Introduction
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1 Introduction: Francis B. Nyamnjoh & Nicodemus Fru Awasom book like this is ultimately about belonging, its indicators, the various forms it takes in different contexts, its priorities, and how it is renegotiated over time. Political considerations determine and are in turn determined by economic and cultural interests, amongst others. The 1961 Cameroon Plebiscite, a political event, was not uninformed by the prevalent economic and cultural calculus of the time. Similarly the outcome has shaped perceptions and political, economic and cultural fortunes in Cameroon for nearly half a century. As George Nyamndi (2007) puts it, “the dust is still to settle over the troubling legacy. One just needs to stir the topic to see how dialectical passions flare.” As the precursor of the politics of belonging in postcolonial Cameroon, the 1961 Plebiscite deserves the detailed eyewitness account that John Percival offers in this insightful book. The politics of recognition and representation at the heart of ongoing struggles for democracy the world over are pushing various communities to reappraise boundaries and belonging in fascinating ways. In Cameroon and Africa, belonging is as central to politics today as it was in colonial times, as the notion of a common citizenship becomes an ever more contested illusion. The reality and debate are informed both by contested identities sanctioned by the colonial and postcolonial states. Cameroon, like most of Africa, offers fascinating examples of how the term ‘indigenous’ was arbitrarily employed in the service of colonizing forces, of how peoples have had recourse to indigeneity in their struggles against colonialism, and of how groups vying for resources and power amongst themselves have deployed competing claims to indigeneity in relation to one another. At independence and reunification following the 1961 Plebiscite, the notion of nation-building and a common ‘civic’ juridico-political citizenship was embraced and enshrined in the constitution. So was the idea and principle of Cameroon as a bilingual republic—bilingual in French and English and in recognition of the dual colonial heritage as the basis of a common citizenship. However ethnic cultural identities were revived as forces in regional and national politics by the modification of the Constitution in 1996 to provide for the protection of ‘indigenous’ minorities. This was meant to contest and take precedence over the vocal and highly critical Anglophone community as the traditional and legitimate minority in postcolonial politics. This development did not however weaken the articulation of belonging based on the reality of Cameroon’s triple colonial (German, French, English) heritage, a fact that has only further complicated what it means to be ‘indigenous’, ‘minority’ or to ‘belong’ in Cameroon. Communities large (Francophones and Anglophones) and small (various ethnic groupings within and crisscrossing the Anglophone and Francophone divide) have both accepted and contested arbitrary colonial A 2 and postcolonial administrative boundaries and the dynamics of dispossession and/or aspiration. Failing to achieve the idealized ‘nation-state’ form and being relatively weak vis-à-vis global forces, various Cameroonian governments have since independence often sought to capitalise upon the contradictory and complementary dimensions of civic, ethnic and cultural citizenships. Under colonial regimes of divide-and-rule, to be termed ‘indigenous’ was first to create and impose a proliferation of ‘native identities’ circumscribed by arbitrary physical and cultural geographies. Secondly, it was to make possible not only distinctions between colonised ‘native’ and colonising Europeans, but also between ‘native citizens’ and ‘native settlers’ among ethnic communities within the territory. Thirdly, it was to be primitive, and therefore a perfect justification for the colonial ‘mission civilisatrice’, for dispossession and confinement to officially designated ‘tribal’ territories, often in callous disregard to the histories of relationships and interconnections forged with excluded others, or the differences and tensions even among the included. In all, to be indigenous was for the majority colonised ‘native’ population to be shunted to the margins. If this negative history still shapes the highly critical stance of Cameroonian intellectuals and nationalists towards all claims of autochthony/indigeneity as provided for in the 1996 Constitution, it has also, quite paradoxically, tended to render invisible the everyday reality of postcolonial Cameroonians (including those same intellectuals and nationalists) as straddlers of civic, ethnic and cultural citizenships on the one hand, and of multiple global and local cosmopolitan identities on the other. A good case in point of overly essentialised belonging along regional and ethnic lines despite the sociological reality of individuals as relational beings is that of those commonly referred to as coming from the ‘11th Province’. Although Cameroon has only 10 provinces, the reasoning...