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Africa’s greatest deceptions
Elie B. Smith
May 31, 2007
There are many deceptions in and about Africa. Some are created and sustained by external forces, while others have been created and sustained by Africans themselves. One of such deceptions created by Africans is that which holds that, Cameroon is a single country with two official languages: English and French. Officially it might be correct, but the reality is a completely different story. The lies about Cameroon have existed now for 47 years. To refresh the minds of many, it is worth noting that contemporary Cameroon like most African states are products of the Berlin conference of 1884. Prior to 1884 the various ethnic groups and tribes who were living on what is currently Cameroon and were ignoring each other or considering each other as strangers.
All those tribes were federated by a European power call: Germany. It must however be also noted that, the creation of German Cameroon from the stateless, but tribal coastal and forest region in the south amalgamating it with the north, was done at the detriment of much more organised northern Cameroon that was successively parts, of the Adamawa, Borno and Sokoto empires. But without the Germans, Cameroon won’t have existed today in her current form, but there would have still been people living in the territory. Hence in the Cameroonian town of Buea that was the capital of German Cameroon until their (German) defeat in the First World War in 1916, there is the status or monument has been erected in remembrance of Otto Von Bismarck.
European contribution in forging new African identities
Coincidentally, Bismarck was the man who federated the various Germanic tribes to create the German nation. Bismarck may not have personally visited Cameroon or took part in the German colonial enterprise in Africa, but his offspring had the ambition to realise in Cameroon and elsewhere in Africa, what their noble ancestor did in Germany some two or three centuries before. Now there is this recurrent debate: was colonialism positive or negative to Africa and Africans? I don’t want to dwell on it, for I know deep in me that, no human enterprise is entirely good or bad. Certainly colonialism had it own fair share of positive as well as negative impact on the continent. But Cameroon unlike other African countries changed ownership three times and may have experienced both positive and negative consequences of colonialism.
First as mentioned earlier, the founders and shapers of modern Cameroon was and will remain the Germans and as the Germans lost the First World War in Europe, they also lost their African colonies of Togoland, Cameroon, Tanganyika, Burundi and Rwanda, and South West Africa or Namibia. In Cameroon, German Cameroon was shared between France and Britain. The first took the lion share while the second had a little piece that she attached to her Nigerian possession. This singular measure of 1916 to create two Cameroon, one under French rule and the other under British rule created de facto two separate people with fundamentally different ways of thinking and their views of the world is different.
They may have the same racial origin, but they are two different people and thus two countries were created. Cameroon is a showcase that, panafricanism or the oneness of Africa as desired by some Africans, is either an illusion or self deception or at best, a desire to copy what is currently taking place in the European continent.
But if Africans want to copy Europe, they will have to be patient, for it took Europe years to achieve or reach where they currently are. While the desire to create a supranational African state is a noble venture, it is also necessary to point out that, most African countries are divided; with loyalties first to the tribe, race, region and religion, before the country. It is therefore not going to be easy for Africans or the fringe that want to create a supranational African state, along the lines of that which is currently being envisaged by some European political and business elites.
That said, in African countries that were colonised by a single colonial power, in spite the existence of racial, tribal, religious and regional dichotomies, there is still a strong feeling of nationalism shared by the various nationalities or tribes. This simply means that, although we can decry colonialism, she has also brought in Africa some positive things: namely the notion of nationhood, education, improve health etc.
Furthermore, in African countries that had one colonial master, there do exist conflicts nonetheless, but when they mange to settle their conflicts, it is much easier to rebuild the old nation that was destroyed because of civil war. Nigeria, Sierra Leon, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Mozambique and Angola are examples of how African countries with single colonial past can recover and carry out national reconciliation easily. Conversely, in African countries that had different or were administered separately under colonialism, any crack or civil wars, leads to divisions that are beyond repairs.
It is the case of Somalia that was colonised by Italy and Britain. The International community may pretend as they can, Somaliland colonised by Britain and that is at peace with functioning government and democratic institutions, will never want to be reunited with chaotic Somalia, which was colonised by Italy, even if she suddenly became peaceful and prosperous. As for those who always agitate the fibre of ancestry or African, it does not work when a part of a given territory has been under foreign rule, for foreign influence creates new mentalities and sub cultures.
Colonially created identities: identities all the same
Colonialism has forged in Africans the spirit of nationhood that is beyond their tribal nations, even though the tribal bonds have not completely disappeared in Africa today. For example, Ethiopia is one of the only two African countries that were not really colonised by Europeans. But most parts of ancestral Ethiopia has been chopped off by European powers. Current day Somalia, Somaliland, Djibouti, parts of Kenya and Sudan was formerly Ethiopian territory. But there is no indication that these countries will like to be ruled or integrate current day Ethiopia. For the experience that Ethiopia had with Eritrea has shown that, even though Africans may share the same ethnic or linguistic origin as it was and it is still the case with Ethiopians and Eritreans, the simple fact, the second were colonised by Italy, they have built their nationhood along their colonial heritage first, before thinking about being Tigrayan, Eritrean or Africans, hence they fought tooth and nail for their independence.
