If made regularly, public intellectual discourse and debates would stimulate development and help the country move forward. Of course, they can only be made by the highly educated people in our country. But for long years now those of them who are English-speaking have refused to play this edifying role. They are rather interested in helping to advance an iniquitous system whose nefarious mission is to impoverish the innocent masses and subject them to a life of perpetual servitude
By Douglas A. Achingale*
Have you ever pondered over the intelligentsia in Cameroon? If your response is in the affirmative, then you must have realized that our country has them in torrential abundance, Anglophones and Francophones alike. They are everywhere: in academia, in government, in the civil society… And most of them who have terminal degrees and other superior qualifications are exhilarated to be distinguished by the somewhat intimidating titles of ‘Doctors’ and ‘Professors’ that are attached to their names. But those paper qualifications and titles seem to be all what they have to show as highly educated people. When they are called upon to ruminate about issues of national well-being, make right judgment and educate the public so as to help move the country forward, they glide uncannily into torpor.
Regrettably, this phenomenon is more noticeable amongst Anglophone intellectuals. In the early 1990s when the wind of change coming from Eastern Europe was blowing across Africa, the Cameroonian public had a feel of the ‘intellectualness’ of some of them. If they were not in the audio-visual media – even if against the wishes of the powers that be – to raise public awareness on important state issues and make incredible recommendations on the way forward for our nascent democracy, they came out forcefully in the print media to do the same edifying job.
And so we enjoyed either listening to the thought-provoking arguments or reading the incisive write-ups of fearless nation-builders such as Tata Mentan, Sam Nuvalla Fonkem, Bate Besong, Rotcod Gobata, Ntemfac Ofege, Boniface Forbin, George Ngwane, Akwanka Joe Ndifor, Christmas Atem Ebini, Churchill Ewumbue-Monono, Larry Eyong Echaw, Julius Wamey, Tande Dibussi Jabea, Jing Thomas Ayeh, Taadom Sultan, Victor Julius Ngoh, Boh Herbert, etc. For those of them who were journalists of the state-run Cameroon Radio Television Corporation (CRTV), their contributions came mostly through the analyses they made on the TV program ‘Minute By Minute’ and radio program ‘Cameroon Calling’ which today has unfortunately been reduced more or less to a panorama of government activities.
But feeling uncomfortable with a regime they considered hostile, many of these intellectuals have gone on self-exile abroad. Some others have simply ‘eaten soya’ or seemingly been intimidated to submission and so have stayed mute ever since, while one or two others have died. For someone like Boniface Forbin, he continued with this activity for as long as his sorely unique and imposing newspaper, The Herald, lived on. Having worked under him for many years, I also understood that he tried in vain to involve some members of the academia in this noble endeavour.
There is therefore the absence of meaningful intellectual discourse and debate in English in Cameroon today, be it in audio-visual and print media organs whose numbers have significantly increased over the years, or in other public forums. If Anglophone intellectuals must go out to talk, it is to portentously justify a system in which a privileged few are seated at the high table devouring tasty chunks of boneless beef, and the majority crowded under the table rummaging for crumbs and sleeping rough. It is to invidiously fly the faded flag of a groggy epicurean, who, despite his being riddled with bullets of senility by the rifle of time, refuses to relinquish what should otherwise be in the keeping of a more active, adroit and perspicacious patriot. It is indeed to directly or indirectly defend their bloated bellies and questionable bank accounts to the detriment of the hoi polloi.
An adage goes that when the stomach is full, the head is empty. Anglophone intellectuals today generally have a bovine expression; they cast the image of overfed layabouts, who, like drooling sedated porpoises, are almost permanently in deep slumber. Rather than actively enlightening, their activities are mundane and humdrum. They seem to have pocketed their heads and now reason only with their stomachs. That is why all they are interested in is to sing the silly song of a senile potentate and get ‘gombo’, appointments and promotion in return.
Today, we can count with the fingers of our hand those who stick out their necks and keep the hope alive in the newspapers. If it is not the acclaimed public intellectual and erudite Harvard scholar, Valerian Ekinneh Agbaw Ebai, it is the virulent and insightful former politician, Tazoacha Asonganyi. And one or two others.
A few politicians, civil society actors and journalists of the private press who participate in programs like ‘CRTV Club’ and ‘Press Hour’ on CRTV television and who have the Cameroonian people at heart, often make an effort to say things that are meaningful and helpful to the vast majority of their compatriots. Unfortunately their speeches and ideas are most of the time suffocated by the coordinators of the said programs who would tell you off the microphone that they are seeking to toe the line ‘for obvious reasons’. Whatever obvious reasons they may be talking about.
Meanwhile we commend the unalloyed efforts of the presenters and some participants of the morning talk show on CRTV radio ‘Morning Safari’ to enlighten the public on certain pertinent issues of state. At the same time we deplore the decision of the management of the house to stop the firebrand duo, Alice Esambe Tata and Kange Williams Wasaloko, from presenting the program just because they were doing their job well.
Scenario different amongst Francophones
The scenario is different amongst many a Francophone intellectual. There is no doubt that a good number of them, like their Anglophone colleagues, equally accept to be led by the nose like asses, owing to sheer greed. But there are many others whom you cannot stop from feeding the minds of Cameroonians with progressive ideas.
Watch the Sunday afternoon debate programs on TV channels such as Canal2 International, STV and Equinoxe TV, and read some of the French language papers. You would agree with me that the Mathias Owona Nguinis, the Babissakanas, the Bobiokonos, the Pius Ottous, the Henriette Ekwes, etc. are gritty Cameroonians to be reckoned with.
Many would hasten to say that the foul-mouthed and garrulous Charles Ateba Eyene belongs to this category of Francophone intellectuals. To my mind, he only partially does, for he is someone who raises the problem of a fish but refuses to talk about its head. He fails to understand that a fish starts getting rotten from the head!
*The author is a Yaounde-based critic, social worker and freethinker