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.