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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.

 

March 8 1911 – March 8 2011:International Women’s Day Centennial – Celebrating Womanhood. By Lambert Mbom.

For some strange reason, I prefer this day to be called International day of the woman. “‘Women’ is a profligate word; …Every woman is a captive queen. But every crowd of women is only a harem broken loose” according to Chesterton. As always, there was a stark contrast between celebrations in Cameroon with characteristic joyful exuberance and in Washington DC where the cold chills, vestiges of an expiring winter captured the mood and temper of the country.

The State department is busy all week celebrating this centennial with a series of events. The most significant of these is the 100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges launched on Monday intended to bring 100 women from around the world to see America.

Yesterday the State department hosted 2011 International Women of Courage Awards Ceremony with special guest First Lady Michelle Obama, and Cameroonian publisher Henriette Ekwe Ebongo one of the eight proud recipients even as the government in Cameroon was shutting down twitter in Cameroon.

“Woman eh” was undoubtedly the popular accolade on many lips especially in drinking parlors in Cameroon. Let me join the chorus then and shout with my vuvuzela: WOMAN EH.

Womanhood is a gift to celebrate. For an African man and a traditional one for that much, hailing such a celebration does not add up. It would seem that Africa tops the charts for downright suppression of women’s rights, a shameful display of male chauvinism and even misogyny. African traditions and culture it would seem are designed to denigrate womanhood in a number of different ways.

In fact, just the other day, my wife who happens to be from Bafut brought up the topic of inheritance or succession in Kom – my tribe of origin. She had received a mail from a close pal of hers complaining that at the demise of her step-father, her mother had been sent away and the husband’s property including their home seized by his family. Her mother was now forced to rent.

Recently I met a widow of one of my dad’s close friends who had passed on last year. She complained bitterly that one of her in-laws almost snuffed life out of her at his passing. She recounted how she packed all her deceased husband’s things into his Mercedes Benz drove to Kom and handed the keys to the concerned.

And these stories abound. The treatment of widows in Kom is just one of those dull spots crying for attention. I do not claim to be any expert in Kom tradition and make no apology for this. The much I know is that the Kom people practice a matrilineal system of inheritance. Hence my dad and his brother are deadlocked over their maternal uncle’s compound. There is much to it than just this.

On this women’s day, these are some of the issues being highlighted. Yet as I tried to think out the raison d’être for a matrilineal system and its inherent injustices, it struck me that it is precisely in recognition of womanhood that the matrilineal system was adopted. A man knows he is a father only through a woman. But even more so, it is precisely because one wants to guarantee the purity of the family line that this matrilineal system won the debate.

The story made the rounds in the DC metro area some years ago of a young man who discovered through DNA to his utter dismay and shock that the children he was grooming were not his “issue.” He had lived a lie for over eleven years. He had painstakingly ‘fathered’ three kids none of whom turned out to be his, at least according to DNA tests. This is unprecedented by any count.

It was surely to check things like these that the matrilineal system became customary practice. I do not think it is the system that mandates such despicable acts as much as the individuals concerned. I contend therefore that it is in its implementation that these excesses rear their ugly heads.

Hence, it could be good practice that once in a while we settle on ways by which our cultures celebrate womanhood and how these could be promoted.

Many of us will surely be exonerating ourselves from such practices and priding ourseves on being fervent respecters of womanhood. We may not be perpetrators of such egregious acts, yet in more than one way, many of us have failed to celebrate womanhood.

How many of us have been indicted in the court of public judgment to be woman bashers? How often have some of us been charged of not knowing how to take care of a woman? In public, some of us offer our seats on the train and the bus; then hold the door letting them in/out first among others; yet these cosmetic niceties have hardly risen to a collective summation of the celebration of womanhood. At best these could paradoxically be a demonstration of male chauvinism.

Have men not come up with the theory that women like men who lie to them? And something which has become a pattern is the marriage trap. I will return to this later but suffices to say here that having known that many women are fascinated by the promise of marriage and the glamour of it, how many of us have taken advantage of this and left many women hurt in our trails? I am sure it is a celebration of womanhood when we lavish them with exotic gifts which are in fact just baits to “draft” them for personal gratification.

