Interviewed by Sylvestre Ndoumou, Gildas Mouthé and Bernard Amadou
After it had earlier been authorised and later suspended, the State has finally approved the Faculty of Medicine of the Catholic University of Cameroon. Douala Emeritus Archbishop, Christian Cardinal Tumi, explains the genesis of this university and the competitive advantage of its Faculty of Medicine, among other issues. He also briefly comments on the recent passing on of his mother, Yaa Catherine La’ake Tumi.
This university is called the Catholic University of Cameroon, and not the Catholic University of Bamenda; Bamenda being only the headquarters just like Yaoundé is the headquarters of the Catholic University of Central Africa. As you know very well, we decided, with the Holy See’s approval, to create the Catholic University of Central Africa. Six Episcopal Conferences are the founders of this university and the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon cannot do anything in this university without the approval of the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Central Africa. I was the chancellor of the Catholic University of Central Africa for almost 16 years. I can even say that I was the founding chancellor.
During his Apostolic visit to Cameroon in 1985, Saint Pope John Paul II supported the project. By interpreting what he said, I can affirm that he wanted this university to be bilingual. I must confess that we have failed not to have made the Catholic University of Central Africa a perfectly bilingual university. We carried out publicity almost everywhere, and we had students from several countries including English speaking countries. These students eventually realised that the reality was different and they returned to their countries.
After several years I was on holiday in Kumbo and I proposed to Mgr. Cornelius Fontem Esua, who was the Bishop of Kumbo at the time, the need to create an Anglo-Saxon university with headquarters in Bamenda. Why Bamenda? Because in Buea there was already a State university. That is why we chose Bamenda. Mgr. Esua hesitated at first, but was finally convinced. They asked for authorisation to create this university from the State which was approved. That is how the Catholic University of Cameroon was created and I encouraged the idea.
But the problem was with the Faculty of Medicine. The State had given the green light for the opening of this faculty but after some months; I can even say after two years, the State decided to review the modalities for the creation of faculties of medicine in Cameroon. So the authorisation that had been granted by the Minister of Higher Education, Pr. Jacques Fame Ndongo, was withdrawn. The Rector of Buea University, which oversees the Catholic University of Cameroon, the Ministry of Higher Education, and the Presidency of the Republic, had a discussion and decided to re-launch the Faculty of Medicine of the Catholic University of Cameroon in Kumbo. Why Kumbo? Because it has many opportunities where students can study medicine. Besides, we also have the Banso Baptist Hospital and the Shisong St. Elisabeth Hospital which belongs to a religious congregation and with which the Faculty of Medicine of the Catholic University of Cameroon has already signed some agreements. And at the moment, the Catholic University has started constructing its own hospital. Three buildings are already ready. I have visited this young hospital and in about two years from now, it will be functioning. This faculty will be launched in October, I think. The rest is moving on fine.
The Catholic University of Central Africa has lost its vocation to be bilingual and an Anglo-Saxon university has been created in Bamenda. Is the same error not being committed?
No! The focus is no longer on bilingualism either in UCAC or in Bamenda. In UCAC everything is in French and in Bamenda everything will be in English.
What appreciation can you make of the evolution of the Catholic University of Cameroon Bamenda?
The evolution is very positive. By its name this university is open to everyone. Besides, all universities have a universal vocation. Everything is moving on well.
You have just mentioned the suspension of the Faculty of Medicine by government officials. The reason authorities gave was related to the quality of studies in these medical institutions. What measures has the Faculty of Medicine in Kumbo taken to ensure quality training for its students?
The Catholic Church is a pioneer in the creation of universities in the world. All universities in the 13th Century were Catholic. Sorbonne was Catholic, Oxford and Cambridge were Catholic, so too was Bologne. Therefore, the Catholic Church has a lot of experience in university studies. And as the Rector of Buea University said, there is no Faculty of Medicine in Cameroon that started with what the Faculty of Medicine in Kumbo has today. We have started with 40 professors, 20 full-time and 20 part-time and other lecturers will come, since we have already signed partnership agreements with other foreign universities. Some Americans were already in the Faculty of Medicine in Kumbo to see how it has been equipped. We are convinced that it will be the best Faculty of Medicine in Cameroon. I have this conviction and by listening to the Bishops of this Ecclesiastical Province, I know they have the same ambition. There will be no patch work, especially in medicine as it deals with human life, not animal life.
You speak encouragingly of what is going on there, but are there reasons to hope that those who will be trained in this faculty of medicine will receive a solid moral training so that they do not start behaving like those we see today who do not have any respect for human life?
It is self-evident since it is a Catholic university. We have nursery, primary and secondary schools to train young people with ethics. A French businessman told me one day that what is missing in Cameroon are not intellectuals, but intellectuals with ethics. He told me they were waiting for UCAC graduates. I am not saying we are perfect, since we have people who have graduated from our schools and are in prison today. It is very difficult to form Man.
There is a link between quality training and high cost. Can everyone have access to the Catholic University of Cameroon? In other words, can the son of a farmer, for example, aspire to study there?
University studies are not for everyone. They permit the training of executives and managers. They are therefore not popular studies. Take UCAC, for example, we knew there were poor families which could not send their children there, and we knew that in Cameroon there are families that are having difficulties sending their children to the primary school. We therefore created a foundation to give scholarships to young people from poor families, but who meet the academic requirements to study in a university. We hope in Bamenda they are going to do the same thing, so that our schools should not only be for the rich, but also to all young people who are academically competent, whatever their origin. However, they should fulfil the intellectual requirements to be admitted to a university. I think everything must be done so that all qualified young people, whatever their social condition, should have access to this institution, and I think we have already started. When I was UCAC chancellor, I sent a street child from Douala there with the assistance of some catholic women and today he is working in a petroleum company. He has a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. As a street child, who could send him there? His parents were not even known.
