By Colbert Gwain in Bamenda
In the build-up to this year’s May 20, National Day celebrations, the Yaounde City Council unveilled in pomp and pageantry, a giant and beautifully constructed monument in the heart of the nation’s capital.
Estimated to cost over 2billion FCFA, the edifice designed and supervised by a foriegn architect, was christianed ‘Le Patriote’. Unveilled a few days to the National Day event by Cameroon’s Housing and Urban Development Minister, Celestine Kuetcha Courtes, personal representative of the Head of State, who himself had jetted off in a chartered flight few days before to Europe for ‘a brief private stay’, the monument and the European trip, crystalized Cameroon authorities’ understanding of what it meant to be patriotic.
No doubt that the monument was constructed in the spirit of the country’s leader, whose subbordinates never miss an opportunity to attribute any project realization to, including even the donation of a trash can to a community.
And, just like in the sonnet ‘Oxymandias’, by Percy Bysshe Shelly, the English romantic poet’, where the ruined statue of an ancient king carries the bold inscriptions: ‘My name is Oxymandias, Look on my Works ye Mighty, and despair’, when in effect, there are no works left to examine in that empty desert; the boastful inscription on the Yaounde monument reads: ‘J’aime le Cameroun’, ‘I love Cameroon’.
Fittingly, Yaounde authorities’ patriotism and love for Country, as exemplified by the inscription on the ‘Le Patriote’ monument, is more of lip-service; as not far from the monument lie stinking heaps of garbage, cloaked water ways and delapidating public edifices abandoned over the years to themselves.
The inscriptions ‘I love Cameroon’, ‘J’aime le Cameroon’, stand in ironic contrast to the decrepit reality of what is patriotic about Cameroonian leadership. The pitiful state of Cameroon’s economy brought to its knees by the currrent leadership and its accomplices, undercuts the bold and boastful assertion of ‘J’aime le Cameroon’. And, some of those shouting on rooftops how they love Cameroon have sometimes tarred roads into their bank accounts in Europe. Such a savage contradiction renders the Yaounde Unity monument’s prideful inscriptions almost commically naive.
Just like in the aforementioned Oxymandias poem where the speaker evokes images of a cruel leader who wears a ‘frown’ along with the ‘snear of cold command’, clearly showing the king’s ‘passions’ such as ‘pride, tyranny, and disdain for others’, ‘Le Patriote’ monument may also be the current leadership’s lasting testament of its hubris, rather than the boastful patriotic intentions behind it.
In his internationally acclaimed work: ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’, which could fittingly as well be ‘The trouble with Cameroon/Africa’, Chinua Achebe accuses Nigerian leadership of projecting a ‘False image of itself’. The same could be said of Cameroon leadership that has made pilfering and plundering a steady menu on their tables and yet, cover up by composing patriotic melodies.
How can we talk patriotism in a country where public utilities are collapsing, where parastatals and state-owned companies are wastefully inefficient, where if you need electricity, you must buy your own generator, where if you want uninterrupted water supply, you must sink your own borehole, and where very soon, if you want to travel, you may have to set up your own airline, or have enough resources to hire one like our beloved father of the nation did recently. Was it not Chinua Achebe who suggested that very soon in Nigeria, and that holds true for Cameroon, one may have to build his/her own Post Office to send his/her own letters?
How can anyone in Yaounde talk patriotism when knowledgeable observers have estimated that as much as 70% of this country’s wealth is regular consumed by corruption?
And, what a beautiful way for Chinua Achebe to capture the trouble with Nigeria, and by extension, the trouble with Cameroon. According to him, there is no problem with Nigerians as a people, no problem with the climate, not even with the seasons as there is the dry and rainy season.
‘The trouble with Nigeria is simply a failure of leadership…the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example, which are the hallmarks of true leadership’, writes Chinua Achebe. I challenge anyone to state the contrary for Cameroon.
Contrary to Cameroon authorities’ understanding of patriotism, Chinua Achebe is very categorical in his definition of who a true patriot should be.
‘A true patriot should always demand the highest standards of his country and accept nothing but the best for and from his people. He would be outspoken in condemnation of their short-coming without giving way to superiority, despair or cynicism. That is my idea of a patriot’, state Chinua Achebe on page 16 of his book.
I dare state without any fear of contradiction, that all those who poured out on the streets in Bamenda and Buea on September 22, 2017, following Government’s failure to adequately addressing the demands of Anglophone teachers and lawyers, were and remain true patriots, demanding the highest standard for and from their country. I dare say the Mancho Bibixys who wanted a constant flow of potable water, good roads and better working conditions for Bamenda City Council workers, were the true patriots.
I dare say the Ntumfor Nico Halles, the Nick Ngwanyams, and the Agbor Ballas, who are ‘outspoken in condemnation of (Cameroon leadership’s) shortcomings without giving way to superiority, despair, and cynicism’, are the true patriots. I dare say the Dieudonne Essombas, the Fidoline Nkes, and the Equinox crew that constantly demand the highest standards for their leaders and country, are the true patriots.
What about those ordinary Cameroonians pushed abroad by a reckless deprivation of economic opportunities back home, and who toil day and night, sending home the much needed remittances to families and loved ones?
A leadership that would unwittingly alter the name of a state from ‘United’ to Republic and delete one of the ‘uniting’ symbols-the star-creating an image of assimilation, since pushed boys into the bush to be fighting and self-emolating themselves, cannot be said to be patriotic.
A leadership that cannot explain why 60 years after independence, it must hire a foriegn architect to realize a historic monument and why authorities must go abroad to receive treatment or take a recess when they could have constructed their own Camp Davids back home, cannot claim to be patriotic. Same holds for those who remain complacent, preferring to sing patriotic songs, albeit unpatriotically.
That’s why Chinua Achebe had to beautifully explain that unpatriotic leadership should not expect any patriotism from its citizens:
‘(Africans) are what they are only because their leaders are not what they should be’, he concludes.
*Colbert Gwain is digital rights activist, author, radio host, Commitment Maker at UN Generation Equality Coalition, and content creator @TheColbertFactor
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