By Cyprian Ntiamba Obi Ntui
This piece is intended to serve as a welcome reminder to the new French Ambassador to Cameroon, His Excellency Gilles Thibault who assumed duty in Yaounde last week.
Even before he could settle down, he was presiding over a ceremony in Douala where the city of Bordeaux, in his home country was signing a cooperation agreement with the Douala City Council.
Surely, and by my estimation, the diplomat still needs to take the actual pulse of the nation he has been assigned to oversee within the next three to four years so that he can compare and contrast the reality on ground with what he thought about Africa generally and Cameroon in particular before his high profile appointment.
His first discovery will obviously be that Africa is a vast continent with more than 50 different nations with each of them at varied levels of development and confronting different political, social, economic and other challenges.
Coming right down here to stay and interact with us will save him from the ignorance that many European armchair diplomats exhibit when they are deciding on or are expected to implement a home policy that concerns Africa.
This was clearly evident last week when ‘almighty’ Boris Johnson, British Foreign Secretary got embarrassed when, during a speech, he was reminded that Africa is not a country as he consistently referred to the black man’s home as such.
The bone of contention in your favourite column this morning, is however not about Ambassador Gilles Thibault nor the British Diplomatic service; but about the interviews that Far Right French politicians aspiring to replace Francois Holland at the Elysee palace come 2017, gave to the press last weekend. Up to seven candidates answered questions about why they want to rule France and how their policy on Africa would look like. Among the two personalities who, by my estimation are worth taking seriously, are the current Mayor of Bordeaux, Alain Juppe, and his toughest challenger and former President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy.
When a French radio journalist squeezed these two politicians to comment about their future policy on Africa should they win the French Presidency, come 2017, Alain Juppe told the world that his tenure should he win, would be focused on three prongs: Intensifying economic cooperation with Africa, stressing that in the present global economic climate where more and more world powers are streaming into the Black Man’s home in search of business opportunities, France must change tactics in order to remain competitive.
He also promised to work towards strengthening democratic institutions in Africa; but especially in countries that were former French colonies; and where, according to his observation, democratic principles were being implemented at a snail’s speed in comparison with countries formerly colonized by Britain. His third prong for which I was provoked was his insistence that the promotion of the French language must be intensified in France’s former colonies. “Language is more than just words.
It is the way people live; the way people think and do things. Indeed, language is man’s total world view,” the Mayor of Bordeaux said.
On the other hand, Nicolas Sarkozy, told the world that he will come up with a Marshall plan, for the reconstruction of Africa; something like what the United States put up after the first world war to rebuild devastated Europe.
From his observation and experience, Sarkozy stated categorically that all the problems that are confronting Europe today have their roots in Africa’s underdevelopment. I don’t think it requires any exceptional IQ to see that Sarkozy’s diagnosis is not just right, but perfect. If there is anything that had robbed the African of his dignity, self confidence, and the ability to take his destiny in his own hands, it is the self denial that the colonial masters promoted by forcing Africans to abandon their mother tongues and embrace or speak only the colonial, ‘master’s’ language; since like Alain Juppe stated language rules everything about a people.
I remember my days in primary and secondary school where all teachers, and even the headmasters kept punishing any one of us who they ‘caught’ speaking his or her mother tongue during school hours. “Speaking in your vernacular is forbidden” was a school law that was strictly enforced. Even in our village homes, school children started parading themselves as superior to elders or even their illiterate parents by trying to speak English at home; a language this category of persons could not understand; and one that made them look or feel inferior to those who spoke it.
So how can a people who are brought up to deny themselves; to glorify the culture of a different race and are forced to learn and live the way some other people in faraway lands live not remain backward and underdeveloped?
Apart from this, do we not see that the entire African continent has been divided and set on conflicting development paths because of the different European languages we speak? And as we continue to strive to be like or see our different colonial masters as role models; whose historical experience in economic and social development must be replicated in the different African countries?
In my own country for instance, do we not see that Cameroon is deep in a quagmire and it has become difficult to move the nation forward because Anglophones are stuck with their Anglo-American ways just as the French speaking majority too do not want to let go on the French ways of thinking and doing things? Don’t we see that French and English are the root cause of the difficulties that we face as we struggle to entrench national integration? Don’t we see how so many are profiting from these language differences and are using them to accumulate political gains? That this is equally true for the former colonial masters?
I think that even the mass exodus of African ‘evolues’ who now want to live but in the developed world is an eloquent cry to the fact that the old colonial policies that undermined our own cultures that are rooted in our languages, and tended to treat Africa as a reservoir for them to scout for natural resources to develop their countries while Africa lies fallow has proven counterproductive.
Both Britain and France are too small to keep on receiving, unendingly, masses of migrants from their former colonies; people who are merely running away from their homelands that are socially, economically, technologically and scientifically depressed. Africa is made up of nations that are plagued by a leadership that has lost confidence in itself and in its peoples’ ability to do anything that could change things for the better for the overall good of all.
It was thanks to a marshal plan put in place by the United States of America that Europe was helped to bounce back to economic prosperity, after the devastation caused by the second world war. Sarkozy being what he is; if his stewardship as President of France from 2006 to 2012, is to be taken as a reliable measuring rod, then we have no reason to doubt that Nicolas Sarkozy is capable of mobilizing the needed resources from France, Europe and even the world to be able to implement a Marshall plan that could turn Africa around.
Sarkozy is a person who can listen to Africans and cooperate with progressive forces in the continent so that a fertile environment for the evolution of genuine development is assured; democratic institutions that can provide virile leadership are implanted ; and participation of Africans in the mainstream of human development in science; technology; economy and social evolution guaranteed. The likes of Alain Juppe need to be told that we too cherish our languages and culture just as they who have imposed theirs all over the world and are making sure that European languages continue to thrive and expand.
Many cherished African languages have already been extinct because of this denigration. Whereas, I for one, have experimented with many other languages over the years; from European languages like English and French; to German to related African ones like Keyang and Efik to Ibo, Yoruba and Hausa, none of them makes me feel fulfilled; none gives me my sense of identity and none makes me feel as human as am supposed to be than Ejagham, my mother tongue.
Africa should therefore throw her weight behind Nicolas Sarkozy as his next Presidency could mean the advent of a golden age for Africa’s Renaissance. This is even more so considering the dismal record that Alain Juppe left behind when he served as Prime Minister of France under President Jacques Chirac from 1995 to 1997.
His Premiership was a time when France was rocked by labour unrests; with workers’ Unions all over France embarking on strike actions that virtually paralised that European nation until Alain Juppe was booted out.