Earlier this year, I wrote on the development of the now year-long crisis which has plagued the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. I outlined the emergence of the struggle and build-up due to utter mishandling from the government and the frustration of a minority, all in hope of our collective learning as a nation. As the year comes to an end and the crisis still rages- with more violence than ever in some parts of these regions- I have wondered if we actually did learn anything.
For me the end of year period is meant for reflection; a time for assessing the year about to pass by and preparing for the one about to begin. I have thus considered the lessons 2017 has taught me personally, lessons like:
1- Before you start a protest have a plan. Advocacy is targeted, and meaningful. You can be an online activist, your voice is a powerful tool and your social media page is no doubt a useful platform BUT for you to be an advocate, you need to be targeting those in power able to change things or actively following procedure in changing them. Otherwise you’re not doing much.
Anger at this government is justified, however misdirected anger and lack of strategy is deadly. We’ve been under this regime for 35+ years… anyone trying to save us from it should have used this time to come up with a good plan. It doesn’t have to be foolproof, but it should be logical. As a friend of mine put it a while back: Before you demand my allegiance to a new order, convince me that what you offer me is better than the last.
2- Hold your heroes to higher standards, this is not a game. A popular adage goes:
I think this is the strongest lesson of the year. In our desire for change we, as Cameroonians have come to crown any loud voice as messiah. However this, the future of our nation and our collective well-being, is not a scenario where we can make do with “a one-eyed man in the land of the blind”. Perhaps because we’re not all that blind, most of us are just suffering from nearsightedness. So please check and double-check your heroes, does your hero/leader of choice make sexist remarks? Is he/or she knowledgeable of the laws/constitution they criticize? Is he or she transparent? Does he or she have lingering scandals? Is he or she a trusted source of verified information? Can he or she handle power without becoming power-drunk? We should have learned that he who cannot handle criticism now will be no better than Biya when it comes his turn to rule. He who would sacrifice others and ignore their real needs at this time, will not suddenly change with power. And not everyone who speaks up for us is meant to be our mouthpiece. Someone can appreciate the general problem, but due to their background and context, be out of touch with the other intersecting oppressions people in different classes, with different levels of education, and so forth experience.
3- Do your research, verify information. Fake news is real; spreading it is not a joke. We may all scoff at the government’s annoying message with veiled threats regarding the spread of fake news- particularly considering how much fake news they spread by lies of omission. Yet, it is an undeniable fact, that unverified information “forwarded as received” caused a lot of destruction of property and loss this year. Unverified information readily shared because it sounds sensational, appeals to our desired outcome or because we’re too damn lazy to cross check sources and possibility, caused a great deal of damage this year. Fake news damaged the credibility of a revolution and led to loss of property and life every time a rumor went around inciting young people to the streets where they were met with certain police brutality. Pray we have learned that not everything is worth sharing. In fact, let me make it clear in our most common language: *holds ear* make this thing sey forwarded as received end this 2017. If you don’t know the source and are not certain the info is true, keep it to yourself.
4- In the words of MJ ‘They don’t really care about us”. It is hoped that we’ve learned that no one is coming to save us. That no one owes us more than we owe ourselves. That no one can do for us what we have yet to do for ourselves. This is for those who marched before embassies of France, the United Kingdom, Canada etc. but failed to hold their own ambassadors accountable. This is for those who readily spread rumors about UNESCO canceling a school year only to see some (middle class) children progress to higher institutions with the release of results while theirs were at home. If nothing else, may 2017 have taught us that we must organize to save ourselves. The international community has never been an impartial judge. If we don’t care about ourselves, if we aren’t more active citizens, more conscious of those governing us, of the laws governing our societies… we cannot expect the neighbors to come and quench out our fire. The neighbors have their own interests. 2017 should have taught us for good that the international organizations we hold with such reverence are knights in shining armor and the people we call leaders would rather profit off our pain than address it. So it is up to us to organize and save ourselves better.
5- We need to be more intentional in nation building. Finally, this past year should have exposed to us all the level of ignorance that pervades our communities. Ignorance of our history, our politics our system and more. We have witnessed as the ignorance of both civilians and law enforcement can be manipulated to incite violence and destroy us all. Now more than ever we must take nation building and the development of critically conscious citizens as an important objective. We can no longer be careless about what is taught to our children and the sort of people who we send to be our law enforcement. We must be intentional about dispelling stereotypes, and informing ourselves of the loopholes in government policy. We must be better informed lest the next government continues where this one ended. This experience, the longevity of this crisis, proves that eventually this administration shall be toppled. But unless we become toward nation building immediately the future might not be as bright as we wish it to be.
In sum, this past year grew me as an individual. Stretched my capacity for patience, empathy and matured my needs and purpose. I hope that this year grew us as a nation too.
What did 2017 teach you? Drop a comment below and let me know!