By Tikum Mbah Azonga
On July 21 of this year, 2010, it will be exactly six months since Ndeh Ntumazah, incontestably one of the greatest makers of modern Cameroon died. He gave up the ghosts in London, at the ripe old age of 83. He went blind for some years before he died. Incidentally therefore, he died out of Cameroon, which is where he spent the greater part of his life as a leading member of the opposition party, Union of the Populations of Cameroon (UPC).
Writing on the UP STATION MOUNTAIN CLUB blog, Prof Tazoacha Asonganyi, a modern day political pundit and former Secretary General of the main opposition SDF party of Cameroon said: " Pa Ntumazah was a political activist for nearly 60 years. He joined the UPC around 1950 and remained a militant of the party until his demise. When the UPC was banned in French Cameroon in 1955, he was advised by his comrades to create another party in the Southern Cameroons, which would be the UPC in disguise. The party was called "One Kamerun Movement - OK", with Ndeh Ntumazah as its President. Following its banning, the UPC started a war of liberation in French Cameroon, so Ntumazah from the safety of Southern Cameroons, liaised with his comrades in French Cameroon to carry out their underground operations."
Following the determination of France and the Ahidjo regime to crush the liberation war (a `war of terrorism` according to the other camp), Ntumazah went on self-exile in 1962. His life and experiences abroad as he stayed committed to the cause of the UPC can fill volumes of books. In the process, Ntumazah moved from country to country, bought and smuggled arms into Cameroon where other leaders of the UPC such as Ernest Ouandie and Um Nyobe had stayed on to continue the struggle. He changed his names to Mbarack Ben Ibrahim. Back in Cameroon, Ntumazah was some kind of maverick. He was believed to be a magical man who could appear and disappear at any time and go unnoticed by the forces of law and order who were out for him, dead of alive. Ntumazah was a highly intelligent man who spoke both English and French with ease. He was knowledgeable in many disciplines and areas. In fact, Ndeh Ntumazah was known to be highly intelligent. He met and rubbed shoulders with many world great leaders and I would like to think that he learned a lot from them.
That was how he struck me when I came face to face with him in London in the late 1980s. The occasion was a joint press conference he and Mongo Beti gave on the then political situation in Cameroon. I was at the event as a reporter for the London-based WEST AFRICA magazine. When I raised my hand to ask a question that I specified was directed to Mongo Beti but also stressed that I would ask it in English, Ntumazah stepped in and asked me to ask it in French because as he put it, I spoke French very well. I was staggered because I had not known he knew me. On the same occasion, I asked him whether it was true that he used to appear in Cameroon and disappear at will. His terse but jocular response was: "Why should I tell you my secrets?" We all laughed about it.
That was Ntumazah as I new him. However, at the time of his death, he had lost practically all the leading comrades with whom he championed the liberation of Cameroon within the UPC party. Some had been tracked down and shot dead, others had been arrested, tried and executed, and some (at least one) had been poisoned. Worse still for him the UPC in the end lost the struggle to the French/Ahidjo regime that they had combated all along. And what’s more, some members of the UPC had crossed the carpet and joined Ahidjo CNU party. As Ntumazah left this world, Paul Biya whom he criticized as just another extension of Ahidjo was not just still ruling Cameroon but actually gave him Ntumazah a state funeral. Did Ntumazah realize this in the world beyond? If he did, how did he take it?The commendable statesman must have departed thinking of the many other liberation struggles in Africa, which in the end succeeded by leading to the independence of their countries, in this: how could a man as intelligent as Ndeh Ntumazah have chosen the wrong team? How could he have barked up the wrong tree so badly? Could he in his unfathomable wisdom not have known from the very beginning where it would all end up? By being given a state funeral by Paul Biya, it would seem that the president had in the end made Ndeh Ntumazah clad this virulent critique of the UPC in CPDM robes. That begs the question as to whether if it had been intimated to Ntumazah that on his death Biya would give him a state funeral, he would not have turned it down. But perhaps as the saying goes, politics is a dirty game.