Canada-based translator, technical writer and journalist, Dr. Joachim Arrey, analyzes the letter written by Mr. Wilfred Tassang, one of the NERA 10 who are currently in the Yaounde Maximum Security Prison known as Kondengui to the leader of the Southern Cameroons struggle, Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe. In his analysis, he calls for unity of purpose and urged Mr. Tassang to see the negotiating table as the place where sustainable solutions to the Southern Cameroons conflict could be found.
Dear Deacon Tassang,
I have read your message to Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe with rapt attention and I do sincerely appreciate your decision to let Southern Cameroonians have an insight into your mindset and your vision of life. While you have cast your letter as an attempt at mending the cracks on the wall of the Southern Cameroonian leadership, it must also be pointed out that your litany of unnecessary complaints and reprehensions is instead counterproductive as it clearly puts on public display the bitterness and anger that have inhabited your mind for years. It will also go a long way in turning off many Southern Cameroonians and their friends around the world who sincerely hold that those in jail must forge a unity of purpose in order to conquer the enemy.
Instead of making this message an attack on your intellectual genius, I would rather like to use it to highlight the shortcomings in your thought process contained in your more than 8,500-word-long letter which, to all intents and purposes, does not help the Southern Cameroonian cause which, for some time now, has been struggling due to internal divisions and betrayals. I will, therefore, conduct a profound, but objective analysis of some of the paragraphs in your long letter. The selected paragraphs are in inverted commas.
“I come to you not as a judge, but that we may reason together, review together how far we have come. I do not come in bitterness like you are want to think, but in distress. He is a foolish man who does not take time off to recollect, to examine himself, and to be his own judge; but sometimes, we become too complacent to our persons that we paint ourselves in glowing colours even when everyone else sees us in darker shades. If those around us do not tell us the reality of our situation, it is most probably because they know what pleases us and that we would take offense if told the reality, or that they actually desire our fall. However, there are others like me who will say it as we see it because we believe that the truth in all circumstances brings advancement and that falsehood will cause nothing but retardation at all times. In clearer terms, falsehood can never lead to any measure of advancement, just as the truth will always push every good cause forward.”
In the opening paragraph of your letter to Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe, you cast yourself as a man with the monopoly of the truth and who must say it at all time. Unfortunately, many are those who will clearly disagree with your assertion. I know you are a teacher and given your age, I would think that you are aware of the adage that “silence is golden”, and this is all the more true in this context which clearly calls for a demonstration of unity of purpose. Your view is not necessarily the truth because it is you. Arrogating to yourself the status of a visionary and a lover of the truth only casts you in very negative light. A good team player is he who keeps differences out of the public square, especially if such differences could dampen the determination of the group’s followers. Also, from your litany of complaints, you seem to seek perfection which unfortunately is not of this world. Sisiku Ayuk Tabe will surely not be the first perfect human being on earth even if he implements all of your untested recommendations. I would like to advise that those who lay claim to the monopoly of the truth and wisdom are good materials for psychiatric and mental analysis. In many cases, they are the problem and not the other way round.
“…Perhaps not; I mean that I know about our cultures and traditions and do respect them, especially, the titles that get conferred on people. I don’t know what “Sisiku” means, but from the way you go about with this title, from the value you attach to it, (to the extent that it has replaced your name), it is clear to me that “Sisiku” is indeed a great title, and that those who answer it are to be reverred. Is the reverence found in the title or is it found in what those who go by the title do?
I also know that titles are inherited through one’s lineage, or that one may earn them through achievements such as acts of chivalry or benevolence towards one’s community. I trust that yours belongs to one of the above, and not to the third category of those who purchase theirs at the village market square. If it is so, then it is a worthy title indeed.”
Deacon Wilfred, I guess you know that in diplomacy, you must call people by the titles they want you to call them. Besides, as Africans, at a certain stage in our lives, we avoid calling our friends by their first names out of respect which must be reciprocal. I am not from the north west region, but I have many friends from this region who call each other by certain titles and this is done out of respect. Talking about traditional titles from Manyu Division with such levity is like throwing a grenade in your own camp while expecting the enemy to die. I have noticed in your letter that you add titles to almost all the names from the North West region, but you claim to be non-conformist when it comes to Sisiku. The following are just a few examples and I would like you to advise if this demonstrates your claim to non-conformism. “Shufai Barrister Blaise Berinyuy, Pa Nfor, Mister Nanchop, and Dr. Santos.” Do these people deserve their titles just because they are from the northwest? I do not want to get into the northwest – southwest divide because it will adversely impact the cause of the Southern Cameroonian, but would like to draw your attention to the fact that you have a moral obligation to sow unity by controlling the flow of your emotions and ink. You seem to have profound disrespect for Manyu traditional titles by playing down their importance and this spells disaster for our unity of purpose. While I seek unity, I would advice that I have the courage of my conviction and I do have the right stomach to fight this northwest-southwest fight.
Again, you lay claim to the monopoly of wisdom and the truth in the following paragraph. This is hurting the cause and you should know this if you are the wise man you claim to be.
