In the Cameroons, when you say change is coming, people wonder if they bought something and you were giving them change. Political change is a remote concept . Many have come to believe there is no such thing as political change.
The absence of change in the Cameroons has now brought the region to certain collapse and to the acute awareness that real change must now come even to the chagrin of others.
Lately and in multiple interviews, Christian Cardinal Tumi of the Cameroons, the Archbishop Emeritus of Douala has shown that he is the one person who fully grasps the challenges facing the Cameroons and also the one person who understands what it will take to get out of the crisis.
Born 15 October 1930 and now 89, Cardinal Tumi is more elderly and stately than the octogenarian dictator Paul Biya. The respected Cardinal has never expressed any interest in government. He is known as a man of goodwill who has helped shepherd his millions of Christian followers over the decades in both Cameroons.
Tumi has taken great interest in the turmoil rocking the Cameroons. A growing turmoil that moves the country closer to extinction with each passing day. True to his faith, he has kept the love for his country and the love for his followers at heart as the two Cameroons, Southern and East Cameroons chart a perilous path.
After decades of being in power and with very little to show for it, Paul Biya has convened a national dialogue to help resolve the conflict in the Southern Cameroons. A conflict that has raged on for close to 4 years.
In the lead up to the national dialogue, the one major piece of research shared so far in the public comes from none other than the Christian Cardinal Tumi and his group of religious leaders.
After months of refusal from the government for the Tumi led group to hold a conference on the issues afflicting the Southern Cameroons, the Tumi group decided to do the hard work and sponsor a 1000 person questionnaire.
As to date, this endeavor remains the most significant activity carried out to measure the pulse of the war in the Southern Cameroons.
Tumi in multiple interviews has pointed out that 99.5% of the people in the Southern Cameroons rejected either a federation or decentralization. Only 4 or 5 persons out of 1000 reacted to a question that asked them to select either a federation or decentralization as a form of government. 69% said outright separation and 31% said they wanted a referendum.
The Southern Cameroon held a referendum in 1961 to merge with East Cameroon to form the Cameroons. The duplicity of East Cameroon and the French, the former colonial masters led to a merger without a Union Treaty.
Technically, that meant the Southern and East Cameroons each remained a sovereign state. It was a tryout experiment which is why no Union Treaty was formed. So, when one hears of the Southern Cameroon seeking a referendum, it is a mere conclusion of the resolve to split.
Today, many Southern Cameroonians say the tryout experiment did not work. They have the legal wherewithal to break away. That is when the octogenarian dictator Paul Biya stepped in. Desperate to preserve tyranny, Paul Biya has instituted a scorched earth campaign to keep everyone under his rule.
It is people like Cardinal Tumi who have mounted pressure on the regime to convene a national dialogue. The Cardinal says some have chosen to stand for the right and rational argument even if it means death. Insisting on multiple occasions that even independence should be on the table. He says the country must do everything possible to restore peace.
Cardinal Tumi is an avowed federalist, but has also indicated that if the Southern Cameroons want independence, their wish should be granted.
Tumi may find himself strung between the interests of France, Cameroon’s former colonial master and the dictatorial regime of Paul Biya.
Emmanuel Macron on his visit to Africa in 2017 described Africa’s problems as a result of overpopulation. He has remained mum on the conflict in the Cameroons so far.
France has taken no meaningful step in helping promote or advance democracy or the rule of law in the Cameroons. We see that from the fact that Cameroon’s main opposition candidate Maurice Kamto has been incarcerated now for almost a year for peacefully protesting the presidential elections of 2018.
With Emmanuel Macron’s tepid response to the conflict in the Cameroons that has claimed thousands of lives, many now wonder if his solution to Africa’s “overpopulation” problem is depopulation, depopulation through the barrel of the gun.
Paul Biya’s army has razed hundreds of villages and towns in the Southern Cameroons simply because the people choose to chart their own course in humanity. Hundreds of thousands are now refugees within their own sovereign state. In most cases, these are soldiers pressured to do things against their will. They face dishonorable discharge and the loss of their livelihood if they do otherwise.
Southern Cameroonians have complained for decades that they are treated as second class citizens. But even second class citizens have and deserve a place to stay, a place to lie down after a day’s job. They are wanderers now with no place to call home. They live in dense forests, cut off from the world and civilization. Many have taken the chance to die from the wild than from the people once considered family.
The Southern Cameroons was a peaceful and democratic state. They had had multiple democratically elected governments in power, three to be precise, before the people chose out of goodwill to join East Cameroon and to build a stronger region together.
Christian Cardinal Tumi said when he finished his studies in Switzerland, he left back for home that same day to come help rebuild a better country. He perhaps was not expecting that he would come to live in a dictatorship for most of his life, run by his junior fellow Paul Biya.
“In the Southern Cameroon, police officers only carried a baton, there was no gun. The first time I saw an officer with a gun was during a conference between Southern Cameroon and East Cameroon delegates”, Cardinal Tumi said in an interview.
This incident must have struck Cardinal Tumi as odd as even at 89 he still clearly remembers it.
The respected Cardinal has emphasized that every topic should be on the agenda at the national dialogue. From many indications, the only topic on the agenda is decentralization. Decentralization has been the topic since the 80’s.
While Paul Biya has called for a dialogue, he has nonetheless kept the key players behind bars like Maurice Kamto his key opposition candidate in the last elections and the recognized president of the Southern Cameroon or Ambazonia, Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe.
Criticisms have streamed in from multiple quarters calling the national dialogue another pep rally for the dictatorial regime as most of the invited personalities have so far been staunch supporters of the regime.
For a country whose leaders have sold their conscience, there is little surprise the people seem oblivious as to why the country is at war with itself.
What will the Cardinal do if the dictatorial regime chooses to pursue war instead of peace against its own people? Will he be willing to go all the way to rally his throngs of Christian supporters to finally bring change?