March 8, 2011 happened to be Mardi gras – Fat Tuesday. Unavoidably, food then becomes a central axis in this celebration of womanhood. I discovered lately that a man who cooks occasionally for the woman, charms her beyond measure. In fact, a friend of mine prepared the rare corn fufu on a first date and the lady was so enchanted that she was heads over heels on him. I remember my dad occasionally made a French toast for breakfast for us all. Unfortunately, of the many skills my sweet mother showered me with, cooking is not one of them. Hope I am not doomed.

2011 presents me an extraordinary opportunity to celebrate womanhood. I have a darling mother, three wonderful sisters and a bevy of aunts who have laced my path with gold. Not a few women have been able to bear with me over the last three and a half decades many of whom deserve an apology from me if this helps. My beautiful wife too deserves a treat on this day.

Over and above all these, is my four months’ old baby Kayla. While many African men crave to have a boy for their first child, not just as a signature of bravado and manliness as some say but even more so because they claim they have a heir; yet, many say with a the blessings of a girl as first-born are bountiful. It is that disarming smile of my baby girl and those loud cries that have changed me, hopefully for the good.

Yet it is not for these selfish calculating reasons that I celebrate this gift of womanhood in a special way in 2011. Who else but Chesterton could explain this well when in his chapter on the “emancipation of domesticity” in his inspiring book, “What’s wrong with the world” declares:

…Woman stands for the idea of Sanity; that intellectual home to which the mind must return after every excursion on extravagance. The mind that finds its way to wild places is the poet’s; but the mind that never finds its way back is the lunatic’s. There must in every machine be a part that moves and a part that stands still; there must be in everything that changes a part that is unchangeable. And many of the phenomena which moderns hastily condemn are really parts of this position of the woman as the center and pillar of health. Much of what is called her subservience, and even her pliability, is merely the subservience and pliability of a universal remedy; she varies as medicines vary, with the disease. She has to be an optimist to the morbid husband, a salutary pessimist to the happy-go-lucky husband. She has to prevent the Quixote from being put upon, and the bully from putting upon others.

A Soiree at the National Press Club, Washington DC. By Lambert Mbom.

Tuesday November 9th was the day; 5.30 pm – 8.30pm was the time; National Press club was the venue. The Book fair was the event and fair in deed it was. Part of the charm of this event was in its noble mission “to help fill the school library shelves at The SEED School – a high-performing public boarding for undeserved students.”

It was a star-studded event. Even though too many cooks spoil the broth, many hands do light work. May not have been a Pulitzer award ceremony or an authors’ version of the Grammys, the Oscars, etc yet, in its own right it was an evening spent careening with the stars.

To be honest, it was a boring night and lonesome too even though the National Press Club’s ballroom was brimming and teeming. Not even the open cash bar enticed me that much. I just could not muster the courage to start a conversation with anyone. Not being a member of the club and having ridden solo to the event made it daunting, hitching a conversation hike with anyone. Who says I am not shy even though not of a saturnine demeanor.

Yet I relished every moment of the evening. I moved from reading the riveting articles of Gene Robinson in the Washington Post and watching him on primetime TV programs to the surreal moment of shaking hands with him.

Before this evening, NPR’s soft spoken and charming voice of Diane Rehm was all I had savored. She was honorary Chairwoman of this night’s Book fair & authors’ night. This fair afforded me the excellent opportunity to put a face to the voice and share her elegant demeanor and the warmth she so generously exudes.

George Allen somewhat conjured at least in my mind George Michael the deceased sports commentator whose sports machine shot him to popularity. Remember the bruising political season in Virginia, which saw the “political demise” of George Allen? It was the title of his book: “What Washington can learn from the World of Sports” that enamored him. If I could, I would provide a copy of this text to all those licking their wounds from the bruises of the last elections on how to cope with failures and for the frolicking members of Congress – on how to compete? Politics is also a game where the spirit of fair play and not the dog-eat-dog debacle should prevail.

Table 5 brought me up very close to Mark Halperin – Time magazine’s political jockey. I have read many of his reflections in Time magazine and watched him on TV. This “faciem-ad-faciem” meeting has its “weight in gold.”

