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Rev Fr Jaap Nielen: Rest in Perfect Peace! By Lambert Mbom

I spent the school year 1996/1997 gaining pastoral experience at St Gabriel’s parish Bafmeng. During that year, late Archbishop Verdzekov came on pastoral visit. One of the surprising guests who showed up to welcome the archbishop was the Ardo (the community leader of the Fulanis). After exchanging usual pleasantries, the Ardo stated the real intention of his visit: He had come on behalf of his community to plead with the archbishop to bring back Fr Nielen whom he had transferred to St Anthony’s parish, Njinikom in 1995 so he could be closer to the hospital. The Ardo left really disappointed because the Archbishop painstakingly explained that Fr Nielen would not be returning to Bafmeng where he had served for 13 years.

Fr Nielen had left an indelible mark on the lives of the entire Bafmeng community without prejudice to religion. Bafmeng is a typical African traditional society with a weekly market day that rotates on a calendar determined by traditional norms. This weekly event saw the parish transformed into a beehive as people from across the hills and valleys thronged in to receive medication, clothing and/or cash. His unparalleled largesse enthralled the community.  Fr Nielen was an extremely generous and charitable man. While the world spoke of a Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the people of the archdiocese of Bamenda had a Fr Nielen.

In seeking to discern the secret to Fr Nielen’s charity, I found the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta quite apt and resonant with the spirit he engendered. Cardinal Sarah Prefect for the Congregation on Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments describes this in his seminal work, The Power of Silence. Mother Teresa shared her secret thus:

“Do you think that I could practice charity if I did not ask Jesus every day to fill my heart with his love? Do you think that I could go through the streets looking for the poor if Jesus did not communicate the fire of his charity to my heart? Without God, we are too poor to be able to help the poor!”

Fr Nielen was not a social worker but a missionary and never lost side of He who sent him. He brought the poor to God and brought God to the power. True charity is an expression of genuine prayer. Fr Nielen’s first act of charity lies in his acceptance of God’s call to bring the Gospel to Cameroon. Being a missionary is undoubtedly a great act of charity. Most Mill Hill Missionaries went above and beyond to also cater for the material needs of their missions. Fr Nielen took this to a whole different level.

Pope Francis’ portrait of the priest beautifully expressed in his 2013 homily for Chrism mass revealed something true of this missionary disciple.

The priest who seldom goes out of himself, who anoints little – I won’t say “not at all” because, thank God, the people take the oil from us anyway – misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, “has already received his reward”, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason for the dissatisfaction of some, who end up sad – sad priests – in some sense becoming collectors of antiques or novelties, instead of being shepherds living with “the odour of the sheep”. This I ask you: be shepherds, with the “odour of the sheep”, make it real, as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men.

Fr Nielen bore the marks of a true  shepherd even for professional shepherds “ganakos” such as the fulanis in Bafmeng who took offence at the fact that he had to be transferred to a different parish.

Fr Jaap Nielen was born on January 28th 1928, the feast of St Thomas Aquinas. He became a Mill Hill Missionary on July 13th 1952 and bagged a doctorate degree in Philosophy in 1955. He took appointment in Cameroon in 1960 and left in 2003. He transitioned to meet the Lord on February 23 and was laid to rest on February 28, 2018.

In September 1995, Fr Nielen had the unenvious task to preach the annual retreat to seminarians of the St Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary, Bambui, Cameroon. One could hardly tell that this soft spoken priest had a doctorate in Philosophy. His demeanor did not betray his intellectual prowess. He did not speak of the Metaphysics of Being or the epistemological provenance of the Truth or any of the esoteric accoutrements of the philosophical disciplines. In fact if one could hazard a guess, one would have thought he had bagged a terminal degree in Spirituality. Nego! This philosopher drew from the rich treasury of 40 years of the priesthood as a missionary to Africa. He spoke from the heart and reeked of the odor of his sheep: “The Anawims of Yahweh – the poorest of the poor.” He exhorted us to make our ministry that of and for the poor. Dr Nielen’s doctorate in philosophy rather became a doctorate of poverty.

The endearing lesson of this retreat animated the students that years after one of the retreatants James Nkuo signs off all his emails with the inspirational words of Fr Nielen: “It is not what you do that is important but the love with which you do it.”

There could not have been a better choice to inspire seminarians aspiring to the priesthood especially given that he had served as Vocations Director of the archdiocese of Bamenda and what is more had three of his spiritual sons studying in the seminary at the time.

