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Elegy of the Ostracized: We Were Soldiers, Child Soldiers for Cameroon
Category :- Editorial Author :- Awung Mbecha 
Posted on February 23, 2020, 12:00 am
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Wind the clock back to May 1981 and thereafter, almost forty years ago, we were child soldiers for Cameroon. Child soldiers holding up the ideals of one great Cameroon, even as, unknown to our infantile minds, the Powercam turbines at Yoke had just been shut down and the Francophone technicians sent to decommission the Malale Powercam plant on the Meanja River were gradually shutting the gates of the penstocks.

image credit: www.southworld.net/child-soldiers-little-warriors/

Wind the clock back to May 1981 and thereafter, almost forty years ago we would have been the children of Ngarbuh, Teke, Mautu, Azi (Fontem), Batibo, Pinyin, Bali, Bafut and the thousands more enjoying the freedom of the moonlit night. Take our preteen bodies to this day and we like many Southern Cameroons children of today would have been nipped in the bud by the very nation we mythologized in our preteen patriotic imaginations. Yes, even as, unbeknownst to our innocent souls, the little crumbs legated to us two decades back at Foumban had almost all been pried out of our hands.

Yes, we were children, child soldiers for Cameroon. Preteens, but acutely aware that the welfare of dear fatherland must be won “in toil and love and peace”. Child soldiers initiated and emboldened by the fervor of our national myths of greatness. “Small no be sick,” the older boys at the playground had taught us. That was the myth of national resilience handed down at the playground under the moonlight from generation to generation. “Cameroon na small no be sick!” they said as we listened to nearly phantasmagorical tales of the heroic defense of the fatherland by Cameroonian coastguards against infiltrating Nigerian soldiers.

It was one evening in 1981 or 1982 who cares any more about time? There was a bright moon in the sky, a perfect time to play hide and seek. But that evening, we were not going to play hide and seek. Didn’t Bate Besong warn against reveling in romantic songs while Rome burned? So, I gave up the chance, that evening, to feel the soft buds of Eyenga’s nascent womanhood on my bareback as we squeezed our tiny preteen bodies behind a goat shed.

We signed up at the pretend conscription office under an avocado tree. We were hooked on the drug of patriotism dripping unto our tongues from the vials of the national anthem. The very rallying song that Cameroonian soldiers always sang before lurching against the enemy. We were proud to be Cameroonians, convinced that we were doing great signing up to fight for country. Even if it was make-believe. Even if our battlefields were nothing but the orchards on the outskirts of the CDC camp.  We had to act out our love for fatherland.

Oh, what a drug of an anthem! Land of Promise, Land of Glory. Dear fatherland that was no tongue can tell! We never for once doubted the truths of the claims to a once glorious past or even a glorious present.  Were we not “Small nobi sick”? It didn’t matter if we had been fed a myth. Which country does not have a rallying myth? We were sure that the dust stirred up by our infantile footfalls had once risen to the rhythms of our ancestors. We were certain that our own footfalls were not dropping far from where theirs had once danced to the rhythm of the war drums.

 

May 1981 Our Mythmaker

Meanja, like most other CDC camps, was a melting pot of ethnicities. A place that did not know the manipulations of politicians. Francophone or Anglophone was a distant concept. We knew of Bamileke, Bangwa, Bali, Ewondo, etc. But our tribes did not separate us. Our humanity connected us all in ways one cannot tell.     

So, we fell in love, Eyenga and I. She was a Beti beauty but what I saw was not her “Beti-ness”.  She could have been of any ethnicity and I would not have loved her less. But no sooner was innocence lost than the truth slapped me in the face like an ice block. Our love ended in terrible heartbreaks, leaving me alone to fondle the broken shards of our love gourd.

Oh innocence! The fields were Eyenga and I played, free of the prejudices of experience. Innocence, the slopes down which Eyanga and I rolled into the valley entwined in an embrace that only innocence could allow.

Innocence, the land where I lived until the Mungo meandered and in in the glitter of its murky waters, I saw my Anglophoneness staring me in the face as Eyenga retreated from me drawn away by the pull of her Beti-ness, her Francophoness. Even as the voices of experience told us we were meant to stay asunder, that still small voice yet echoing across the chasm between us incessantly whispered back the dreams of our childhood.

Stale are the sand cupcakes that we baked on the banks of the Meanja River, in the heat of the oven of our innocence. Oh Eyenga, love of my innocence. Oh Eyenga, your dad taught you how to abuse me. Eyenga, I wanted nothing from you other than that innocent embrace we used to share. We had no hormones to make our bodies shiver obscenely.

How did Team Cameroon lose its might? Mighty as the Buea Mountain was supposed to be our team. The Buea Mountain still stands sturdy, yet Team Cameroon crumbles.

 

Children soldier

And We Became Patriots, We Became Child Soldiers

In May of 1981, there was a clash between Nigerian and Cameroonian coastguards. Time passed and spinoffs of the incidence became the building tropes of fantastic urban legends about the bravery of Cameroonian soldiers against their foes. Legends that portrayed them as underdogs but whose underdog status was no impediment to their heroic engagement and defeat of the enemy. The stories were exciting. Nobody ever bothered to crosscheck them. Indeed, the more fantastic the tales the more credible they sounded to our juvenile imagination. Surely, Cameroon was the underdog. Small but not sickly. Small but not weak. Small but not handicapped. Small, yes, but small no be sick. Vicariously, we too had won that battle.

We were elated, inspired to reenact Cameroon’s victory in our own way in backyard gardens. So, a kid’s theater troupe was born. Two armies were formed, one for Cameroon and one for Nigeria. I was in Team Cameroon.  We intoned the Cameroon national anthem and marched valiantly into the warfront, our wooden AK47 lifted above our juvenile heads in mocked bravura as we dodged imaginary bullets from the enemy.

When I look back to that period almost forty years ago, I cannot fathom how this nation came to this moment of state terror on its own citizens. The terror of a senseless war declared by the state on its own people for simply asking for their rights to their cultural heritages. The hills and valleys of the Southern Cameroons are a grotesque testimony to the arsons visited on a people whose only crime is resisting assimilation.

How painful, on the morrow of years gone by, to realize that we had been so shortchanged in our innocence to be believe that we had a part in the national myths.

Even as we believed that we were part of Team Cameroon on the east bank of the Mungo we were Biafrans, we were les ennemies dans la maison, we were dogs, subhuman and worthy of extermination in a land we called Fatherland.

The blood of the innocents cries out from the bowels of earth to the heavens above.

 

 

 

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