On Monday April 19, 2021 all roads led to Douala to bid farewell to a rare gift from God to Africa and to Cameroon in particular in the person of the late Christian Cardinal Tumi, who was called to glory on Good Friday April 02, 2021. His mortal remains was removed from the Military Garrison Mortuary of Douala by 11 a.m. (WAT) and a series of Wake Funeral Masses followed in Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral Douala, which was his Cathedral Church for 18 years (1991 – 2009).

As Christian Cardinal Tumi is laid to rest today Tuesday April 20, 2021 we decided to reflect on his life as a prelate, statesman and moral compass of the Cameroonian society, especially as far as the long drawn-out conflict in the English-speaking regions of the country, which has claimed over 3000 lives and displaced more than 1 million people is concerned.

Brief Biography

Born on Wednesday October 15, 1930 in Kikaikelaki, a small village near Kumbo, in the Nso clan of the Northwest Region of Cameroon, Tumi studied at local seminaries in Cameroon and Nigeria. He trained as a teacher in Nigeria and London, then earned a licentiate in theology in the Catholic University of Lyon and a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Buea on April 17, 1966. In 1973, he was named rector of the then Regional Major Seminary in Bambui. Appointed the first bishop of the Diocese of Yagoua in 1979, Tumi was consecrated on January 6, 1980 in Rome by Pope John Paul II. 4 years after transferred to the archdioce of Garoua on March 17, 1984 as arccbishop. Pope John Paul II raised him to the rank of a cardinal on 28 June 1988. On 6 July 1991 he was named a member of the Pontifical Council for Dialogue with Non-Believers. Tumi was named the Archbishop of Douala on 31 August 1991, and he resigned in 2009 after reaching the canonical age of retirement. Tumi died at the age 91, on Good Friday April 02, 2021.

Relationship with the State

Cardinal Tumi spoke truth to power by criticizing the government and speaking up on numerous occasions as the voice of the voiceless. He defended the truth with all his might stood for justice and peace. In his book Cardinal Tumi and the Two Regimes of Ahidjo and Paul Biya, he writes that he was targeted for assassination on many occasions by the two regimes that ruled the country since it gained independence from France and Britain respectively because of his critical views on their bad governance.

On his relationship with the state, Anna Pozzi reporting for The South World: News and Views from Emerging Countries on February 1, 2021 writes: “A Paladin of democracy and freedom, the scourge of widespread malpractice and corruption, he has always been a thorn in the side of the president Paul Biya, 88 this February. In power since 1982, he is one of the last ‘dinosaur-presidents’ of Africa of whom the Cardinal has always been an outspoken opponent, to such an extent that some local media proposed him as a presidential candidate. The Cardinal consistently denied any such rumours but did not remain silent: ‘If I were to keep quiet – he said on more than one occasion – I would not be faithful to my mission. The situation of the country is grave and we cannot remain silent. There is no respect for basic human rights, poverty is spreading, many families cannot afford to send their children to school while a small elite live according to European standards a few steps away from people who find it hard to get food to eat every day, not to mention the corruption that has at times reached intolerable levels’”.

On the Ongoing Crisis in the English-speaking Regions of Cameroon

From the outset, it is worthy of note that Cardinal Tumi never served as a bishop in the English-speaking part of Cameroon, where he hailed from. The diocese of Yagoua and the archdioceses of Garoua and Douala are all found in the French-speaking part of the country. He, like any other true Anglophone (as people from the English-speaking regions of Cameroon are referred to) was critical of the government’s attempt to suppress the Anglo-Saxon culture in Cameroon. He recounted an incident that occurred sometime back when he was in Rome for a meeting of cardinals, how another cardinal from France mistaking him to be from the French-speaking part of Cameroon because of his fluency in the French language, happily confided in him that he was very happy that the government was doing all within its power to assimilate the English-speaking part of country and impose the French culture on the Anglophones.

Although he was embittered by the gross marginalization of and total disregard for the English legal and education systems of the Anglophones, Cardinal Tumi avoided the extreme view of a total separation and held the moderate stance of a two-state federated Cameroon.

Cardinal Tumi was a promoter of dialogue and a peaceful resolution of the conflict. While maintaining his stance against secession, for which he was virulently criticized by extremists, he supported many of the causes presented by the rebels, especially in terms of respect for human rights and the specific nature of the two Cameroons, which came together in 1961. Another aspect that made Cardinal Tumi appear controversial to the extremists was his denunciation of the school boycott imposed by the secessionists.

He, together with the leaders of Protestant denominations and the Muslims and other respected persons organized the Anglophone General Conference (AGC) in November 2018 in order to synchronize the grievances of all the differing Anglophone factions and confront the government as a united force.

Cardinal Tumi repeatedly called on the government to sit on the dialogue table with the separatists. It was not until the end of September 2019 that the government held a Grand National dialogue on the Anglophone crisis, which the Cardinal contributed to with a document of 400 pages. However, the dialogue was largely dictated by the government and even most of the resolutions adopted have not been implemented.

Tumi was kidnapped on 5 November 2020 while accompanying the paramount ruler of the Nso clan (who had been on exile for a few years) who was returning to his kingdom in Babessi by separatist fighters and released unharmed on 6 November 2020, after it sparked an outcry and condemnation from people at home and in the diaspora.

The Legacy of Cardinal Tumi and the Way Forward

Cardinal Tumi was a moral colossus who spoke truth to power and defended the defenseless. He was a shepherd who was more than willing to lay down his life for his flock. Even when he was criticized by extremists (secessionists) for his stance on federalism, Cardinal Tumi clung to his convictions until he took his last breath. He never maintained silence in the face of injustice and the violation of human rights by either the government military or the armed separatist rebels to the extent that he was even kidnapped.

Commenting on the death of Cardinal Tumi and what the future holds for the struggle of the Anglophones, Dr Munzu Simon said “Cameroon has lost an exemplary Prince of the Church and also the nation’s most authoritative moral voice; the voice of reason, of compassion, of moderation and of compromise. The people’s cardinal was as much at ease with the ruling elite as with the opposition; with the intelligentsia as with the ordinary parishioner, the market woman or truck-pusher. He was at ease with adults as well as with the youths; with Catholics as much as with Protestants, Muslims, agnostics, and atheists… the cardinal is gone. He challenges us to pursue a course that he dutifully traced for us”.

As we pray for the eternal repose of the soul of Cardinal Tumi, it is also our firm hope that the principles and convictions that shaped his life may continue to live on and work to bring a lasting solution to the conflict-ridden English-speaking regions of Cameroon.

Johan Viljoen, Reabetswe Tloubatla, Fr Godlove Bong-Aba Ngenge

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