Fr Nielen was a great storyteller. This art had been perfected I guess through his interaction with the poor. Christ used parables to teach and thus one could see he was in touch with his environment and his community.  Following his master’s experience, Fr Nielen so much a man of his community that he preached the Good News with uncanny simplicity and yet

One of the tragedies that shot him to “prominence” is the Lake Nyos gas disaster of 1986. Fr Nielen was one of the first responders to the victims of nature’s redness in tooth and claw. I just read the letter he is said to have written to Archbishop Paul Verdzekov shortly after he returned from visiting the disaster area. He wrote inter alia:

“On Friday rumors reached us that the lake had killed some Fulani man and his cows. Then again that the quarter head of Cha was lying dead in his compound with his two women. On Saturday morning, I was so worried that I went there with my two catechists…”

I spent a month in Buabua, one of the resettlement camps of the victims of the Nyos disaster. The journey to that part of that parish took weeks to prepare. The journey to Ise, the closest motorable outstation of the parish to the disaster area is at the least two hours 30 minutes. The Nyos disaster occurred in August, in the heart of the rainy season when the roads are near impassable. It is striking to note that when Fr Nielen heard of the news he did not send others to go and explore the area and come back to report to him. He definitely had mass in the parish the next day given it was a Sunday. That would have been a valid excuse. Yet, he was so worried that he set off on that treacherous journey to be with the people during that moment of infinite pathos and vulnerability.  Life had been snuffed out of approximately 1700 persons and “Jaap” moved through those villages without fear assessing the needs and burying the dead.

The pain of this veritable pastor was palpable as he recounted: “No Christian of Nyos came to greet me and cry with me. The Church of Nyos had died, with Mattias, the head Christian and Nazarius, the catechist and Mary, the choir mistress.”

What an exceptional feat of courage. The courage of a pastor whose sole task is the wellbeing of the people he has been called to serve and minister to. It is this same courage that inspired him to become a missionary leaving the comfort of Holland to the hinterlands of Bafmeng. No doubt he had as one of his mantras, “life no be na joke!” – Life is not a joke!

By sheer dint of luck, Fr Nielen died a few days after American Evangelist Billy Graham. He had just celebrated his 90th birthday anniversary and 65th anniversary of the priesthood. This year is also the 90th anniversary of the Oscars. And so the Oscar for missionary activity goes to Fr Nielen who was laid to rest on Wednesday February 28, 2018.

Two of his spiritual persons Fr Emmanuel Nuh and Fr Anthony Bangsi spent some time with Fr Nielen prior to his demise and left us with an endearing souvenir of Fr Nielen. The magic of his melodious voice rings out in this audio

 

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MLK Challenge: Ambazonians – “Remain Awake, Alert and Creative” By Lambert Mbom

Last Monday, Americans honored the legacy of civil rights icon, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This year’s celebration took on an added meaning against the backdrop of President Trump’s recent racially tinged comments. While in the land of my birth, for over a year now, the people of Southern Cameroons/Ambazonia activated and ratcheted the revolution for the restoration of the “won and lost” independence.

While Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech remains very popular especially among Africans, today in the face of the daunting challenges and setbacks that have beset the Ambazonian revolution, one of Dr. King’s priceless themes worth revisiting is “Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution.” The version I laid hands on is Dr. King’s address at Morehouse College Commencement, 2 June 1959. It is worth remarking here that MLK delivered variations of this theme throughout the 1960s.

As I watched the march past, I could relate to the many issues that defined the long march: “Black Lives Matter,” “Jobs not Jails,” “Statehood for DC” to name but these. Conspicuously absent today were the many Africans from the infamous “s…h…” countries that would have seized the moment to register their discontent. One could not help but ask for example where all the many champions for Ambazonia/Southern Cameroons were?

Reflecting on the current state of the Ambazonia revolution, the words of Dr King to the 1959 graduating class of Morehouse College remain relevant: “The great challenge facing every member of this graduating class is to remain awake, alert and creative through this great revolution.” This is and should be the abiding message to every Ambazonian. This is the MLK challenge to every Ambazonian.

The grave danger at this time is to be complacent or disappointed especially with some of our leaders in jails in the colonialist’s dungeon and their accomplices in neighboring Nigeria abducting Sisiku AyukTabe of the Interim government and some members of his cabinet, increasing number of refugees streaming in from Southern Cameroons/Ambazonia and the bloodbath cum impending genocide as a result of the provocation of the occupying forces of La Republique. We have come too far and must hold the fort. Let us remain awake, alert and creative.

Each of us must avoid becoming the Ambazonian “Rip Van Winkle.” The coward is said to have gone up to the mountain for a long sleep during the American Revolution. In Dr. King’s words: “When he went up, the wall had a picture of King George III of England. When he came down it had the picture of another George, George Washington…When he started his quiet sleep America was still under the domination of the British Empire. When he came down she was a free and independent nation. There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.” Ambazonians wake up, be alert and creative.