It has been observed that once doctors complete their training they are not employed; sometimes even those who have graduated from State medical schools. What will become of graduates of the Faculty of Medicine of the Catholic University of Cameroon in Kumbo?
I do not think we have a doctor who is unemployed in Cameroon, since doctors are in short supply. Do you know any unemployed doctor from CUSS?
There are some who were trained out of the country who have no job?
There have been trained out and not in our country. Let us first look at those we have trained in our country. Besides, it is but normal as those trained outside do not master our environment because outside everything is specialised. They press buttons and things get done. But in Cameroon a hammer and a chisel can be used to extract a tooth, but one must know how to do it. I once saw a doctor in Garoua who tied a parent to get his blood sample to treat the person’s child. Besides, sometimes a doctor can be sent to work in a rural area and those trained out of the country do not often accept to work in these areas. So we consider our local realities when training. Often, those trained out of Cameroon do not have the experience. There may be some cases, but it is quite difficult to find a doctor trained in CUSS or in State medical faculties who are unemployed. I even know a Reverend Sister of the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary in Yaoundé who was trained in a State medical faculty and is today working with the State. There is also another Reverend Sister in Douala who was trained as a pharmacist, and is a doctor in pharmacy, and the State wanted to recruit her, but her congregation refused as they have other things for her. Besides, a trained doctor can establish on his own. They can open their own clinics. Why do we always think that someone should work in the public service?
Rigour is one of the fundamental principles of Catholic Education. Do you think in the future rigour can change the hearts of Cameroonians with regards to corruption that has blighted our society?
Corruption has become a culture in Cameroon. If you do something for nothing to a Cameroonian he suspects you. Why did you do it for nothing? Surely you are gaining something. This is the point we have gotten to. When you do something for free, people are convinced you are gaining something. How can we get out of such a situation? There is only one way, to train young people ethically from the nursery, through the primary, to the secondary and university level. I am presently writing a book on this subject. I hope I will complete it before I die. I am writing a book on human ethical catechism, not Christian ethics, not whatever ethics. Based on the fact that we are human, God has given us a law; that of always striving to do what is right and avoiding that which is evil. This is the fundamental ethical law and I think that religion should be taught in all schools in Cameroon, in public, lay private and confessional schools.
Your wish is that the teaching of religion should be effective in all schools in Cameroon. However, some people think that based on the secular nature of the State as enshrined in the preamble of the Constitution of Cameroon this is not possible. How do you react to this viewpoint?
It is not a very strong argument. Studying religion as a science, as a sociological fact, is necessary, since men, whether they are Christians or not, are necessarily influenced by religion. In all Anglo-Saxon universities in the world, religion occupies a very important place as a scientific discipline. I have been told that in Oxford in England, the most important diploma that one can have is a Doctorate in Divinity, and take note, this is religion. To study religion as it should, one should be scholarly or learned. Let us take, for example, a Catholic priest who has a First Degree in Sacred Scriptures, he has undertaken a three-year course in philosophy at the graduate level, before getting into the first year of theology for four years and thereafter specialises in Holy Scripture. Furthermore, he has to study Greek, Hebrew and other languages. You therefore see that religion is a science. This is why the State must encourage the teaching of religion in schools as a science. We are influenced by what we are taught, whether it is psychology or philosophy. Others go to the extent of saying that the State is secular, that is true, but this simply means that the State does not encourage or support a given religion. The State is neutral with regards to all religions within its territory. Secularity exists almost everywhere in the world. It is not only in our country and it is normal. So if there is a particular religion that wants to have its schools and universities like us, let the State give it the permission. The State respects the religious convictions of all believers.
You recently lost your mother and people of all walks of life assisted you during this difficult moment. Do you have any message for them?
I have already done so in English and French and this has been published in newspapers. I thanked all those who gave the event a special touch, who raised it to a level I did not expect. Truly, I wanted to bury my mother in my village, but the Bishop of Kumbo insisted that she should be buried in the Cathedral. Our village could not contain everyone who came for the burial. I thank all those who made lots of sacrifices, especially Christians of Douala Archdiocese, some who arrived in the village very late. They participated in the 9 o’clock Mass and thereafter had to return to Douala. There were some people I knew, others I did not know, and even others who usually did not say anything when I saw them in Douala, but who all attended my mother’s funeral.
During your mother’s funeral you said something that surprised many. You said when you learnt of your mother’s death you thanked God. Why?
I was going to Accra where we were going to take part in a meeting of Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops of Africa, and the plane had just landed. We were still in the airport lounge in Accra, when the Archbishop of Douala, Mgr. Samuel Kleda, came up to me and told me he had just received a message from Douala that my mother was dead. I immediately thanked God for her life and death. Longevity is not given to everyone. During her last moments on earth my mother never stopped asking what crime she had committed for God to allow her to continue living since all her friends were already dead. There was nobody again in the village who could discuss or converse with my mother except me. Everybody in the village was afraid of me except my mother and she never hesitated to tell me what she thought. Sometimes I had to tell her, be careful, you are talking to a Bishop and a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. Sometimes she forgot this and spoke to me to me as to the little Christian she brought into the world. She no longer had anything to do at 118 years. I saw her suffer a lot and I was deeply touched. At a certain age, one is no longer strong enough. You needed to have seen me when I was your age, but now I am beginning to suffer a bit, but this is alright.