“You see, dear brother, (how I wish we could return to those days when you and I called each “brother”) many people think that things are going wrong because I have not spoken to you, to let you know that the path you have taken is the wrong one. When I have told them that you believe that I am rather the one that has chosen the wrong path, they don’t believe me. I do not know why they think you would listen and harken to me though. That is why I have decided to write this love letter to you, trusting the heavens and the earth, even the walls of this prison to be our witnesses. More importantly, the Ambazonian people shall bear me witness this day. Therefore, this note is not about any new occurrences, but rather, it is a synthesis of things that have happened which you and I are witnesses to; which we had spoken about, and or taken part in executing. It is my pleasure to lovingly replay this tape to you, but I will try to do so in the reverse gear as it were.”
From the paragraph above, it seems you have been conducting surveys on Southern Cameroonian issues that directly affect the lives of our people. I think the ideal thing to do will be publishing the findings of your surveys instead of keeping them to yourself. The fact that a few people get in touch with you does not imply that they represent a huge segment of the Southern Cameroonian population.
“…I was really shocked that you could disown Dr Santos. I’d like to remind you that several times in the past, even after we had parted ways, I advised that you distance yourself from certain persons whom I judged to be ruining the struggle though they seemed to be working in your favour. On all these occasions, you turned down my advise and declared that people had the right to speak freely. Yes, freedom of speech even when that freedom was used against the revolution and in your favour, was to be allowed. To refresh your memory, I advised that you distance yourself from Kisob Bertin who was and is clearly against the struggle, but you refused. Remember that this Kisob approached us (you, Pa Nfor and myself) only a few days after we entered Prison Principale.”
From the paragraph above, it is obvious that you consider your advice as the “gospel truth” that must be applied to the letter. I guess you understand that when you advise someone, they still have the right to reject or accept your advice. A true leader should listen to those around him, but he must demonstrate a lot of maturity when making decisions. I personally do not understand why you think your views are the best and must become the Southern Cameroonian law. Even the Bible is questionable. I guess you remember that the Bible was used to enslave and colonize people around the world, though it teaches love and humanity. I see that you quote it extensively in your letter to send home your message but be advised that those who preach the Bible hardly live according to their own teachings. The Bible and those who have faith in it advise that there is a world (Heaven) that is better than the one in which we currently live and that death is the vehicle that will take those who qualify to that world. Strangely, when the same people are sick, they go looking for the most effective medication. The Coronavirus would have been an ideal vehicle to take many people to Heaven, but for eight months now, pastors, deacons, religious ministers and priests have been hiding in their homes, scared of going to Heaven; the place they tell us is without sorrows. This is just an example to let you know how hard it is to implement one’s advice.
Also, you seem to hold that every Southern Cameroonian believes in your philosophy of independence. I do not know if you have conducted another survey. I would like to point out that the common thread that holds us together as Southern Cameroonians is our total rejection of the marginalization that has blighted the lives of our people. This does not imply that we all are fighting for independence. As a wise man, you should have known this, and you should have known that we must make common cause if we must achieve something. It is therefore preposterous of you to brand some people as unfit to negotiate for Southern Cameroonians. This unreasonable message of yours is contained in the following paragraph taken from your letter:
“Birds of the same feather flock together my brother. I have heard you several times declare that there will be no negotiations without the likes of Justice Ayah Paul, Agbor Balla, and Mancho Bibixy sitting at the table to negotiate for Ambazonia, and you have not even of recent shifted from this position. When you make these declarations, do you expect us to read some hidden wisdom behind it, or is it that you are completely oblivious to the fact that all these people are unionists/federalists? Can you truly get Agbor Balla and Justice Ayah Paul to go and negotiate homeland restoration for Ambazonia? My brother, I am trying to help you search your mind. As for me, there shall be two parties at the negotiation table; LRC and Ambazonia. If the likes of Mancho, Balla and Ayah will sit there, it shall be on behalf of Yaoundé. Am I making sense at all? Are you even beginning to see why we fear you are compromised? If you are not, how can you even dream that Mancho who has declared that his “Coffin Revolution” was hijacked from it’s original purpose, and the above listed whose positions are equally known to be against homeland restoration, can be hired to negotiate for the same? So, brother, are you a federalist or a restorationist? While Ambazonia when restored shall belong to all equally, I think that it is ill advised to join forces with Federalists during the restoration quests. That was why I backed off a fundraising programme organised by Yanick Sikod in the US when I discovered that Tapang Ivo, a federalist (at the time) was his co-organiser.”
Deacon Tassang, the fact that we are flocking together today does not imply that we are birds of a feather. We have a common problem – marginalization – and this requires all Southern Cameroonians to make common cause so that it can be ended once and for all. That can also be achieved through the negotiating table if the opponent is understanding and willing to bring about peace. From your letter, it is obvious that only the slaughtering taking place in the cities and towns of Southern Cameroons can grant you the independence you want. There is just no single way that is the only effective way that will help us wade off the death and destruction that have become our people’s fate. What is happening in Southern Cameroons is not new. History is replete with such unfortunate situations. If you look into the mirror of history, you will find out that the African National Congress in South Africa also went through the same crisis Southern Cameroons is going through at this time. While Mandela felt that negotiations could result in the racial parity that all South Africans needed, some extremists thought it could only be achieved in the battlefield. Mandela and his group won the day and today, South Africa is a rainbow nation that is still forging ahead despite the challenges and issues that still undermining efforts at bringing a beautiful life to everybody. This is however not unique to South Africa. Other nations also have their own challenges.
