By Canute Tangwa
I spent the long 20th May weekend in Buea. It was both exciting and chilling. Exciting because every time I visit Buea, the town and land of my birth, I go down memory lane. I always look forward to meeting good old friends; savour the warmth and hospitality of the indigenous people (the Bakweri); think about or visit the prestigious schools we attended, popular joints (Holiday Inn, Cybel, Olivia, Mobutu) where we used to sit and crack jokes over bottles of beer;
envelope myself in the refreshing mountain climate; take in the beautiful landscape and drink copiously the sparkling and tasteless water (Buea wata); gulp fresh palm wine at Bweku (a hamlet tucked away on the western fringe of the mountain); enjoy black soup, bush meat and cocoa yam around Moli.
That was Buea then where I could walk from Buea Station to Bova without looking over my shoulder; where we left Buea Station for Bwasa in search of ripe guavas; where we used to watch Ewunkem, Nangoh, Njuma, Misenge, Essomba, Kulu, Bell Joseph Antoine, Njipe, Petro, Akwo Shumbu, Tanga and so on play soccer in the inner bowl of Buea Town stadium; where the Guinness organised Mountain Race, Beaufort Cup finals, wrestling matches (pala pala) and the Malley traditional dance kept us on our feet all day; where we used to watch Chinese (Big Boss, Akpan, Agogo, Miss Karate etc) and Indian films at the Buea Town hall on Fridays and Saturdays.
During the day, especially on Saturdays, we never missed Tea Time at Summer Festival Night Club, Sansui, Figaro or Aristo.Back then, we ran about together, played together, cried together, sang together and went to school together oblivious of where we came from.
Back then Ngomba, Monono, Gobina, Efokoa, Etekele, Dibussi, Moka, Motinda, Wose Kinge, Kange, Mbella, Elive, Lysinge, Ndemba, Evambe, Mbome, Motutu, Ndeley and so on were some of the friends in whose presence we could think aloud. Back then, in my mind's eye, Buea ended at Bilingual Grammar School, Molyko. From then on was forestland! I had an eerie notion of a Buea North and a Buea South (stretching today from Bilingual Grammar School to Mile 17).
On 20th May, as we drove from Mile 17 to the Bilingual Grammar School (Buea South) the picture of a strafed and deserted area came to mind. Molyko looked like a Palestinian neighbourhood not because all roads led to Bongo Square for the 20th May celebration, but for the running battles between stone-throwing University students and the forces of law and order, which had left in its wake a ghost neighbourhood: uprooted electric poles, burnt tyres on the highway, burnt cars on kerbs.
In the evening I took a walk to Buea Town. The talk around was the UB crisis. A friend of mine could not hide his feelings. "These Graffis want to destroy our University. They want Madam to talk to them out of the campus. What nonsense!" A little further, I met another chum savouring achu.
He offered me a plate and a bottle of beer. According to him, the problem at the University was a tribal one. "Graffis want Madam's head." Harry, a fellow tribesman of his interjected. He could not understand why my friend wanted to tribalise or parochialise the issue.
I thought he was joking until he drove home the point the following day at a watering hole. Seemingly, my friend is a reasonable man but at times other motivating factors like moyo (in-law) or auntie may influence one's reaction to issues.
The next day, I called my friend Ndemba. He told me he was in the village (Mokunda) with some friends at a joint and I should feel free to meet him there. I have never hesitated going anywhere in Buea. I felt a bit cold. I met him, Efokoa, Harry and some friends.
We greeted each other warmly. Our discussion centred on the UB crisis. One chap amongst them had no kind words for the Graffis. I was told that a Bakweri boy was allegedly singled out in the village for supporting striking students.
Ndemba's and Efokoa's warmth towards me had not dwindled an inch. We still churned out some rib-splitting Buea old boys' jokes I was once more at home. For all the talk about Graffis being the genesis and revelation of the UB crisis, nobody behaved like a Mike Tyson. For fear of police and gendarme brutality, most Buea denizens stayed clear of Buea South since it had become a war zone.
Buea South, a centre of learning, is ironically where a new and frightening relationship between Grasslanders (Graffis, bajili) and those who first saw the White man (colonial masters) is being woven.
The situation in Buea South can be likened to the frigid 60s where the tango between capitalism and communism instilled fear, suspicion, hatred, gloom and skirmishes.
The consequences of this newfound tribo-parochial relationship conceived within a centre of learning, the university, if not checked will snowball into something akin to Ferdinand Nahimana's notion of a pure Hutu ethnic group.
Let's go back to the drawing board and see objectively where we as a people went wrong; where we short-changed each other politically, economically or socially. Let's look each other in the face and state the facts without resorting to revisionism, whitewashing and escapism.
History has an uncanny way of catching up with those who toy, misinterpret, whitewash, and falsify events, issues and personalities.
Photos provided courtesy of Mola Isaac Menyoli