This paper is an adaptation of an earlier one I delivered on the Cameroon National Radio Station on the 10th of April 2003, on the occasion of the holding of the fifth edition of the Cameroon annual secondary schools sports competition, commonly known as the FENASCCO Games. The paper was one of the daily political commentaries I delivered on the 6.30 a.m. prime time national and world news on Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV), Yaoundé, between 2002 and 2005.
The ongoing edition of the games is the fifth in the series since it was instituted by the state, five being a significant figure for those who care about numerology. In fact, the figure 5 represents the extra person in the context of a two-a-side match, the fifth person being the referee. The fact that this fifth member is the odd one out, alone and unpaired makes him or her, an outsider, a foreigner and a stranger. As a referee therefore, although in principle, his neutrality is bound to be more palpable.
For Catholics, the figure 5 stands for the joyful, glorious and sorrowful mysteries of the Holy Rosary. Whatever way one looks at it, the end result of the game is one of combination, addition, cohesion and configuration, which have made up part of the organizational philosophy that underpins sports competitions for ages, regardless of venue or age.
FENASCCO is always a high point to which participants look forward with baited breath. It is an extraordinary opportunity that allows students who show talent in a given area of sports and physical education - whether in athletics or ball games - to show case that gift and even carry home an award or two in recognition of the feat. The key word from the organizers is always `participation`, an appellation that implies team work, concerted action and unity, in conformity with the saying that unity is strength.
The very process by which competitors are selected is broad based and all embracing in the sense that conscious attempts are made to get in only the best, although occasionally, some undeserving ones are still made to slip through the net either as a result of pressure from above or through kick backs to organizing officials. Selection starts at the level of the school, and then progresses to the sub Division, the Division and finally the Province. The higher and further a participant goes in the selection process, the more he or she will come in contact with peers and organizing officials from further away. Such social interaction does go a long way towards consolidating “knowledge of the other”. In this way, mutual trust and brotherliness are consolidated with national unity winning the day. Furthermore, trust, tolerance and forbearance are fostered. No wonder, the sporadic riots between Muslims and Christians that one hears about in neighbouring Nigeria are unknown here in Cameroon.
The fact that the games rotate, which means they go from province to province, also enables participants to discover different parts of the country. And for the information of those who have never been to Cameroon, it is a vast country, roughly the size of Great Britain. However, the diversities that exist and cohabit in Cameroon are by far more than those in Britain. For instance, in addition to being a country that uses both French and English as official languages, Cameroon has some 230 languages of its own, and with probably as many ethnic groups. The country is made up of Christians, Muslims and people observing other religions.
Thanks to FENASCCO, secondary school children can come face-to-face with `new` linguistic, social and cultural realities of their country. Participants at the ongoing competitions taking place in Garoua, the provincial headquarters of the North Province, for example, will no doubt be taken aback by the arid desert vegetation of the province, which pops up with its sparse and stunted flora. The other side of the coin is that if they can make it to the parks or game reserves, they will be thrilled by the game and wildlife in action. Perhaps over above everything, they will be flabbergasted, held spellbound by the magnetism of the culture and fantasia of the people of the North.
Obviously, this time around, it is the North Province. But each year brings the soothing freshness, the irresistible charm, the uniqueness of a different province. That is why when one considers the profoundly diversified nature of the Cameroonian landscape, one can not help agreeing with the dictum that our country is, in deed, Africa in miniature. For the young sports boys and girls called up this year and indeed each year, the discovery aspect is a veritable icing on the cake.
Yet the savouring of Cameroon’s melting pot cultural richness is not limited to FENASCCO. The state universities and other institutions of higher education recognized by the state also have their own version of the annual sports jamboree, another event bringing together people from other regions of the country. Surely, before today’s sports competitions, agro-pastoral shows and party congresses used to be the rotating national crowd pullers. Perhaps this is all the more reason why agro-pastoral shows which had since been fractured should be rehabilitated. If that happens, then conceivably some day, somewhere, sometime, somehow, FENASCCO may pride itself on having participated in restoring to the nation, one of its most cherished belongings.