Saturday, October 22, 2016

Peter Vakunta Speaks:Herald of the Cameroonian Popular Revolution

Peter Wuteh Vakunta, Ph.D.

Life is not all sunshine and roses in Biya’s Cameroon. Much water has flowed under the bridge since Mr. Paul Barthélemy Biya'a bi Mvondo took over the reins of leadership from his predecessor and mentor, Mr. Ahmadou Ahidjo on November 6, 1982. Put differently, this mercurial hard-hearted persona has presided over the fate of Cameroonians for thirty-four (34) years. It is time to take the pulse of the nation-state. The Cameroon that Biya inherited more than three decades ago has degenerated into a human junk-yard where nitwits, miscreants and morally bankrupt self-seekers ride roughshod over a befuddled populace. Aided and abetted by tribal overlords and imperialistic octopuses, Biya has run the post-colony aground through ineptitude and dearth of foresight compounded by unpatriotic fervor. With the support and blessing of French imperialists, the Cameroonian lumpen bourgeoisie has organized the systematic plunder of Cameroon. With the crumbs of the plunder that often reverts to them, the Cameroonian petty bourgeoisie has been transformed, slowly but surely, into a veritably parasitic socio-economic class that no longer knows how to control its voracious appetite for foreign commodities—material and intellectual. Driven only by their own selfish instincts, they no longer hesitate to employ the most disingenuous contraptions, engaging in massive corruption, embezzlement of public funds, influence-peddling, nepotism and dereliction of duty in a bid to meet their ends by over-indulging in politics of the belly.[i]
Politics of the Stomach as Governmental Modus Operandi
Paul Biya has surrounded himself with a bulwark of compulsive chop-broke-potters[ii], culled from his own ethnic group, the Beti tribe, who have a knack for bulimia, impulsive spending and misappropriation of state funds. Not satisfied with living off the backs of the Cameroonian rank and file, these political misfits fight tooth and nail to monopolize positions of power within the Chop Pipo Dem Moni (CPDM) ruling party[iii] that have the potential to allow them to use the state apparatus for their own exploitative and wasteful ends. The Beti modus vivendi epitomizes the political philosophy described by Polzenhagen and Wolf (2007) as the “Kinship-based African Community Model” (p.131). This model has been described as a horizontal network that stretches laterally and embraces everybody who is perceived to belong to a particular social group (Mbiti, 1990, p.102). The problem with this sort of ethnocentric political philosophy is that it is exclusive, egregious, counter-productive, and inimical to national integration.  Paul Biya’s governmental modus operandi has created a system of endemic corruption that defies all attempts to eradicate. Corruption has crippled our national economy.  Writing along similar lines, Timah Njei (2005) makes heartrending remarks about the State of Cameroon and corrupt practices which I cite at length as follows:
Corruption has brought our beloved country to her knees and exposed us to international ridicule. Our country has held the first position as the most corrupt nation on earth and it is on record that those governing us actually lobbied that the country be classified as one of the poorest highly indebted nations on earth! One really needs to be courageous and shame-proof to make a request like this for such an apparently rich nation. This act alone qualifies us to be in the hall of fame of corruption. The issue of corruption in Cameroon has gone past the level that can be described only as a social ill. It has effectively become part of our national culture. Corruption is embedded in every facet of our national life and it has effectively thwarted and dislocated our path to nationhood for generations to come"[8]
The forgoing remarks lend credence to the consternation expressed by Cameroonian sociologist, Jean-Marc Ela who writes as follows:
Le Cameroun semble échapper à toute catégorie de l’entendement. Ce qui arrive à ce pays relève de l’inimaginable, de l’incroyable et de l’impossible. Tout ce passe, en définitive, comme si, sous le règne de M. Paul Biya, le Cameroun tout entier avait basculé dans le hors-norme, la déraison ou la folie[9]
[It would appear that the case of Cameroon defies all attempts at comprehension. What has happened to this country seems unimaginable, unbelievable, and impossible. In sum, it seems as if under Paul Biya Cameroon has plunged into illegality, irrationality, and insanity]  
The sad truth about this disheartening Cameroonian narrative is that all of this mindboggling stuff is unfolding in full view of petrified nationals who are mired in squalor, misery and abject poverty. A visit to the Briqueterie neighborhood in the capital city of Yaounde would drive home the point. This is an urban ghetto where human beings and animals vie for personal space. In an article titled “Sodome et Gomorrhe:  Briqueterie-Mokolo: le Texas dans la capitale,” Ismaila Djida portrays this neighborhood as the Sodom and Gomorrah of the capital city of Yaounde. This holds true for other impoverished neighborhoods in the country such as Moloko in Yaounde and Nkouloulou in Doula.  While Cameroon is a paradise for the oligarchy in Yaounde, the wealthy minority, for the majority, it is barely a tolerable hell on earth. Part of this disenchanted majority, the so-called fonctionnaires (civil servants) suffer insurmountable constraints engendered by governmental dysfunction, despite the fact that they are assured a regular income. Their poverty-line wages are spent before they have even been received. And this vicious cycle goes on and on with no end in sight.  Sometimes, pressure from civil servants pushes politicians to grant some concessions, such as salary increments. But these concessions are mere make-believe because the government often takes back with one hand what it gives with the other. Thus a ten percent wage increase is announced with great fanfare in the media, only to be immediately followed by tax hikes, wiping out the expected benefits. Clearly, politics of the belly sustained by a divide and rule contraption constitute an integral part of the system put in place by politicians in Cameroon to further  divide and rule the suffering masses.
