Friday, July 8, 2016

Late Professor Tazoacha Asonganyi's "Difficult Choices In A Failed Democracy

Prof. Tazoacha Asonganyi died at the age of 67 on July 4,2016 in Yaounde after an  illness

Critical review of Late Professor Tazoacha  Asonganyi's  book" Difficult Choices in a failed Democracy" by Marie A. Abanga*

     Marie A. Abanga is a daughter of the same soil as the eminent Professor; indeed I am a daughter of the same royal lineage. That notwithstanding, I read his memoir with a lot of attention to details, analysing with my own modest legal mind, information provided as coming from different sources. I was fortunately no longer a kid  by the time multipartism was 'allowed' in our political arena. I was actually already interested in becoming a lawyer, and followed current events with the excitement of the high school teen I was. Indeed, I remember pretty much a large part of the landmark Simpson trial, which I watched in the house of my uncle Alex Taku, a former die hard Sdf militant like Prof Asonganyi himself at the time. It was equally during this period that I observed and overheard their actions and discussions over party strategy and matter. Alex Taku I can recall, was at some point the propangada person for the party. The devotion I witnessed, the allegiance, the sacrifice, and even the near destruction of marriages and families, resulting from their engagements, seriously made me ponder if there wasn't more to all that than met the eye.
     I had therefore been looking forward to reading such a memoir by 'one of them', especially when I learnt of the 'ruptures within the hitherto beloved Sdf'.  To be honest, although I was happy with the advent of multipartism, the 'introduction of democracy' (whatever this meant in the context as used by the Head of State), and the passing of the Liberty Laws; I was concerned at the preparedness of the country and its citizens for such major changes. Indeed, unless it was only lip service, were these new parties going to be allowed to even 'dream of change'? Were they going to be able to actually 'see any such change coming and seize the opportunity'? Were their own leaders going to be any different from the ones we currently had? Talking about democracy, was it meant for real or to attract more world bank funding to put it this vain? Liberty Laws, hmm we can leave this at that because history and time have told and shown, needless for me to bother writing more.
     I am therefore honoured and humbled to have read this memoir and to write a review, at least the author I am could hide behind that cloak in attempting this essay. It is frankly also my expression of total admiration and gratitude to Prof. Asonganyi, for writing this memoir and for accepting his own share of the blame in the saga of what is still known as the Sdf.

vi My  review of Prof's memoir will be divided into the following sections:

  1. Prof T. Asonganyi the elder I know and read of;
  2. The struggle as conceived and expounded by the author;
  3. The difficulties within, (enemies dans la maison as the frenchman will say) and the difficult choices;
  4. Lessons to be learnt or taught?  The Prof moves and lives on...

Prof T. Asonganyi the elder I know and read of:

