By Elie Smith
In the last two years, Cameroon has been facing its worse existential threat since the unification of former British Southern Cameroon’s with the former French administered Republic of Cameroon on the 1st of October 1961. In this exclusive interview with Pan African Visions, Elie Smith met with the Archbishop Emeritus of the Douala Archdiocese, Cardinal Christian Tumi who on the 25th of July in Douala along with other religious leaders announced the organization of an All Anglophone General Conference in Buea on the 29th and 30th of August this year.
“In Anglophone Cameroon or Southern Cameroon, there are several opinions on the current crisis and also how to solve it. Anyone who refuses that is not honest but the conference will help to come up with a common ground,” says the Cardinal known for his acerbic critique of the Biya regime.
Fighting off controversy surrounding the AGC , Cardinal Tumi says those who think he is fronting for Biya or Munzu simply do not understand him or his convictions. The Cardinal says he has been thinking about such a forum for a while and took the initiative to reach out to other religious leaders and stakeholders.
PAV: Your Eminence, lots of questions are being raised regarding your planned Anglophone General Council, scheduled for Buea on the 29th and 30th of August 2018. One of such question goes thus: when did the idea for such a conference come up into your mind?
Cardinal Christian Tumi: the idea has been in my mind for quite some time. I listened to the interventions of Anglophones over televisions and radios and I arrived at the conclusion that, we were not saying the same thing and when I say we, I am thinking of myself as an Anglophone and sometimes, I think we don’t really know what we want or perhaps that, our problems are not clearly defined. So, I thought it will be good for the Anglophones of all sheds and opinions to meet and to objectively as possible, say orally and in writing, what their grievances against the central administration are. This would serve as basis for any future national dialogue between us Anglophones with the central government. In reality, it will be an update form because such a conference has been held some two decades ago. And that is why, when I met Munzu that I have known for quite some time and who has international experience, I called him as I had called others before, but he was most available and we spoke about my project and he accepted to be a sort of secretary of my idea of the proposed 3rd all Anglophone conference albeit with a different appellation. Dr Munzu quickly caught my attention and approval not because I had known him for long or because he was willing to run errands for me, but mostly because, I think he served in a similar position at the All Anglophone Conference that took place in 1993 from the 2nd to the 3rd of August. So that is how I arrived at what has now become a topic of debates. I called him and he came here and I told him, I will not like to do this alone, especially given my advance age. I also told him, I will like to achieve my idea with experience leaders of major religions in Cameroon. That is also how, the idea of contacting the Presbyterians Church, the Baptise Church and the Muslim community to provide elder persons, came up. In preference, I would have wanted retired pastors and imams. But as far as the Presbyterians are concerned, it is they who decided that, a synod clerk should represent the Presbyterian Church. And then we also thought that, we should not forget our Muslim brothers, they have something to say. So we contacted therefore, the Imams of Bamenda and Buea and they made sacrifices to be here in Douala. The Imam of Bamenda central Mosque, arrived here at 4 O’clock and left at about 6 or 7 o’clock in the evening back to Bamenda. That is how the idea that was originally mine took shape and we arrived at the communiqué that was made public. For such a meeting, you bring a draft, which serves as a working basis. You don’t come empty handed. We had such, on to which every word was properly studied and collectively adopted as ours. That is how the final communiqué read by Rev Babila George Fochang came out or was made public.
PAV: What do you make of some Southern Cameroonians or Anglophones who think your initiative is remotely controlled by Biya’s regime?
Cardinal Christian Tumi: of course they are sure that, the government has authorized the meeting or may be pulling strings from behind. But I can assure you that, there is no such thing, I am still wondering whether the government will accept us to meet because it is a big meeting which they will need to protect us and make sure that, the meeting takes place calmly because it is our right. It is also our duty as pastors to take the initiative that, I have taken.
So, if anybody within or without the Anglophone community could think that, I can be pushed around; it is certainly because they don’t know me. Cardinal Tumi can’t be push around or forced to do things that he doesn’t believe in. I have my personal conviction.
PAV: Granted that you are the sole initiator of the August 29th and 30th conference, how come that, it is only now when the crisis is in its 2nd year that, you are taking such an enterprise?