Divide and Rule in the Post-colony
Part of the exploited majority in Cameroon is constituted by peasants, the well-known wretched of the earth, who are expropriated, robbed, humiliated and mistreated on a regular basis by men and women in uniform—mange-mille[iv], gendarmes and the military. Interestingly, the peasantry is the mainstay of the Cameroonian economy because they are the ones whose labor creates wealth. Thanks to their productive labor, the nation stays afloat against all odds. It is from their labor that all those Cameroonians for whom Cameroon is an El Dorado line their pockets. And yet, it is the peasants who are least served by the nation. They lack road infrastructure, healthcare facilities, portable water, electricity and good schools for their children.  It is the peasants, creators of the nation’s wealth, who suffer the most in the hands of so-called élus du peuple[v].  So much for a misnomer! It is the children of peasants who swell the ranks of Chômencam[vi], the plethora of the unemployed in Cameroon. It is among the peasants that the illiteracy rate is the highest in the country— 68.9%. Those who most need to learn, in order to improve the output of their productive labor, are the ones who benefit the least from investments in education and technology. The peasant youth—who have the same aptitude like their urban counterparts end up in the wrong places.  Their initial impulse drives them to urban centers—Yaounde, Douala, Bafoussam, Nkongsamba, Buea, and Limbe to name but a few, where they hope to land jobs and enjoy, too, the advantages of modernism.
Sadly enough, lack of academic qualifications precludes these compatriots from landing gainful employment. Lack of jobs drives them into illegal activities such as drug peddling, feymenia[vii], prostitution and more. Some eke out a living by working as pedes[viii]  at the beck and call of some sexually starved katikas[ix]. Others resolve to make a pittance working as bendskinneurs[x] and call-boxeurs.[xi] As a last resort, some of them seek salvation by attempting to go abroad by any means necessary. Lately, we have seen disheartening pictures in media outlets of our compatriots who have perished like chicken on high seas and oceans in a desperate attempt to flee from an uninhabitable homeland. The New York Times of May 29, 2016 reported that in three days, 700 deaths had occurred on the Mediterranean, some of them Cameroonians. Does the Cameroonian society provide these compatriots with any alternative? Stated succinctly, such is the state of the nation that Mr. Biya will bequeath to Cameroonians when he ultimately answers the call of the Divine in the not too distant future—a paradise for some and hell for the rest. When all is said and done, Mr. Biya’s track record is one of dismal failure.
Underperformance of Political Incumbents
Students of Mr. Paul Biya’s report card make no bones about the fact that he is a monumental political failure. After thirty-four years of deconstructionist leadership and retrogressive political agendas bolstered by intrusive imperialist domination and exploitation, post-colonial Cameroon under the Biya regime remains a backward nation with nothing to offer the world.  This hitherto great nation has been transformed into an underdeveloped heart of darkness, to borrow words from one of Africa’s compulsive denigrators, Joseph Conrad (1899), where the rural poor—employing 92 percent of the workforce—accounts for only 47 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and supplies 94 percent of the country’s total exports. It should be noted that in other African countries, notably Nigeria, Ghana, Botswana and South Africa, farmers constituting less than ten percent of the population manage not only to feed themselves adequately and satisfy the basic needs of the entire nation, but also to export enormous quantities of their agricultural produce. Paradoxically, in Cameroon more than 90 percent of the population, despite strenuous efforts, experiences deprivation and is compelled to fall back on imported food items from France, China and more.  The imbalance between exports and imports accentuates Cameroon’s dependency on foreign countries. An economy that functions on such a paralysis inevitably goes bankrupt and is headed for catastrophe.
Private investments from abroad constitute a huge drain on Cameroon’s economy and thus do not help strengthen its ability to accumulate wealth. That is because an important portion of the wealth created with the help of foreign investors is siphoned off abroad, instead of being reinvested to increase the country’s productive capability. Paul Biya inherited a buoyant economy from Ahmadou Ahidjo and ran it into a recession a couple of years later not only because he does not practice what he preaches but also because he lacks the cognitive ability to conceptualize economic recovery strategies.  In the 1990s, salaries of civil servants were slashed drastically, in some cases by 60 percent. This writer worked as senior translator at the Presidency of the Republic at the time and endured the fiscal humiliation by keeping a stiff upper lip. In fact, he worked for an entire fiscal year without receiving a paycheck from the government because his dossier[xii] had gathered dust in the drawers of some numskull in the Ministère de la Fonction Publique [Ministry of Public Service] in Yaounde. He survived on a pittance that was called prime de technicité[xiii] in bygone days. Salary cuts were quickly followed by privatization which still leaves a sour taste in the mouths of Cameroonians to date.