Dr. King defined this in another of his famous quotes: “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

The harsh conditions of the elements of nature with the frigid cold did not deter some of us from joining the Peace Parade along the hallowed streets of South East D.C dedicated to the iconic Martin Luther King Jr. In the context of the Ambazonian struggle and against the backdrop of President’s Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign which seems to be a euphemism for “America Alone,” it seems foolhardy to engage in politically charged activism like the Ambazonia Revolution. Yet, Rev Dr King’s rousing speech makes the strong case for why Americans need to be engaged in struggles like Ambazonia’s. Even though referring to the abject poverty he witnessed in India, one could paraphrase King’s words to refer to Ambazonia thus:

“Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned? The answer is an emphatic No because the destiny of America is tied up with the destiny of Ambazonia (Southern Cameroons). As long as Ambazonia (Southern Cameroons) or any other nation is insecure, we can never be totally secure. We must use our vast resources of wealth to aid the developed nations of the world. Too often have we used our wealth to establish military bases, while neglecting the need of establishing bases of genuine concern and understanding.”

We the Ambazonian Diaspora in the United States of America must move the struggle beyond the noisy chat rooms of our “Whatsapp” groups and enlist our friends at work, church and clubs. While charity truly begins at home, it becomes selfish if it remains at home. We must remind Americans that the destiny of Ambazonia is inextricably bound with the destiny of America where some of us have found refuge. Rev King has provided us the words to avail of in this campaign of enlisting America’s support: “No nation or individual is independent; we are interdependent. We are caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality.” Each of us must become an Ambassador for the Ambazonian revolution.

It is thus pathetic to see that our activism has not risen beyond the confines of our quarrels on social media and hence we have not been able to convict the consciences of our American friends. We need a groundswell of actions like those of the proud and courageous Ambazonians in Boston who convinced their local council to take up the Ambazonian issue. If all the Ambazonians in the US could follow this model and engage their local politicians in a more deliberate fashion, then maybe, just maybe we will get the US to do what they did to bring down Apartheid in South Africa. It is unfathomable to imagine that Ambazonians in the US were unable to get 100.000 signatures last year to bring the Ambazonia issue to the White House. It is unconscionable to imagine that we have not been able to get the crowds at our demonstration that will shut down traffic and bring on the attention to our revolution.

Yes, all politics is local and it is a numbers game. Let us activate Ambazonian Revolution 2.0. In celebrating the legacy of this luminary of the civil rights movement, let us celebrate the legacy of Mancho Bibixy, Sisiku Julius AyukTabe and our leaders incarcerated and abducted in foreign dungeons of La Republique du Cameroun and Nigeria.

Even though a Catholic hymn, I can bet my last dime that Rev. Dr. King must have reflected on the following words of Faber which in the current context of our incarcerated leaders and compatriots ring out loud:

Faith of our Fathers! living still
In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword:
Oh, how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear that glorious word.

Faith of our Fathers! Holy Faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

Our Fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free:
How sweet would be their children’s fate,
If they, like them, could die for thee!

Faith of our Fathers! Holy Faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

Buoyed by these words, we Ambazonians must “remain awake, alert and creative.” Happy Martin Luther King Day.

 

 

The Inconvenient Truth – Southern Cameroons’ Activism on WhatsApp By Lambert Mbom

“I once said, ‘If you want to liberate a society, all you need is the Internet.’ I was wrong. I said those words back in 2011, when a Facebook page I anonymously created helped spark the Egyptian revolution. The Arab Spring revealed social media’s greatest potential, but it also exposed its greatest shortcomings. The same tool that united us to topple dictators eventually tore us apart.” Wael Ghonim TedTalk March 2011

One of the most active battlegrounds for the liberation of Ambazonia is on social media: Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter in descending order of usage. Like with most revolutions, free speech is often the first casualty. I write today to bemoan the dictatorial tendencies that have characterized many Ambazonian WhatsApp fora. One cannot but denounce the actions on the SCNC forum where group administrators have let emotions not reason get the better side of them as they yank members off the group’s WhatsApp forum. Unfortunately, this is becoming a norm rather than the exception.

The SCNC WhatsApp group emerged in November 2016 as a fundraising tool where people made pledges to support the budding revolution at the time and served well when that lone objective reigned. It soon became a place where people settled personal vendetta. With the emergence of the SCACUF’s Governing Council, the attack dogs went wild. Today, this has gone viral.

This unfortunate reaction appears to have been fueled initially by the posting of a video message recorded and widely disseminated by Edwin Suh on social media lambasting the flawed process that birthed Sisiku AyukTabe’s leadership of the Governing Council of SCACUF. Clearly, criticism of any form against the Governing Council of SCACUF became anathema on the SCNC forum.

Let me state clearly that I do not subscribe to the “anything goes” social media school of thought. Free speech or better still freedom of expression is not license to “any” and “everything.” There is such a thing as abuse and hence the need for etiquette on social media.

