The Colbert Factor:
What to a Displaced, Suffering Anglophone IDP, is meaning of May 20
As a kid, I looked forward to every May 20 with uncommon excitement. For me, it was all about campfire, the eating of ‘benye’ or puffpuff, sugar cane and assorted sweeties. For me, 20th May was all about travelling from Muteff, the local village kaleidoscope, to Fundong, Divisional headquarters, matching past top administrative authorities and meeting new friends.
The excitement about May 20, was so unprecedented and unrivaled, to the extent that it took us months, weeks and days to prepare. One needed to do all what was humanly possible to squeeze money, even from the rock, to prepare for that phenomenal day. One had to make rounds, and stay late into the night, at Tella Kvimteh’s tailoring workshop, (ostensibly the only famous Tailor in Muteff village by then), with workshop situated off the jaws of Muteff market square, to ensure the almost-torn-to-pieces Catholic school uniform our parents have sewn for us, in lieu of a Christmas dress, was properly patched. Although Tella Kvimteh became the admiration of the village, he could never be pushed to work at a faster pace because, as a graduate of the Mbingo Baptist leprosy rehabilitation and training centre, his chopped off fingers and toes never offered great chances of him sewing dresses in record time. Reason why, he was referred to in the first place as ‘Tella Kvimteh’, ‘Kvimteh’, referring to his handicapped nature.
After assuring your uniform was in order, as uniform was condition sine qua non to ensure one would be selected to make the memorable trip to Fundong, one had to make sure his/her Dschang shoes were well patched. Here, one became the blacksmith, as just with a kitchen knife and fire from your mother’s kitchen, the deal was done.
With some hard earned coins from picking left-over coffee grains from the nearby stream and fallen colanuts from your father’s coffee farm, one was ready for a May 20 field day in Fundong, beginning May 18th evening.
I was as unreflective about the meaning of this national day as anyone could possibly be.
Now I have come of age. I have heard and read a lot about May 20, 1972. Since that reading, I have never thought of May 20 in the same light. To me, this national holiday is more of a day for reflection than a day for celebration. Reflection on how far we, as a country and people have come, and where we must now go.
I need not enter further into the events that led to the putting in place of May 20 as a national day. Many of you readers understand them better than I do. You could instruct me in that regard. That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your humble writer. Suffice to say that the causes which led to the controversy in Foumban in 1972 that led to May 20 as our national day, can only be likened to the egg and chicken situation.
They have all been taught in schools, from primary to university. They have been narrated at your firesides, unfolded from your protest marches, and thundered from newspaper rooms and newsstands. They are as familiar to you reading me now as household words. They form the staple of our national poetry and eloquence.
So, what to a marginalized, suffering and homeless Anglophone IDP is May 20?
May 20 to many an Anglophone is the day they lost their identity as a people and have been struggling tooth and nail since 2016, to reassert it. It is the day their claim to a federated state was lost. To a marginalized Anglophone, May 20 is the day Anglophones in Cameroon were abused, marginalized and their cultural identity erased.
Arrested, detained and later released, Ayah Paul Abine, while arguing some years ago, that since no people are stateless, and since Anglophones have no option at moment, said they should continue to celebrate May 20. But that the greater Cameroon should not see in Anglophones joining in the celebrations the fact that Southern Cameroons was not raped, for as he puts it, the fact that somebody reaches ecstasy or orgasm during rape does not obliterate the act of rape.
Nwachang Thomas, the dissident researcher and historian has argued over the years that 20th May 1972 was an invention to replace the treaty which the Republic of Cameroon failed to sign with Britain on Southern Cameroons, unlike what Britain signed with China over Hong Kong. To Nwachang, when Yaoundé authorities painfully found out that without a treaty, the Union with Southern Cameroons was illegal, they improvised the Referandum to justify that in spite of no treaty, Southern Cameroonians voted in a referendum to join La Republique.
The dissident researcher and historian concludes that the inescapable challenge for Yaoundé authorities is to explain whether it was 1st October 1961 that was Independence and Reunification Day or May 20, 1972, that was referendum and reunification day, or both.
He wonders why after indoctrinating our children in primary and secondary schools with such history, the government still went ahead in 2013 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Reunification in Buea, where President Paul Biya recognized Buea, as once the capital of both Southern Cameroons and German Kamerun.
To most Anglophones and especially the teaming IDPs therefore, May 20 can only mean marginalization, suffering, extra-judicial killings, maiming, poor infrastructural development, second class citizenship and political subjugation.
Just like handicapped Tella Kvimteh, May 20, 1972, seems to have completely handicapped Cameroon and Cameroonians, to the extent that if something is not done, and urgently, things would never be the same again in Cameroon, whatever you may perceive it.
And just like each time Tella Kvimteh would patch up one part of your trousers, holes developed on other parts, the Cameroon nation is today simply a patch-up. Immediately Government finish mending cracks on one sector, old and fresh cracks develop in other sectors. The moment they think they are done with the teachers’ strike, transporters syndicate or any other sector, comes out with equally urgent and pressing demands.
*Colbert Gwain is digital rights activist, author, radio host, Commitment Maker at UN Generation Equality Coalition, and content creator @TheColbertFactor
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