An open letter to Cameroonians
I’m writing this letter, hoping my plea will not fall on deaf ears. The last few years have been characterized by a renewal of discussions, surrounding the differences between the various linguistic and ethnic groups that make up Cameroon, the necessity to recognize multiculturalism and bilingualism in the functioning of the State and even the form of the Cameroonian state. It all leads to a recurring theme: being and becoming a Cameroonian. A few words that should provoke critical thinking in all Cameroonians, young and old, male or female, English or French-speaking.
The aforementioned lead, amongst other measures, to the creation of the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism by Presidential decree no 2017/013 on the 23rd of January 2017. This commission was created with the intention of maintaining peace, consolidating the country’s unity and strengthening the willingness of Cameroonians to live together in harmony. This is an effort, on the part of the Cameroonian government, to help its people understand what it means to be a Cameroonian and perhaps lead them to discover what it means to become a Cameroonian.
What does it mean to be a Cameroonian? Being a Cameroonian falls under what some researchers term passive citizenship. Passive citizenship is essentially derived from Jus soli (right of soil), which is birthright citizenship, gained from being born within a country’s borders or on its territory. This gives the person a number of rights and duties. It may also be gained through Jus sanguinis (right of blood), a principle of nationality that bestows the parents’ nationality unto their children. So a passive Cameroonian citizen, is one who benefits from the protection of the State and other rights. He/she doesn’t bother himself/herself with the burden of working to improve the Cameroonian society. He/she basically assumes the position of a scapegoat, blown here and there by every wind.
Unfortunately, a lot of Cameroonians are passive citizens. People who are content with the state of things and do nothing to change the status quo. People who are not willing or might not even think of contributing to our country’s democracy and its development.
Recently, our country hosted the 2021 African Cup of Nations. It demonstrated a reality that has been proven true a number of times. Football unites Cameroonians, that goes without saying. I would forever remember the scenes I witnessed when Cameroon won the tournament in 2017. At the time, I was a secondary school student in Buea and what I saw was incredible. Cameroonians of all walks of life, both young and old, putting aside their various cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds, came out in their numbers and celebrated that victory as one. Not only in Buea, but across the entire country. I thought to myself, but why can’t it be this way, every single day? Does it mean that if football were to disappear, I would never see my countrymen live in unity? I was amazed at how during the 2021 edition of the competition, all Cameroonians, no matter their linguistic or ethnic differences, flocked behind the Indomitable Lions, both in stadia and online, to give them their full support, despite the still raging coronavirus pandemic and economic hardships. On social media, when foreigners attacked the national team or criticized the organization of the tournament, many Cameroonians retaliated and hurled insults at these people. I’m quite sure many were happy doing that, somewhat proving their patriotism to themselves and perhaps others.
But is that all it means to be a Cameroonian? It is enough to take to the streets of “Internet City” to defend our honor when attacked by foreigners, to be considered a good Cameroonian? After we log off from social media, what happens? Do our actions reflect the love we have for our country (or pretend to have on social media)? Do we strive to live with our countrymen in peace and harmony in our day-to-day activities? Do we respect the authorities that govern the State and help them in their mission? Are we, as citizens, politically active? If not, why? Do we engage in the political landscape of our nation and if so, is it done in a responsible manner? These are questions I ask myself as a Cameroonian and I believe every of one of us should ponder upon them as well. The last few years have witnessed a remarkable renewal of interest in matters surrounding citizenship. The crisis in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon, as well as other events, have led the government and the citizens of this country, to reflect upon what being Cameroonian truly entails.
What does it mean to become a Cameroonian? Asking this question, eventually leads us to the concept of active citizenship. Becoming a Cameroonian, can literally mean gaining Cameroonian citizenship through naturalization. But that certainly isn’t what we are talking about here. I believe becoming a Cameroonian means dropping the status quo, leaving the state of passive citizen to become an active citizen, one who longs for positive change and participates in bringing about that change. Active citizenship can change our country for the better. Active citizenship can be as small as organizing a campaign to clean up your street or your school. It can as big as educating the youth about democracy, the dangers of tribalism and corruption, their participation in political life or even petitioning for the improvement of working conditions and salaries. It can be abiding by the rule of law and dealing with our fellow Cameroonians in a spirit of inclusiveness. Active citizenship can be anything as long as the aim is to contribute to building a better society for ourselves and for the generations to come.
In recent years, there has been a growth in intolerance among Cameroonians. Online, it seems even worse, as the Internet has made it easier for whoever to say whatever crosses their mind and not face the consequences. On Facebook and other social media platforms in general, you can find some Cameroonians engaging in divisive rhetoric, revealing deep-rooted tribalistic sentiments. You can equally find some Cameroonians of the diaspora, who instead of engaging in profitable discussions on how to make things better, revel in making controversial statements, that worsen the situation at hand. Some people just cannot bring themselves to looking at other Cameroonians, who are not from the same tribe as them, as brothers. Some might believe that the fact that Cameroon has more than 240 tribes is a hindrance to national cohesion and that tribalism cannot disappear. We, as a nation, need to put a stop to this.
We must evolve from this state of things and look at our differences as a blessing. Different ethnicities should not set us apart, but allow us to learn from one another. We all have something to bring to the table and after all, there is beauty in diversity. It is one of the reasons our country is known as “Africa in miniature”. Each of us comes from a different background and has had life experiences that can complement themselves. Our differences, be they cultural or linguistic, should help us look at things with varying perspectives, so as to progress on our path to development. The only way to achieve our potential as a nation, resides in the reconciliation of our differences and shunning obstacles to national unity such as ethnicized politics, contempt for the rule of law and selfishness.
Each of us has a part to play. It doesn’t matter who you are, whether you speak English, French or even both, whether you are a civil servant or a businessperson, whether you are young or old. We all have to work together to build a strong Cameroonian identity, with each citizen sharing the common vision and having a sense of belonging, wherever they may find themselves on the national territory or even abroad. This is the only way to overcome our common enemies (underdevelopment, poverty, terrorist groups…).
My desire is to leave my country better than I found it. I want to help in making things better for myself, my unborn children and for all Cameroonians. I might not speak for every Cameroonian but I want to believe I am speaking for more than myself. Let us wake up and get to work. It is not too late. May God bless Cameroon.
A concerned citizen.