KUMBO, North West— More than 5000 people gathered in the dusty main square here to listen to Joseph Wirba, the SDF parliamentarian who has gained sudden fame among Anglophones for his “we will resist” speech in the National Assembly.
In spite of a ban from Bui authorities, Wirba arrived to cheers from enthusiasts and admirers on Saturday. Some of wore red T-shirts with the words “I am Wirba” written against a black background across the front. It was the first in a series throughout “West Cameroon”, where he plans to take his message of resistance, Wirba said.
ANALYSIS: Wirba appears to be breaking ranks with his party, the Social Democratic Front, which has remained on the sidelines of the ongoing Anglophone uprising and charting a political territory for himself.
He has enlisted Mancho Bibixi, the promoter of the “coffin revolution”, who is considered the mastermind of the 8 December street protests in Bamenda that turned deadly. Even though they endorse the call for Federalism, Wirba and Mancho, at this point do not seem to have fallen directly behind the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC), which is leading negotiations with the government.
The euphoria here was not unexpected. After denouncing what he termed the enslavement and oppression of Anglophone Cameroonians in his November address at the National Assembly, Wirba returned to his home town of Jakiri not far from here to a hero’s welcome.
His message was largely similar to dominant discourse in the ongoing Anglophone struggle. In a reiteration of his National Assembly stance, he called for resistance against what he called the oppressive forces of the largely Francophone-led administration in Yaounde.
“This has gotten to the point where we better die fighting than to die as beggars on our knees,” he thundered. “We will fight and fight and fight…”
Authorities did not try to stop the rally even though the divisional officer of Bui Central had banned it. Wirba said his decision to disregard the ban was part of the resistance – which has become the central theme of his campaign.
He arrived at a little after 1 p.m. and tore through the cheering crowd, sitting on the shoulders of two men in orange works suits. The crowd erupted in praise, calling him father. He waved, struggling all the while to remain steady.
The crowd overflew into narrow corridors and alley. Some leaned forward from the balconies of story buildings overlooking dust-stained walls and roofs that rose and fell throughout the hilly town.
“They said we were small cubes of sugar in a bowl of water. Are we all [that are] gathered here small cubes of sugar?” he asked.
“No!” the crowd erupted.
“Even if we were tiny cubes of sugar, we have refused to melt,” Wirba went on to deafening applause and sometimes laughter. “Even the basin and the water now are suffering at the hands of the sugar.”
Wirba picked his words carefully. They were strong and appeared deliberately aimed at the emotions of his audience.
“At Waza Park, they fire shots in the air to protect elephants but when Anglophones raise their voices, they are mercilessly shot at,” he said. “An eleven year old was shot at as he went to close his parents’ shop in Bamenda. Are these the kind of people you want us to stay with?”
“No!” the crowd erupted.
“On the day CPDM wanted to do the rubbish march in Bamenda, a 19 year old student at Longla Comprehensive College stood in front of her house to wash papaw but police shot her at point-blank range and doctors from Yaounde wrote an autopsy report saying she fell. Are these the kind of people you want us to stay with?”
“No!” the crowd erupted.
Gladys Tafon, the daughter of Isaiah Tum Tafon, the first leader of the separatist Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) from Kumbo who died in exile in Nigeria, also took the podium and schooled the population on human rights and how far the struggle has gone at the level of the AU.
But Wirba was the man of the day, dressed in a loosely fitting black jacket and a red T-shirt. When he mounted the stage, there was commotion.
“We are here today to tell the world that we are not slaves,” he said. “We never were and we will never be. We, West Cameroonians, need to be united in this fight like never before. Since they said we are the ones who opted to join them, we are now equally opting out of that failed “union”, so it is high time those colonial oppressors in East Cameroon started packing their bags out of West Cameroon.
“We must resist their oppression and fight for our sovereignty.”
Wirba plans to hold similar rallies in Kumba Buea and Bamenda.
While he spoke, a banner rocked slowly in the breeze. “No to Anglophone Marginalization,” it read in bold prints. Messages on T-shirts added a punch of humor, which sometimes felt like mockery but seamed to capture the core message of the rally: “The Sugar Has Refused to Melt After 55 Years.”