By Tazoacha Asonganyi,Yaounde.
A“ProfesseurAggregé” who seems to have an axe to grind with Maurice Kamto,has declared in an article published in some local newspapers that (my translation) “the arrest of persons who hold undeclared meetings is not a retrogressive act because in France…” He goes on to indicate that in 2013, 73 persons were arrested in Paris for protesting against gay marriage.
In the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen adopted as the preamble of the Constitution of 1791 that consecrated the success of the French Revolution, article 2 made freedom one of four natural rights; article 4 defined freedom as the right to do anything which does not harm the other. Article 5 stated that the law would define “harm”, indicating that the law has the right to forbid only actions harmful to society. Our “Professeur Aggregé” obviously will not clarify that those demonstrating in Paris were blocking the public highway and committing other acts that were harmful to others. His using such arrests to justify the barbarism of administrative authorities in Cameroon, especially the recent brutalization, arrest and incarceration of Jean-Marc Bikoko and others in a rented hall is nothing short of intellectual dishonesty! The Polish intellectual LeszekKolakowski would describe such intellectuals as “priests” who are guardians of the absolute and the retrograde.
I argue hereunder that theunification project adopted in Foumban in 1961 was derailed by this blind belief in France and the borrowing from France of forms void of substance, and of the letters of texts void of the spirit behind them. The spirit is the guiding idea and modes of behaviour that the people supposed to implement a project, a text, or constitution are imbued with. As the life of the second republic in Cameroon that has caused so much harm to the unification project comes to its inevitable end, this effort is to contribute to the discussion on why we are where we are, and what is to be done.
Over 50 year after unification, the evidence before us is that Foumban had to be institutionalized to allow for the constant evaluation of the unification project over time, so as to validate it over and over again. Failure to do so caused frustrations to build up and create what have become metaphors for the failure – AAC, SCNC, and others. Institutionalization of Foumban would have allowed the unification project to labour on itself - to use the words of Gordon Wood. With time, it would have generated only centripetal thought patterns and actions; its absence has left the field wide-open for centrifugal thoughts and actions that are alive today.
Foumban was marred by several factors: 1) the feeling of “brotherhood” of Foncha’s side and their belief in the “democracy” they wanted to bring to their brothers; 2) the Anglo-Saxon mindset of the good society inhabited by good people who should run society with only helpful guidance from the state; 3) Foncha’s side felt closer to their “brothers” than to Nigeria and Britain; 4) delegates on Foncha’s side were the main actors in the unification struggle; 5) Ahidjo’s side had the Continental mindset of a corrupted society which should be guided by a French-style Jacobin centralized state; 6) Ahidjo’s side felt closer to France than to their “brothers”; 7)members of Ahidjo’s side were not the main actors in the struggle for unification; 8) Ahidjo’s side viewed Foumban as a contract carved on stone; as the end of history; 9) the two sides had not struggled together to develop the sort of “commonsense” – the solidarity, the shared sense - Thomas Paine described for Americans, that would have provided the guiding/binding spirit of the “constitution” they adopted; 10) language (French/English).
This clash of visions, outlook and actors led to the confusion that followed. The constitution that finally came up after Foumban borrowed heavily from the French Constitution.
Article 16 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man which was adopted as the preamble of the constitution that the French Revolution gave birth to, states that a society in which the guarantee of rights is not assured or the separation of powers determined does not have a constitution; the separation of powers insures against the usurpation of arbitrary powers in the name of the nation. The spirit of the French Constitution was derived from the experience and struggle that helped to remove the King and create the Constitution; it was the spirit of the revolution that founded the Republic which was said to be the incarnation of triumphant freedom. The constitution was therefore said to be the social reign of victorious freedom; it ensured the continuous prosecution of the war of freedom against its enemies to maintain freedom’s victorious reign.
We borrowed from the French Constitution the letters, not the spirit; it was impossible to borrow a spirit we had not lived and shared. Because of what Hannah Arendt describes as the people’s freedom to begin, Immanuel Kant warned that there should be no contract made to shut off any further enlightenment; that any such contract is null and void even if confirmed by the supreme power, by parliament and by the most ceremonial of peace treaties. This was like speaking for and to human nature. The actors in Foumban, and the generations they would leave behind were no exception to this rule. Yet Ahidjo’s side behaved throughout as if Founban decreed the end of history; as if Foumban shut off further enlightenment! This has resulted in periodic violence against human nature – “as if national unity” is carved on stone –with regular arrest of SCNC members, and others. Laws and the execution of laws became void of the spirit of reunification, mainly because government itself was not led by those who had led the reunification struggle.
The French revolution had deposed the sovereign that incarnated popular will and replaced it with a plural people with a sovereignty that could not be incarnated by any interest, group or institution. We copied this into our own Constitution, but established institutions in the constitution that incarnate the popular will – the “President”, and “parliament” that is under the control of …the “president.” In other words, the deposed French sovereign was replaced by “The President” in our own case. This created a tyranny of one man who exercised a monopoly of power exactly as had the despot of the Old French Regime! Since the French had replaced their organic society with the Republic, separation of powers implied checks and balances; we copied separation of powers, but the implied checks and balances were absent.
The agreement adopted in Foumban sought to attain a goal which was the birth of a new nation. The new nation had to keep reflecting on itself, questioning itself continually, debating on itself as it progressed so that the result it would produce over time – national unity, national unanimity or whatever - would be the shared responsibility of all concerned, not a decreed and imposed concept. Unfortunately, the Jacobin centralized state managed by strangers to the reunification project used force to create an inert reunified society and sought to impose a politics that had no consideration for the social foundation of the reunited society. In the end, the spirit of “brotherhood” of Foncha’s side was killed. The “democracy”Foncha’s side wanted to bring to their brothers fell on barren soil. In the absence of the space for self-expression, private passions burst out in identity furors because of the fears conjured by the new masters.
The rhetoric of national unity can end only at the altar of rhetoric because it offers nothing to the future. Transcending the Federal framework was a ridiculous betrayal of a collective project. No human effort can put an end to history! History is the march of humans towards their freedom. Human nature is universal; the people’s freedom of Hannah Arendt “to begin” is also universal.It is time to listen to the voices that strangers to the unification project caused to be raised.