The fun of it is that “WhatsApp” is a free service provided for information sharing and community building. Is it not greed that one is provided a service gratis and he turns around to purge others from enjoying the same? Each group that avails of this service is supposed to have its defining ethos; these have to be carefully and clearly delineated for all members to understand. This too cannot be done willy-nilly but must be agreed to. There is no evidence of such discussions, guidelines and rules set forth on the SCNC WhatsApp forum. While the argument could be made for unwritten guidelines, such do not resolve the problem of borderline cases. We cannot let this be dictated merely by common sense or willy-nilly at the whims and caprices of a select puritan few.

On the SCNC WhatsApp forum, there has been a vocal coterie shouting out: fie, fie, fie to members who dare challenge otherwise comfortable positions. When a house is on fire, it is not by occupants shouting that there is no fire that the flames are put out. The fire invariably consumes the house and the naysayers or deniers. Let us never forget that just as “ignorance is bliss,” so too is “knowledge power.”

When one looks for the reasons for such intolerance on social media, one cannot lose sight of the fact that dictatorship breeds dictatorship. One understands that having lived under the brunt of a brutal dictatorship, sufferers too invariably become dictators of some sorts when the opportunity presents itself. What is the difference between the action of the government of la Republique shutting down the internet for over 90 days in the North West and South West regions and administrators of WhatsApp groups throwing people off the forum who even though they agree on the restoration agenda differ on how to accomplish it.

The last time I checked the motto of the SCNC is “Force of Argument and not the argument of force!” These WhatsApp Generals have invariably turned this on its head and using the argument of the force of Group Admin to chase away those whose only force is that of argument. This is undoubtedly an instantiation of cyber bullying which we must eschew. This crass demonstration of two fallacies “Argumentum ad baculum – argument of force” and argumentum ad hominem” is pitiful. Once people cannot comprehend the issues they resort to force and personal attacks.

One finds it intriguing that the purveyors of this banality are enjoying unfettered freedom of speech in the US and yet seek to stifle that of fellow activists on a small chat group on WhatsApp. What is so funny is the fact that these WhatsApp groups are populated just by 260 people and we often mistake the loud noises we make among ourselves as activism. There is a difference between WhatsApp and the other social media like Facebook and Twitter with a better possibility of setting the flame and stoking it to levels of paroxysm. It is foolhardy to continue to deceive ourselves that we can control information flow on WhatsApp and use that to effectively sanitize the struggle.

In civilized society, free speech is a cardinal cornerstone. Freedom of expression cannot be denied those who speak truth to power or who have a different opinion. It is therefore primitive to be shutting people out of Whatsapp forum because they are not ready to sing: Hail, Hail to Sisiku AyukTabe.

Let us take a leaf from the popular American soap opera “Saturday Night Live” and its parody of even the most powerful man on earth, the President of the United States of America, Donald J Trump. Don’t the English say: “What is good for the goose is good for the gander.” We must be careful about the monster we are erecting because it will come back to bite us. We can continue pretending that the king is not naked when he is dressed in Adam’s suit and instead of manning up and dressing up the king, we hurl stones at the court jester who like Shakespeare’s fool in King Lear is speaking truth to power.

We must make ours the words of Voltaire: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

In fact, Thomas Jefferson put it correctly: He who fears criticism is hopeless. Only those who do things are criticized. To hesitate for fear of criticism is cowardly. If our cause is right be not afraid of criticism, advocate it, expound it and if need be, fight for it. Critics always have been and always will be, but to the strong minded they are a help rather than a hindrance. Take your part in life’s stage and play your part to the end.

 

 

Can Slovakian Diplomat Deliver for Southern Cameroons? By Lambert Mbom.

RTSP64C-1024x682Last Tuesday September 12th, the newly elected President of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), 54 year old Slovakian, Miroslav Lajcak, gaveled into action the 72nd session of the noble General assembly. The opening salvo of the Slovakian Diplomat contains seeds the aggrieved people of Southern Cameroons should pay attention to and seek to capitalize on for a fruitful harvest.

“The UN was created for people,” said Miroslav Lajcak in his inaugural address of the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly. “Its job is to help people who are striving for peace and a decent life, on a sustainable planet. The people who need the United Nations the most are not sitting in this hall today. They are not involved in the negotiation of resolutions. They do not take the floor at high-level events. It is one of the tasks of the general Assembly to make sure that their voices can still be heard.”

One can only pray and hope that such beautiful words will not take on the proverbial dust of history as mere words lacking in substance but will be borne out by history as “having taken flesh” in concrete and measurable terms. And if the taste of the pudding lies in the eating, then the aggrieved people of Southern Cameroons, hitherto a trust territory of this body, look out with hope to this President of UNGA72.

And yes, Southern Cameroonians are a people with inalienable rights to self-determination. These people exercised their rights without foreclosing the destiny of their country in 1961. Southern Cameroonians are today not sitting in the halls of the United Nations and have not been since 1960. In fact, over the last two decades, many Southern Cameroonians have camped outside the UN to protest and invite the noble assembly to address their national interests. Many will turn out next week on the same mission.