The greatest weakness of Paul Biya has been in the economic sector. Almost a year ago, he posed a rhetorical question to Cameroonians when he asked the following question: “Why is it that Cameroon has everything in human and natural resources yet is not having the feel good effects?”  Five cankers suffice to provide Mr. President with a candid response:  endemic corruption, misappropriation of state funds, apartheid-style tribalism, blind-sidedness, and impunity are wreaking havoc in the moral and economic fabrics of the Cameroonian post-colony. Biya took over power in 1982 and announced with pomp and fanfare that his catchwords were going to be rigor and moralization. But the president soon found himself surrounded by a clique of diehard ethnocentric tribesmen, cronies, as well as a coterie of myopic CPDM praise-singers that sang his glories but remained blind-sided to national issues of grave importance. Consequently, Mr. Biya remains a myopic alien in the land that he purports to govern.  If fact, he governs this nation of 23+ million jobajo[xiv] drinkers and makossa dancers by remote control.
Governance by Remote Control
Biya does not live in Cameroon and, therefore, does not know Cameroonians. The president is out of touch with the Cameroonian reality. The absentee landlord spends several months in a calendar year in Europe touring casinos and nude beaches with no specific agenda in mind.  In 2009, Biya sparked global outrage after reports emerged of a 20-day holiday in France where he spent an average of £35,000 a day, totaling £700,000.Once back home, he retires to his million-dollar castle in his home village of Mvog-Meka  to play golf and drink whiskey and champagne.  It is for this reason that international observers of the political status quo in Cameroon have branded the Cameroonian Head of State le Roi fainéant[xv]. Biya does nothing to change the destiny of his country. His latest fad about les grandes réalisations[xvi] is political hogwash! The man is an under-achiever, to put it bluntly. Biya’s inept governance has brought Cameroon to its knees. Three decades ago, cities like Douala, Nkongsamba, Bafoussam, Edea, Limbe, Bamenda, Buea and Yaounde, were commercial hubs teeming with business activities and life. Nowadays, they are virtual ghost towns. Biya’s nonchalant leadership attitude has robbed Cameroon of its luster. Cameroon is no longer the Africa in miniature that it was once known to be. The Republic of Cameroon is a sore finger in the anatomy of the African continent. Biya’s lack of political foresight has transformed Cameroon into a beggarly nation. We are beasts of no nation, [xvii]to borrow words from an illustrious son of the soil who perished fighting the Cameroonian canker code-named biyaism. [xviii] Biyaism has moved Cameroon ten years backwards in terms of infrastructural development. The physical environment in Yaoundé is an eyesore.  Piles of garbage litter streets here and there. Potholes left, right and center. Unfinished government buildings punctuate the already tarnished landscape of our phantom capital city. Douala does not fare any better. It is a shadow of its former self. The Doula International airport that Biya inherited from his predecessor is now in a shambles—no running water in the restrooms, no toilet paper, broken tiles on the floor, a total mess!  What remains of the Douala Port is a nefarious abyss in the bottom of which customs officers hide to steal money from Tom, Dick and Harry. The Limbe Deep Seaport is dead, buried, and forgotten. Speaking in Yaoundé on January 15, 2015 at a meeting with a delegation of South Korean technocrats, Minister of the Economy, Planning and Regional Development, Emmanuel Nganou Ndjoumessi, announced that the Limbe Deep Seaport will be operational soon. Cameroonians are still waiting and shall wait until Godot[xix] comes. Accountability has been thrown to the dogs in that geographical expression nicknamed Cameroon.
The pulse of the post-colony has been taken. And there is incontrovertible evidence that the nation-state is malignant. This discourse serves as a pointer to the legacy that Mr. Paul Biya and his accessories will bequeath to millions of Cameroonians, many of whom have never known any other president. This is a legacy that truly stinks and spells nothing but doom for the young men and women that the president took the oath office on November 6, 1982 to nurture and protect. The purport of this write-up is not to provide a panacea for the myriads of ailments that plague Cameroon under President Paul Biya; rather it is a dirge composed by a son of the soil whose heart throbs for the demise of a nation richly blessed with natural and human capital; and yet sorely lacking in strategic thinkers and leadership visionaries. No Cameroonian who loves and honors his native land can remain indifferent to the status quo at home. Indeed, valiant, hardworking people have never been able to tolerate such a situation. Because they understand that this is not an irreversible situation, but a question of society being organized on an unjust system for the sole benefit of a select few. They have, therefore, waged different kinds of struggles, searching for various ways and means to overthrow the old order, establish a new order capable of rehabilitating the ordinary man, and give their country a leading place within the community of free, prosperous, and respected nations. Cameroonians have a tough call. They should not expect lynchpins of the old order to change their mentality and embrace sweeping changes any time soon. The only language that dictators respond to and understand is the language of force, the revolutionary class struggle against the exploiters and oppressors of the rank and file. The people’s revolution that I envision in this write-up is the only act by which the Cameroonian people will impose their will on the parasitic class that has hijacked the nation-state; that class has benefited perennially from the matrimony that exists between the national and imperialistic bourgeoisie in Cameroon. The Cameroonian Popular Revolution that is called for will be a class struggle by which the Cameroonian people impose their will on the ruling class by all means at their disposal, including arms, if necessary.


