By Jing Thomas
Cameroonian Francophone leadership seems more interested in pleasing France when it comes to designing the country’s educational programs than actually tailoring them to respond adequately to national development challenges.
Yaounde. It is the morning hours and government offices have just opened. A rap at one of the office doors and a man walks in. He has just returned from a university abroad with a hard earned degree in zoology and is about to apply for a job at the Department of Forestry, a seemingly normal thing for a country with vast expanse of virgin equatorial forest and numerous national parks.
A secretary, still yawning for lack of sleep from the previous night's bacchanalia, reluctantly takes the documents the man hands him and initiates a conversation with the stranger as he thumbs through perfunctorily. Then he pauses for a while and turns to the man in French: "Tuas ton doctorat en quoi encore?" he inquires having forgotten what he was told less than a minute ago.
"Zoology," the man responds, maintaining his calm and amused at the rate at which some people forget things.
"Ah les animaux sauvages!" the secretary exclaims and the man nods in approbation to avoid any lengthy irrelevant conversation.
What happens next is a scene worthy of a Hollywood comic strip.
"Les Anglos vont nous tuer dans ce pays!" the secretary begins to exclaim amid outbursts of laughter and tremendous excitement and instantly a door swings open and a colleague comes flying in, begging to be let in on the latest Anglo joke.
As soon as he appears, the secretary, hardly containing his delirium shouts:
"Tiens! Tiens!," he urges, holding out the document to him, " il y a un Anglo ici avec un doctorat en chasse des Etats-Unis."
The information had the impact of an earthquake and very soon a motley crowd had assembled in the office, each member ferreting through his or her repertoire of Anglo gaucheries, to elaborate on the subject at hand.
It might have been only coincidental that the victim in this case was a Southern Cameroonian, for it could have been any local intellectual. Disparaging remarks of this nature on intellectuals are not uncommon, especially given the circumstance in which Ahidjo became president.
By the time he took the reins of power, he was a man of marginal education with the modest position of a post-office clerk in a country that at the turn of the 20th century already had some local graduates from European academic institutions.
Usually in Africa, where leadership is short on the intellect, instead of attracting bright minds to complement as advisers, it is paradoxically long on thugery and savagery. Idi Amin, Macias Nguema, Bokassa and Samuel Doe, just to name a few. A puppet of the metropolis, Ahidjo knew he could dispense with local intellectuals and rely on French expertise. He viewed the country's intellectuals with a lot of suspicion because he interpreted everything only in terms of his power.
With this mindset, he kept them, especially those who had studied abroad and who might have imbibed some "strange" ideas, at a respectable distance. Those he allowed to venture close enough, the likes of Fonlon, were people who showed no lust for power and its trappings. Fonlon shunned the luxury of ministerial life in Yaounde, preferring to drive himself in an old Volkswagen beetle to being driven in a Mercedes Benz.
A measure of the administration's lack of interest in intellectual pursuit became obvious at the lone (at the time) national university in Yaounde where overcrowded lecture rooms were abandoned to rot in a filthy and unkempt environment while, Mbella Mbappe, the chancellor, spent his time pocketing any cash that came his way for the upkeep of the university.
So glaring was the neglect that a group of Cameroonian students in Paris once confronted the Minister of Education at the time, Mongo Soo, during one of his trips to the French capital, to express their disappointment that little was being done to encourage education. In one of the outrageous outbursts that had long since become his hallmark, he declared that " les blancs ont tout découvert que voulez qu'on fasse!"
Putting aside the minister's penchant for buffoonery, he was merely giving voice to the spirit that prevailed in Yaounde. A glance at Ahidjo's cabinet and entourage, for the most part former Lycée Leclerc classmates and real political filibusters from his native North, was enough to come to the easy conclusion that "les longs crayons" were not welcomed.
Ahidjo, therefore, did not give any second thought when he requested that the head of Ossende Afana be brought to him on a platter. At the time at the head of the UPC, this illustrious Cameroonian son from Soa had the intellectual distinction of being the first person from Francophone black Africa to obtain a PHD in economics. The president did obtain his gory present when a platoon that was part of the military expedition hastily dispatched to Djoum to check the advance of UPC rebels led by Woungly Massaga caught up with the economist and had him beheaded after his capture. Rumors have it that the head was handed to him in the presence of Germaine, the first lady, who instantly passed out at the sight. By the admission of Fonlon, harmless as he was, there was an attempt on his life.
Yet in spite of all these and many other things we cannot possibly discuss in such a short paper, Hogbe Nlend, a brilliant mathematician who had to flee the country for fear of his life, once declared that Ahidjo did more to encourage education than Biya.
Biya's administration seems more interested in starting controversies than embarking on the kind of concrete educational reforms that will enable the country to hold its own in the years ahead. First it attempted to replace the GCE examinations with the baccalaureat, an incident that almost triggered an uprising in Southern Cameroons. Then came Ngango with talks of introducing Greek and Latin in schools at a time when the emphasis should be on vocational and technical education. As for Jacques Roger Mbobo, he is on record for declaring that it is a sign of intelligence for children to cheat at the baccalaureat. After all, is it not common knowledge that colonels and other government officials swarm baccalaureat marking centers to pressure examiners not to fail their children and relatives.
Cameroonian Francophone leadership seems more interested in pleasing France when it comes to designing the country’s educational programs than actually tailoring them to respond adequately to national development challenges. The simple truth behind all these gimmicks is that it wants to be seen to be protecting French interests so as to continue to benefit from that country’s assistance and backing to remain permanently in power. When Owona advocates the teaching of French in Southern Cameroonian primary schools, this appeal is not meant for local consumption. He knows that students from this region have always shown an interest in learning French.
Under the two regimes in Cameroon, education has always been designed to produce what the architect of apartheid, former South African PM Verwoerd, styled "hewers of wood and drawers of water." National development is not and has never been the purpose of any education strategy. If burning down schools can help the man at the helm to die in power, then so be it. How many times have soldiers been sent to the university to loot and rape and to order students at gunpoint to announce to the world that it pays to be a corporal in the army than to graduate as a physicist? After all, in Biya's Cameroon does a sergeant not earn about three times more than a doctor? From a country with an army, Cameroon has become an army with a country, all thanks to Biya’s determination to remain president for life.
To conclude, we must clearly state that as long as the political process in Cameroon is flawed and the country is saddled with the wrong leadership, national development will never be the objective of those in power. The aim of the man at the top is to stay for as long as possible and to grab as much as possible for his region, the old story of using others for selfish ends. We, the people of Southern Cameroons, are pregnant with promises and the time of delivery is long past.
We are gone. Allez dire!