This is the story of a man born of poor parents but destined to become minister and politician. He was separated from his mother aged five and sent to school in Weh, 30 KM from his Buu village in Fungom sub division. After completing standard six (senior primary) young JC Kangkolo trekked from Wum to Bali Nyongha in Mezam Division to attend college in CPC Bali. Kangkolo would later proceed to Nigeria and Britain to qualify as veterinary officer. But history would transform into a politician under S.T. Muna’s government. Aged 25, JC Kangkolo dramatically rose from minister of natural resources to minister of interior in just two years. Pa Kangkolo as he was well known in Wum was a mate and friend to the former PM, Senator Simon Achidi Achu and was the only former West Cameroon cabinet minister still alive and kicking until his demise Monday night.
HON. J.C KANGKOLO
In this rare interview with MENCHUM VOICE RANDY JOE SA’AH in 2015, the onetime MP for Menchum Division, JC Kangkolo opened up about his life story – his childhood, education, love and polygamous marriage, statesmanship and civil activities.
When you meet Pa Kangkolo, you will invariably notice his trade mark – a small white plastic cup of tobacco powder in his hand. As you sit down for a chat with the 80-year-young man, he will once in a while pinch the brown powder and sniff it, most of the time by reflex. It’s a hobby introduced to him by Dr Endeley decades ago. This is tobacco. We call it snuff. It clears the nasal cavity and stimulates the nasal nerves that directly link to your head. It makes you sneeze and have a clear head. I seem to have an addiction for it” he told Menchum Voice.
Once upon a time, JC Kangkolo was having a couple of drinks with Dr Endeley in Buea. He drank so much Coca Cola that Endeley asked quizzed him why he was doing so. “I told him I was going to drive all night to Bamenda and didn’t want to feel sleepy on the wheel. Endeley rather prescribed him some snuff. I tried it and sneezed the hold day…hahahahaha…hihihhi… (prolonged laughing) And indeed it was good. I took it each time I was about feeling drowsy. And it kept me alert while driving. This is a hobby for me now. But it is something I can easily decide to abandon but I see no reason why I should do that.
By then a northern member of parliament, JC Kangkolo entered government as Secretary of State for in charge of Natural Resources (agriculture, forestry livestock and cooperatives). It was a challenging job but having worked earlier as a senior civil servant, he carried out his job with relative ease. He adopted a management style which will not generate any conflict with his collaborators. “I explained clearly how I wanted to work with them. I told them I am the political head of the ministry while they were the technocrats” he said. “You are the people who are managing the ministry. I only give general directives but the success of the ministry depends on you the directors and my collaborators. That is how we worked”.
Yet conflicts can be inevitable in such a service. “The most challenging part of my life in government was in the department of forestry which had a lot of foreign interest. Logging companies came to get permits to extract timber. So the minister had to authorize them to do prospection and finally give them licenses and areas to extract timber. So that was very intriguing for me. I had no knowledge of what used to happen in that ministry, particularly in that department of forestry. I had a lot of pressure on me, people coming to have concessions. So I had to rely completely on my technical head if department, the chief conservator of forests. I did nothing out of the law. I followed the text. When you’re functioning in a government and you have a text guiding you, your only salvation is to keep within that text. Period.
QUESTION: DO YOU REMEMBER A CONFLICT SITUATION WHICH YOU CAN USE TO ILLUSTRATE HOW CHALLENGING IT WAS FOR YOU RUNNING THIS GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENT?
“Oh yes. There were many but I vividly remember one case. One of my cabinet colleagues Namata Mbile got involved with a French logging company and I didn’t know that. One day he wrote a very lengthy letter accusing me of trying to obstruct development I his constituency. Because I did not give an exploitation license to that French company. Little did I know that French company was well known in that department of forestry but I did not know him. So the first time the matter came to me was this challenge that I got from my colleague NN Mbile who was challenging me wrongly. He was in charge of lands and surveys. So when he wrote to me I was upset. So I called for the files and studied them well. And I soon discovered that the French man was not respecting the laws. He just wanted the license to be issued to him without respecting the norms. Finally I was compelled to cancel his application because his time had expired. We gave him a period of three years to study the forest to know see if the trees he wanted were sufficient quantity in that concession.
So Mbile reported me to the prime minister that I was insolent. The Prime minister looked at his letter and the letter I had sent to him. So we went before the prime minister and he looked at the correspondences. The PM blamed him that he acted wrongly. That he should have gone into dialogue with me to let me know the background of the matter. He said it was not necessary for members of the same cabinet to be exchanging such hostile correspondences. He urged us to work as a team. He then advised us to destroy those petitions. We did so and the matter ended.