[i] In his 1989 book L'État en Afriquel: la politique du ventre (translated as The State in Africa: Politics of the Belly (2009)Jean-François Bayart attempts to describe African politics and, in particular, the relationship between clientelism, corruption and power
[ii] Reference to Cameroonians, notably Betis, who do not save for the rainy day; spendthrifts
[iii] Derogatory name for the ruling party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement( CPDM)
[iv] Corrupt police officers in Cameroon
[v]  People’s representatives
[vi] Chronic unemployment in Cameroon
[vii] Underhand deals of conmen
[viii] French slang for homosexual
[ix] Big shots
[x] Motor-cycle drivers
[xi] People who sell air-time to mobile phone users
[xii] File
[xiii] Professional honorarium
[xiv] Locally brewed beer
[xv] Lazy king
[xvi] Big achievements
[xvii]Reference a play by Bate Besong titled Beasts of no Nation(1990)
[xviii] Paul Biya’s governmental philosophy
[xix] Waiting for Godot is a play by Samuel Beckett, in which two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, wait endlessly and in vain for the arrival of someone named Godot

Works cited
Bayart, Jean-François. L’état en A frique: la politique du ventre. Paris:  Fayard, 1989.
__________________. The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly. New York: Longman, 1993.        
Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1989.
Besong, Bate. Beasts of No Nation. Yaounde:  Editions CLE, 2003.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York:  Dover, 1990.

Djida, Ismail. “Sodome et Gomorrhe:  Briqueterie- Mokolo: le Texas dans la capitale,”  Retrieved
Ela, Jean-Marc. Innovations sociales et renaissance de l’Afrique noire,
L’Harmattan, Paris, 1998.

Mbiti, J.  African Religions and Philosophy. Florence: Heinemann, 1990.

New York Times. “Three Days, 700 Deaths as Mediterranean Migrant Crisis Flares,” Retrieved

Njei, M.T. “Cameroon and Corruption,” Retrieved October 15, 2016 from

Polzenhagen, F. and Wolf, Hans-Georg. “Culture-specific Conceptualizations of Corruption in
African English.” In Sharidian, F. and Palmer, G.B. (eds.) Applied Cultural Linguistics:
Implications for Second Language Learning and Intercultural Communication,
125-168. Amsterdam: John Benjamin’s publishing Company, 2007.

The Guardian Newspaper. “32 Years of Biyaism: Those Praises of Deceit,” Retrieved on August

About the author
Dr. Peter Wuteh Vakunta is Professor of Global Languages and Cross-Cultural Studies at the University of Indianapolis, United States of America