Cardinal Christian Tumi: Because, I thought that, the initiative taken by the government then to send some officials to meet with people of the South west and North West regions would help reduce the tension, but I think, all of us will agree that, the tension is getting more and more serious. And we can’t just sit down and watch what is happening in a situation where by many soldiers, many civilians are being killed. So, we as pastors we want to speak and propose to the Anglophone Cameroonians and to all Cameroonians, what we think should be done to cease the violence that is taking place in the country. It is a proposition, we are not imposing. As Pastors and as religious leaders and for us Catholics, Christ has said: propose in season and out of season, whether they listen to you or not. You have done your work. We don’t have to sit down and see things go wrong and we say nothing. If we say nothing, we will be guilty before God.
PAV: Are you the initiator of the project or it is Dr Simon Munzu who is an avowed federalist or that, you are fronting for Dr Munzu?
Cardinal Christian Tumi: Can you imagine me at my age fronting for a young man such as Munzu? The Anglophone General Conference is my initiative, which coincidentally caught the interest of Munzu that I have known for years. So, is it difficult for me to make proposals such as the current one? Even if he were the one who proposed it to me or you and I owned it and assume it, it simply becomes my own and it is the same with you, if I make or bring up an idea, and you assume it and makes it known, it is yours. There is no contradiction here, whether he proposed it to me or I took the initiative and invited him. But it is my idea and I was waiting for the opportune time and that time is now. No one can manipulate me. The Anglophone General Conference is my initiative that I didn’t want to carry out alone and I associated other religious leaders.
PAV: Your communiqué read by the Synod clerk, said it will be an inclusive dialogue and this has equally raised more suspicions and doubts. How do you guarantee that armed militants and Anglophones who are abroad with arrest warrants dangling above their heads will attend without risk of being arrested by the government?
Cardinal Christian Tumi: Well, your question partly removes the doubts or claims that, it is the government sponsoring the conference. If they were the ones, how come that, you will be asking such questions on those who are fighting in the bushes or those who are abroad? That is why, we are telling the government to please allow everyone to come in freely. And if it is legal, to free those who are in prison, so that, they will participate personally or by delegation in the meeting because it is called inclusive.
PAV: what is going to be new or said at the August 29th and 30th meeting that will be different from the ACC1 &ACC11?
Cardinal Christian Tumi: The first is that, this initiative is taken by religious leaders. Second, we are going to be updating our grievances and this last point could be what will make August 29th and 30th different from AAC1 and AAC2. We have a pastoral approach. We have no arms, but we tell love and forgiveness. These are the virtues we will be insisting on: love and forgiveness, objectivity and truth. This is not political language and that makes our approach different. As we take part in that meeting, we the religious leaders, we will invest in all those virtues that make man: truth. If intellectually, you see someone saying something good, by virtue of intellectual honesty, you have to accept it as the truth. When someone else brings up an idea that you accept or disagrees, but you find out that, it might help solve a problem, you need to concede and it shows that, you have truth in you and also that, if you claim to be an intellectual, then you are an honest intellectual. We must learn to be truthful and honest intellectually. In Anglophone Cameroon or Southern Cameroon, there are several opinions on the current crisis and also how to solve it. Anyone who refuses that is not honest but the conference will help to come up with a common ground.
PAV: Do you think the government will accept or authorised your conference?
Cardinal Christian Tumi: the Anglophones are not coming together with a fix political or should I say, they don’t have a fix position or one stand on the current crisis rocking their country or region. There are those who are for secession, others are for federation and others are for decentralization that the President of the country is proposing. All we are saying is that, anybody who wants to be part of this dialogue must be objective. That is to say, you must be ready to take and give. I have spoken with some Anglophones who say, especially those in the Diaspora and who claim 90% of Southern Cameroonians are for secession, then I ask them, how do you know? What is your basis for making such claims? I tell them, I can also affirm that, 90% of Southern Cameroonians are for two states federation, but what will be my basis? This come together, I repeat will permit us to know who is who in Anglophone Cameroon.
PAV: finally, I am not in any way putting in doubt your integrity, but can you affirm before God and man here that you not being remotely controlled by the regime or fronting for Dr Munzu?
Cardinal Christian Tumi: Only God knows. To be frank with you, I was never consulted by anyone or groups of individual not even the government to make any intervention on this crisis. If I am not convinced personally of something, no matter how it is being presented to me or by whom, I don’t accept it. May be because the idea of the conference came from this house, some groups have started thinking that, it will be a start to solving the problem, hence they think I have been influenced by somebody or an occult group or groups, as claimed by a French-language daily, Info-Martin of today. I repeat, no one has influenced me or is influencing me. All I and other religious leaders are saying is that, peace, love and forgiveness should be given a chance.