Will Miroslav become the “voice of the voiceless” Southern Cameroonians in the halls of the UN General Assembly and ensure that Southern Cameroons becomes the 194th member of the UNGA?

In that very prophetic and pragmatic speech, president Miroslav noted that during his tenure this year among other things will not just be a “Year of Firsts” but will also be a “Year of Follow Up,” and rightly so.

Of the myriad of issues to be followed up during this 72nd session, one urgently crying out for prime consideration is that of the UN’s bungled decolonization of its former Trust Territory, Southern Cameroons. There could be no better time for the General Assembly to revisit the state of its former trust territory than now. It is time for the UN to “follow up” and revisit UNGA Resolution 1608.

“I wish to pay attention to what we do better to prevent conflict. Because by avoiding conflict, we save human lives and we also save money,” said the career diplomat, during an interview he gave on the opening day of the General Assembly.

If preventive diplomacy is the hallmark of the UN’s multilateralism, then Miroslav has the opportunity of his life to use his good offices to translate this to concrete reality with the Southern Cameroons quagmire. The bloodbath that the annexationist regime of La Republique du Cameroun is planning and gradually visiting on the peaceful people of Southern Cameroons could be averted and prevented if the president of the UNGA 72nd session commits to making preventive diplomacy a reality.

The United Nations is known for being reactionary rather than proactive; many have asserted that conflict prevention is not the UN’s forte. Unless a feud draws blood, rarely has the UN intervened to prevent carnage, this coterie maintains.

The 72nd session of the UNGA has the opportunity to disprove this claim by addressing the independence question of Southern Cameroons. This assembly has the opportunity to correct the mistake of 1961 that has been an albatross around the neck of the people of Southern Cameroons.

The last nine months have proven the resiliency of the people of Southern Cameroons and their determination to reclaim their independence. The people of Southern Cameroons have crossed the threshold and reached the tipping point. It will be foolhardy for the United Nations to continue to play ostrich and simply wish the problem fizzle out.

His Excellency, President Miroslav understands this as a student of history. Up until 1989, Czechoslovakia held together thanks to the tyranny of communism. When the people could have it no more, the “Velvet Revolution” came to life and the union began crumbling. In 1990, a federal system came to life as Czechoslovakia now became known as Czech and Slovak Federative Republic.

In July 1992, Slovakia declared itself a sovereign state. Six months later, in January 1993, Czechoslovakia became history and two sovereign states namely Czech Republic and Slovakia replaced it. Historically, this turned out to be an entirely peaceful breakup.

For years, the people of Southern Cameroons have been rumbling and grumbling. They have sought legal and diplomatic redress with limited success. Then came the “Coffin revolution” that ignited the current tidal wave of resistance. Like the Velvet Revolution that led to the rebirth of Slovakia, the people of Southern Cameroons hinge their hope that the “Coffin revolution” will lead to the restoration of the independence of Southern Cameroons.

There are eerie similarities between the fate of Czechoslovakia and that of Cameroon. Cameroon is a ticking time bomb and the current escalation of the Southern Cameroons nationalistic ambitions will be the last death knell. If after 75 years, Czechoslovakia could break up to two states, why not Cameroon? The realization of the restoration of the independence of Southern Cameroons is just a matter of time.

It would be naïve for one to imagine that the President of the UNGA can will the resolution of the Southern Cameroons question with the stroke of a pen. Not without formidable pushback from the French vampires whose stranglehold over Cameroon is well known and also from the United Kingdom whose culpability in the bungled process precludes them from riding on the current waves of the restoration of the independence of Southern Cameroons. The General Assembly is a club and members are sworn to protect each other.  

Miroslav has himself delineated the evaluation sheet for his tenure a year from now when he said:

“I do hope to be able to say that it was a good session of the General Assembly – good because we delivered concrete results for people, and that we were able to overcome our narrow national views and positions in the interest of compromise, which is good for all of us.”

One of such concrete results would be the restoration of the independence of the people of Southern Cameroons. For this to happen, Miroslav would need to be a maverick aficionado. Southern Cameroonians must court him and lobby him. He is a crown jewel worth investing in.

Africa At the Spring Meetings of IMF/World Bank: April 18th through April 23rd 2017.