Monday, August 8, 2016

Pogroms in the Rainbow Nation’s Prison-House of Political Dwarfs


Peter Wuteh Vakunta, Ph.D.
Recourse to the term ‘pogrom’ seems a befitting epithet to describe the wanton killings and verbal vendettas that characterized the campaign rallies preceding the August 3 local government elections in the rainbow nation of South Africa. As in the past, the running of this year’s elections has been tainted by cut-throat competition, unbridled recourse to racial slurs, ethnocentric witch-hunting, mudslinging, and outright physical elimination of political opponents much to the dismay of shocked citizenry nationwide. Little wonder, the slogan “use the ballot, not the bullet” became the rallying cry of petrified political militants and observers during the run-up to the municipal elections. To date, South Africa boasts scores of political parties, some as thinly populated as the average household in the country. The major contenders in this year’s polls are the African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Alliance(DA), Economic Freedom Fighters(EFF), Inkatha Freedom Party(IFP), United Democratic Movement(UDM) and National Freedom Party (NFP).Some political light-weights vying for votes are the African People’s Convention (APC), Congress of the People (COP), African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), and the South African Communist Party among others.
The mind-boggling anomaly about the just concluded municipal elections in South Africa is the penchant for lethal inter-party rivalry among contestants. In a bid to canvass for votes for the ruling party (ANC), incumbent president, Jacob Zuma has simply tossed decorum to the dogs and resorted to name-calling and racial slurs to cast aspersions on political opponents. Speaking to throngs of party supporters in Polokwane in the Limpopo Province on July 26, 2016, the president singled out his most dreaded political opponent, Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party and called on voters to shun the EFF on the following terms: “Don’t vote for the boy from Limpopo” (Sowetan, July 26, 2016, p.12). In yet another tirade, Zuma likened Malema to a liar: “Don’t vote for the party of the boy from Limpopo who is disrespectful and a liar” (Sowetan, July 25, p.4). There is consensus among the rank and file in South Africa that President Zuma’s political rants are preposterous and unbecoming of a president. Zuma has repeatedly taken pot shots at the DA party, accusing it of being a race-conscious party. At the same time, he appoints members of this party as ambassadors. It is this incongruity and selective amnesia that Thembo Sono alludes to when he posits that Jacob Zuma’s racist taunts reach “lunatic  proportions when he himself appoints DA white members as ambassadors, like Douglas Gibson, while denouncing Maimane for consorting with whites”(Sowetan,July 22, 2016.p.20). It should be noted that Mmusi Maimane is leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) party.
Writing in the same paper, Richardson Mzaidume took umbrage at the president’s comments: “It’s very unfortunate that during his campaign for votes, President Jacob Zuma, infamously known as the dancing truant, used racism to drive his point home” (Sowetan, p.12). Zuma has repeatedly referred to the Democratic Alliance (DA) party as a resurrected National Party (NP), the party that institutionalized apartheid in South Africa. Mzaidume qualified Zuma’s remarks as unfortunate and points out that “Zuma is not just the president of black people but also of the same whites he is now blasting. The ANC also has a sizeable number of white members” (Sowetan, July 26, 2016, p.12).
A spate of politically motivated murders has left militants of all political parties petrified. The killing of two Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) members by suspects allegedly wearing ANC t-shirts was reported in the Sowetan (July 27, 2016, p.8). The paper reports that Bongani Skhosana, age 29 was shot dead while returning from an IFP door-to-door campaign. Skhosana was wearing the party’s t-shirt when he was shot four times in the stomach by a man wearing an ANC t-shirt. Another IFP party militant, Siyanda Mnguni, was shot and killed outside a tavern just hours after Skhosana’s killing a street away. Mnguni was also wearing an ANC t-shirt. These gruesome murders have sent chills down the spines of candidates who have been nominated by their wards.
Nationwide, voters are crippled with fear of being killed for simply exercising their constitutional right to vote. Indubitably, this status quo is a slap in the face of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) which seems to be a toothless bull dog. In spite of these ‘pogroms’ jeopardizing the likelihood of free and fair elections in South Africa, the IEC has remained indolent and incapable of taking bold steps to put an end to the blatant abuse of citizens’ right to choose their own leaders. In a desperate plea, to the IEC, chairperson of the Inkatha Freedom Party, Blessed Gwala wrote: “We call on the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to ensure that there are consequences for those who don’t adhere to the electoral code of conduct. When acts of violence or intimidation take place, it’s a direct challenge to the IEC and police as perpetrators of such violence are testing the resolve of the IEC to ensure that there are free and fair elections”(Sowetan, July 27, 2016, p.8).
Truth must be told. Given the current state of affairs in South Africa, the notion of free and fair elections is a tall order. These acts pose a daunting challenge to the democratization process in the country. As Mmusi Maimane puts it, “… elections and the campaigns by political parties are, by their very essence, a festival of the democratic process of electing leaders” (Sowetan, July 27, 2016, p.16). Speaking in the same vein, Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa hit the nail on the head when he observed that these killings defile South Africa’s “… democratic intent as a nation”(Sowetan, July 25, 2016).  He underscored the fact that South Africa’s ethos was about giving people a choice and this meant zero tolerance for the status quo where murderers are given the right to choose who should be elected to govern.  The Deputy President made these remarks on his campaign trail in Tembisa, a township next to Pretoria in Gauteng Province.
To date, scores of political party militants have been murdered. These include militants from the African National Congress, Inkatha Freedom Party and National Freedom Party. One of the politically-motivated killings that have shocked the entire nation is the slaying of Kyanyisile Ngobese Sibisi, the ANC Women’s League secretary in Kwazulu Natal. She was a candidate in Ward 20 for the local government elections. The Sowetan reports that Kyanyisile Ngobese Sibisi was shot eight times with an AK-47 by gunmen traveling in a car. One of Kyanyisile Ngobese Sibisi’s comrades said that Kyanyisile Ngobese Sibisi did not want to stand as councilor but the party had persuaded her to accept the nomination because of her qualities. Clearly, the murder of this woman is a portent illustration of the triumph of mediocrity over meritocracy in the rainbow nation of South Africa. Adumbrating this theme further, Prince Mashele makes the following suggestion: “The best solution would be for a political party to adopt meritocracy as a guiding principle in choosing and replacing candidates for political office. This may seem banal, but strict adherence to it can save lives and build a better society” (Sowetan, July 25, 2016, p.15).
Though the motives for these murders are yet to be unraveled, the grapevine has it that those who are killed will be replaced by murderous aspirants. But the Independent Electoral Commission has bad news for the hopefuls: “All the councilor candidates who have been recently killed across the country will still be fielded to contest their respective wards in the upcoming local government elections” (Sowetan, July 27, 2016, p.4). In an article titled “Assassinated Candidates Can Still Be Elected,” Independent Electoral Commission Chairperson, Kate Bapela, explained: “The law did not allow the Commission to do anything now in terms of getting the candidates replaced. There is no time to replace the deceased candidates before the elections which are scheduled for next week” (p.4). She further shed light on what will transpire after the August 3 ballot: “We will go with the candidates who were nominated. Just after the elections we will have to hold by-elections in all the affected wards” (p.4).
Interestingly, interparty warfare does not seem to be the lone canker eating into the very fabric of South Africa’s polity. Intra-party strife is sounding the death knell of the country’s political superstructure. Political murders continued to haunt South Africans of all stripes as they headed to the polls on August 3, 2016. In an article published in Sowetan (July 25, 2016), Prince Mashele opines that “Speculation is rife within communities that the killings are by ANC members who covet positions held by  those murdered, the logic being that the dead shall be replaced by the murderers within the party”(p.15).
In sum, there is no gainsaying the fact that South Africans have their job cut out for them. Tata Madiba Nelson Mandela, who spent twenty-seven years of his life in maximum security prisons for championing the cause of Black liberation in South Africa, must be turning several times in his grave right now. The onus rests with voters who have the yam and the knife. They must exercise their voting right to oust bad leaders who relish the thought of stirring the hornet’s nest for personal gain. Such unpatriotic leaders ought to be replaced with good ones. To do so, voter education is crucial. South Africans must shun tribal politics; they must steer clear of political hawks that swoop down on the electorate with hollow promises on the eve of elections and vanish like the whirlwind in the dusk of elections. I was visiting friends in South Africa during the pre-election period and noticed how some ill-informed voters were easily bought over with ephemeral stuff such as free blankets and cheap food. Voters must be wise enough to exercise caution in distinguishing voting for the kind of change that builds and solidifies the rainbow nation from the brand of tribal politics that has the potential to tear the nation into shreds by bloating the ego of a rapacious oligarchy resident in Pretoria.
About the author
Dr. Peter Wuteh Vakunta is Professor of Global Languages and Cross-Cultural Studies at the University of Indianapolis, United States of America

