Can Cameroon's Army be pivotal in national integration?
May 28, 2014

The 42nd edition of Cameroon's National Day celebrated on May 20th, 2014, is now behind us and Cameroonians are somewhat relieved and free to settle down to the humdrum of their daily routine activities. Fourty-two years after many are however at a loss as to whether its national defense forces should be closely involved at all in resolving the knotty "integration" which continues to be a nagging issue in Cameroon.

I have opted to revisit the theme of this years' celebrations and to take issue with the mindset and apparent hidden agenda of whosoever conceived that theme. I dare not grapple with the original French version. Instead, I will focus on the translated version "Army and Nation, in synergy for the preservation of peace and security; crucible of integration, stability and economic development."

Whether the ideas hang well together is not my concern here, but given that the 2014 20th May celebrations were unfolding in the backdrop of the worrisome upsurge of the gruesome Boko Haram acts of terrorism, that had assumed international proportions, it is not only understandable and timely, but absolutely necessary for the army and the entire population of patriotic Cameroonians to stand up as one man and face up to the Boka Haram threats in order to safeguard our peace and stability.

However, my worry is with the idea of the army being referred to as the crucible of integration in Cameroon. The vexing issue of integration in Cameroon is central to what has come to be known as the "Anglophone Problem".

In paging through the Thesaurus I found the following connotations for the word integration in the first, it simply means addition; in the second integration means mixing, in the third it means incorporation, and in the fourth it means combination. In the fifth integration means amalgamation and in the sixth, the one Cameroon Anglophones love to hate, it means assimilation.

For fifty-three years, the powers that be, have tried to impose the assimilation module on the Anglophone Cameroonians but with very little success. It is inconceivable in the context of Cameroon that the nation is of any significance to an army, which carries out all its operations in French. That is not even my concern. What bothers me is the use of the word "crucible" as the operational metaphor depicting the army's role in the process of integration. I am particularly disturbed by the fact that all the meanings of the word crucible implicate the use of fire or heat and, by extension some kind of force or pressure. My first encounter with a crucible was in the science laboratory at the secondary school where we used crucibles as containers to heat substances to very high temperatures. Crucibles were also used to melt metals. In one of its connotations a crucible is defined as a place or set of circumstances where things are subjected to forces that test them and often make them change. Does that remind anybody of torture chambers? That does me.

In conclusion, I am convinced about the validity of this years' 20th May celebration theme, which advocates for the army working in synergy with the rest of Cameroonian society to preserve our peace and security. What I consider disturbing is the idea of the army playing a perceptible role in the integration process that continues to be a bone of contention for the former British Cameroonians who opted to join their counterparts of the former French Cameroon.

Many are the levelheaded nationalists who believe that a solution to the knotty integration problem should be based on the force of argument and not on the argument of force. No less that Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, pointed out without mincing words, that there is indeed and Anglophone problem in Cameroon and that the solution to the problem can only be found in dialogue.

The army has never been a catalyst or an instrument of choice for dialogue. Let us not forget what a one great mind said, "To a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."

Samson Muteh