Muteff may be a small, little known village kaleidoscope, but things that happen there have unimaginable global dimensions. Situated off the jaws of Abuh valley in Fundong Subdivision, Boyo Division of the North West Region of Cameroon, the community as a quarter in Abuh in the 60s, has lived under a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ that each time goats are slaughtered during burial ceremonies in Muteff quarter, their heads are eaten by the quarter in Muteff, rather being sent to the village head of Abuh.
The ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ had lasted until Ghamnkoh left Muteff as quarter head to become village head of mainland Abuh in the 70s. He then, and unilaterally reneged on the “gentlemen’s agreement”, by ordering all goat heads from the “chong” traditional fraternity to be sent directly to him, no longer to quarter heads. Muteff could not bare such unilateral and after failed attempts to reestablish the gentlemen’s agreement, they had no choice but to wage a war of independence from mainland Abuh.
When British former Southern Cameroons decided to become independent by joining French former East Cameroun or La République du Cameroun , they did so under a gentlemen’s agreement” that while being a federation, each time a francophone were President, an Anglophone would become Vice President, and vice versa. It was not until bad faith set in in 1972 and subsequently in 1984, that Anglophones started despising the unitary centralized arrangement. Others, and especially the learned Barrister Gorji Dinka developed inescapable theories that by reverting to its original name of La République du Cameroun , Yaounde had, in fact, seceded from the 1961 arrangement and that Southern Cameroonians were left with only one choice – that of restoring their statehood. That was the birth of the crypto-Gorji arrangement and theory of “Ambazonia”.
One of the institutions that was carried over to Yaounde after the reunification of the two Cameroons was the Bar Council. In a gentlemanly manner, the lawyers of both common-law and civil-law systems agreed that each time an Anglophone was Bar Council President, a francophone should automatically become President of the General Assembly, and vice versa. Although each time elections are approaching candidates from both sides threaten to disrupt the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” on grounds that no document exist anywhere to that effect (though its called a gentlemen’s agreement because its not a written law), reason always prevails at the end of the day for the agreement to be respected.
It is the same scenario that saw the election of Barrister Mbah Eric (a manly man to be an abbot able) on Saturday June 18, 2022, as Cameroon Bar Council President. Coming from the minority regions of the North West and South West (British former Southern Cameroons and today being referred to by dissident historians and separatists as “Ambazonia”), Mbah Eric wouldn’t have succeeded to become Batonier without the judicious respect of the gentlemen’s agreement and without the overwhelming votes from his francophone colleagues.
And come to think of it: If the Cameroon body polity behaved like the Bar Council that should be counting close to 10 former Bar Council Presidents since independence, and with minority Anglophone leadership in the majority, what a great Cameroon we should be having. Rather than try to assimilate Anglophones as President Paul Biya admitted recently in France, the majority francophone membership at the Bar Council since opted for ‘affirmative action’, an action that protects and defends the minority. Unlike the francophone leadership that has been at the helm of affairs since independence and where the politics of ‘bad faith’ has been demonstrated in triumphant detail, the francophone majority at the Cameroon Bar Council have decided, and against all odds, to uphold their own side of the ‘Gentlemen’s agreement’.
In his book: ‘The Politics of Bad Faith’, David Horowitz, famous American author, castigates American communists passing for ‘Liberals’ and ‘Leftists’ agreeing to disagree with ‘Rightists’, to an extent that they almost subvert the very American foundational ideals. Such bad faith pushed U.S policy makers into the “cold wars” and the American “culture wars”. Although Horowitz presents American policy makers’ politics of ‘bad faith’ to be towards conquering other cultures and markets, Cameroon’s policymakers’ politics of bad faith seems to have exclusively been axed on its minority communities. Worse still, on a less suspecting people that decided to become independent by joining the majority francophone community.
Be that as it may, and given the over-five-year deadly running battles between armed separatist fighters and central government forces over the manifest ‘politics of bad faith’, could Yaounde authorities not borrow a lift from the Cameroon Bar Council that today stands out as a “shiny city upon the hill” in terms of respecting ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ ?
What role can the Mbah Eric-led team play through their good offices to see to it that the greater Cameroon body polity play-by-the-rules of the 1961 gentlemen’s agreement, and in the run-up to the 2025 Presidential elections? Are there other more creative ways the Cameroon Bar Council could use to make Cameroon authorities (although the latter seem to suffer from acute autism), understand that going forward, Cameroon can only lay claim to its much-cherished slogan of remaining ‘one and indivisible’ if an Anglophone becomes President in 2025, or therebefore ?
Was James Moliterno of the College of William & Mary Law School not sufficiently clear that lawyers, especially common law lawyers, could be excellent agents or catalysts of social change? Who is not aware of the fact that it is common-law lawyers who, in 2016, beautifully packaged the grievances of minority Anglophones that later ignited street demonstrations and protests calling for greater autonomy? Who is not proud of the works of the Naders, the Ghandhis and the Mandelas, all having common-law backgrounds ?
Would Mbah Eric do well to benefit from the exhortation of the American Bar Association (ABA) President, Justice Lewis Powell Jr. that common law legal professionals should help change the world? This could be done through Aldon Morris and Suzanne Staggenborg’s recommendations in their 2004 essay : ‘Leadership in social movements’, to the effect that as social change agents, leaders should be experts in ‘framing grievances and formulating ideologies; debate, interface with media, write, orate, device strategies and organize dialogues with internal and external elites’.
*Colbert Gwain is digital rights advocate, author, radio host and content creator @TheColbertFactor
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*Colbert Gwain is International Freelance reporter/writer, award winning Digital Rights advocate, Content Creator @TheColbertFactor, legislative advocacy Campaigner for a comprehensive Digital Rights Bill, Privacy and data protection laws for Cameroon, Facebook Trainer of Trainers for Central African zone, promoter, Cameroon Association of Content Creators, CACC, Specialist on New Digital Civil Society in Africa Playbook, and Commitment Maker at UN Women Generation Equality. You can talk back at firstname.lastname@example.org