are therefore living on Southern Cameroons territory as proconsuls and forces of occupation. The greatest irony in the whole thing is that, in spite of having unilaterally dissolved the Unitary State, Biya still lives at Unity Palace. This means he has either forgotten the action he took in 1984 or he does not believe in it.

In removing the adjective "united", Biya hoped that Cameroonians would forget that the country is made up of two separate entities. The next logical step was to destroy the Anglophone system of education by abolishing the GCE and eventually cause the disappearance of English. He failed in both and was obliged, out of sheer necessity, to create a BAC Board for Francophones and seek admission of Cameroon into the Commonwealth. It is another piece of sublime irony that the stiffest opposition to the idea of joining the Commonwealth came from the Anglophone components of the country.

The SCNC, which led the crusade against Cameroon’s admission into the Gentlemen’s Club, was far more prophetic than they knew: Francophones are the greatest beneficiaries in the domain of scholarship and other opportunities, making Anglophones more marginalised than before as this is now two-dimensional – internally and externally.

The tragedy of the Anglophone Cameroonian lies in the fact that Biya hasn’t the slightest intention of ever entertaining any dialogue on the issue, as recommended by the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights, ACHPR. Why should a slave master dialogue with his captives when he can have his way through decrees and instructions? Biya surely asks.

The alternative to this is something really clever. Biya has succeeded in placing a Cameroonian judge, a woman, on the African Commission. When the SCNC and SCAPO filed the suit against La République, it was a Southern Cameroonian who led the delegation that defended his government.

He even created his own SCNC faction led by two Southern Cameroonians; Samuel Tita Fon from the Northern Zone and Chief Isaac Oben from the Southern Zone. The mission of the two pro-Government SCNC factions which failed woefully, was to cause the withdrawal from the Banjul Court the SCNC complaint which they were not party to the filing.

That is Biya’s notion of dialogue circumvention. Despite this bad faith, subjugation and the marginalisation of Anglophones in appointments at all levels, the captives still take active part in the celebration of conquest, best known by the euphemism, "National Day".

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