TV5 Monde’s Flag Misrepresentation and the Urgent Need for a Referendum on Cameroon’s Flag Colbert Gwain

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TV5 Monde’s Flag Misrepresentation and the Urgent Need for a Referendum on Cameroon’s Flag

Colbert Gwain

One of the most revered flagship masquerades in the Kom Kingdom in the Boyo Division of the North West Region of Cameroon🇨🇲 is the mystical juju in the order of Nantang Yoh. Before Muteff fought and obtained its autonomy from mainland Abuh in the 70s, the juju which was the key identifying factor of people coming from the Abuh area was simply known as Nantang Abuh even though it was lodged on the Muteff side of the enclave. Although there was another Nantang juju in the Abuh Village Head’s compound, everyone in Kom and beyond knew that each time one was referring to a Nantang in the district of Fundong, it was the mystical juju in the order of Nantang Yoh, not the Nantang lodged in the Abuh village head’s compound.

It was for this reason and to avoid any further confusion that immediately after Muteff achieved its autonomy,  it sought to jealously preserve its unique identifier by renaming the mystical order as Nantang Yoh, as opposed to and different from nantang ‘ingen’ juju in the Abuh village head’s compound that was everything but mystical and lacking in historical and anthropological symbolism. Before the intentional appropriation and demarcation of the nantang Yoh symbol to represent the Muteff hard-earned identity, many uninformed people both within and without the Kom kingdom always mistakenly misrepresented Nantang Yoh as nantang Abuh.

Since last January 2024, vexillologists (subject matter specialists on the history, symbolism, and usage of flags) across the world, have been finding it hard to understand what might have happened that journalists of TV5 Monde misrepresented Cameroon 🇨🇲 by using the flag of the separatist movement fighting to break away from the mainland and calling itself Ambazonia. Following protests and petitions from Cameroon diplomatic services and the home government, and despite swift apologies from the top management of the leading French TV station that broadcasts to many foreign audiences, doubts persist about the intentionality of the act, given that although the Cameroon flag has in the past witnessed one or two adjustments, it remains one of the oldest flags on the African continent.

The Ambazonian flag that was hoisted by TV5 Monde last January 23, 2024, on its screen, is recorded by Wikipedia to have been designed in 1999 by the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) and unanimously adopted by all the movements fighting for the breakaway of the two English-speaking Regions from mainland Cameroon in 2017.  The flag contrasts sharply with the 1957 tricolor (green, red yellow) flag of the Republic of 🇨🇲 Cameroon and, as adopted on May 20, 1975, with one star on the middle red stripe. While the green on the Cameroon flag represents the lush forest of Southern Cameroon, the red represents the unity of the country, and the yellow,  the beautiful Savannah of the northern regions and the sun. Contrasting these pan-African colors (note that over 30 of the 196 countries in the world use the parent colors of green, red, and yellow for their flags), the Ambazonian flag in question ‘consists of five blue and four white horizontal stripes and 13 golden stars surrounding the image of a white dove bearing a green leaf in its beak’, according to Wikipedia.

In terms of symbolism, the flag designers claim the blue stands for democracy, the rule of law, plurality, and faith in God; the white stands for purity, transparency, and intolerance of mediocrities and corruption; the dove for principles of God, peace and tranquility; the green leaves carried by the dove assures good news even in stormy circumstances; the 13 stars representing the 13 counties; the golden color representing balanced develop, justice and equity, and finally, while the dove’s flight represents a visionary focus, hard work, liberty, and freedom.

Aside from football,  Cameroonians have never been as passionate about something as they have been about the issue of the TV5 Monde flag misrepresentation. This is understandable. It tells us how Cameroonians deeply care about what is arguably one of their most prominent symbols of nationhood. It also shows how some Cameroonians are emotionally attached to their flag and just how some have come to see it over the years as a divisive symbol needing readjustment for it to be more inclusive and more representative. This will not be the first time given that the flag was readjusted in 1961 to include the two stars on the green stripe (when Southern Cameroons became independent by joining La Republique du Cameroun in a federation) and in 1975 when Cameroon abandoned the federal option to become the United Republic of Cameroon.