IMF

The Bretton Woods Institutions – World Bank and IMF – are this April, meeting at their Washington DC Headquarters for their annual Spring Meetings. Central Bank Governors, ministers of finance and development, academicians, journalists, civil societies gather in the capital of the world, to assess, share, consult and disseminate information with respect to the world’s economy. While many of the events are global, there are many regional issues handled in their peculiarity. The great continent of Africa will be present in many ways. Herewith some specific events to watch out for:

10a.m. – 10:45a.m. Analytical Corner: The informal Economy in Sub-Saharan Africa

4:30pm – 5:15pm: Driving Digital Financial Inclusion in Arica

5:30pm – 6:30pm: A Conversation with Phiona Mutesi (Queen of Katwe)

Related events:

11:a.m. – 12:30pm Jumpstarting the Next Revolution in Food and Agriculture

11a.m. – 12:30pm On the sidelines of this event, Center for Global Development is hosting a high panel discussion on: The Challenge and Logic of Greater Financing for Africa featuring Akinwumi Adesina, President African Development Bank, Nancy Birdsall, President emeritus and Senior fellow, Center for Global Development, Ngozi Okformer Director, Africa Department, IMF, and former Finance Minister, Liberia, Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Center for Global Developmentonjo-Iweala former Managing Director, World Bank and Antoinette Sayeh, former Director, Africa Department, IMF, and former Finance Minister, Liberia, Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Center for Global Development.

 

The Unsung Heroines of the Southern Cameroons Liberation Struggle: Woman Eh! By Lambert Mbom

On Wednesday March 29th, U.S State Department honored 13 women with the International Women of Courage award as part of its celebration of March as Women’s History Month and International Women’s day.  Three of the thirteen women came from Africa – Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo and Niger. Sadly, none of the valiant women of Southern Cameroons hit the mark and it is the courage of these women I seek to celebrate.

In its tenth year now, this award has “honored women from around the world who have exhibited exceptional courage and leadership, who have drawn strength from adversity to help transform their societies,” said Thomas Shannon Jr., Under Secretary for Political Affairs.

The history of the Southern Cameroons struggle at face value seems to have been high-jacked by men. It suffices to look at those whom we would induct into the Southern Cameroons Hall of Fame and these men – Dr Akwanga, Dr. Anyangwe Justice Ebong, Ambassador Fossung, Late Chief Ayamba, Luma among others would prevail; or better still, a cursory look at the number of Southern Cameroonians languishing in La Republique’s dungeons – Justice Ayah, Dr. Agbor Balla, Dr. Fontem, Mancho Bibixy and many others! Yes these are men but not just men. They are fathers and husbands. The real value of this struggle lies in the hands of the women standing with these men.

These men are husbands. They are not just bachelors who have channeled their idleness to a political ideal. The true heroines of this struggle are the many wives standing with these men. And like First Lady Melania Trump noted during the award ceremony, courage takes different forms. It is the courage of the many women, the wives of those we hail as our heroes that truly makes this struggle worth its while. And let’s leave the sweet mothers to Mother’s day and for one second doff our hats to that special coterie of Southern Cameroonian women called wives.

Fathom the wives of the current leaders of the Southern Cameroons struggle inadvertently thrown into the woes and throes of being “father-and-mother-in-one” because their spouse is in jail for daring to challenge the system; yes, these wives bearing the emotional emptiness of lying in bed and counting the rafters on the roof as they unconsciously search and yearn for the other, constantly looking out of the window day and night hoping their loved one makes a surprise entrée; expecting a knock that never comes or even worse still the headache of wondering what their loved ones could be experiencing in that dungeon. Yes these wives are the true heroines of this struggle whose courage is often underappreciated and unsung;

This award also recognizes the wives of the many compatriots who have fled to neighboring or faraway foreign lands. These wives worry about the safety and security of their husbands and are condemned to virtual romances wondering when they would be reunited again even as they are taunted and haunted by the oppressors. Yes, these women are the true heroines whose courage beyond mere resignation to their current fate urges them on and invariably eggs on the men.

And the wives too of the different leaders in foreign capitals around the world! These men may not enjoy the luxury of having to be arrested on account of their activism. They may in fact enjoy the freedom of jetting across cities freely! Yes and their wives too are heroines for having to bear the brunt of the caustic insults especially the new form of cyber terrorism heaped against their husbands; these women have to put up with the many long hours their husbands spend on the phone for conference calls and even bear constant displacement of their husbands away from home unsure of what the nefarious machinations of the oppressor may have in store for them. And yet in spite of all these, these women nudge their husbands on. Yes these are the real heroines of this struggle.

I would be remiss if I don’t recognize the coterie of women – call them cyber warriors who have arisen and given the struggle much needed momentum and impetus since the liberation struggle cruised to its crescendo. Beyond their undisputable and impeccable fundraising prowess these women of gold who keep the male leaders in check and chide them for their egotistic temptations are the torchbearers of community engagement. They have become the livewire of the struggle and the lightening rod. Woman, eh!

With every great man there is an even greater woman. And the courage of these women cannot and will not be in vain.

 

When your friend becomes Bishop: Hail Auxiliary Bishop-elect Michael Bibi. By Lambert Mbom

IMG-20170308-WA0023     If someone called and asked me to make an educated guess of the priest chosen from the archdiocese of Bamenda to be bishop, Auxiliary Bishop-elect Michael Bibi would not have readily come to mind. Not in the convoluted sense of the proverbial familiarity breeding contempt but rather because of traditional biases or better still, conventional wisdom.

