Corpses of Unity / Cadavres de l’unite : An Anthology of Poems / Une anthologie de poems

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The title of the Anthology in English and French phrases respectively – Corpses of Unity / Cadavres de l’unite : An Anthology of Poems / Une anthologie de poems – is striking. How can the dead unify and why? Reading through the book and reflecting on the poems reveals more about the meaning of the title and the tragedy of unity in Cameroon.” More corpses continue to fall for Cameroon’s unity to rise.”

This anthology is a bilingual edition in French and English published by Vita Books in 2020. The introductory sections of the anthology are divided into three sections: Section 1 is a preface written in French by Gilbert Doho. Section two is the editors’ note by the two editors, Nsah Mala and Mbizo Chirasha. Section three is the publisher’s perspective, Vita Books, the local publisher.  The introductory sections are followed by the poems in French and English while the contributors bio notes concludes the publication.

This review will reflect the sections and poems written in English which the reviewer is acquainted with.

Editors’ Note: Scattered Unity

The anthology is edited by two writers, Nsah Mala from “Anglophone” or West Cameroon (formerly British Southern Cameroon) and Mbizo Chirasha from Zimbabwe. The two editors give a detailed background of the genesis and circumstances in country, a country which they view as having refused to reconcile herself to her complicated and complex history.

Cameroon was initially annexed as a colony of Germany colony and named Kamerun during the scramble and invasion of Africa by European imperial powers and interests. When a combined Franco – British force defeated the Germans during WWI, the colony was partitioned between Britain and France with about three fifth of Cameroon going to France and about two-fifths to Britain. In 1922, the League of Nations officially conferred the two parts as Mandated Territories to France and Britain which became known as the British Cameroon and French Cameroun respectively. Britain administered her occupied territory jointly with her colony in Nigeria while France maintained her as a separate colony of French Equatorial Africa.

On 1st January 1960, French Cameroun obtained “independence” from France and became the Republic of Cameroun. On 11th February 1961, a UN organized Plebiscite compelled British Cameroons to choose to obtain independence by joining either the Federal Republic of Nigeria (which gained independence in 1960) or the Republic of Cameroun. The British Northern Cameroons voted to join Nigeria while the British Southern Cameroons voted to join French Cameroun in a Federation. On 1st October 1961, British Southern Cameroons attained independence by joining the Republic of Cameroun to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon, with English and French as two official languages, equal in status. The Federal Republic of Cameroon consisted of two states in equal: the State of East Cameroon (former Republic of Cameroun) and the State of West Cameroon (former British Southern Cameroons) The French civil law and educational system were to be applied in East Cameroon while the Anglo – Saxon common law and educational system were to be practiced in West Cameroon.  And there was a constitutional clause prohibiting any eventual dissolution of the Federation. In spite of this prohibition, Cameroun’s first President, Ahmadou Ahidjo (a Francophone) dissolved the Federation on 20th May 1972 through a controversial “referendum” and created the United Republic of Cameroon. Paul Biya (another Francophone who was handed power in 1982 and who is still in office) single-handedly changed the country’s name from the United Republic of Cameroon to the Republic of Cameroun, the original name of French Cameroun at Independence before the 1961 Federation. These gestures of bad faith bred the root cause of the conflict which culminated in the genocidal war ravaging Anglophone Cameroon to date.

This conflict has laid the groundwork for a separatist movement called the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) which emerged in the 1990s advocating for the restoration of the 1961 independence of the British Southern Cameroons. An independent Southern Cameroon is being referred by the separatists as Ambazonia, coined from the Ambas Bay in Victoria (Limbe).

