By Ireneaus Chia Chongwain
It is understood when sports in general and football in particular, draw huge crowds in Cameroon, but when the launching of a book releases a human avalanche to the event, it can only be put down as the exception to every rule. That was the case on Tuesday, April 17, when a healthy portion of the Yaounde population trooped to the Djeuga Palace Hotel to witness the launching of Cardinal Tumi's latest publication, "The political Regimes of Ahmadou Ahidjo and Paul Biya, and Christian Tumi, Priest."
The event depicted that while many believe that the majority of Cameroonians are not interested in books, the subject matter that is handled and the personality involved remain key determinants in shaping readers' choices and responses. The milling crowd included members of the diplomatic corps, religious and political personalities, human rights activists, university dons, students and curious onlookers. Nothing was left to chance as all the key actors had been meticulously selected with Pr. Victor Anomah Ngu as the chairperson, the Archbishop Emeritus of Bamenda, Father Paul Verdzekov as the Cardinal's biographer and retired journalist Peter Esoka as master of ceremony, flanked to their right by a number of bishops who had squeezed time out of their tight schedules to personally take part in the event. Contrary to fears that the event was going to be interrupted by secret service agents, the ceremony ran smoothly from beginning to end. In the first of three reviews titled "Christian Cardinal Tumi's Barrel of the Cross," Prof. Bole Butake of the Faculty of Arts, Letters and Social Sciences of the University of Yaounde I, described the book as "basically a historical account of how in his mission to fulfil his evangelical mission in various capacities and regions in Cameroon, Cardinal Tumi encounters hurdles deliberately put across his way by operatives of the system of governance which, in the priest's opinion, went contrary not only to the basic instrument - the Constitution of the country, but also against the Human Rights Charter of the United Nations." He said that over the last 47 years Cameroonians have been drilled and even constrained to live in a state of fear and despair, a reality that is explored in greater detail in the book.
Professor Bole Butake noted that in the true spirit of what he qualified as the "Liberation Theology," a school of thought which focuses on Jesus Christ and the gospel as a means of liberating people from poverty, oppression and injustice, Christian Cardinal Tumi in his book sets out to invigorate his fellow countrymen in overcoming fear and in so doing liberate themselves from the only absolute sin that exists - the sin of despair.
However noble this mission may be, it is not without thorns as Cardinal Tumi meets stiff opposition and accusations of subversion from overly enthusiastic appointees of the Ahidjo and Biya regimes, who go an extra mile to falsely accuse him of nursing presidential ambitions, as if that were a crime in the first place. Prof. Butake commended Christian Cardinal Tumi for "throwing himself practically single-handedly into the battle to rescue Cameroonians from fear and despair and to instil hope in them and restore their humanity. Cardinal Tumi does this, Prof. Butake stressed, with poise, calm, serenity and objectivity. According to Prof. Forcha Innocent, lecturer at the Department of African Literature in the University of Yaounde, who reviewed the book for the French-speaking readers, "The Political Regimes of Ahmadou Ahidjo and Paul Biya, and Christian Tumi Priest," examines with incisiveness, the origin of the antagonistic relationship between Cardinal Tumi and the Ahidjo and Biya regimes, explores the sources of such conflicts and draws lessons from the standoffs.
He pointed out that the Ahidjo and Biya regimes have a point of convergence which he referred to as "a common denominator" - the rejection of all criticisms considered as a manifestation of hostility to the survival of both political regimes. He added that the book projects its writer in his triple dimension as a citizen defending freedom of expression for himself and his fellow countrymen, a Christian striving to live up to the model established by Christ and a proud and happy pastor struggling to accomplish his evangelical mission. He went further to describe the book as a confrontation between an advocate of rigour, the respect of the rule of law and the moralisation of consciences on the one hand, and the advocates of the arbitrary injustice and the violation of human rights on the other. Prof Forcha expounded that the book's tone is revolutionary and patriotic, but remains, in his view, a major contribution to the understanding of governance in Cameroon, carried out through an uncompromising diagnosis of the ills that plague Cameroon's political system. An understanding of the system, he argued, is indispensable in preparing a better tomorrow, however bleak the present system may be.
In an exposé by Prof. Godfrey Tangwa and presented by Peter Esoka, Prof Tangwa opined that "Cardinal's Tumi Epistle" is not only a book about the Cardinal, but about Cameroonians, who in varying degrees of complicity generated by the misuse of power and authority, have cowardly remained silent in the face of the outrageous. He doffed his hat to the Cardinal for his unwavering moral courage, audacity, straightforwardness and promptitude in addressing the weighty issues of the day. The book's prowess notwithstanding, Prof Butake pointed out certain lexical and grammatical lapses that could have been avoided if the English version were not a translation of the French edition, adding that such lapses have diminished the power of communication of the book. He advised that the book stands to gain a lot if it were to be published by a regular publisher taking into consideration all the implications governing book publishing.
The event was more than a book-launching occasion as the audience had the privilege of meeting some of the characters cited in the Cardinal's book, thus reinforcing the authenticity of the claims made. The audience did not remain indifferent to the wit, positive or negative, of the Minister Delegate in the Ministry of Communication, Prof. Gervais Mendo Ze, as he splurged his linguistic talent in pointing out some of the things he considered as setbacks in the book, in the defence of the present regime and in appealing to President Biya and Cardinal Tumi to bury their differences and find common ground to pave the way for the building of a new nation for Cameroonians. He set the ball rolling for the launching of the book alongside other personalities like Christopher Nsahlai and David Abouem Achoyi.