Love & Polyga
As a young handsome man, JC Kangkolo was not insensitive to beautiful girls. Quite a few of them walked their way into his heart. But love in those days was not about sex as it obtains today. And so JC met this girl while schooling in CPC Bali. We loved ourselves like me and you sitting here. We love ourselves. Girls would prepare handkerchiefs and come and give you and so on. At that time it was just plain straight forward love. Plain Friendship! But now it’s a different thing. If you want to befriend a girl you are only thinking about sex. That did not happen in our time. No. You had genuine girl friends who loved you as a young man. And eventually that love will develop until you become husband and wife.
SO HOW DID YOU MEET YOUR WIFE?
That is a very interesting question. I met my first wife in CPC Bali. I am a polygamist. We were living on campus. The girls would come to campus to sell us food. There was this very young girl who accompanied her sister to sell us fruits, bananas, pears or garri in the school. I eyed her and she noticed me too. One of my classmates was her relative. So I used to tell him I will marry this girl; this is my wife. I was like a joke but as food prefect I will first buy from them. We would buy from them before buying any other person. (Long Laughter). Upon graduation I went to VOM in Nigeria to study veterinary medicine. I was when I came that I saw this girl again. She was now a grown up girl. Then I went now to see the parents and they accepted my candidature. And they brought my wife here in Wum. You know in those days, parents had a lot of influence on their children. When I proposed that I loved her, my friends said yes let us go and see the mother. The mother referred us to the father, a big man in Bamenda. He was a prominent prison contractor. So he told us he had refused a lot of suitors but he like me. They would not call the girl to come and sit and say whether she loved me. Even the mother had no role to play. That was the tradition at the time. So when I finished all the traditional obligations the father said, take your wife. So they brought my wife here in Wum.
SO HOW DID YOUR MOTHER RECEIVE YOUR WIFE ESPECIALLY AS MARRYING OUTSIDE THE VILLAGE WAS RARE?
Oh my mother was excited. I had brought a strange woman! She was not a woman from my village. Hahahahaha…hihihihihi…kikikikii…They had first tried a local woman for me but it did not work. She was a bad woman. So I sent her away after six months because she maltreated my mother. Imagine my mother trekked from the village and came to my house and slept hungry. There was so much food and meat in the house and she told me my mother did not want to eat. But how do you ask a woman who has trekked for so long if she wanted to eat or not? Where was the food? Food should have been served and let the woman refuse to eat. I was veterinary assistant at the time, I was the boss. There was a lot of beef in the house and my mother would come and sleep hungry? When my mother was gone I said this woman will follow you. There was no compromise. No amount of pleading could have persuaded me to allow her. So after some time I sent my sister to escort her. She had to go. She had spent just six months with me. So I said if she stayed longer she would do worse things.
So my new wife was very loving. She was so humble and struggled to learn my language. My mother and sisters were so excited to see her. They liked so much. People saw me as a very civilized man, to have gone and brought a beautiful woman from very far! From Bali! A strange woman! They saw me as a very powerful man. My wife was very pretty.
AND THE CHILDREN STARTED COMING?
Of course. I left her pregnant before travelling abroad for studies. I had my first child was delivered while I was in Edinburgh. He is here working with ELECAM. Marshall Kangkolo. They took his picture and sent it to me. But my wife had a very difficult delivery. She delivered through caesarian section. Medical science was not very developed at the time and the doctors were not very well trained. The baby had no problem but her mother suffered stayed longer than required in hospital because after the operation the wound became septic.
AND WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO BRING IN ANOTHER WIFE?
Well I told you why I sent away the first one away. I went brought my Bali girl and we stayed for a very long time. We had nine children. The first child died very young. The second one died in an accident in the University of Yaoundé. But when I decided to take another wife in Buea, the mother refused her from marrying. She wanted the girl to stay at home and succeed her mother, some funny thing like that. We had four children. I educated them and sent them abroad. That was the second wife.
When I retired my wife refused to accompany to the village. That was wrong. So I went and got involved in another wife at home. I wanted someone who would stay in the village and be looking after my compound. But the marriage did not succeed. I had to send her away because of infidelity. I had no child with her. And when my first wife decided to go and stay in Bamenda I said who would take care of me in Wum? So finally I had to go and bring the present who is with me here. We have had five children – four boys and one girl. Two are in the university. Finally that is the end. No more marriage. (Laughter).
BUT YOU ARE STILL YOUNG AND STRONG.
Well am lucky to have a good build and God is still looking after me. I don’t have many diseases that worry people. I live very modest life. You saw me yesterday drinking Mbuh. I don’t drink beer. I can take a bit of red wine and spirit. I am a very simple feeder. I disciplined myself right from school. I don’t eat luxurious food. I make sure I eat a balanced diet of local foods – Fufu and Njama Njama, Okro, plantain or cocoyam. I love coffee and a bit of eggs and whatever my wife decides to give me. But I don’t eat cocoyam. In fact while in school in Bali they used to feed us with so much macabo. I nearly died. I used to have serious stomach pain. I had to trek from Bali to Bamenda every week to get to hospital. Every week! The medical officer noticed that I was suffering too much and decided to confront the school principal. One morning he carried me in his car from Bamenda to the school in Bali. We got to the principal’s office and asked to see the menu. He realized that they were feeding us with too much cocoyam. He asked the principal to cut the cocoyam meals to a minimum of two per week and that he must never give me cocoyam because it was poisoning me. So they would cook something else for me each time they were serving cocoyams to the other kids. And I recovered immediately. Since then, till date I do not eat coco yams.
