A Letter to My Grandfather: Cameroon in Crisis 20 Years on



Mining for memories of her grandfather and his commitment to decolonization in Cameroon, Ethel-Ruth Tawe gives a poignant testimony on the ongoing violent conflict that opposes Anglophone and Francophone Cameroonians, finding its source in the structural inequalities fermented by German, French, and British colonial control, which an unachieved decolonization process (in the midst of French neo-colonialism) never succeeded in addressing.

Blooming only once a year, the Queen of the Night is a night-flowering cactus with a “great sense of drama,” not solely in her aesthetic quality but in the scent that flushes through the winds she rides. She hides in plain sight, only revealing her spectacular performance for those lucky enough to bear witness. I have no visual memory of her, but with a nostalgic inhale, I time travel back to my grandfather’s garden, driving up a steep hill and around the ring road that encircled his home. We ate papaya with lime for breakfast, as he recounted stories from his travels to strange sounding lands like Aberystwyth and Geneva. I called him Tar’kfu, loosely translated as “father of household” or “grandfather” from my mother tongue. Most memories I have of him are elusive, but deeply sensorial. He exuded grace and candor, but was equally forthright on matters of justice, especially in Cameroon.

Tar’kfu instigated in me a curiosity for critical engagement with inequity. There was a mystery around his work in human rights that gripped me. My young artistic mind viewed it as a window of possibility, a space for world-building much like the ones I often depicted in my sketchbooks. I believe his life was divinely orchestrated, but that came with much trial.

Tar’kfu witnessed the invention of our homeland, Cameroon, an immensely diverse region with a complex history of arbitrary colonial borders and challenges facing Africa at large in regards to negotiating citizenship.

Beneath the facade of a legitimate bilingual and multicultural state, lies a history of authoritarian crackdowns and assimilation by a hegemonic government, among other tribulations. In moments of despair and reckoning with the state of affairs today, I recall how Tar’kfu illustrated both the joy and pain in our lineage. I remember lessons in hope and steadfastness, anchored in faith.