The Colbert Factor
Cry, the beloved SDF
Certainly, Ni John Fru Ndi sold the book: “Cry, the beloved country”, by Alan Paton when he ran his Ebibi bookshop at the Bamenda Central Business District in the 70s and 80s. The book that captures the extremes of human emotions and chronicles the themes of social, economic, cultural and political alienation as well as identity in the South African society, today, more than ever before, speaks to Fru Ndi and the leading opposition SDF party he abandoned the book industry and birthed.
Formed in 1990 to right the wrongs of social, economic, cultural and political alienation of Anglophones by the majority francophone body polity after the 1961 reunification arrangement, SDF since encounted teething challenges unsitting the entrenched autocratic Yaounde regime fronted by President Paul Biya. One of the regime’s vocal supporters at the time, late Francis Nkwain had challenged Fru Ndi’s claims to Cameroon’s Presidency on grounds he was a ‘common’ bookseller. Intriguingly, and immediately after he was dropped from Biya’s government, H.E Francis Nkwain authored a book that was described by the Chronicle newspaper at the time, as ‘just a common book’.
And so, a chain of ‘common’ things ranging from the SDF Chairman’s mesmerizing dance gone viral on social media, with the wife of Cameroon’s Labour and Social Security Minister, Gregoire Owona, who doubles as assistant Secretary General to the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, CPDM, through alleged unpaid rents at the Bamenda Party Offices, to the now famously famous missive to the party’s Chairman by a group of 27 bigwigs yearning for greater transparency and accountability in the management of party affairs; seriously threaten the very existence of the SDF.
Many are those who thought leading opposition SDF party Chairman, Ni John Fru Ndi, would be sitting quietly at home burning up the midnight candle and reeling over the accusations levied against him by some party bigwigs. To their dismay, the enigmatic character had decided it was a non-event and went partying with his political adversaries.
Although many others have been quick to compare the recent Fru Ndi dancing spree at the ‘enemy’s home to that of former Vice President of the then Federal Republic of Cameroon, H.E John Ngu Foncha, in 1972, where he was seen dancing off with a young, beautiful and irresistible Foumban girl, while the 1961 federal constitutional arrangement was being torpedoed; Fru Ndi’s partying only went a long way to enable former native West Cameroonians re-live the pre- independence epoc. Then, politicians of different divides would board the same car to campaign venues, mount the same soapbox, rain abuses at each other and after that, drink in the same bar as if they had no political and ideological differences.
Unknowingly, Ni John Fru Ndi, longest challenger to incumbent President Paul Biya, made a powerful political statement at the Gregoire Owona event. Adorning himself in grassfield traditional regalia and beautifully doing it out with Gregoire Owona’s wife to the rhythm of rumba music (rumba has just been recognized by UNESCO as protected cultural heritage that promotes cultural diversity in the age of globalization), Fru Ndi made good the political statement that Cameroon could only pretend again to be one and indivisible if gentlemen’s agreements’ are respected.
Although Fru Ndi has since the unfortunate outing of the ‘Mbouda 27’ worked to give the impression it was a non-event, the memo arrived like a hand grenade thrown into the SDF house to blow out the boundaries of unilaterallness.
The group seemingly accuses their party Chairman of running the SDF (in the same way Biya does with Cameroon), like a village provision store. Those who grew up in Muteff village would quickly grasp the imagery. A certain store owner, Bobe Jacks Nsani, (apparently the only comprehensive store owner in Muteff village), would actually see a villager approaching his shop, yet he carefully locks it up and goes to his farm, requesting you come back by evening if you still have need for what you wanted to buy. He could lock up the store for one-two weeks and travel out of the village. On return, he offers no excuses or justification for the prolonged absence. He would rather expect the helpless villagers of Muteff to be thankful he came back in the first place. He would determine prices of articles depending on who was infront of him. If at the moment a customer was approaching his counter, he had a change of temperament, the customer was likely not to be served any article from that store. No questions asked. The 27 party bigwigs who recently met in Mbouda think the SDF is down that my village store road.
For over 30 long years, SDF National Chairman, Ni John Fru Ndi, had been the leading voice for change in Cameroon. He is today being seriously challenged by the group of 27, to be the change he wanted to see. Just like Stephen Kumalo in “Cry, the beloved country”, whose journey from the remote South African village of Ndotsheni to Johannesburg makes him to be deeply aware of how his people have lost the tribal structure that once held them together (as his sister, Gertrude, who has become prostitute and liquor dealer in Johannesburg disappears after arrangements have been made for her return to the village), Ni John Fru Ndi is now beginning to realize how the SDF have lost the social structure that once held them together. And, he would be leaving an unfinished manuscript if he leaves a divided SDF house.
Although the wrangling within the SDF is set in the present, (misunderstanding over party’s participation in last May 20 National Day activities), the undeniable past informs each faction. Like in John Osborne’s play, “Look Back in Anger”, the past highlights each faction’s dreams and desires for the SDF, yet hides any readily available notions of what the future might hold for them. The current conflict is rooted in alienation and identity in the post-2018 SDF.
Just like in the 50s where the phrase ‘angry young men’ was coined to refer to a group of young British writers who were railing against the Establishment, the group of 27 who met in Mbouda to sign the memo against SDF chairman, are certainly the ‘angry old men’. Perhaps the key to understanding the stalemate is not in the ‘angry’ or ‘man’ part, but rather in the ‘old’. The group of 27 are apparently looking back in anger at the SDF of yesteryears where each time NEC was to meet, all eyes and ears were turned towards Ntarikon-Bamenda and where Yaounde regime elements would nose around, all day, to know what again was off SDF sleaves. Today, they are certainly being haunted by a too-docile and too-complacent-to- their-liking SDF. They are haunted by a sense of time slipping by unused (to borrow a Larkinesque turn of phrase), as the 27 see themselves drifting ever more quickly and inexorably towards old age.
They think Fru Ndi, (who had in the past, insisted it was the militants and not him to decide who would be his successor), is leaning dangerously towards his Vice, Hon Osih Joshua, a Yar’Adua-like figure (in reference to a one time weakling Nigerian President). Perhaps, they need to be reminded that Fru Ndi, while expressing his intentions to step down from active politics at next year’s elective convention, already expressed the wish to see the younger generation take over. And the young generation does not come in short-supply, both from within and without the country.
Like Fru Ndi, Jacks Nsani, the Muteff store owner, was a strong and robust personality who was always on his feet trying to grow his business. When he got bogged down by age and ill-health, he started encountering challenges of succession in his image. Unfortunately, he cast his net on a ‘Yar’Adua-like figure. And before he died, the village provision store was already in fast decline. Hopefully, it shouldn’t be the case with the SDF.
Certainly not our wish. Fru Ndi still has the wherewithal to quickly fix things. He has overcome more daring challenges in the past. He may lack the likes of the Joseph Mbah Ndam (imposing and level-headed personalities) besides him, but he has groomed enough minds in 30 years to assist him weather the storm by bringing back the 27 ‘rebellious’ members into the fold. If he can today see eyeball to eyeball with the Owonas who stole his Presidential election victory in 1992, what would be difficult in reconciling with disgruntled militants?
Cameroon is already into so many conflicts needing SDF attention than this one brewing from within. SDF’s quick reconciliation from within may act as a booster to greater Cameroon reconciliation to end the bloody Anglophone conflict.
As the National Chairman begins the journey of understanding how the people he painstakingly groomed in the past tortuous years, are posing a serious challenge to his last days in office, the SDF that he courageously birthed, still offers hope for a better future.