Subject and Citizen: Ambivalent Identity

Type Journal Article - Paradoxical Citizenship: Edward Said
Title Subject and Citizen: Ambivalent Identity
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2006
Page numbers 175-186
My tribute to Edward Said comes as an answer to a question I was asked a
few years ago by Hubert Mono Ndjana, a colleague, philosopher and ideologue
of the repressive regime in Cameroon: “Can someone be subject and citizen?”
The paradox hit me like a bullet, being a native of a Grassfields kingdom and
citizen of Cameroon.1
My answer was obvious given that I had grown up as a
“child soldier,” a “Maquisard,”2
waging guerilla war against French colonization.
The fight continues to this date because, as many have extensively demonstrated
(cf. Kom, Manning, Sherzer), France decolonized with the determination
to maintain a grip on former colonies. Achille Mbembe clearly indicates that it
helped in forging bastardized new nations in Francophone Africa in order to
boost its economy and secure a backing on the international scene. This implied
the total eradication of indigenous competences and successful structures established
by local kingdoms. Nation building in Francophone Africa then implied
the emergence of “bastardized citizen” to the detriment of the “subject”. The
Republics were thus fabricated on the ashes of the kingdoms. For, in many
kingdoms, rules of succession were deliberately modified and legitimate successors
were incarcerated, sent into exile or physically eliminated in favor of malleable
watchdogs at the service of the repressive French military. In other words,
the emergence of the bastardized modern nations caused a veritable dispossession
in regard to land, culture, and identity. I want to show here the resistance
within new nations against the dispossession of the local land for the cultivation of exportation products; the replacement of local cultures with cheap Western
cultures; and the imposition of unpopular central government on local populations.

In the case of Cameroon, I do not hesitate to cite the exemplarity of the
Grassfielder populations commonly known as the Bamiléké.3
The Bamiléké and
Bassa populations, like the Algerians in the North, were the only peoples in SubSaharan
Africa to opt for guerilla war in order to boot France out of their country.
In response to their support to the political movement UPC (Union of the
Populations of Cameroon) created in 1948, France planned an unprecedented
genocide and made sure the post genocidal period was managed with efficiency
(cf. Verschave).4 The Bamiléké’s heroic act prompted France to focus more on
this ethnic group and to posit what I call the “Bamiléké problem” in Francophone
This article centers on the issue and traces its origin. It analyzes the postgenocidal
strategies put in place to keep the group out of the political arena.
Above all, it posits ethnic identity as the core element in nation-building. I
ground my approach on ethnicity, i.e. the strong commitment to ethnic identity
as a solid foundation for a new nation in Cameroon. I insist on the fact that ethnic
diversity does not always lead to the hatred, or eradication of the Other. On
the contrary, in a continent made up of numerous ethnic groups,5
the strategies
used to locate oneself in one’s ethnic group while participating in the new nation
building leads to what, paraphrasing Edward Said, I call the “ambivalent identity.”
This consists in a free development of both ethnic and national identity. In
this way, the ambivalent identity becomes dynamic, and dialectic in the sense
that Edward Said views the paradoxical identity of the colonized.

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