JC Kangkolo was Member of West Camaroon House of Assembly from 1965 until the peaceful revolution of 1972 when the assembly and the west Cameroon government was dissolved. He then handed over the ministry of interior to the federal government in May to the Federal Inspector, Ayissi Mvodo minister of territorial administration. Then he became MP in the national assembly. But how did it all happen?
Hear him: I did not have any ambition for politics as such. When I was a veterinary officer in Bamenda, the then Member of Parliament for Wum North Constituency, Fon Nji of Weh died and left a vacancy. There was an election in the federal national assembly and 10 of them were selected to go. So my people looked around and said I was the best candidate. They came to me and I turned in down. They sent another delegation and refused all my excuses. At that time regulations were so strict. If you were going into politics you had to resign your civil service job. Having suffered so much to become a vet officer I could not just easily go into an unknown field like politics. My boss and the Rev, Kangsen persuaded me. My director also encouraged me to go and represent my people as they wished. So in the next election I stood and won unopposed. That’s how I got into politics. You know some people are born with luck and people turn to love you. People were just unanimous on me.
Let me tell you a thing. I contested on the platform of the KNDP party. The CPNC had put up a candidate for that election. So the leader of the party Dr Endeley came to round up the campaign for his candidate. So he spent a night here and met people, the security and opinions on the popularity of his candidate. So in the morning, before he let, he held a rally. He said he has consulted many people and popular opinion says there is a very popular candidate called JC Kangkolo. So he was no longer putting up a candidate for his party. And that is how it ended. He entered his car and went away. That kind of thing can’t happen today. People are not sincere. At that time people were very rational in their thinking. There was no tension and bad blood. Today you can buy popularity with money. There is no common stand behind a genuine candidate for an election even within a family. The world has become very difficult for us.
Kangkolo earned a government scholarship to study veterinary science in Edinburg and immediately returned home to serve is country. He was posted to Jakiri as estate manager in the veterinary school. He was vet officer for Bui division and Nkambe. He was later transferred to Bamenda and then to Wum. “I was sent here to open the veterinary office here in Wum. It was given money to construct the office. When I got here the divisional officer wanted me to bud it near his office up station. So I told him no, I was opening a clinic for goats, dogs, cats, horses and cows. They would be defecating all over and a mad dog could even bite him. He said oh go go and build that your office elsewhere. (Laughing lengthily) He even looked for the credit and gave me. That is how I built that beautiful stone building near the Baptist church up that hill – although it has been abandoned today. (Sighs). And it cost me just 850 Pounds at the time, less than a million francs. Instead of using the building today, they are renting a house”.
To say the list, JC Kangkolo enjoyed his job as vet officer. He organized inoculation campaigns and went around vaccinating animals and chicken. He inspected animals slaughtered. He was a field man meeting Fulani people, castrating their animals and vaccinating them.
In the good old days of West Cameroon, one had to be a member of parliament to become minister. That was the parliamentary system of government. So as MP for Fungom North, JC Kangkolo got appointed as secretary of state in charge of natural resources. Two years later the cabinet was reshuffled and he took up the portfolio of secretary of state for interior – a powerful position as this was the man who actually rules the nation.
JC Kangkolo has several but distinct and interesting episodes in his life. One of it is school life. One fateful day, a certain Basel Mission pastor Bame told Kangkolo’s parents that he would take him to Weh to begin start schooling. This was terrible news for his mother who would not want to part with her son. But his father brought pressure to bear on her and she gave up her opposition. She carried the enfant Kangkolo to Weh where he lived with the pastor’s family and started junior primary school. And that was the vernacular school where they studied in the Mungaka (Bali Language).
From Weh, he headed to the lone senior primary school in the whole of the today’s North West region in Mbengwi. That journey was done on foot. It took several days just to trek from his village in Fungom to Wum. Then he braved the forests, rivers, hills and valleys trekking to Bafut and onwards to Mbengwi. There he me so many other boys who had come for their standard for his standard five and six courses. JC was so young he lived with a certain Swiss missionary, Rev Bell whilst the rest of the bigger children lived in the dormitory. He finished just when Cameroon Protestant College, CPC Bali was opening. So he wrote and passed the common entrance examination and got admitted into the school. It was a very difficult life. Buu is about 30 KM from Weh and I had to trek. The trip to Mbengwi was so tough that it needed a lot of sacrifice to undertake it.
I was lucky to have the Pastor Bame to push me to go to school. He was a catechist who came to my village in the 40s and was living in my father’s compound. He was teaching the vernacular Mungaka. That is how I got into contact with him. I am very grateful to him.