My maternal grandmother of blessed and revered memory was called Helen Atabongasaba, fondly known as 'Andepe' (Independence). She was one of the few dynamic women of her times who braved it with the lots of PM Kemcha and several others I can't afford to list all, to not only advocate for the independence of the Southern Cameroons from Nigeria, but who also worked closely with the then Fon Fontem Defang to help, fight and push for the development and emancipation of what is today known as the Lebialem Division. It was grandma who told me stories about the village, about the great Fontem dynasty she came from, about the noble and dynamic sons and daughters of the village like DD Asonganyi and of course Prof. Asonganyi. I recall going with Grandma to the Asonganyi family compound opposite my college in Fontem, when their dad passed away. That was one of my first vivid memories of Prof.
   During that ceremony, although I could not quite grasp what was going on, I saw him remove his cap and put it on his brother's head. Grandma later told me he was giving his 'chair which their father left him to his brother'. I admired him greatly for that since then. But before then, I knew Prof's family in Yaounde where my family also resided. As fate will have it, the marriage prof narrates as was made in heaven, was between him and a bosom friend of my mum's. They had equally gone to the same college in my village, the seat of wisdom college one of the best in the country today. This means their household was no novelty to my siblings and I. Theirs had four children, and so did ours. We visited each other's home sometimes every other day or even twice a day, and we have stayed close to this day.
     The Prof, I knew then was one who was often always reading. Gosh, you could sometimes have to keep telling him who you were each time you met him. At least, he responded with a welcoming oh my yes you are BB's child (BB – Bibiana Taku is my mum). I used to wonder if his children ever got to talk with him or even went anywhere with him. Simply put, I wondered the type of family man he was. The same like my own dad? Or a better one? There were some 'elites' from my division at the time in Yaounde and when I met any of them, I will listen more than I spoke (although I can also be a chatter box), you know the kind of wisdom you could pick up from these elders! With regards to Prof, the first time I went to his office in CUSS, I could barely see him behind the stack of books, materials and equipments, I was simply in awe.
    As if his occupations were not enough, one day I read it in the press that he was the new SG of the Sdf. The Sdf was the strongest opposition party in the country at the time and only the names and titles of some of those affiliated to the party, made you understand it was no 'fool's business'. So to me, being the SG of such a party meant 'you and sleep were reviewing your relationship' period. Indeed, I personally saw my uncle Alex Taku doze off for a minute or two on a few occasions in broad daylight while doing other things. But truth be told, I never doubted Prof's ability to do the job, I instead feared for the price he maybe didn't know he'll have to pay. I thought of the disillusionment that may arise if things didn't work out as planned, and I thought of the outcome if things did work out and he became say the next Prime Minister of Cameroon – why not!
     I therefore followed his parcour as closely and often as I could, read all sorts of articles and heard all sorts of hearsays, watched different TV programs and always just concluded by praying for more grace for himself and the other members of both my close and extended family members involved in this  'bitter and dirty politics'. Sometimes, the person I read of, was very different from the person I knew. Sometimes, it seemed he lived more on the 'public arena' than he did at home. Other times, he appeared stubborn and even daring and I used this think to myself, 'ha this politics can do wonders – for the Prof and his Father the Fon of Fontem to be in such opposing camps with the Prof daring to talk back at the Fon', only tells at what point 'democracy' is truly coming to our country.

The struggle as conceived and expounded by the author:
Prof an insider as he then was, has done a great job to narrate the struggle for 'democracy' in Cameroon, which resulted to a large extent in the advent of multipartism in Cameroon. Democracy as it often said, is never given but seized. This to me means that no one man can claim to bring democracy to a country or party, it already exists although suppressed by the 'greedy powers that be'. That is why it usually takes an opposition like Corazon's in the Philippines, to get the people to realize the powers they have and can use to unleash the 'democratic floodgates'. Prof succinctly expounds on this, he actually narrates how it all 'bloomed out' in Cameroon leading to the forceful creation of the Sdf party in the 90s.
    Prof tells us of their discussion meetings in London, and the different Think Tanks created on their return to the motherland. The struggles at the time were numerous and some included, the call for the creation of a division for his Fontem sub division, the creation of a GCE Board and the organization of free and fair elections by an independent electoral body to put it simply. In a nutshell, the people were fed up, they wanted change, and 'pregnant with meaning slogans' like 'Power to the People' or 'Suffer Don Finish' (as the acronym Sdf came to mean to the man on the street), were bound to rally the masses behind whichever charismatic leader was at the front of the ranks.
     In the SDF Chairman's own words during an interview he accorded the post newspaper on the 15th of July 2005, it was a brave and excellent thing that the Founding Fathers in the person of Siga Asanga and Ni John Fru Ndi hadn't been chicken-hearted. Their bravura led to the creation of the Sdf, whose existence should rightly be credited for the numerous slow but steady 'democratic changes' which have occurred in Cameroon since then.
    It is for the reader of Prof's memoir, to make his own opinion on the course the Sdf has chosen and charted since its creation, as well as the weight if any which has been given to the 'slogans' it is identified with. What I retain in my review, is the fact that the struggles before and after the Sdf in which Prof so selflessly militated, have not gone away. Probably some struggles have changed nature, name and face, but there are still numerous struggles within and out of the party. Indeed, it may appear that the struggles within the party has played a bigger and bitter role in reducing it to the 'sham and shambles' it seems to be today.

