Very few people know the second stanza of the Cameroon national anthem. Fewer still know that the English and French versions bear no resemblance, except in rhythm. That speaks volumes.
In English, the first line of the second stanza reads: “From Shari, from where the Mungo meanders.” In French, the equivalent is, « Tu es la tombe où dorment nos pères ».
What is the relationship between a river and a tomb?In the beginning, there was the independent la République du Cameroun and the UN Trust Territory of Southern Cameroons. When they came together in a putative union on October 1, 1961 (forming the Federal Republic of Cameroon), la République du Cameroun already had a national anthem. Eminent Southern Cameroonian Prof Bernard Fonlon, assigned to translate the anthem, came up with the English language version still in use today.
“…From where the Mungo meanders”! Prof Fonlon was definitely not a prophet, but he got this one right: while Francophone ancestors rest in peace in the “tombe où dorment nos pères”, the forefathers on the western shore cringe in their graves at the sound of the roaring River Mungo protesting against the raw deal Anglophones got on October 1, 1961.
“Oh! What a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive!” wrote poet Sir Walter Scott, in Marmion.
Once upon a time, the River Mungo flowed on a straight line, ensuring equality of two partners on both sides of its shores. Then the Francophone-dominated regime in Yaounde, driven by sadistic deceit, put obstacles on the path of equality. That is when the Mungo meandered.
Despite a constitutional provision that made the federal character of the “union” inviolate, the Francophone regime in Yaoundé went ahead to drown the federation in the Mungo. The river rumbled.
Once upon a time, Anglophone Cameroon had a thriving economy, vibrant educational sector and a rich cultural heritage. The territory had good transport infrastructure, including the Tiko International Airport,T iko wharf, Limbe deep seaport, Mamfe river port, Besongabang airport, Bali airport etc. etc. It was a proud self-governing territory. Today, all these are gone.
The Anglophone part of the “union” has suffered a scorched earth policy with all its ramifications. From the Ahidjo era to the Biya regime, Anglophones have endured the crushing weight of vicious Francophone power (…)
While Southern Cameroons liberation organisations have been lifting their voices against Anglophone subjugation, Francophones have generally remained superciliously indifferent. But this should not be the case. Francophone civil society leaders need to add their voices to the cry against the injustices perpetrated against Anglophones. As writer Thomas Paine observed, “[He] that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates his duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself”. For, oppression always begins with the most vulnerable group, then gathers momentum and, before long, people hitherto free find themselves in chains.
Even today, many Francophone Cameroonians suffer oppression. Ordinary Francophones are definitely much worse off than privileged Anglophones. The Southern Cameroons struggle is therefore the foundation on which freedom for the entire Cameroons could be built. While it is the Mungo that separates Anglophone and Francophone Cameroon, it is the same river that unites them.
During the civil rights movement in the United States, a liberation hymn emerged from Black churches. “We shall overcome”, which became the anthem of Black civil rights activists, is now the battle cry of oppressed White American groups. Even President Lyndon Johnson drew from the hymn to whip up patriotic sentiments in the U.S. Congress.
Freedom always wins in the end. That is why progressive Francophones must join the fight to correct the injustices inflicted on their brothers and sisters west of the Mungo. They must join Anglophones and sing with one voice:
We shall overcome, we shall overcome,
We shall overcome someday;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
We shall overcome someday.
When that day comes, it will be “freedom land” for both Anglophones and Francophones. And meandering River Mungo will finally heave a sigh of relief.
By Clovis Atatah
(This write-up is an excerpt of an op-ed published in the October 2007 issue of Post Newsmagazine)