3. Aghem
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44 3.aghem n returning to Wum I made my report to the Plebiscite Administrator. Tal was not surprised that politics had come up at my meetings, and took a relaxed view of the kind of questions I had been asked. He did not think it strange that many people were opposed to independence if that meant merging with one or other of their larger neighbours, nor was he surprised that the Fon favoured the Nigerian alternative, but his attitude was one of cheerful detachment. Never mind if you can’t answer the questions, he said. Just stick to the script. It was not our business to reason why, only to get on with the job as dispassionately and efficiently as we could. I had already made plans for a series of meetings in Wum town and the surrounding district of Aghem. The people in the town itself were relatively sophisticated, because of their close contacts with Bamenda, only about three hours’ truck journey to the south, and there was a greater awareness of party politics in the area than there had been in Bum. I had done my best to mug up on these by talking to the District Officer and reading the papers that we could sometimes buy in the market place. At the time, the Prime Minister was John Foncha, of the Kamerun National Democratic Party. The KNDP’s policy was for ‘re-unification’ with the former French colony. In fact the Cameroons, like most other African countries, was defined by lines drawn on the map by the colonial powers in the late 19th century and had only ever been united as the German colony of Kamerun, but during the campaign for independence, a number of local politicians had found it useful to look back on the period of German occupation as a golden age of national unity. Mr Foncha did just that. As it happened, he had been born and raised in the grasslands and he had a strong local following. He also capitalised on the widespread dislike of the Ibos, lively and acquisitive traders from Nigeria, who tended to monopolise the best jobs, both in business and in the civil service. It was not difficult to arouse popular fears of being swamped by Nigerians. Dr Endeley, Mr Foncha’s rival for power and leader of the opposition party, the CPNC, naturally took the opposite tack. Even though he had at one time favoured union with Cameroun, Dr Endeley now emphasised the level of political unrest in the newly independent République. The French-trained gendarmerie had brutally suppressed a series of bloody uprisings, and for Southern Cameroonians, accustomed to a relatively mild British administration, the prospect of riot, rebellion and savage military reprisals was alarming. Endeley also gained support on the ‘devil you know’ principle. The territory had been administered as part of Nigeria for nearly fifty years and the sky had not fallen in. With full provincial status in an enlarged federation, argued Endeley, O 45 the Southern Cameroons would enjoy the benefits of independence under the wing of its powerful neighbour. In practice the question of which way to vote boiled down to this. Which country are you more frightened of, Nigeria or Cameroun? And it was this question that formed the sub-text of most of the points that were put to me during the plebiscite meetings in Wum. My interpreter in Wum was Samuel Kum, whose understanding of local politics and of the English language was far in advance of Stephen’s. Samuel was able to interpret both what was being said, and the undertow of what was not actually being said but was generally understood by everyone else but me. I would make a rather tedious and anodyne speech about the procedure for the plebiscite. When the question of which country to choose came up I would simply say “that’s up to you”. Then, to my surprise, a man might stand up in the audience and shout angrily in my direction. Samuel would translate this as “Why are you coming here to tell us lies?” I would look baffled and hesitant, and Samuel would add, in a lower voice, “This man is KNDP. He thinks you are really in favour of Nigeria, but you are pretending not to be, and you are going to steal the votes and make them come out the way you want.” Of course I would do my best to stay poker-faced and assure...


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