First, Bishop-elect is not Rector of the St Thomas Aquinas’ Major Seminary (STAMS), Bambui and has not been full time faculty there. Ecclesiastical history shows us that of the five Bishops of the Bamenda ecclesiastical province, only Bishop Nkuo of Kumbo did not have any direct relation with the seminary; three former Rectors of the major seminary in Bambui (Cardinal Tumi, Bishop Bushu and Bishop Agapitus) have become Bishops with one, the lone cardinal of Cameroon. Three former lecturers (Archbishop Esua of Bamenda, Bishop Nkea of Mamfe and Retired Bishop Lysinge of Mamfe) have also become Bishops. Clearly, the path to the episcopacy in the Bamenda ecclesiastical province passes through the major seminary. My friend does not fit that mold even though he taught on a part time basis in the seminary. It is worth mentioning that Bishop-elect Michael Bibi is the fifth ex-student of STAMS, Bambui to become Bishop.

What is more, Bishop-elect Bibi did not study in Rome where he would have been steeped in the ecclesiastical accoutrements wont of the episcopacy or “Bishops-in-waiting.” Or better still, he would have been known amongst the “power-brokers” in Rome. Again, with the exception of the Bishop of Kumbo who studied in Ireland, all the others have studied in Rome. Bishop-elect Michael studied in England where he fortified the legacy of the Bamenda-Portsmouth relationship.

However, like two of his predecessors, Bishops Andrew and Agapitus, Bishop-elect Michael has “walked” the corridors of power having been chancellor of the archdiocese of Bamenda for seven years. Bishop Nkea served as Bishop’s secretary of Buea diocese during the infamous years of the “Maranatha” crises and demonstrated an uncanny expertise that helped diffuse and dissipate the growing tensions. Bishop Agapitus Nfon erstwhile auxiliary Bishop of Bamenda now Bishop of Kumba served as Bishop Esua’s secretary in Kumbo. He later on went to Rome and studied Patristics which he later taught in the seminary before becoming Rector of the seminary. One would not be wrong to opine that Bishop Awa’s legacy lives on with Bishop Nkea of Mamfe and Bishop Nkuo of Kumbo. And now Archbishop Esua’s legacy will live on through Bishop Nfon of Kumba and auxiliary Bishop-elect Bibi.

Bishop-elect’s path to the episcopacy fits the bill of Gerard Hughes’ famous book: God of Surprises! He is the product of “Abakwa” town growing up in Metta quarters of all places and attending Providence Comprehensive College, Mankon not one of those “A-list” of schools. This has been an interesting journey. The very cathedral he would be consecrated in is one he knows very well. He served there as an altar boy and would later be ordained there as a priest in the jubilee year, 2000. He returned to serve as Bishop’s secretary and now comes the icing of the cake with his election as auxiliary Bishop.  This is the work of the Lord!

The 5:30a.m. “Whatsapp” message from Fr. Maurice Akwa announcing the election of Bishop Bibi saw me leaping in joy. My “own man” is now a Bishop! Unlike in political circles whereby such an elevation would have afforded one some favors such as appointments to some high office with financial remuneration, I find my friend’s election as auxiliary Bishop an enormous responsibility to be able to help him accomplish his mission and succeed in his ministry. Chesterton’s words seem appropriate in this context when he opined in his famous work Orthodoxy, that if this was something to stand by, then this should be the norm, that we take the crown and go to the recesses of the world in search of the man who knows he is not worthy to wear it; the man who would sincerely say, like St. Augustine, “Noli me episcopare” – (Not me for Bishop).

My first apostolic assignment in the archdiocese of Bamenda was at the Youth Office. I had the honor of being chaperoned by now auxiliary Bishop-elect who was also on similar assignment. He would pick me up from our Ndamukong street home every morning and drop me off every evening. For six years, while we journeyed through the seminary, we became true friends and real brothers. Both of us were “called” to the priesthood but he was “chosen.”  It would seem odd that all of a sudden because he has become a Bishop, this relationship should fizzle out.

In his recent book, “Living the priesthood: Personal reflections on 25 years of Priesthood,” (which I highly recommend the Bishop-elect to read if he had not already done so, or to re-read within the context of his new position), the author, Rev. Dr. Joseph Awoh underscores the importance of friendship for priests. He notes: “Priests need priests. It is important that all of us have special friends of our presbyterate, religious community or whatever group God has placed us – not only as a psychosocial support system – but also as a spiritual support system. Ideally these friends should be people of our generation – classmates or age mates, people who studied with us in the seminary. (Emphasis is mine).

This is a refreshing recommendation which even though it celebrates “priest-to-priest” friendship, drives home, unintentionally albeit, the role some of us former seminarians are called to play. I belong to a special class of persons who like Bishop-elect felt called to the priesthood but unlike him fell along the way or rather off the way. The greatest tragedy for many of us in this special class is not the fact of having fallen along the way but rather our inability to sustain the relationships we cultivated while on that pilgrimage to the priesthood. Some of us have become so tainted like the biblical lepers that it is scandalous for some priests – our school and classmates- to be friends with us. While there are many reasons for this, it seems the answer lies in what true friendship means.