If we know that the purpose of a flag is to incite a strong sense of patriotism,  a flag that fulfills its purpose needs to summon every ounce of pride one’s being can feel. Call it making the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, this is the very purpose of a flag.

“Good” Flag, “Bad” Flag

Ted Kaye, vexillologist and member of the world’s largest organization of flag enthusiasts and scholars, the North American Vexillological Association,  wrote in his famous booklet: “Good” Flag, “Bad” Flag, that every flag worth its salt must be simple, have meaningful symbolism, have two or three basic and memorable colors, shouldn’t have lettering or seals and finally, should be distinctive to avoid duplicating other flags (as is the case with green, red, yellow flags across the world). Stanford Business Review holds that since its publication, this little booklet has influenced flag-design efforts across the world as its five principles are frequently cited as the definitive guidelines for flag design. Good Flag, Bad Flag has been translated into French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Portuguese. One might be tempted to conclude that TV5 Monde might have been attracted by the distinctiveness of the flag it used.

Need for a Referendum on the Cameroon 🇨🇲 Flag:

When in 2015, New Zealand, the first-ever country in the world to organize a referendum on its flag, had only one intention in mind: to have a symbol of statehood that was representative of all shades of opinion. To achieve that objective,  it set up a Flag Consideration Panel and launched an open call for proposals. Open consultation and design solicitation garnered 10,292 design suggestions from the public, later reduced to a ‘longlist’ of 40 designs and finally, a shortlist of four designs to contend in the two referendums. The referendum vote finally settled on the current flag. Following New Zealand’s democratic and inclusive process of deciding on a more cohesive rather than divisive symbol of statehood, Australia and other countries have been contemplating going down the same road.

Given that following independence, African leaders virtually single-handedly selected flags for their countries, and in the process, copycatting from the Ethiopian green, yellow, and red tricolor that was designed in 1897, it would make sense for fresh conversations to be generated around the flags as rallying symbols of statehood. The situation is more urgent for Cameroon, especially as the one-star flag has since become a subject of dispute and more so with the TV5 blunder.

Although legal problems may arise if the current flag is changed or if the original Southern Cameroon star is brought back as a sign of healing the nation, it would still be legal to continue flying the current tricolor flag of Cameroon as a flag of historical significance and replaced only when worn out. Official documents depicting the current flag would only be phased out as a matter of course.

The Cameroon flag should be capable of celebrating us as a progressive, inclusive nation that is connected to the environment and has a sense of its past and a vision for its future. It should be a flag that Cameroonians of all walks of life identify with and that identifies us. Although vexillologists credit the current flag for flying well and can be seen from a distance, it, unfortunately, misses out on our historical facts. Since the indomitable lions were not yet the pride of Cameroon and part of the national heritage at the time, the designers of the flag never thought of inserting the symbol of the forest lion on the it.

A genuine referendum would provide a unique opportunity for Cameroonians to articulate what principles and values are important to our country and should be reflected in our flag. Graham Bartram, chief vexillologist from the Flag Institute, while addressing the Flag General Assembly a few years ago in Sydney regretted the fact that the flags of most countries were merely selected by legislation, royal or presidential decree, or revolution and suggested the importance of flags being viewed in situ.

As Muteffians who had to fight hard to get Nantang Yoh accepted as a symbol of villagehood, every group, institution, and country makes a conscious effort to get its symbols of statehood recognized and valued, including constantly organizing flag-hoisting events and being visible on Search Engine Optimization, SEO. Cameroon🇨🇲 seems to be lacking here probably because most of its leaders are not netizens. That’s why a foreigner using Google search to search for the Cameroon flag and in a hurry might tumble on different pop-ups. My guess is the French journalist might have used the Mathematica 10 available on Wolfram Cloud to generate data on flags of African countries taking part in this year’s AFCON, without bordering to check out on Flagpedia.net.

*Colbert Gwain is a thought leader, digital rights activist, aviation reporter, author, radio host, and content creator @TheColbertFactor

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