This conflict has resulted to brutal retaliation from the armed forces under instructions from Yaoundé in Francophone Cameroon. By December 2019, international human rights NGOS estimated that more than 1200 people had died in the war, over 400 villages razed down by soldiers who also partially burnt down some hospitals. International humanitarian NGOs and UN agencies also reported that there were thousands of children out of school, over 50,000 Anglophone Cameroonian refugees in neighbouring Nigeria, and thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) within Cameroon, some of whom are taking shelter in forests.  The international community, especially the United Nations, is apparently helpless in the face of this bloody conflict which resulted from imperial decolonization. Calls for an inclusive dialogue without preconditions to address the root causes of the conflict have been ignored by the Yaoundé government. Instead the government organized what they called a Grand National Dialogue (which many variously described as Die –Logue, Biya – Logue or Monolgue). A symposium by former African Heads of States and government under the auspices of Africa Forum was to be held in Kenya in April 2020 to discuss the Southern/Anglophone War. The Yaoundé government had already indicated that it did not intend to send a representative to the symposium. “It’s a foreign initiative that doesn’t concern us,” a Cameroonian diplomat said.

The editors of the anthology contend that they have chosen to join literary voices to the international calls for genuine and inclusive dialogues or mediation. Writers, the editors point out, are prophets who discern the cracks of the times. But “as usual, irresponsible leadership, especially in Africa, always chooses to ignore and/or molest writer – prophets instead of heeding their warnings in order to mitigate impending dangers.”

This is the first anthology to bring together not only writers from both Anglophone and Francophone Cameroon, but also writers from the rest of Africa and other global citizens “who are concerned with the blood baths, burnings and other crimes committed in Anglophone Cameroon in the name of unity or division. The anthology contains sixty four poems in French and English from thirty three poets representing thirteen African countries. 41 poems are in English while 23 are in French, representing Cameroon’s bilingual texture. But the editors are quick to point out that, they “do not seek to promote linguistic or cultural domination in any part of the world. Difference and diversity mixed with justice and love, equality, and peace constitute key ingredients for the world’s beauty.”

Some of the poets gravitate towards freedom for the former British Southern Cameroon aka Ambazonia, as the solution to this crisis, some towards Pan Africanism, and some others towards a reconciled Cameroon. “But they all converge on the despicable and gruesome effects of the war on innocent victims. They all acknowledge that Cameroon is dancing foreignness with bare feet on the dusty soils of her ancestral backyards. There is unanimity among the poets that we Africans hardly question the sources of the belligerence and bellicose adoption of the glitter of otherness fronted at our front doors; so we often jump with one accord to embrace setting – sun values, taking instructions from colonial metropolis to subjugate and maim our own siblings as foreigners cart away our oils and butcher our trees.  What will become of a “one and indivisible Cameroun” emptied of Anglophones? Petrol will vote. Corpses continue to fertilize unity. Even unity is dying, unity is becoming a corpse! A referendum is both a graveyard and a maternity ward! Genuine and inclusive dialogue can still turn the tides and make Camerooon beautiful again. Yes, genuine and inclusive dialogue can stop more bloodbaths and deaths as we bury the littered Anglophone corpses in a gesture of reconciliation!”

Word from the publisher

Vita Books, the publisher, aver that it has published this anthology as a way of fulfilling its aim of ‘supporting people’s struggles to create societies based on principles of equality and justice.” This is the kind of content given to insufficient attention and media blackouts by corporate media that are ‘busy with its twin jobs of maximizing profits and creating mindsets favourable to capitalism and imperialism.”

By publishing this anthology, Vita Books has played a crucial role in the continuing struggles for liberation in Africa. As Nsah Mala, the co-editor observes in an email correspondence with the publisher, ‘the joint publication of the book by different publishers in Africa is another indication of anti-imperialist Pan Africanism which highlights the coming together of African progressive forces.”

The coming together of many poets from various countries in Africa and elsewhere in the world to add to literary voices against the ‘silent’ genocide going in Southern Cameroon is itself a significant development and an important step towards the liberation of Africa. “In this way,” the publisher observes, “activism, literature, politics and publishing can come together to help solve the terrible reality that is facing people in Anglophone Cameroon. Let these poems highlight the need to respect the right to life, equality, peace and justice in Cameroon – and in Africa as a whole.”

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