A traditional leader in Cameroon is seen in an undated file photo. (Credit: Unsplash.)

Priest calls for empowering traditional leaders to resolve Cameroon’s Anglophone conflict

CRUX | A leading Catholic priest in Cameroon has called for the restoration of the ‘power and dignity” of traditional leaders in the country’s troubled North West region to help resolve the country’s Anglophone crisis.

The conflict pits the military against separatists in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions who claim to have suffered decades of marginalization in the majority French-speaking country and are seeking to establish a breakaway natin called Ambazonia.

Father Humphrey Tatah Mbuy, National Communications Secretary of the Cameroon Bishops’ Conference, has written a new book, Fons of ‘Traditional Bamenda’ and Partisan Politics in Contemporary Cameroon, asserting the politicization of traditional chieftaincies in Cameroon has worsened the conflict.

A “Fon” is the traditional tribal chief in Cameroon, and Bamenda is the area that makes of the English-speaking North West region. Mbuy is a priest of the Archdiocese of Bamenda.

“The Fon was the main custodian of land and culture, primarily the traditional High Priest, the incarnation of the ethnic grouping and divine ancestral institution not open to any manipulations, certainly not to partisan politics,” the priest writes.

Being “at the center of society,” the Fon has to be politically neutral, and should “never publicly express or identify with any political party.”

In his book, Mbuy looks at the history of Cameroon and notes that the German colonists – who ruled “Kamerun” from 1884 until the First World War – showed respect to the Fons.

After the war, when Cameroon was divided the United Kingdom and France, the British continued this policy, using indirect rule to administer what are now the North West and South West regions of the country.

In recognition of this central role of traditional authorities, the German colonialists, and then the British showed enormous respect for the Fons, with the British colonialists in particular using what they called the “indirect rule” system to administer their own part of Cameroon.

“The British recognized, respected and made use of the local chiefs to a point where they created a Southern Cameroons House of Chiefs to enable the local leaders discusses social, economic and cultural issues from their perspective without any partisan political influence,” Mbuy told Crux during the book launch on September 4.

Mbuy said these tribal rulers were so influential that the population would flout the orders of local government administrators if the Fons gave contrary orders.

“If there is a who gives an order and the Fon gives a contrary order, the people will follow the Fon, not the divisional officer, because the divisional officer is an administrator put there where the people don’t feel his real meaning to them. But the Fon is the representative of the ancestors, and this strength of the Fons would definitely be a threat to any government, and it was good politics that some people tried to bring down this power of the Fons by attracting them with some little money and bringing them over on their [political] side, and then the Fons no longer had the power they had before,” Mbuy continued.

British Cameroon was reunited with its French-speaking half on Oct. 1, 1961; the French had given Cameroon independence a year earlier.

Mbuy said the new country feared the power of the tribal leaders, and eroded their responsibilities in administration.

In 1972, President Ahmadou Ahidjo scrapped the House of Chiefs and then enacted laws making traditional leaders “auxiliaries of the administration,” putting them under the local government officials.

Subsequent government used financial incentives to lure the Fons partisan politics.

The politicization of traditional chieftaincies, the priest said, has exposed them to attacks from armed extremists.

“The events leading up to and during the armed conflict in the former Southern Cameroons indicate that it was due to their involvement in partisan politics, with many of them taking sides with the ruling party, that a good number of Fons had to escape from their Fondoms to remain alive. Some went into the diaspora as refugees; some lived elsewhere as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and others were killed … Such a situation constituted a ‘cultural sacrilege which no normal person in Traditional Bamenda could ever have thought of,” the priest told Crux.

“We are fighting to bring them back to where they were, but I am telling you, it will not be easy for everyone to accept it,” he added.

Yet, Mbuy said he believes a sustainable solution to the conflict in Cameroon would be found if the government were to revert to the British-colonial era system of indirect rule.

“If the government went through the Fons, they would get very serious orders throughout the country,” he said, noting that politically neutral Fons would have more leverage in pushing for peace in their communities.

“If you did this, you would have more peace, more organization than we have now. Look at the former Empires of Sokoto, the empires of Mali and those in Burkina Faso. They all survived because the traditional authority was felt; and it is not just authority, it is Divine authority,” the priest said.

Mbuy said for this to work, the Fons need to be financially independent, and suggested that a percentage of land sales from each tribe should go to the Fon, and that every civil servant should contribute a monthly stipend to the the traditional leader.

At the book launch, Willibroad Dze-Ngwa noted that for peace to be returned to Cameroon, the “forces of peace must oppose and overcome the forces of aggression.”

Dze-Ngwa is a peace activist and founder of the Heritage Higher Institute of Peace and Development Studies in Yaoundé.

He called on traditional authorities to “build healthy relations between the military and the population within their chiefdoms in order to rebuild a coordinated positive peace.”

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13 comments

  1. once an african becomes a christian be it catholic or whatever or muslim.they lose thier civilization having absolutely nothing to defend.the foundation of all civilizations is spirituality,once people let go thier spirituality,they let go thier civilization and become hybrids easy to manipulate.the mental shield that enables people to remain lucid vis a vis a challenging situation concentrating on reversing things in thier favour is the spirituality of their civilization.it enables them to see things from a civilization view point,and so in thier interest.to put it simple,what is the link between a japanese working at toyota and making an offering in the companies shinto shrine everyday?it reminds them that they are indepted to their ancestors who made a sacrefise for them to be there.