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Linguistic Apartheid and the Quest for Freedom and Identity in Cameroon


Peter  Wuteh Vakunta, PhD— University of Indianapolis, USA

The language question in Cameroon has become the elephant in the room. Of all the burning issues that continue to plague Cameroon, the language question is the most problematic. This paper argues that Cameroon’s Official Bilingual Policy has fallen short of expectations.  We propose a Quadrilingual Language Policy that would lay the foundation for effective Multilingual Education that guarantees national unity and integration.  Our model incorporates Cameroonian official languages, indigenous languages and a lingua franca—in our case Cameroon Pidgin English (Cameroonian Creole). The merit of this MODEL is that it would normalize Cameroon’s linguistic anomalies. More than five decades after gaining token independence from imperial powers—France and Great Britain; Cameroon still does not have an implementable language policy that protects linguistic minorities.  Writing along similar lines, Ayafor (2005)notes that “language policy and planning suffer a political hijacking in which language measures are monopolized by political authority and are used as a form of blindfolding against the civil society and linguistic principles”(138).

This political bad faith violates Article 1:3 of Cameroon’s national Constitution which puts French and English at par. It states: “The official languages of the Republic of Cameroon shall be English and French, both languages having the same status. The State shall guarantee the promotion of bilingualism throughout the country. It shall endeavor to protect and promote national languages.” The fundamental flaw of this constitutional stipulation on official ‘bilingualism’ is that it fails to provide a clear working definition. It is not clear what level of linguistic proficiency must be attained by Cameroonian citizens in order to demonstrate officially sanctioned bilingualism.  Worse still, the constitution glosses over the dichotomy between individual and state bilingualism. In a linguistically pluralistic nation such as Cameroon, Bilingualism could mean anything from fluency in English and French; English and a national language; French and a national language; Pidgin English and a national  language; a national language and another national language, etc.  Besides, proficiency in any of these languages could vary from zero to near-perfection. It is in this perspective that Rosendal (2008) makes the following observation: “The extent of bilingualism in French and English in Cameroon is hard to estimate. Bilingual proficiency varies from zero to near perfect at the universities, depending on how semi-bilingualism, functional bilingualism and passive bilingualism are defined.” (25)  An interesting dimension of the discourse pertaining to official bilingualism in Cameroon is its correlation with biculturalism. Scholars such as (Echu, 2012; Tadadjeu, 1975; Fonlon, 1963, 1969) have pointed out that biculturalism is an integral component of official bilingualism. Sadly enough, official bilingualism in Cameroon has been treated with such levity that it has virtually been rendered dysfunctional. Jikong (1983) attributes the failed implementation of Cameroon’s official bilingualism to inadequate language planning. That’s why  Bobda and Tiomajou (1995) observe that “In Cameroon there is no government position on language policy and planning apart from the statement that French and English shall be the official languages of the Republic”(127).

To put this differently, Cameroon’s official bilingual policy has been presented as a mere statement of intent. According to Soule (2013), “the State is doing quite a lot to ensure the promotion of bilingualism, as stated in the Constitution, but is doing very little to ensure practical implementation of bilingualism”(13).There is no legislation on the practice of bilingualism in Cameroon. Consequently, Cameroonians who infringe the constitutional stipulation cited above cannot be held accountable because there is no institution charged with the implementation of the nation’s bilingual policy. Though strongly articulated in policy documents, Cameroon’s bilingual policy remains a mere manifesto on paper. In daily practice, French has dominance over the English language in the spheres of administration, education and the media.

