Into Africa: Cameroon

EDITORIAL, 14 Apr 2009

#58 | Johan Galtung

This is about non-news from a country not high on the scale of countries, elites not world famous, no particular event to report, only something quite permanent:  a country that works, with smiling, gentle, generous, kind people, 18 million of them, in the midst of Africa; in peace with itself and others.

True, there is corruption, there are poor people but little misery.  250 linguistic groups, 24 major, mostly Bantu dialects, 40% Christians, 20% Muslims and 40% African religions; colonized in 1884 by the German army called in by American missionaries, met by revolts by Africans recruited into that army (there are monuments!); after the First World War it was mandated to France and England; independent in 1960 as federation with a francophone and an anglophone part, then a unitary republic, now decentralizing to its ten regions and subdivisions.  With little or no violence inside the country, and good relations to the six neighbors.  A conflict with Nigeria was adjudicated by the International Court of Justice, and the ruling implemented by the UN the way things should be.  In other words, nothing worth reporting by media pathologically addicted to violence, and Africa offers some delicacies to the not so gentle men of the (de)press.

With French and English as official languages an amazing number master both–often adding German–and then two or three African languages.  The closest in Europe might be Swiss, fluent in two of their four official languages, and English, and in two or three of their Bantu dialects, Schwyzerdütsch. Few countries can match this linguistic miracle.  Cameroon has also integrated English Common and French Roman law.  Diversity and symbiosis.

They are members of the Commonwealth, Communauté Française and Organization of the Islamic Conference. A communication hub.

The administrative structure is French, with local kings and chiefs sometimes integrated as civil servants; avoiding much strife by that Both-And.  Driving on Christmas of 1961 Oslo-Marrakech, ending in a souk, I was asked what I was doing there and quoted Proust a la recherche du temps perdu-searching for lost history.  In Cameroon little there is style and protocol lost in the West, and training in conflict handling in complex village societies.

This resource rich Afrique en miniature has three eco-systems from the Sahel desert at Lac Tchad in the North to the rain-forest toward Gabon; a 4,000m-high sacred mountain; and a mild, robust beauty, like their women.  Paix, Travail, Patrie is their motto, peace, work and fatherland, nothing aggressive in the latter.  Their experience is important: peace is possible, a reality to build on, deepen, broaden, and convey to others.

So they become leaders in francophone Africa in peace studies, like South Africa in anglophone Africa, based on their remarkable processes in the 1990s.  And the remarkable Cameroon pluralism finds another expression: there is probably no other place in the world where theological spirituality, philosophical conceptual analysis, social science empiricism and mediation practice go together so well as at the Université Protestante d’Afrique Centrale in Yaounde (the political capital (Douala being the economic capital).  In the West, these four think they have nothing to learn from the other three, a loss to them all.

They have preserved styles, rituals and traditions, their own and Western, absent in the “developed” world with its brutal matter-of-fact attitude to matters soft and hard, gentle and tough.  There is much to learn from this Africa that did not have the Rwanda misfortune of two only, a poor majority and a rich minority, reminding the world of the genocide 15 years ago.

In a recent primer, Seeds of New Hope: Pan-African Studies for the Twenty-First Century (Africa World Press, 2009) Raïs Boneza in his “Overview of the Great Lakes Conflict” points to rich African resources for handling conflict.  Like Yash Tandon in his chapter on “Root Causes of Peacelessness” he points to the external linkages as the roots of conflict and violence.

Africa has labored under the Western development model based on the Ricardo ideology of “comparative advantages”: if you have lots of cheap labor and abundant resources use the former to extract the latter, and use expert “development assistance” to promote export.  Much better for Africa would be the Japanese model from the best development economist of the 20th century, Kaname Akamatsu: improvement of human lives through health and education, good infrastructure, processing of resources to ever higher levels, investing the profit from value added in science and technology, escaping from the well devised Ricardo trap.

It is saddening to see timber stored for export instead of for the challenge of processing or leaving for carbon capture in the rain forest; but Cameroon is on the way with a high level of education, a dense network of rural clinics, and fine highways.

Cameroon could learn from China how to lift the bottom up through community level public-private cooperation, and from Latin America how a basic needs economy can complement Western capitalism.  And Africa’s 840 million could learn from Latin America to speed up integration: sub-regions serving the African Union, an African Bank complementing the WB-IMF; one day an afro like the euro, maybe as common rather than single currency; a TV Africa-Afrique like multi-angle AlJazeera and Latin-America’s telesur.  No to US bases and to the former colonial military presence, particularly the French.  And – a joint African command?

Africa would do the world a great service developing forms of consensus-building, power-sharing democracy rather than the primitive first-past-the-post, the winner takes all, majority electionism often imposed; so similar to the culture of war.

This African Renaissance will take some time.  Decoupling is accompanied by recoupling with Europe with ever increasing equity, equality, equal dignity, respect.  It is all in the cards of history.  There will be many Cameroons in Africa.

And Cameroon will become even more Cameroon, building on equity, diversity and symbiosis.  In other words, on peace.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 14 Apr 2009.

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