Renegade Cameroonian filmmaker and theorist Jean-Pierre Bekolo Obama pulls no punches about his disaffection with the state of affairs in his native country. It’s time, he argues, to quit the hypocrisy and turn off the autopilot.
Chronic Q: You say that you are in favour of a recolonisation of Cameroon?
Jean-Pierre Bekolo Obama: After fifty-two years of independence, the time has come for us to take stock of how we’ve been thinking the world over this past half-century and to draw basic conclusions from this. We have to face up to the fact that the ideologies of self-determination and, ultimately, independence born of the national liberation movements we all supported are no longer in synch with the realities of present-day globalisation. It’s for this reason that we are at an impasse. It’s become self-evident that we won’t get where we want to go by insisting on doing things on our own, because, in some regards, we’re just in over our heads.
Q: So you want the white man to come back and exploit us, whip in hand?
JPBO: The whip is already here. Just take a look at Côte d’Ivoire and Libya. Everybody’s pillaging, even the Chinese! We can’t blame them – we’re the ones who abandoned the notion of self-determination, so let’s admit it once and for all and make it official. There’s no doubt about it: 52 years after independence, Africa in general, and Cameroon in particular, have taken onboard key aspects of the colonial project they once rejected.
In the end, the colonial project turned out to be far more successful than its initiators could ever have hoped – the only difference being that, as he wasn’t well seen to be a colonialist any more, the pilot parachuted out of the plane. Another one took over – he’s the one at the controls now – and he’s a crappy pilot doing his thing without a real flight plan. He pretends that he knows his way around the cockpit, but it’s just an ego trip.
He’s a puppet pilot, whose only goal is to exploit for his own wellbeing resources that belong to the collective. What we need to do is turn the clock back to the moment when things started to go wrong, to the point where the lying and the hypocrisy began: that is, to the moment of so-called independence. If we get rid of the negatives – exploitation and oppression – the recolonisation project is likely to go over very well with the
people of Africa, who just can’t take it anymore. Even when it comes to safeguarding our cultures, it’s the white folks who care the most. Our art and our artists get more support from the West than from these parts and, meanwhile, we’re dreaming of Chinese doodads, second-hand cars and stuff white people buy. It’s like things haven’t changed since the days of slavery. Let’s thank Jacques Chirac for the Quai Branly museum: at least our heritage is being taken care of.
Q: You revere the white man?
JPBO: It’s not me: it’s Africans in general and Cameroonians more particularly. Give it a try: go into a public administration building with a white man, see how Cameroonians behave when faced with a European, today. In business, people often seek out a white person to act as a front, just to be taken seriously. If we’re going to play that game, then let’s get the best whities in here! It’s time we dealt with the real issues! Where are we now? That’s the question.
The white man may be gone, but the pillage and the oppression he brought are still there. That, we kept. The people in power now are proud of this government, this omnipotent blunderbuss of a thing they didn’t even create, whose sole goal was to oppress and exploit. In the eyes of this elite of ours, the country is a cake there for the eating, not a common project, something we all work at together.
The people who govern us owe everything to the white man: the diplomas they brandish to ‘prove’ their superiority; the high-ranking positions they milk for personal gain; the cars they drive; the suits they wear; and the kids they send abroad to get a decent education. Even the president is a product of the white man! He patterns himself on him – and he’s proud of it. Don’t we say of Paul Biya that ‘he’s a white man’? His whole entourage is expected to act white along with him. There’s little room made for Africa and its traditions in the state apparatus – except for those traditional dance troops that get trotted out at the airport whenever the president travels, as if the whole thing hadn’t been a colonial invention in the first place, created to cheer and stomp whenever some De Gaulle flunky showed up.
Q: You mean that Africans are incompetent?
JPBO: Let’s be honest: what really works here? Why do we need to inflict such pain on our people? Just as a matter of ego, so we can claim that we’re actually running our own country? You know, in life it can happen that you get in over your head. There’s no shame in admitting it. We may have tried to build a modern, democratic state that fulfils the needs of our citizens, but we failed. No one can claim otherwise. It’s time we quit with the hypocrisy and began moving forward. Let’s not forget that we didn’t create our countries. Cameroon is a Western invention: its territory, its laws, its cities – Yaoundé and Douala – all of it. Even its name. White people named it after the Portuguese word for shrimp (camaroes), and we’re proud of that name. How can we hope to make it when we live in a colonial shell, empty of all content, because those who made that content – our very state – have jumped ship?
Q: So you’re saying that recolonisation is a part of globalisation?
JPBO: In this age of multinational corporations, what government can reasonably claim to run its economy? The concept of self-determination
has become little more than a political weapon in the hands of a corrupt ruling elite claiming to face off with Western powers, while consigning its people to an ideological prison and robbing them blind.
So it’s time for Cameroon to shed its duplicity and hypocrisy because today, more than ever before, we need foreigners to help us resolve the many problems we face. Let’s say it loud and clear. Enough with the silence in which we shroud what the people already know: that we need all the outside help we can get. And let’s let the people decide how much of that help we want and if and when we want it to stop.
JP Bekolo lives and works in Yaounde. He is the author of several award-winning films, including Quartier Mozart (1992), Le complot d’Aristotle (1996) and Les Saignantes (2005). This piece is translated from French by Dominique Malaquais and originally featured in the Chronic (April 2013 edition), available here.
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