Meet Etongue Samuel. He was born in a tiny village in the South West Region of Cameroon, two years before the French and English colonial structure in the country was crouched in a peaceful revolution by young black Cameroonian independent fighters.
Six years after the government was transferred to the Ahidjo’s regime, he enrolled into a primary School, established by the Catholic mission. Just three years into this school, his teachers found out that Samuel was extraordinarily gifted in Maths and Languages. They paid special attention to him. He graduated in 1969 as the best student in his class.
This week, National Times spoke to Samuel about life in Ahidjo’s regime. We talked about jobs, corruption and infrastructure. When I first called him, he was shy and didn’t want to talk. But when I asked him if he liked Ahidjo, he smiled and said, “there were lots of opportunities, well paid jobs for standard six students in Ahidjo days”.
That is how our conversation began. “We were trekking two days under the scourging heat of the sun, from the village to school. One of my uncles bought me a trunk. It was quite big and heavy” he said, laughing this time.
Ahidjo became the first president of the United Republic of Cameroon aged 37 in 1961. The young charismatic leader immediately introduced bold economic measures to accelerate Cameroon’s manufacturing, agriculture and mining productivity.
“There were no cars. But the roads were good. Ahidjo built good roads. Even roads that were not tarred were very good. And the community too used to fix roads, build bridges and dig deep and wide gutters”.
“Ahidjo used to tell us that before we graduated from school, our economy will be the best in Africa. He was an amazing leader. He will insist that that a Minister must do what he has been assigned. He gave everyone concrete hopes. The economy was solid”.
Samuel graduated from school and was admitted into the University of Yaounde. I asked him what it was like to be Anglophone student during Ahidjo’s time. “It was challenging he sighed. There was some sort of authoritarian air, but truly no institutional discrimination against Anglophones. There were very few instances where you felt discriminated against”.
Before Samuel could graduate from university, tragedy hit home. First, he lost his father in an accident. Then his eldest brother died from malaria. While his family was still mourning, he heard on radio that Ahidjo had resigned and handed over power to his prime minister.
“I was shocked. I was terrified. I was anxious of what the new leader will do. We had hope in Ahidjo, we had hope in Cameroon”.
Ahidjo resigned as the president of Cameroon on the 6th of November 1982. Under the advice of his medical doctors, he handed over power to a new generation of leaders. Paul Biya, 9 years younger than Ahidjo, was appointed the new president of Cameroon.
But it didn’t take long before Samuel’s dreams of graduating from university and getting came crashing. First, the economy was hit by low prices after he graduated. Then he realised that public officials had started asking for bribes in exchange for jobs.
“They started some sort of gate keeping. That wouldn’t have we been possible under Ahidjo. He was a dictator, but he would never have permitted government officials to abuse the people’s trust”.
“The Cameroon I was born in and aspired to live and die for was no longer the Cameroon I was living in. At the moment, I that juncture, I decided to leave the country”.
“Under Biya, there was no hope. When I boarded the flight, as we accented over the Douala airport, I looked down to Cameroon and said, you failed me”.
“I wish Ahidjo had taken power from Biya rather than the other way round” he said as he cut the interview, wiped two drops of tears on his cheek and laughed. “Things will get better. He chuckled and laughed. That is my story” he concluded.