“Like me, you spent part of your youth in the village; did you at anytime witness a common congregation of doves and vultures? What do you really think our people would think of you when your friends are those who have in their words and actions, turned against the struggle? Or did you not also learn that “actions speak louder than words?” Even if you did not, let me remind you that you have made reference to this truism several times when pontificating on leadership here in prison; or were you referring to other people’s actions only and not yours? In Communication, you said, words account for less than 20 per cent of information transmission, tone of voice for 30, gestures or actions for 50 per cent. Do you now see how hollow we sound when we proclaim “Restoration or Resistance forever” and yet do the things that delay restoration?”
Indeed, you seem to be enamored with your own expressions and views to the point where you think reconciliation and peaceful negotiations are impossible. I hear you were a teacher before ending up in the Yaounde Maximum Security Prison, but you do not seem to have sound knowledge of history that should be guiding you and informing some of your views. Sometimes, even hungry lions spare the lives of their preys. Some predatory species sometimes live in peace with theirs preys. I guess you still remember the story of Romulus and Remus who were twin brothers. They were abandoned by their parents as babies and put into a basket that was then placed into the River Tiber. The basket ran aground and the twins were discovered by a female wolf which eventually saved their lives.
In the following paragraph, your know-it-all mentality comes through like a moon in a bright sky.
“You know Sir, that I have always told you the truth; even the things that those who “love” you won’t tell you, I have not kept away from you. Fortunately, you have only not liked the animated way I make some of these criticisms, but have listened with sports each time. Remember how I presented to you an observation made by the partner at Foley Hoag when you visited the head office of the law firm in Washington? The counsel said: “Wilfred, your new leader speaks well, and seems to know what he is about, but….” He said he didn’t know how you would take it but thought he could raise the point more easily with me; that he thought your dressing didn’t exactly reflect the cause you stood for, defending the cause of a suffering people. Your “gold watch” did not reflect the suffering people you were supposed to be representing, he said. This, I remember telling you in SED, but did it register? You did agree that you wore a gold watch. We have not agreed on this (dressing code) ever since, yet the call for modesty in all things stands, not only for you and I, but for every leader in the struggle. Your position on this matter has been that a man is addressed as he is dressed. I agree with you here but differ on where the virtue lies. While the monk is not made by his cassock, it is also true that a man who is flamboyant in appearance proclaims what he will do if allowed to manage the community’s granary.”
I would like to highlight here that before the struggle, many Southern Cameroonians, including Sisiku Julius Tabe Ayuk, had their money. Their good jobs and skills opened huge doors for them. Dressing properly or expensively is a matter of choice. There are very many wealthy people whose sartorial taste leaves much to be desired. This does not imply that they do not cherish their wealth. I guess you are not calling on Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe and other wealthy Southern Cameroonians to dump their earthly possessions just because Southern Cameroons is going through a crisis. There is no rule in life that states that to lead a people, you must be modest in your dressing. In the Southern Cameroons’ case, dressing properly is part of good packaging, especially when it comes to meeting other personalities and dignitaries in the West. Your dressing is part of your ID. If you lose it, you lose who you are. Tell Southern Cameroonians that in his seven weeks as a leader, Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe embezzled their funds just to buy suits and a gold watch, we will all understand. I will be the first to go after him. But telling Southern Cameroonians that he was wearing a gold watch bought with his own money only portrays you like a man who is chasing a mirage. You seem to be pursuing perfection which is not of this world. Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo were leaders of the African National Congress. They never went about naked to prove their modesty. Mandela was a lawyer and he had to dress appropriately. I strongly hold that Southern Cameroonians have more serious issues to deal with. The ones you have raised in your letter are, indeed, a major distraction that should be avoided. The USD 1.2 million that is missing in Washington was embezzled by those who took over from Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe and there are documents to prove that. Stop distracting the hard-working people of Southern Cameroons.
Deacon Tassang, I would like to end here. My objective is to highlight some of the weaknesses in your thinking. You know more than I do that Southern Cameroonians are focused and they have their eyes on the big prize. They know they will have it at the negotiating table and not in the battlefield. Instead of seeking to demonstrate your monopoly of wisdom, I would suggest you work very closely with other people who think that negotiating could deliver better results than the slaughtering that are taking place in the towns and cities of Southern Cameroons. I wish you the best and more courage as you deal with the frustrations of incarceration.
Dr Joachim Arrey
The author of this letter has served as a translator, technical writer, journalist and editor for several international organizations and corporations across the globe. He studied communication at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom and technical writing in George Brown College in Toronto, Canada. He is also a trained translator and holds a Ph.D.