By Asonganyi TazoachaOne of our local newspapers published an extensive interview of “former special duties minister” Peter Abety who is also a university don. In the interview, the former minister boasted of his political savvy, and described his having opted to have double doctorate degrees (PhD/Doctoratd’état) as “a great feat”!
Our academic paths crossed I think in CCAST Bambili and in the then lone University of Yaounde as students, but more especially in 1981 over exchanges in Cameroon Tribune on the wisdom of including Gerald Durrell's Bafut Beagles in the GCE O/L syllabus.
At that time I had just returned as a young PhD imbued with feelings of disappointment about the destruction slavery, colonialism and neocolonialism had wrought on the African personality. My contacts with Cheikh Anta Diop and many others during my university studies had opened my mind to how seemingly impartial, objective academic disciplines like mathematics, geometry, geography, history, literature, and others contributed to the colonial subjugation of Africa and Africans. I had become convinced about the truth that “all knowledge is interested” or that “all knowledge is a form of colonial discourse...” I had read Chinweizu’s book “The West and the Rest of Us” in which he dissects the “suicidal mystifications of colonial miseducation.” What with Haminou Kane’s quip that “Better than the canon, it makes conquest permanent - the canon compels the body; the school bewitches the soul...”? So I had become convinced that our stories should not be told by strangers; they should be told by us in our own language that reflects our own culture and experiences.
I had also read The Bafut Beagles set in Bafut country in northwest Cameroon. It was written in 1949, and is a description of Bafut people at that time, and the wild animals they helped Durrell to collect for his zoo project. As one western reader of the book has put it, “Gerald Durrell is writing in another age, and he just cruises around effortlessly, assuming his right to be called "Masa" and "Sah" by the flock of undifferentiated, caricatured natives whose words are transcribed phonetically and embellished for comic effect. There's nothing so crude as overt racism of course, and it would be pointless to judge him by the standards of today anyway, but the spirit of the age shines through every paragraph…it's very funny indeed!” Another western reader wrote “Unfortunately this time there's a big qualifier: his portrayal of Africans. To be fair, it would have been a rare European in the 1940's who saw Africans as equals, there is no outright brutality - this is a book of humour, after all! - and from time to time his paternalistic affection blooms into genuine respect…”
I was therefore much affected by Abety’s response to a critic who found fault with the inclusion of such a racist book in the syllabus for the education of our children, and so I reacted to his contribution in an essay I titled “African literary criticism: beyond the comprehension of Eurocentric critics.” Abety went as far as describing Mao’s groundwork that set the stage for the present greatness of China as “their catastrophic cultural revolution of the late sixties.” Since he states in his interview that he is preparing to publish books that “revolve around literary works,” he may probably publish in one of the books the arguments he made for the inclusion of the Bafut Beagles in the GCE O/L syllabus.
As for his boast about his double doctorate, it was quite intriguing to me and many other colleagues, especially those with PhDs in the university system at that time, when Abety decided to add a “Doctorat d’état” to his PhD. Because of the obvious “competition” between the two “united” cultural groups in Cameroon, there were usually subtle efforts to claim “superiority” of the Doctorat d’état over the PhD since so many years were wasted under tutelage to obtain it. As terminal degrees, the PhD seemed to be performing better than the Doctorat d’état, using the measuring rod of the Nobel Prize for the two main pushers of the degrees, France (Doctorat d’état, 166) and the UK/USA (PhD, 468). That is why in response to Abety's decision, some colleagues of the other cultural group were chuckling that a “lower” doctorate was being completed with a higher one.
One can say that it was Abety’s personal choice and should interest only him, except that the terminal degree is obtained as a prize for the acquisition and understanding of a body of knowledge, and the ability to create and interpret new knowledge. In principle, its acquisition is a confirmation that the individual can conceptualize, design and implement projects to generate new knowledge, and in the process achieve “great feats.” It is not rounds in universities to get multiple doctorate degrees that can constitute a feat since the breadth of knowledge packed in one doctorate degree makes it quite easy to add other degrees wished by the “doctor.” In any case, the Doctorat d’état/PhD confusion is no longer relevant since France dumped the Doctorat d’état in 1984 because it was mainly for training state functionaries; it was streamlined to a new degree called “Doctorat” which follows the more productive PhD scheme meant to harness knowledge and channel it towards innovative and creative endeavours.
About his political savvy, how somebody who presents a sorry experience of “active politics” from 1986 to 1990 during which he repeatedly fell prey to the political ruse of the Emah Basiles can turn around and claim that “Those who had just formed political parties were not yet versed in political matters” (which they were versed in) is difficult to conjecture. He has so easily forgotten that some of those who formed “political parties” were high profile politicians who had been more successful than himself in the CNU/CPDM.
Abety claims that with his political savvy, he deceived the SDF to boycott the 1992 legislative elections. To repeated questions on how he did it, he dodged the questions with sophism. Many people usually indulge in that type of absurdity of placing a cause after its effect. As is usually said, success always has many parents; the boycott of the elections by the SDF resulted in success for the CPDM, so why not claim to be one of the parents? It is always easy to use hindsight to make all types of false analyses, bogus claims and arrogant intellectual gymnastics.
The outcome of the tripartite conference is similar to the outcome of the Foumban Conference. They are both metaphors for the betrayal of trust and truth; for the triumph of selfish interest over general interest, for the absence of morality and integrity in politics. Both outcomes will seriously affect the future of Cameroon because a nation can only be built on trust by statesmen/women imbued with morality and integrity.
And so what is the final takeaway from the interview? Well, we take home the message that we should fear CPDM cronies even if they are bearing gifts!