“Dr. Anyangwe, I and many others like Mr. Francis Wache, late Albert Mukong, Dr Arnold Boh Yongbang etc met and drafted the Buea declaration which defined our grievances and called on the government of La Republique to address them”
The British trained lawyer and SOBAN says he believes in the creation of a federal system of government in Cameroon.
In this 2008 interview granted to The Post Newsaper, Ekontang talks about the AAC, the SCNC and explains why May 20 should not be celebrated.
Interviewed By Ernest Sumelong & Elvis Tah of The Post Newsaper
You played a front line role in the All Anglophone Conference, AAC, which subsequently led to the formation of the SCNC. What motivated the Anglophone course?
In the 80s and early 90s, there was this trend in the country to move away from one party. There was the trend towards democracy building in the country and President Biya brought up this issue in the early 90s about revising the constitution. He called on Cameroonians to contribute towards the idea of constitutional revision.
This led to the Tripartite Conference, summoned by the government where three arms of the state, the civil society, political parties and the government. I was one of the representatives of the political parties, the Liberal Democratic Alliance, LDA, led by Mola Njoh Litumbe. At the Tripartite Conference, I was selected as one of the eleven candidates to revise the constitution.
At the sessions of this technical committee for the constitutional revision, all the Anglophone representatives like Benjamin Itoe, Dr. Carlson Anyangwe, Samuel Munzu, and I had similar views. They were not exactly the same but they were similar in the sense that we all thought that good governance in Cameroon would be enhanced by adopting a Federal system of government.
We put out a paper which was widely accepted, a mere declaration. There was this scepticism on the part of the francophone members of the commission that Federation was not a great idea and that it could lead to national disintegration. So, we decided to put that idea to test by summoning the AAC. It needed a great deal of preparations and we worked hard for it.
Dr. Anyangwe, I and many others like Mr. Francis Wache, late Albert Mukong, Dr Arnold Boh Yongbang etc met and drafted the Buea declaration which defined our grievances and called on the government of La Republique to address them. So that was my involvement with the All Anglophone Conference, AAC. The AAC took place in 1993; I graduated from school in London in 1972, so you can see that between 1972 and 1993, we are talking of a period of about 22 years.
What were some of the successes of the conference?
I will say that the conference made very many achievements. Since that conference, Cameroon has not been the same. There had been in the past, a certain tendency to ignore the sentiments of Anglophones. We had arguments like West Cameroon had come to join their fatherland but after that conference, it was realised by everyone in the country that Anglophones have an important part to play in this country.
They have their grievances that efforts to marginalise them will not work and that there must be a talk, otherwise we are heading towards a major catastrophe in this country. So, I will say that the AAC achieved a great deal. You see, it is so unfortunate that the 1996 Constitution, which was the product of our work and anticipated the creation of ten regions, has not been fully put into operation.
In fact, we had a very decisive role at hand. Look at Parliament, you have question time and the significant role for the opposition; all those ideas are ideas which the chairman of the commission Prof. Owona did bring from his interaction with us. It shows such ways of doing as calling on ministers to be accountable to parliament or asking for people in government to declare their assets are the results of the pressure mounted on the regime by AAC.
Efforts you people made were really commendable; but what has become of the SCNC today?
The SCNC is actually in many splinter groups. Part of this splintering movement has been as a result of government’s machinations. When I led the group, we wanted to have the second AAC in Bamenda but the regime went on air on the day we were to have the meeting and put out the most scandalous announcement that we had postponed the meeting.
In fact, the regime has always looked for ways and means to splinter this movement and it has succeeded to a large extent. Because our people are poor and weak, you know it is so easy if you have the power to divide and rule. And so our people are hungry, some of them have ambitions, some don’t even know what we are talking about and so we are having situations today where you have a group led by Ambassador Fosung, another led by one person, but recently I read an article that Dr. Anyangwe and some other splinted persons had come together. I wish them luck.
Now, where do you stand, to which of these groups do you belong?
I do not belong to any of the existing factions. There is no need for me to belong to any of them. The ideas of the SCNC are clear, legitimate and were founded in history. It is not something to carry a tag that I belong to this or that faction. I believe sincerely that the people of the Southern Cameroon have been marginalised.
I sincerely believe that the Federation was a good thing, it was meant to harmonise true inherited cultures (French and English). But one of these cultures, that is the people over there have said that they have a monopoly of that which is right and they are dominating the English speaking people.
I believe in the SCNC course and I believe in what it stands for. I may not belong to any particular faction today because maybe the leadership and the vision may have been dented but the vision remains clear for everyone to see and I remain a disciple of the vision.
You might not belong to any of the factions but you may believe in one of them. Which of them do you recognise as an SCNC body?
You have SCNC in North America, in Britain, in Germany, in South Africa, all of them are well intentioned but for that course to triumph, the battle ground is inside this country. There is no doubt that people like Dr. Carlson Anyangwe have the integrity, vision and the capability of leading the movement but they are far.
You have to live in the country to make the ordinary Cameroonian appreciate the injustices they are facing everyday. But to succeed, some thing has to be done to the Francophones, some of them may sympathise with our colleagues in the sense that they don’t know what is happening to us, and they don’t know that their regime is oppressing fellow Southern Cameroonians.