My appetite for the event grew larger when I bumped into Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. By sheer coincidence or by design he was strategically positioned as he occupied the first table in the row opposite the exit – some sort of a table captain- reminiscing his brilliant exit strategy that saved 155 lives last year when he safely landed the US Airways plane on the Hudson River. I quickly examined my environment to be sure I was not in the Smithsonian Air and Space museum.

Finally yet importantly on my A-list was Gayle Haggard, wife of disgraced pastor Ted Haggard. Her contrarian stance during the contretemps of the husband’s repulsive scandal and how she stuck to her guns “for better, for worse” so atypical of this age is worth commending.

You would be wrong to imagine then that I must have left the event with at least six books from my stars of the night. In this age when the dollar is so hard to come by, I managed from a very tight budget to stroll back home with three books. I had to cut my coat according to my cloth and not my size.

The initial allure to this event got its ignition from Roy Peter’s text in grammar advertized on NPC’s website. Having embarked on a career path in writing, the need for me to master English grammar is cardinal. My sixth sense nudged me then to grab a copy of “The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English.

First, this book is a contemporary text published in August 2010; second, it was within a reasonable price range; lastly, its author is a member of the distinguished Poynter Institute, a place I am looking forward to explore and exploit.

Roy’s text was in competition at least in my mind with S Barry and K Goldmark’s, “Write that Book Already!: The Tough Love You Need to Get Published Now.” Even though cheaper than Roy Clark’s which deals with the process of fine-tuning, Goldmark’s it would appear deals with the product, at least the manuscript. Getting it would have been akin to putting the cart before the horse.

Jack fuller was sitting next to Roy Clark and the title of his book was quite captivating. I am a news junky with an avid thirst and large appetite for news. In this case among the competing texts in this category, the enthralling title “What is Happening to News: The Information Explosion and the Crisis in Journalism” made me want it. Not wanting to judge the text by its cover, I thumbed through and three chapters namely The science of Journalism, The search of Story and lastly A New Rhetoric for News played the trick.

This “classic” I hope would help settle a personal conundrum: whether journalism especially `a la news is a dead career option. This is something some luminous voyeurs daily remind me of. What is more, it appealed to my immediate needs of validating or rather invalidating my insistent or rather stubborn inclination towards a formal career in journalism, or so I thought.

The competition was stiff here as George Allen’s: “What Washington Can Learn from the World of Sports”, Alison Dagnes’ “Politics on Demand: The Effects of 24 hour News on American Politics”, Kovach & Rosenstiel’s “Blur: How to Know What’s True in an Age of Information Overload?” all beckoned on me. I thought of casting lots given that they were within the same price range. It was his contiguous position to Roy Clark that led me finally to get a copy of Jack Fuller’s book.

Of the twelve categories of books at the Fairgrounds namely, Adult fiction, business, children’s food, history, lifestyle, memoir and biography, Poetry, Politics and Current Affairs, Religion, Sports and Writing, I had to go through a painful process of elimination. First, I really do not care about this fiction stuff fascinating and exhilarating as it may be, for it is too abstract. The excitement of imagination that leaves you empty in the end.

There is a tested theory among many immigrants that doing business is the epicenter of their success story. One must agree that not all of us can become business moguls especially for those of us for whom management especially of money is a herculean task. I personally lack the wherewithal and as the Delphic Oracle rightly admonished, “Man, know thyself,” I shy away very easily from engaging business of any sort. May be I need some pupilage in business and through some of these books I could learn the rudiments of the trade. Yet I must confess that truly, when a snake bites you, even a loose thread would frighten you.

The Children’s section was tempting enough but my two weeks’ old daughter still has some growing up to do before having to suffer through the vagaries of modern civilization. I still have some time before fatherhood’s distinguished chores kick in.

As for lifestyle, nothing could be far removed from my very short list than this. If as I imagined, this was about tastes and fashion, am surely of the old school stuck to some outmoded forms. I know that dressing is not my thing and has never been safe for occasional flamboyant donning thanks to the distinct flair of my wife. Believe it or not, you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. Fashion magazines are just not my thing and I trust the richness of my poor sense of fashion.