The difficulties within, (enemies dans la maison as the frenchman will say) and the difficult choices:
It is now history that Prof replaced Siga Asanga as SG of the Sdf, and it is on record that Siga Asanga didn't leave the party after a farewell gala nor to take up a new appointment in the party elsewhere. In a preceding paragraph, the Chairman himself says he signed the declaration of creation of the party with Siga Asanga, and praises both of them for not being chicken-hearted. Where then did the rupture between the two (or rather with the party if you care to distinguish it from the chairman) start? It is even told in the memoir that Siga Asanga is a cousin to the chairman. Is that the kind of division this politics and party was bringing to add to the already difficult situation in the country? And so it came to pass, that Siga Asanga made I believe the difficult choice, to leave and live, instead of hanging on and maybe losing even his own life to any cause. Fortunately, he wrote and handed over to Prof several memos and letters which came to make much sense later on.
    There henceforth came other struggles within, and they could easily become summarised with names. Maybe it was easier that way so that the authors or actors could fill in the search for 'enemies dans la maison' (ennemies in the house), an inevitability in an undertaking of such dimension especially when the hierarchy starts dictating instead of democratically exercising 'power'. And so we read in the memoir about internal struggles such as the Muna Matters, Ngwasiri vs Asonganyi, the Kale Motion, the Asapngu Assault and the bigger one Asonganyi vs Fru Ndi. From keenly reading the memoir, it seems that any divergence of opinions, or attempt to correct or call for a stringent interpretation cum application of the party manifesto or constitution etc, led to problems – with the Chairman. In each of the above cases, difficult choices had to and were made.
   What guided those choices is best known to the protagonists because even if they later on write about them, they may not be telling us all there is to it, what they say may be misrepresented by the press, or the language, grammar and choice of words cum their spelling could mare our proper understanding of their 'genuine or not so genuine motives'. My interest in this review is not to 'judge or give unsolicited advice', neither do I have any 'sound opinions' to make in the face of such 'difficult struggles and choices' which have personally torn my family  (both direct and extended) apart. The legal advisers of the party prosecuted they way they did, I may be a junior counsel but I don't think I envy them or their approach. With regards to Prof, he gave a press conference which unfortunately cost him more mud slings than he probably anticipated, he still went ahead to give interviews, and now he braves it to write this memoir. I salute him and sincerely thank him for preparing me to know there are both visible and invisible pitfalls in the political arena, and you better even watch out for outright 'juju' involvement -rumours or not...

