Bamileke: Friend or Foe By Jing Thomas Ayeah

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Bamileke: Friend or Foe

By Jing Thomas Ayeah


Anglophone Survival Strategy- Sphinxing: Almost overnight, a man who left Bamenda park as Andrew Ndikum resurfaced in quartier New Deido in Douala as Andre-Marie Ndikum. Win and the means will be judged right, states Machiavelli. With thick mustaches and an uncanny appetite for red wine to wash down achu soup to complete their disguise, they were ready, steady for the go. And go they did!
In the Machiavellian world of post-colonial Cameroonian politics, myth peddling is a stock in trade. It has helped the country’s only two regimes to hold their own in hopeless circumstances by simply playing on people’s fears and insecurities.

When Ahidjo was in power, he wanted everyone to believe that the devil was either Anglophone, Bamileke or Bassa. To help facilitate, if not justify the marginalisation of the three groups, an entire gamut of denigrating epithets began to circulate. These epithets were tacitly endorsed by the state and not long they became a fixture in daily conversations.

This is how the Anglophones came to be portrayed as too exacting (les anglos ne sont jamais satisfaits !), clumsy (« gauche » was the term used) and unpatriotic (even today just look at the bashfulness with which a Fame Ndongo tries to lecture Cardinal Tumi on patriotism, as if a Beti man understands what a nation is all about let alone the notion of patriotism).

Ahidjo, a French creation and puppet, had no reason to like the Anglophones. He was the very embodiment of a local point guard in French neo-colonial schemes in Africa. Acting out of expediency, he wanted his countrymen to believe that the Anglophones were an obstruction to national unity and the interests of the metropolis and, therefore, should be reined in. Ahidjo also had to give his battered and grumbling populace a doll for their distraction. It was sadomasochism at best. The entire country accepted Ahidjo’ s oppressive heat only to transfer it later to the Anglophones. Cameroonians take delight in a culture of blackmail and petty gossips for small profits. With the Anglophones on the ground, old stomping and kicking techniques emerged from the closets.

In classrooms, government offices, soccer stadiums and market places all over the country, the Anglophones were held up to ridicule and humiliated. The term « Anglo » became a war cry that took concrete expression in all forms of discrimination and abuses. «Ce morceau est trop gros pour un Anglo!» became a common exclamation among squabbling Francophones when the name of an Anglophone came up for any lucrative position in the government.

When the SDF was launched and a new era of political pluralism started in Cameroon, the Anglophones were lumped together with the Bamilekes and jointly persecuted by the Biya regime. By casting their lot with the SDF the Bamilekes, which no administration in Cameroon seemed to have ever trusted, provided Biya’s with just the kind of excuse it needed to openly hate and attempt to destroy them. In the aftermath of the stolen electoral victory in 1992, the term « Anglo-Bami » was coined as a war slogan and it rapidly gained currency and has been used ever since to justify the expulsion of the two groups from many Beti districts. Le Patriote, a Beti tabliod which is everything but its illustrious name, is littered from cover to cover, I mean every single edition, with all kinds of insults directed at the Anglo-Bamis. That the current Minister of Communications, Professor Jacques Fame Ndongo (Ossibita d’Osso’Otol) is the brain behind this rag sheet is very tell of the regime that mis-manages our affairs.

The real tragedy is that the Bamilekes seem not to see the hurricane building up around them. Blaise Pascal Talla of Jeune Afrique Economie lavishes most of his energy fighting against the Anglophones than against the Biya regime that has killed very many of his own tribesmen; while Pius Njawe always displayed the obscurantist inclination of equating earlier Southern Cameroonian quest for the revival of the two-state federation with secession.

Under Biya, the state media tends to depict the Bamilekes as greedy, dirty, tribalistic and cowards. «They already have economic power what else do they want !» the Beti-controlled media keeps hammering into people’s head. Beti-owned rightwing newspapers, for the most part organs of Essingang usually sponsored with the taxpayers money, have been running blazing editorials which read like a bush adaptation of «Protocols of the Elders of Zion.» Even in their soutanes, some Beti priests and bishops have taken positions and uttered statements not worthy of clergymen. They talked of the «Bamilekisation» of the church when Tumi was named a cardinal. It is indeed true that it is impossible to reason with a lynch mob.

Caught up in a wave of Anglobphobia that started with Ahidjo but still continues under Biya, the Anglophones have reacted in a number of ways. The first is not different from a pattern common with persecuted and exploited minorities throughout the world: the desperate attempt to pass for the oppressor in order to gain recognition and acceptance. The second has to do with a country run like a crime syndicate, one where the role of a godfather could not be ignored. Dangling at the tails of bosses such as Solomon Tandeng Muna, Achidi Achu, Nzo Ekangaky and other top Anglophone officials, some Anglo proteges could at least lick the master’s dishes and sniff his champagne as long as their voices remained shriller in the praise-singing choir and they maintained their Muslim names and fashion. As for the vast majority, they receded behind the Anglophone Maginot and watched with cynical glee the national corruption and embezzlement gala or stewed in silent anger and frustration.

The most intriguing reaction, one that deserves some elaboration, if for no other reason than the fact that it generates plenty of amusement, is what I simply term «sphinxing». It was the most perfect act of disguise at a time when it was pure anathema to be an Anglo. True to the great Egyptian monument that this reaction conjures up, the head of the individual or group becomes Francophone while the body remains Anglophone. The Akums of Bamenda seemed to have excelled in this approach, for even though an Anglophone people, its elite is predominantly Francophone. Having moved into big urban centres such as Douala and Yaounde very early, these Franco-Anglo or Anglo-Franco Akums simply melted into the population by sloughing off screaming aspects of Anglophoneness. Almost overnight, a man who left Bamenda park as Andrew Ndikum resurfaced in quartier New Deido in Douala as Andre-Marie Ndikum. Win and the means will be judged right, states Machiavelli. With thick mustaches and an uncanny appetite for red wine to wash down achu soup to complete their disguise, they were ready, steady for the go. And go they did! They became pound for pound fighters in the jungle of Francophone politics, often outsmarting professional Anglo sniffers with little efforts and penetrating banking and other institutional mafias to obtain seed capital to go into business. Buoyed on by Anglo stubborness and kept in focus by traditional cultural discipline, extremely hardworking and tough-talking, they stayed the economic course and made wise investments with their own share of the loot, as well as with their hard-earned savings. Not surprisingly, many Anglophone rich people today are from Akum which has truly lived up to its reputation as Small London.

The writing on the wall could not be any clearer. Rather than blame the Anglophones for checking out, the Bamilekes should spend more time oiling their guns and preparing for trouble. Dark clouds are up, lightening is flashing and thunder rumbling and come what may there is going to be rain. Pius Njawe is already calling on the troops to enter the laager. To Southern Cameroonians, the appeal is belated.

Cameroon does not exist, even in the minds of those who are bleeding it dry. Why does the Biya regime insist that the Chad pipeline go to Kribi (instead of Victoria) else there is no deal? Are the Betis not secretly laying the foundation for their own nation? The Bamilekes should stop dreaming and get real. Any way I no go leave my own die cry another man ye own, goes the Pidgin expression.

Southern Cameroonians have acted rightly and in accordance with international law, for as the Jewish poet once wrote, we cannot sing the lord’s song in a strange land. The time of reckoning has come and the political comedy entitled Cameroon is over. Man lep ye lep!
Jing Thomas Ayeah wrote this commentary for Postwatch Magazine. Jing now lives in Canada

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