The position of dominance accorded the French language is attributable to the absence of an effective language policy that safeguards the rights of linguistic minorities.  This status quo does not bode well for the nation’s quest for freedom and identity because as Echu (2004) would have it, “The Policy of official language bilingualism has created an Anglophone/Francophone divide in Cameroon that is seen in recent years to constitute a serious problem for the State” (6). Thus, though conceived to play the role of a unifying factor, Cameroon’s official language policy embodies germs of disunity.  The lackluster implementation of the nation’s language policy has been described by scholars as a harbinger of national disintegration (Soule, 2013; Echu, 2004; Ayafor, 2005; Tiomajou, 1991; Bobda and Tiomajou, 1995). Ayafor for instance, argues that “language has become one major factor among the socio-political grievances of Anglophones’ so-called ‘The Anglophone Problem’ since 1980s” (133).

 The ‘Anglophone Problem’ stems from the second fiddle status assigned to English-speaking Cameroonians by francophone members of government. This probably explains why in English-speaking towns and cities such as Bamenda, Buea, and Tiko, to name but a few, there are billboards and toll-gates with inscriptions written entirely in French. Rosendal (2008) notes that “bilingual policy implies that official documents and laws are published in both languages” (29). These examples lend credence to the fact that English remains a mere afterthought in the minds of government officials in Cameroon. In Cameroon official documents such as decrees and more are endorsed with an official seal and their content implemented without official versions in English. It is not uncommon to find English translations of important government documents fraught with mindboggling spelling and grammatical errors. These are pointers to the fact that the implementation of Cameroon’s official bilingualism has failed woefully.

There is no gainsaying the fact that what prevails in Cameroon today is tantamount to linguicide, a term used throughout this paper to describe the linguistic genocide that has been given leeway in Cameroon. Linguistic genocide is observable in all spheres of government business. In the judicial branch of government, the interpretation of the letter and spirit of the law is left to the whims and caprices of French-speaking judges who are ignorant of how the Anglo-Saxon legal system functions. This has resulted in countless miscarriages of justice. For instance, a travesty of justice was evident during the infamous Yondo Black trial[1] in the 1990s.
The National Radio and Television Corporation (CRTV) is another case in point. The preponderance of French news at the CRTV is no secret to anyone living in Cameroon. During electoral campaigns, little or no time is allotted to the campaign speeches of Anglophone opposition leaders desirous of addressing the nation in a bid to sell their political platforms. The language of instruction and daily routine in Cameroon’s armed forces, police and gendarmerie [2]is French. Anglophones recruited to serve in these forces have to fight or flee; in other words, they must learn French or perish.

Such is the crux of the Anglophone Problem in Cameroon. To eradicate these policy bloopers and save Cameroon from linguistic disintegration, this paper proposes a Quadrilingual Education System that is linguistically inclusive. Our model is calqued on previous models proposed by two of Cameroon’s most acclaimed experts in the field of early childhood second language acquisition, namely Bernard Fonlon (1963) and Maurice Tadadjeu (1975).

A Quadrilingual Educational Model in Cameroon

The Model that we propose is anchored on the acquisition of four (4) languages: English, French, a National Language and a Lingua Franca (CPE) before the Cameroonian child gets to University. We argue that a quadrilingual education model that gives pride of place to the acquisition of both official and national languages serves as a catalyst for the attainment of national unity and economic advancement; the more so because language constitutes the bedrock of nationhood and self-identity.  

In our conceptualization of the Quadrilingual Model we have espoused the  stance of Tadajeu (1975) who argues that “if language is to be the primary concern of the primary school then there is no reason for not including the vernacular languages in the curriculum at this level”(58). Tadajeu actually echoes Fonlon’s thoughts on this theme: “I must confess that the expression Cameroon bilingualism is a misnomer. It would be correct to speak of Cameroon trilingualism because even before the Cameroon child comes to school to learn English and French, he should have already learnt his own native tongue” (“A Case for Early Bilingualism…,”p.206).  Other scholars in this field have argued for the inclusion of indigenous languages in the educational system in Cameroon (Mba and Chiatoh, 2000; Todd, 1983; Chumbo, 1980; Ngijol, 1964; Achimbe, 2006). Achimbe argues that the language education policy in Cameroon largely ignores the importance of national languages. As he puts it: “In promoting its bilingual language education policy, the government has largely disregarded the multilingual make-up of the country. Indigenous languages play only a secondary role…” (96).
Similarly, Tadadjeu advocates the inclusion of national languages in the education system in Cameroon in his trilingual Education Model. The Quadrilingual Model proposed in this paper envisages the inclusion of a lingua franca (Cameroon Pidgin English) for several reasons.

Lingua Franca as Component of the Quadrilingual Model

The rationale for including CPE in our model is three-fold. First, the number of households in Cameroon where Pidgin English is the primary language of communication is on the increase. Just as French and English are mother tongues for the majority of urban kids today, Pidgin English has supplanted these hegemonic languages in many homes, especially in instances of mixed marriages between Francophone and Anglophone Cameroonians. Second, Pidgin English is the only language spoken by over 85% of Cameroonians. According to Achimbe (2006), Pidgin English acquired a national character, “representing the mother tongue of fifty percent of the population” (99). He further notes that Cameroon Pidgin English (CPE) is fast becoming the mother tongue in some urban communities. Breton and Fohtung (1991) buttress this point when they refer to Pidgin English as a language of “wider communication in Cameroon” (12).  Mbangwana (1983) lends credence to the importance of Pidgin English as a lingua franca in Cameroon as follows:

Pidgin English is very crucial as a communication bridge, for it links an Anglophone to a Francophone. It also links an Anglophone to another Anglophone, an educated Cameroonian to another educated one, a non-educated Cameroonian to another non-educated one, and more importantly an educated Cameroonian to a non-educated one(87).