The other case is Morocco. In the past, medieval Morocco covered most parts of North Mali, Niger and stretched southward to present day Senegal. It is partly because of that medieval history is one reason why Morocco has occupied Western Sahara since 1975 and populated her with 300 thousand ethnic Moroccans. But the Saharouis have not been carried away by history; all they want is their independence.
Some African countries driven by the illusion of African unity have attempted modern reunification at varying degrees and almost all have failed. There are the cases of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964, which gave birth to the United Republic of Tanzania.
But the reunification of North and southern Sudan at independence in 1956 was carried out by the British there are also older reunifications such as the 1914 amalgamation of various British colonies of the Niger plus Lagos to produce Nigeria and those of Ghana also realised by the British. In the first case, even though there is friction between the continentals and islanders of Zanzibar and Pemba, the united republic of Tanzania is ricocheting on. But the reunification of Sudan has been a failure from the very beginning, partly because, since the British were in admiration of the Islamic north, they undermined the rivalries that have always existed between north and south Sudanese. The British did not only choose to unit north and southern Sudan, they also decided to give political power to the Islamic north.
The latest attempt of reunification in Africa besides that of British and French Cameroons is that of Senegal with the Gambia, which began in the 80’s, but it was short live. For the Gambians could not put up with the dictatorial presumptuous attitudes of the Senegalese, hence Senegambia, as their union were to be called died its natural death. But paradoxically, Cameroon’s own reunification between British southern Cameroon’s and the French east Cameroon contracted since October 1st 1961 is still dancing on. Does it mean that, it is working and thus serving as an exemplary embryonic fulcrum of African unity?
Cameroon: an example of an illusionary African unity
Officially, Cameroon’s reunification is an exportable concept whereby people with different colonial heritages have succeeded to forge one national bond. But the reality is far more different. For the truth is that, Cameroon is two countries packaged as one wherein there is a smouldering conflict that will one day explode into the similar conflicts bedevilling Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. If any civil war were to occur in Cameroon today, the result will be like in Somalia. The French-speaking part will become a chaotic set up at war with each other while the English-speaking part will withdraw and create their independent country which was denied them in 1961 by the UN and supported in that refusal by Great Britain.
Even though African countries that had the same colonial master might be divided as already mentioned along racial, tribal, religious and regional lines, they still have the same national heroes and share above all, the same colonial heritages which fashions out and keeps the flame of nationhood burning. But it is not the case with Cameroon where French-speaking Cameroonians have their own national heroes such as: late Ruben Um Nyobe, late Felix Moumie, late Ouandji Ernest, late Martin Paul Samba, late King Douala Manga Bell and late Ossende Affana.
English-speaking Cameroonians also have their own national heroes, they are: late Dr. EML Endeley, late Solomon Tendeng Muna, late Dr John Ngu Foncha, late Augustine Ngom Jua, late, Ndiva Kale, late Sammy Ruan etc. The educational and legal systems of English-speaking Cameroon are different from those of French Cameroon.
There have been attempts to unite the educational and judicial systems of the linguistically divided Cameroon, but it has been resisted by the Anglophones because, since reunification in 1961, the merger of any thing has been a metaphor for destruction of the British heritage of English-speaking part to the advantage of French-speaking Cameroon. The national days in Cameroon are different, to the English-speaking Cameroonians, October 1st 1961 was to be their own independent day, but the UN and Britain gave them a bizarre independence called reunification.
The national day of francophone Cameroonians is January 1st, this day marks January 1st 1960, year when they gain independence from France. However, there is a new national day in Cameroon; it is the May 20th celebrations. This day celebrates May 20th 1972, on this day, the late dictator of Cameroon; Ahmadou Ahidjo decided to terminate the federal nature of the country. French-speaking Cameroonians celebrate May 20th with pride, while English-speaking Cameroonians consider it as the day their new form of colonialism was confirmed.
There are many indications that, Cameroon’s own union has failed. One such indications are the rise of Anglophone nationalism that has become more assertive even though disorganised and since the creation of the lone full-fledged English-speaking University in Buea, Anglophone nationalism is no more just political, it has become much more academic. The failure of Cameroon’s unity is a proof that African unity might not be a farce, but for it to happen, the incentives must be created. Unity is not forced down the throat of people; it is a gradual reciprocal process accompanied by institutions capable of sustaining and preserving in a way that reunification doesn’t destroy the cultures, values and identities of any member.
ELIE B. SMITH
Elie B. Smith, Diploma in Mass Communications and a Bachelor in International Marketing is a Broadcast Journalist by profession and worked with the English services of Radio France International and Canal France International, respectively as a correspondent in Africa and sports commentator lives in Paris.