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  2. you may then ask,what about the japanese christian who works in the same company?i will reply that they will be less patriotic because the glue that tie them to japanese ancestry through shintoism has been cut.

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  3. Fons and chiefs, have sold their birth rights and consciences for money. That said,
    who believes in them who have tasted corruption and seen how sweet that is?
    Better put, like it happens in the whiteman`s land who colonized us and gave us a
    culture thereafter, that position should be crapped. It is old fashion and keeping one
    man and family ontop of others, breeds and maitains dictatorship. And we now
    know the hazzards going alongside with this. Anyone who doesn`t know or see this,
    should look at Biya`s 40+ years in power. Note his ownership of the country, the
    advantages his tribe has benefited over others, his wicked intentions to wipe a certain
    group of people he does like, and much more. What good, did Fon Angwafor, bring to
    his people and community, as a competitive legacy

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    • we cannot get rid of our tradition in favour of whiteman’s tradintion. even if it is dying we are the ones to revive it and make it stronger. even the queen in england is no more strong as before but the british still try as much as possible to make it happen. the fons are part of our african tradition and these are the customs and believes that we must preserve them and transmit to our our next generation. we mustn’t follow the whiteman ways.

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      • learn to look before talking. Do the kids of today care about your
        tradition and customs? How many of them speak their native
        languages?
        And what have traditional rulers, achieved in your own veiws
        over the last 40 years , including the fon of fons? Tell me, what
        powers they have, when even a police officer, can come to your
        village, take someone way, without passing through your fon
        or chief? When Amba boys came, they ran to y`de for shelter.
        This is the tradition and customs, that they profess to carry on?
        Or is it the lies telling they are accused of? Reason out of the box
        please.

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  4. Chiefs and Fons cannot resolve a Problem they have no is about. Amba Boys will resolve it with children of the guns from Beti Bulu Ewondo land.

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  5. Thank ALLAH, Dictator Biya FOOLISHLY declared an UNWINNABLE war on SC. He inadvertently opened the window of opportunity to resolving the Anglophone Question.
    Simply put, the war can and will only end AFTER the Anglophone Question has been COMPLETELY, TOTALLY, UNCONDITIONALLY and IRREVERSIBLY resolved.The BOYSES and GIRLLSES in the bushes will resolve the Anglophone Question, not the chiefs not Dictator Biya.

    BYE-BYE LRC, BAKASSI OIL HERE WE COME.

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    • **** HISTORY DON’T LIE ****

      ” Sovereign title to the territory of Ambazonia belongs to the people of Ambazonia, and not to any other people. The people of Ambazonia are entitled to the integrity of their territory. And this means Republique du Cameroun, which achieved its independence from France on 1 January 1960, must respect the integrity of its own territory, respect the AU core principle of intangibility of African borders as obtained on the day of achievement of independence, and abandons its pursuit of the internationally wrongful conduct of territorial expansionism.”

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    • “The territory of Ambazonia is safeguarded by international treaties. Ambazonia’s international boundary to the north and to the west down to the Bakassi Peninsula is well defined by, and is now demarcated on the basis of, the Anglo-German treaty of 1913 specifying the boundary between the British territory of Nigeria and the German territory of Kamerun. Ambazonia’s international boundary to the east is defined and demarcated on the basis ofthe Anglo-French treaty of 1916. The boundary alignment wasendorsed in 1919 at the Treaties of Versailles, confirmed by the League of Nations in 1922, and reconfirmed by the Anglo-French treaty of 1931 respecting the boundary between the British Cameroons and French Cameroun. The territorial integrity of Ambazonia is thus firmly secured “

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    • **** BREAKING SWEET NEWS ****

      “Crise anglophone: 07 soldats tués dans plusieurs attaques au Nord-Ouest.
      Des hommes armés ont attaqué plusieurs postes militaires dans la matinée du 13 septembre 2021.
      Un coup dur pour l’armée camerounaise sur le front du conflit armé dans les régions anglophones. Au moins 07 soldats ont été tués dimanche par des combattants séparatistes, a appris Cameroon-Info.Net de sources médiatiques.

      Des hommes armés, présentés comme des combattants séparatistes, ont attaqué simultanément plusieurs postes militaires dans la région du Nord-Ouest.”

      * MY TAKE *

      My motions of congratulation to the BOYSES and GIRLSES IN THE BUSHES.
      Dictator Biya made the MOTHER OF ALL BLUNDERS when he declared an UNWINNABLE war on SC.

      BYE-BYE LRC, BAKASSI OIL HERE WE COME!!!!!

  6. Interesting article ,the church ,over the years has reaped economic benefits ,, in many African countries
    .Maybe since church is classed. as a charity it should give a percentage back to its communities, via the Fons, especially when church’s inherit lands that are in the area of the Fons who ,in due course cannot sell this land ,but have to administer it so that collectives of the entire population are allowed to grow food on it for personal or free collective consumption on a regular basis .Fons can also encourage youths to work on this land if they are misbehaving thus lessening the work for police ,judicial system ,nipping bad acts in the bud .some chiefs in Nigeria already have this obligation to youths ,without this proposed help off the church .,probably a leftover from brits.

  7. Fons can also get the administration go ahead to organise group digging and maintenance of collection points for water management (and who uses it ) to stop road flooding in their areas .