The least on my list was poetry. Poets are mystics at least in my world with ethereal etchings. This genre of writing comes with facility only to a select few. One needs a special inspiration to be able to figure out the argot of poetry. I love it if it is read out and staged out. I would not want to torture my already tortured feeble brains and so prefer to stay with the plain stuff. In fact, even as a gift, I swear it would wind up on my shelf left to gather the proverbial dust.

There was a whole section on food and drink. Even though I have a huge appetite for food, cooking is just one of those crafts that I lack not only the will power but also basic formation. The downside of attending a boarding school and also growing up in a house populated with sisters and aunts each trying to perfect their skills and outsmart each other. I know a good dish when I taste one even though I lack the mechanics of the process.

Guess what? If there were a cookbook with recipes for corn fufu, achu, eru, ndole, kati-kati, to name but these popular Cameroonian dishes, I would have rushed for it. Charity begins at home though while in Rome do as the Romans. Even my appetite for beer did not bring me close to getting Charles Bamforth’s “Beer is Proof God Loves Us: Reaching for the Soul of Beer and Brewing.

Only at personal peril will one not to turn to history for as they say we must look to the past in order to better live the present and plan for the future. It was a very interesting section on history broaching an assortment of issues from events to persons and then places. Unfortunately, these did not meet with my immediate needs and ranked very low on my scale of preference.

I love memoirs and biographies. Former President George Bush’s memoir published on this Tuesday November 9th paradoxically did not make it to the fair. This is so for obvious reasons. Sequel to this frustration and in protest, I could not care the least about the memoirs and biographies that were in display. By the way, buying books just for fun is not a level I have attained yet especially with a bleeding economy. Yet I would have given up everything to get a copy of Bush’s memoir autographed by him.

The Religious category especially within the background of this secular age should have been the first most compelling section for me not out of any pious overzealousness, pomposity or show off but rather for the very want of this piety. After all, it is the sick that need the doctor and the Spiritual doctor himself declared: I came for sinners.

You would bet that Mpho Tutu’s: “Made for Goodness: And why this makes all the difference” would make it to my desk. This is obviously so because even though resident in DC, this work is authored by one from the great continent of Africa – one of the few African authors in this mix. Has it not been proclaimed from rooftops that, “If you want to hide something from a Black person, put it in a book.”

Secondly, Mpho is the daughter of the revered Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu (co-author). After all, isn’t greatness somewhat genetical too? In addition, if not genetical, may be by association. This does not take away the strength of her own greatness. However, I imagined with her “priestessly” benediction, I too could become great by association even though as a Catholic this benediction would be anathema. I saved this for some other time.

Yet I had to defer to the “painful choice” of procuring Eugene Robinson’s “Disintegration – The Splintering of Black America.” I had passed around Gene’s table a couple of times while whiling away time but was not tickled enough; I finally decided to have an avant-gout not of his style (which I already relish in his column in the Washington Post) but of his content. He sure is the first African American author I am going to savor. The reason this text wound up in my hands is due to the major thesis of his assessment that there has been a seismic sociological paradigmatic shift in Black America. To talk of contemporary Black America in homogenous terms is not only disingenuous but also myopic. This resonated very much with me as I had toyed with this idea in an earlier article. What better validation could one get than this?

As I left the National Press Club, I wondered whether I had had a run for my money. Was this a worthwhile investment or expenditure? I am used to buying books mostly online where I normally get a good deal. In fact, I usually order a cheaper version of the same text especially when I get a used copy in excellent condition. I just checked on Amazon and Jack Fuller’s text which I bought for $25 now sells at $16.50 if I was buying it new and was I to get a used copy it would be $11.47. The entry on Amazon for Roy’s book is something like this: Buy new: $19.99 $12.98 37 new from $10.83 11 used from $10.02. I could get a used copy. So what was the deal with this book fair?

I am sure it had everything to do with getting the author’s autograph on purchased copies. With the autographs, these books take an added form: memorabilia. Roy and Fuller both asked me what I do. In response, I said I am testing the waters. In my autographed copy, Jack Fuller signed off with the words: “May you find the waters fine” while Roy penned off thus: “Our next great writer. Cheers.” It is in honor of these comments that I decided to bore you with these ramblings. In all, it was an evening well spent.

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