The Indivisible Nature of Freedom
“Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free. When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one.”
This is an extract of the amazing Berlin speech of President John F Kennedy in which he spoke the words that rocked Berlin and, through it the entire universe: “Ich been ein Berliner”. In fact, he was saying if one person is not free regardless of her/his origin no one can claim to be free. This speech inspired the hash tag “#je suis Charlie Hebdo”, after the barbaric murder perpetrated by terrorists at the office of the French Newspaper Charlie Hebdo. In solidarity with the pain and indignation that gripped Paris and the French, the whole world was one. As a matter of fact President Kennedy was himself inspired by an 18th century report of a series of speeches made by Cicero in 70 BC. By simply stating “civis rumanus sum” the Latin phrase for “I am a Roman citizen” one could lay a claim to the right for the same protection as the Roman Citizen.
So, when my learned colleagues described to me what happened during the last hearing in the Yaounde Military Tribunal of July 29, 2017, in the case of Agbor Bala, Dr. Fontem, Mancho Bibixy and others, I was greatly saddened and troubled. Saddened and troubled because, it could have been you or I, not because we are Anglophones or Francophones, but because we are supposed to be citizens of the same country. This is a trial in which all the accused persons are Anglophones and all those judging and prosecuting are Francophones. Two courageous high ranking gentlemen in uniform, knowing the potential consequences of not conforming and in defiance of any threat they could face from the powers that be, told the truth and affirmed not to have seen the persons in court commit any of the acts of violence that supposedly took place, and of which the defendants were accused. These star witnesses opening the famous case therefore provided statements and seen these citizens set free. But no, they are still in prison.
They are incarcerated for seeking their rights, and peacefully asking for better conditions for their professions and a better life for all. They did so by proclaiming their citizenship – citizenship, which they believed, afforded them the right to freedom of expression, the right to protection and a guaranteed solution to their grievances. Instead, they met with unparalleled repression, arrests, relocation and a trial that has taken eight months just to start, with no end in sight.
Instead of being the citizens they wanted to be, they are now being called Anglophones, terrorists and secessionists. Any other Cameroonian be they Francophone or Anglophone could have raised the issue of injustice and bad governance. It is one that is becoming pervasive throughout our society. You and I are out free. It is because we have resigned ourselves to the current state of affairs. We have come to accept that it is proper for some to embezzle public funds and not be called to account, for some to abuse of their powers and engage in the crudest form of nepotism, all the while lecturing others about the love of country and attempting to distract us from this reality and attempting to divide us through branding and labeling. Even the courageous prosecutor in the Military Tribunal who had followed the case from the beginning found himself transferred to Ebolowa. Is it because he refused to oppose bail? Is it because he paid special attention to the procedure code? This code, which guarantees your rights and my rights?
Freedom is indivisible. We cannot pretend to enjoy any freedom when our fellow citizens are incarcerated unjustly. Justice Ayah Paul, of the highest jurisdiction of our land, a secondary school classmate of mine (known in school in the most premonitory manner as “the incorruptible judge” after a school play in which he was the judge- we were only 16 years old then) will have just gone past 200 days of detention. We still have to find out, why. Many Cameroonians Anglophone and Francophone, many of the respectable leaders in our society, Bar Leaders from many countries, the United Nations many, the international Crisis Group, the African Union and several others, have pleaded for these victims who are fighting for our freedom to be set free.
A Cleric in his sermon at the funeral service for Bishop Jean Marie Bala (another mystery of our country) had this to say. “True power is not violent, true power constructs peace, true power builds the development of the wholesome nature of the human being”. In this poignant homily, Reverend Father Joseph Akonga Essomba says, in this life, there are those who will be considered as being mad just because they are not worrying about themselves but about the importance of their mission here on earth. Is this why those who fight for our freedoms and well being are branded terrorists? Are there some people who feel threatened and terrified by the truth?
My Francophone sisters and brothers I say this. We must now proclaim the indivisible nature of freedom. As a nation we are you and you are we. I have no problem saying I am francophone if it means identifying myself with what is right and what contributes to the building of our nation.
Let all the francophones who read this take to their social media accounts and proclaim the unifying message in this time of crisis: “I am Anglophone”. This message will confound and threaten all those who wish to divide us for their own selfish purposes. Even beyond your social media, let your neighbors, your colleagues, your classmates, and other acquaintances, know that you stand with them in opposition to injustice and you will be steadfast in defending their rights.
Yes, you must proclaim it “ I am Anglophone” and you will thus in the words of the Rev. Father Akonga be negating the answer of Cain, of the Bible, to the voice that asked him where was his brother Abel. Cain answered, “am I my brother’s keeper? Yes we are! Affirmed the Rev. Father with vehemence, “ we are brothers’ keepers” That is why the enslavement of one of us is the enslavement of all. Freedom is indeed indivisible. Each and everyone should affirm, “ I am Anglophone” So we can all be called terrorists even if that is the prize we have to pay to salvage our nation. Epictetus the Greek Philosopher said something we might as well reflect upon “No man is free who is not master of himself” That is what Cameroonians need now. Freedom that allows them to be themselves. One that respects their diversity and makes of it a unique form of richness. One that gives them equal opportunity and equality before the law. One that rewards hard work and integrity and refuses impunity. One that will cause them to able scream proudly: “this is Cameroon, my homeland my dear fatherland!”