The 17th of January will forever hold meaning for me. For one, it’s the birthday of a close friend and founding member of Better Breed Cameroon- the youth development organization I coordinate. Sama Randy, passed away three years ago this month and has since been remembered by the Youth Essay Contest we have since renamed in his honor (please click here to learn more about the Sama Randy Youth Write Contest).
Last year, another memorable event took place on the 17th of January. On the evening of this day last year, our government decided to take stifling of opposing voices to another level.
It was a Tuesday, around 6pm. We heard rumors- turned fact- of the arrest of leaders of the Consortium who were at the time heading protests against the government over Anglophone marginalization. These arrests were followed by an internet shut-down in the two Anglophone regions where protests were situated. Looking back, I can say that day marked the greatest mistake our government has made in years. With the decision made on that day, our government not only validated our protests but equally gave the opportunity to fanatics to spread and grow leading to the impasse we now experience.
See, that day marked a turning point for people of my generation. We of the “android generation” (as they call our 90’ Babies forward) have known our government to be corrupt, our officials to be power-drunk thieves, selfish brownnosers to their core. Yet, we had until this past year only known of our governments’ brutality only through the lens of history, through exaggerated quartier tales we grew up hearing; like “did you know the first lady’s former lover was killed when our president took interest in her or did you know our former first lady died mysteriously?” All rumors we could not confirm but which ensured we looked at our officials with the right tinge of fear. Similar to the way our parents and those generally older and more aware bowed lower in the face of gendarmes and generally feared to talk about politics in certain places.
Yes, up until last year we knew our government was bad, but we hadn’t known the fear of those who had witnessed it firsthand. As a Nigerian proverb goes; a child who crosses the river carried on the mother’s back would say the water was not deep.
We had read of Ahidjo’s governments’ complicity with the French in crushing the Maquisards and assassinating Cameroon’s early patriots. We had listened as our parents discussed the infamous disappearance of the Bepanda 9 incident following the opposition to our current president’s changing of the constitution. But still, we had been sheltered and had yet to witness our government shutdown a part of the country, arbitrarily arrest hundreds on flimsy excuses and cart them off to Yaoundé as though they were Jews to Hitler’s concentration camps. We had not lived the fear of militarized towns, nor imagined government officials could lie so blatantly about the regions we inhabited. We had not experienced government imposed curfews and ‘states of emergency’ nor had we known that the police we scorned as thieves could also be heartlessly brutal batterers.
January 17th 2017 set off a chain of events which brought an end to our relative naivety and unleashed possibilities- possibilities of the worst kind- into our minds. After experiencing months of internet shutdown, closure of free press, brutal repression of protesters (peaceful or otherwise), refusal to dialogue, arrests of those who so much as expressed opinions of the issue online or in public… and even when the internet access was restored, even when some of those arbitrarily arrested were released, even then we saw that our administrators lacked basic managerial skills as they continuously chose force over dialogue, and denial over addressing of the problem.
A year later, as I ponder on how things have developed, Langston Hughes’ most popular poem comes to mind. In Harlem, Hughes’ ponders on what happens to a dream deferred.
Today I consider the state of my country, the effects of ignoring and then suppressing justifiable protests. I ponder on the consequences of whitewashing our history, denying the existence of two Cameroon’s and of having a government which- like the ill-famed ostrich- have buried their heads in the sand insisting there is no problem… and as I do this, I think of the above poem and I feel I can answer Hughes.
A dream deferred shall fester and run. Like the dream of Ndeh Ntumazah’s One Kamerunn party now crusting over as ‘Ambazonia’.
A dream deferred stinks rotten like the death of Bate Besong still an open sore in our history as with every other revolutionary who spoke up and was cut down.
And by all indications, if the Anglophone dream continues to be deferred…it shall explode.
Perhaps we should stop postponing and address the dreams this country was built on before they become nightmares.