One has to be here, that is why I have a lot of regard for what Dr. Anyangwe and his team are trying to do, but I think it looks a bit far fetched. It is here in the country that the heads had to be hammered together to produce a solution to resolve this problem.
One of the issues the SCNC has been advocating for is secession. Do you see Southern Cameroon seceding one day? Is the SCNC worthy of carrying the Anglophone course and succeed in their “liberation struggle”?
If you believe in the vision of late Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, late Nnamdi Azikiwe; they saw Africa as a block. Frankly speaking, in today’s world where China is emerging as a major power, India, the United States, Europe, it doesn’t make a lot of sense imagining that because of all these deprivations Africans have suffered, there can be any force to reckon with.
So, I really think that further fracturing these smaller unique states we have is not going to help the Africans. I think that Cameroon should remain as it is and join other African groups so that we become a contending force in the world. The idea to secede is as a result of the intransigence of La Republique to dialogue or accept that there is something to be listened to.
When I was in the SCNC, we sent hundreds of memoranda to the regime. We passed through the Pope, through the Cardinal, the Bishops to tell the Head of State that there was something wrong which he has to address.
There were fake moves here and there particularly when Achidi Achu was still Prime Minister, but all those things led to no concrete effort to address this problem. I think that the failure of the regime to face the issue squarely or try to hide its head in the sand by trying to ignore the Anglophone problem has led the Anglophone nationalists to take the posture that if the regime is unwilling to negotiate with them, then the other option, what we called the zero option, which of course meant secession, should be the only option. I have even used that rhetoric if it is the only way to make the regime to listen, I don’t see anything wrong with that.
You have lived several epochs; the independence, the unification and the present day political era. How do you see the political trend in Cameroon today?
In the then Southern Cameroon, you had a thriving democracy. This is in the sense that I saw an opposition leader, Dr. Foncha defeat a government in power, Dr. Endeley; it was legitimately done and there was a change. However, in East Cameroon, the system of government had been consistent.
You find that what Ahidjo did is almost what the present President is fulfilling. Even though there has been talk of liberalisation, democracy and all that,this seems to be in the heavy hands of the regime. It has been very consistent and I think that the ordinary Southern Cameroonian has to conform in a way of doing things which they have never anticipated when they joined La Republique.
For the Francophones, not much has changed. There is the direct progression from where they were in 1960s in the system of government, the changes of the world has not affected them much, they still look up to France as motherland and they continue to do things the way they have been doing.
But in the Southern Cameroon, we have been absorbed, marginalised and we have no future. The political progression in this country has been very consistent as far as Francophones are concerned and the avenue for Anglophones to legitimately express their aspirations isn’t there.
Can we attribute the issue of corruption to the poor development of politics in Cameroon? I mean does the political system have an influence on corruption?
When President Biya came to power in 1982 he brought the idea of rigour and moralisation. It was great, the whole country jumped and I tell you the truth, had he stood an election then, he probably would have gained 99 percent of the votes. Since then, things have been consistent in their decline.
The corruption has been wide spread and when we see isolated cases of people being apprehended and sent to Kondengui, it is too little, too late because the whole system of government is terribly unsafe and we can’t rely on it. Corruption is so endemic.
Transparency International had us as one of the most corrupt countries not long ago. The political climate which is so highly centralised relies on patronage and ethnicity. For the regime to survive it depends on a clan. The clannishness, selfishness, tribalism and all the other factors have given birth to the endemic corruption because who will punish who when all in power are brothers?
How do you consider May 20 celebrations? Is it celebrated in the right context?
I don’t know why we should celebrate May 20. It was the date arbitrarily chosen by a particular leader at a particular time. He adopted an illegal formula to rig the constitution and abolish a state which was there and which voluntarily joined La Republique. And having made the declarations that there should be a Referendum, he went on to proclaim that May 20 was a National Day.
A national day should have a base in the history of the people. It should resonate with the people’s culture and past. Talk of February 11, yes; on that date Southern Cameroonians voted to join La Republique. Talk of October 1, yes; East Cameroon and Southern Cameroon became one nation. But for May 20, I think it is unfortunate that we should celebrate the error, the misjudgements, and the arrogance of one man and then convert such a day as a national day.
We have noticed that you have been silent for a while. You have not been very vocal concerning political issues in this country, why the silence?
First of all, every old man should know that he has become old and learn to retire gracefully from the stage. Secondly, I am engaged in the efforts of trying to help the less privileged Cameroonians; you know I am the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Cameroon Opportunity Industrialisation Centre, COIC.
This is an organisation which is trying to help fellow Cameroonians to gain skills and make them employable and become entrepreneurs. It is a very fulfilling venture which depends a lot on government’s subventions to succeed and I am grateful that government is aiding such a noble course.
It would be inconsistent with the aspirations I have for young people like these to make a mark of their own in life for me to go on a political stage and air my political believes which in any case, are believes of the past.
Today you have very many young men with vibrant and current ideas and they are taking the stage, we stand behind them and we wish them God’s blessings. So it isn’t good for one idea, no matter how good it is, to corrupt the world. I have taken a rear sit; it doesn’t mean that I am not there.