It might be apropos to read the great philosopher Aristotle’s enunciation of friendship. In his classical work, Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle identifies three kinds of friendship namely, friendship of utility, friendship of pleasure and friendship of the good. With friendship of utility, Aristotle surmises that friends do not love each other in themselves but in so far as some benefit accrues to them from each other. In other words, the friend is not loved for his own sake, but for the sake of some benefit received by the other.

Friendship of pleasure is based on pleasure: for instance, when one enjoys the society of witty people not because of what they are in themselves but because they are agreeable to one.

Aristotle recommends friendship of the good as the perfect form of friendship which is that between the good, and those who resemble each other in virtue. For these friends wish each alike the other’s good in respect of their goodness, and they are good in themselves; but it is those who wish the good of their friends for their friend’s sake who are friends in the fullest sense since they love each other for themselves and not accidentally. It is along such Aristotelian paradigm that I seek to deepen the friendship with the Bishop-elect. Bishops can be very lonely. Even Bishops too have and should have friends.  

          In seeking the key to unlock the contours of his ministry, I found this in the fact that Bishop-elect had a passion for soccer. Interestingly, he played with defunct Adidas Football Club – in the second division league where he guarded the goalpost before proceeding to the minor seminary in Buea.

My first encounter with the Bishop elect happened on the 11th February 1990 when I watched him defend the goalpost in an exciting “Youth Day” final, pitting Bishop Rogan College minor seminary against the vocational school OIC – a mismatch by any standards which turned out to be a repeat of the David-Goliath spectacle. Bishop Rogan College carried the day. I would move there the following year for high school studies. Michael proceeded to the Major seminary in Bambui where for all seven years remained the goalkeeper of the invincible seminary soccer team. One would not be wrong then to observe that just as Christ called Peter, the fisherman to be a fisher of men and he has called Michael the goal keeper to be the goalkeeper of the faith and the flock; in fact goalkeeper of the Kingdom. Be a keeper of your brother priests; be a keeper of catechists.

During his consecration on March 25th, the principal consecrator will address him in the following words: As a steward of the mysteries of Christ in the church entrusted to you, be a faithful overseer and guardian.  Since you are chosen by the Father to rule over his family, always be mindful of the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep and is known by them and who did not hesitate to lay down his life for them.

The Bishop is a guardian. The French word for goalkeeper is “guardien” which shares some affinity with the English, guardian or custodian. Former goalkeeper for the United States of America soccer team Brad Friedel captures the essence of goalkeeping when he says: Being a goalkeeper gives you quite a unique perspective on things. You are part of a team yet somehow separate; there are no grey areas, with success or failure being measured in real time; and you have a physical job which you can only do well by paying attention to your mental well-being. A great goalkeeper has to have the keys to a great mindset. To be able to work well in the box, I believe you have to be able to think outside the box.”

Mundane as these words may read, they contain practical wisdom for Bishop-elect’s edification.

One cannot fail to recognize the tremendous work the Bishop-elect has already accomplished with the Maryvale Institute in the archdiocese of Bamenda. He has trained many catechists and in fact many lay persons on the rudiments of the faith. I had a feat when my dad informed me about his graduation from the Maryvale institute and told me the nice things he had learnt in Canon Law, Scripture, Liturgy and Church History. Bishop-elect is an expert in Catechetics. Every Bishop is a chief catechist. Having been engaged in the formation of catechists for the local Church, my prayer for my friend is that may the new function he embraces be (in)formed by the lives of the many catechists whose selflessness and dedication in the Lord’s vineyard is unparalleled.

The most celebrated quality of Bishop-elect Michael Bibi is his simplicity. It is the one quality that many have trumpeted since this news broke. The temptation with such a position is its corruptibility. It presents an enhancing environment for the probable and possible to become reality. And as wisdom teaches, “corruption optimi pessima est” – the corruption of the best is the worst. Hence, the virtue could become a vice as a result of the new function. If I could preach a retreat to the auxiliary Bishop-elect (something we recently joked about), I would focus on the words the principal consecrator on the day of consecration would proclaim inter alia:

You, dear brother, have been chosen by the Lord.  Remember that you are chosen from among men and appointed to act for men and women in relation to God.  The title of bishop is not one of honor but of function, and therefore a bishop should strive to serve rather than to rule.  Such is the counsel of the Master: the greater should behave as if he were the least, and the leader as if he were the one who serves. 

To God be the Glory! May the “Yes” you will profess and proclaim on March 25th mirror the “Yes” of the Virgin Mary as you ascend to the high office of auxiliary Bishop on the solemn feast of the annunciation.

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