Chief Michael Tabong Kima: The Silent Diplomat Goes Home
The country lost a true patriot and statesman in the person of Chief Michael Tabong Kima, foremost traditional ruler, quintessential diplomat and humanist. The passing of Ambassador Kima, as he was fondly called, is a great national loss; but it is also an occasion for the country to celebrate a truly great life and a man of virtue. A fine technocrat and astute administrator, he was by any measure, a hallmark of integrity in service and post-service life. His immediate constituency – Bakebe village; his family and the nation at large can only take consolation in his sterling qualities and the fact that he lived a most fulfilled life, in both public and private circles. He was a meticulous public servant who stood to be counted when it mattered. His private life was devoted to philanthropy and mentoring the young. His family, friends and the entire nation should be proud of his acclaimed virtues. Such are the memories of outstanding men in history.
A light-hearted man of fulsome humor, who taunted himself even as he did everyone who came around him, Chief Kima was a man of many worlds; a universe of politics, diplomacy, hearty socialization and community service, all neatly woven by a life of quiet philanthropy. What is striking is that his diplomatic career was the by-product of circumstances and a historical accident. In a 2005 interview, he recalled how it all began and paid special tribute to his mentor and former boss, Nzo Ekangaki:
“Nzo Ekangaki was a boss and a friend. Thanks to him, I left Buea for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was a very important person in my life. I was Executive Officer in the Secretariat in Buea in 1962, when he (Nzo) was appointed Deputy Foreign Minister. He came to my little office and did something, which I think others have never done. He spoke in Bayangi; “I have to see you. I (Nzo) have been appointed Deputy Foreign Minister and I have a post – Chief of Cabinet, so I want you (Kima) to come and help me to run this cabinet. I gave him some reasons why I might not be able to fill that office…but as we were talking, he already had my file. Before I could even convince my wife, a decree was published on May 5, 1962, appointing me Chief of Cabinet. And from there, I set sail for further studies on diplomacy and international relations. Subsequently, I was integrated into the career of diplomats. That is why I owe him a lot of gratitude”.
Before his first international posting to the Cameroon embassy in Moscow, as 1st Secretary, in 1968, he obtained Diplomas in Public Administration and International Relations from the Institute of Social Studies, the Academy of International Law at The Hague, Holland and the Cité Université de Grenoble in France. After three years in Moscow, he was recalled home and later appointed Deputy Director of Protocol and Treaties in 1973. In 1976 he was posted to the Cameroon Embassy in Washington DC, where he was 2nd then 1stCounselor and later Chargés d’Affaires. In 1982 he was named Minister Plenipotentiary and Ambassador Extraordinary to Liberia; with accreditation as Head of Mission in Sierra Leone and Guinea.
He returned to Cameroon on February 4, 1984, following his appointment to replace Philemon Yang Yunji as Minister of Mines and Energy; a position he held until May 16, 1988. Amongst his numerous accomplishments, he oversaw the rural electrification of Cameroon. This was his defining legacy to his native Manyu Division and the country at large. As a pioneer member of the central committee and politburo of the ruling CPDM party, Pa Kima was an indomitable political force. It is to this adroitness that as a one-man political powerhouse, he took on the Manyu political establishment and opened up the political space to a younger generation of politicians.
Despite the controversy surrounding his politics, Chief Kima was a kind and humane person; a man of power and means, whose heart was at one with the people. Following his father’s death in 1986, he became 2ndclass Chief of Bakebe village. In his life-time, his generosity transcended socio-cultural barriers and he was everywhere a peace-maker. Once, at a Manyu parley, then Gov. Oben Ashu tongue-lashed former Gov. Enow Tanjong, for militating in the SDF. The situation degenerated into a shouting match when Pa Tanjong retorted that when he was governor, Oben Ashu was a clerk. It took the energetic efforts of Chief Kima, invoking an Ekpe injunction to prevent an escalation into a fist fight.
After leaving the cabinet, he got another ambassadorial posting to Italy in 1989, where he distinguished himself; becoming the longest serving envoy and Dean of the Diplomatic corps. After 19 years in Italy, by which time his qualification for retirement was no longer a secret, and his continuous stay in office was marked by diminishing returns, the old-horse was given a deserved retirement in 2008. He died May 9, 2016 aged 88.
Born July 5, 1928 in Bakebe, Upper Bayang, Manyu Division, Southwest region, he attended Sasse College and did post-secondary education at Gov’t Clerical Training School Oshogbo, Nigeria where he studied Public Administration. He returned to Cameroon and worked with the Victoria Council. In 1954, he married Frieda Moloke, the love of his life and soulmate for over 60 years, who passed on in 2011. A man of honor; even in death, Chief Kima is survived by four children, nine grandchildren, 12 brothers and sisters, a large extended family and the people of Bakebe and Nkockonock clan.
Chief Kima was an unapologetic traditionalist who lived life to the fullest; his philosophy anchored on his belief that a man is who he is; not what he has! A transdisciplinary intellectual, who gave his diplomatic portfolio a wide social context through his creative output and socio-political engagements, Chief Kima by natural inclination, had time for everybody who came his way, status notwithstanding. That was a mark of his modesty and simplicity. A silent gentleman of quiet decency, sardonic wit and great mentoring skills, he was of that rare breed of Cameroonians, for whom integrity was all. Hence his entire life was a case study in selfless patriotism.
His legacy of personal integrity and patriotism represents a high value system difficult to reestablish in a country embroiled in governance anomie and blatant moral bankruptcy. His life is a lesson for contemporary public servants and a classic example that a person of means, privilege and power can live a fulfilled and happy life serving other people to the best of his ability and satisfaction of his true conscience. Cameroon has lost a quintessential public servant and distinguished personality. Indeed, the nation has lost one of her best. To have known Chief Kima was to value him. Good Nite Your Excellency, you will be sorely missed.
Harvard Kennedy School of Government
United States of America