Lessons to be learnt or taught?  The Prof moves and lives on…
     What are the lessons to be learnt from reading Prof's memoir? What are the lessons to be taught to future generations? I want to believe that Prof first and foremost wrote this memoir as a 'mea culpa'. You get to a point in life where you have so much in you that you just can't create more memory space in your internal disc. You need to release some of all that to an external memory drive and once more the difficult choice is which outlet or medium you pick. I discovered my passion for writing, and I have four memoirs to my credit. I wrote them as mea culpas and self therapies, but I hoped they would help someone somewhere. I therefore love reading memoirs for precisely the same reason. I get to learn a lot about the author, about the situations or scenarios they narrate and expound, and I am keen to learn some lessons.
     In addition to learning lessons, you have indirectly been taught lessons which you could pass on to others even by mere recommendation of that same work. I am sure Prof didn't write all in here, just so we don't have an encyclopedia instead. But, I believe strongly he learnt some harsh and hopefully soft lessons. He even admits that in other terms, and at the book launch I attended in Douala, Cameroon, he candidly said same when asked all those questions as to what he could have done differently, and why not sooner than later? Anyway, what is ever important when one goes through difficult situations and makes difficult choices, is the message you retrieve from the mess. It's the testimony you give out of the tests. It's the appointments you make following the disappointments. A game with words? Not really, because that seems to be what Prof has and is doing.
    He tells us since that the Sgship he has literary metamorphosed into a better and bigger intellectual – yes let him leave politics alone for he knows 'too much book' and that obviously irked the Chairman who reminded them countless times that 'Politics nobi Book' (politics does not equate to education – my simple interpretation), although I sincerely think you need some sound 'book keeping' (modern day management) principles to chair such an organization.
    Prof has moved on since then and is faring much better holistically from the look of things. He has written over 200 articles since then, is a much sought after prof emeritus in both the national and international scene, and now has time to dedicate to his family and above all himself. The awards have been coming in, as well the recognitions and admissions of poor judgement by some of those who threw the stones back in 2005/06.
    The party he left still staggers on, although it seems to have a better 'unholy' alliance with the ruling party and its leader now than it did back in the 90s.
   When I recently came across Prof at the Douala airport, I thought he looked much younger than when I last saw him some five years ago. Yet, not wanting to make him blush especially in the presence of his wife and children, I just kept my remark to myself and promised myself that I will use my freedom brought about by the 'liberty laws', to say it here that sometimes when you think your life will be finished if you lose something, it's actually that loss that could get you to start living.
In Conclusion
In our Christian parlance, it is sometimes said that 'when God doens't want you somewhere, he gives you a sack letter'. God doesn't do nothing by himself, he does it through people, things and events. I read that Prof had decided not to run for any NEC position again before his 'sagacite' dismissal from the party. Sadly, one of ours was 'manipulated' to step in via some illegal and undue process, as interim SG, although that too didn't last long. Several others have since then written memoranda especially expressing their disillusionment with the way party affairs are being handled, and some have unfortunately been disciplined for that effort. Several others in the Lebialem division 'crossed the carpet' over to the CPDM in their numbers, and although this may be 'considered' an offshoot of the treatment given Prof their 'son', that's simply the un-permanent nature of life, and another indication that something needs to be done about the tumour growing in the anals of the party.
   Sir, you may not be on the scale of Mandela nor Ghandi, neither are those your names nor do I think that was your ambition. You are just you, and you have and are doing your best. Your generosity in writing and causing to be published this memoir, contributes to your legacy. I will not hesitate to recommend your memoir to others, not because I know you personally, but because the lessons to be learnt and taught from within, are even worth an inscription into the Cameroonian history curriculum if that were possible.

About Professor T. Asonganyi (1951 - 2016)
Professor Tazoacha Asonganyi, was one of Cameroon's Lead Biochemists. He was a  Professor at the faculty of Biochemistry and medical science for over 25 years at the university of Yaounde 1 in Cameroon, where he trained thousands of  medical students. He equally was a prolific political commentator and critic, churning out hundreds of articles in his less than seven decades of existence. His Memoir: CAMEROON; DIFFICULT CHOICES IN A FAILED DEMOCRACY published last year remains one of the only objective write ups depicting a true political story line in Cameroon. Prof was equally one of the most objective political minds in the Cameroon and served as the most vibrant Secretary General of the SDF between 1994-2005. For his strong stands against corruption and dictatorial tendency by both the SDF and Ruling CPDM Leadership, he fell out with both camps. Indeed, the Prof Emeritus has bowed out of the arena although his legacy will live on forever.
NB: Marie A. Abanga  is several things in one.She is Barrister and Solicitor; Author; Consultant; Prince 2 Certified Project Manager; Country Director Gbm Foundation for Epilepsy and Mental Wellbeing …

1 comment:

Marie A. Abanga said...

I am honoured that my review of Late Prof Asonganyi's memoir got published in the Recorder Newsline