Ayafor (2005) recognizes the importance of lingua franca in language planning in Cameroon when he underscores “the role of Pidgin English as a linguistic bridge between the two linguistic communities both in official and private domains” (128). He further notes that Pidgin English in not only the most widespread variety of English but it is the only language in Cameroon with the pragmatic ability to function as a contact language for all linguistic groups.

The third reason for incorporating Pidgin English into the Quadrilingual Model is that Pidgin English is no longer just a language of the streets. It has evolved into a medium of literary expression. Cameroonians are now producing works of literature in Pidgin English. A few examples would drive home the point:  Majunga Tok: Poems in Pidgin English(2008), CamTok and Other Poems from the Cradle (2010), African Time and Pidgin Verses(2001) Stories from Abakwa (2008), Je parle camerounais (2001), Moi taximan (2001)and Temps de chien (2001).
What we would like to do at this juncture is provide a succinct description of the Quadrilingual Model.

A Blueprint for Quadrilingualism in Cameroon

In our conception of a Quadrilingual Education System in Cameroon,  we have made a clear distinction between a first official language(O1), which is the medium of instruction and the second official language(O2) which is a subject to be learned at school.  At the same time, we have underscored the dichotomy between a national language (indigenous language) and a lingua franca (hybrid language used as a means of communication among speakers of other languages).  

The long-term objective of the Quadrilingual Education System would be to prepare Cameroonian learners linguistically for university studies.  The ideal would be to see each Cameroonian child literate and fluent in their mother tongue or a related regional language, the two official languages as well as a lingua franca as they work their way toward university studies. To be labelled fluent, the individual must be able to function at level 3 of the Inter-Agency Language Roundtable Scale of Descriptors.[3]

 The Quadrilingual Blueprint

§  Primary School Level
At the primary school level, the mother tongue should be the medium of instruction and the first official language (English for Anglophones and French for Francophones) would be a curricular subject. This stipulation would apply to both rural and urban schools. A proportionate number of indigenous language teachers will have to be trained in order to see this project through.

§  Secondary School Level
At secondary school level, a gradual switch would be made to the learner’s first official language (English for Anglophones and French for Francophones) as a medium of instruction. The mother tongue, lingua franca and second official language (French for Anglophones and English for Francophones) should become curricular subjects. This model ensures that learners are exposed to three languages before they get to High School.  By the end of secondary school, the Cameroonian child should be Quadrilingual in the strict sense of the word as it is used in this paper.

§  High School Level
At high school level German, Spanish, and Latin courses should be replaced by courses in Cameroonian indigenous languages.  Also, some language majors would be encouraged to participate in indigenous language literacy programs. No specific modifications are anticipated at this level as regards the teaching of French and English, except where instructional pedagogies are concerned.

§  University Level
At university level two things could occur.

                                 i.   The extension of current indigenous language courses in a bid to transform them into inter-lingual translation courses covering all national languages as well as Pidgin English.  Program designers and coordinators could conceive incentives that would encourage a greater number of students to sign up for languages related to their own mother tongues if there are no courses in their mother tongues.

                               ii.     Students with linguistics as minors or majors could be encouraged to take indigenous language literacy courses that would enrich their mastery of the phonology, morphology and syntax of indigenous languages.


This paper has unearthed the root causes of the bilingual policy abortion in Cameroon. Incontrovertible evidence has been unraveled to lend credence to the contention that Cameroon’s language policy is a non-starter and has, therefore, failed to serve as guarantor of national unity and territorial integration. To fill this lacuna, this paper has proposed a Quadrilingual Blueprint that is inclusive of Cameroonian national languages and Pidgin English. The merit of this paper resides in its broadening of the scope of the national language policy discourse in Cameroon by arguing for the inclusion of indigenous languages and Pidgin English. Most importantly, it has made the point that national language policy decisions ought to be made on the basis of sound pedagogic principles rather than on the whims and caprices of uninformed political role-players.

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[1] On April 4, 1990, the Yaounde military tribunal was the focus of national and international attention as arguments in the trial of Yondo Black Mandengue and 10 others began. They had been arrested in February of that year for trying to create a political party. Officially, however, the accused were charged with holding clandestine meetings, fabricating and distributing tracts hostile to the Government, rebellion, and insulting the Head of State.
[2]  Police officers in francophone countries
[3] The following ILR descriptions of proficiency levels 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 characterize spoken-language use. Each higher level implies control of the previous level’s functions and accuracy. A skill level is assigned to a person through an authorized language examination called the  Oral Proficiency Interview(OPI). Examiners assign a level on a variety of performance criteria exemplified in the descriptive statements.