DR CHRISTOPHER FOMUNYOH: From Guzang to Washington, Anglophone Cameroon’s Finest Export
Dr Christopher Fomunyoh (born 14 August 1956) is the Senior Associate for Africa and Regional Director at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. The first son of coffee farmers in his native village of Guzang – Batibo subdivision, Fomunyoh attended Christian primary education institutions in Guzang, Ambo, and Eka-Bifang, then went on to the Cameroon Protestant College, Bali for secondary school studies, graduating in 1973. He later attended the Cameroon College of Arts, Science and Technology, Bambili and obtained the General Certificate of Education Advanced levels in 1975, before proceeding to then University of YaoundÊ, Faculty of Law and Economics.
Fomunyoh holds a License en Droit from the University of YaoundÊ, 1979; an LL.M. in International Law from Harvard Law School, 1989; and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Boston University, 1993. He also holds a professional certificate in Air Law from the UniversitÊ Paul CÊzanne Aix-Marseille III. Dr. Fomunyoh is an adjunct faculty at the African Center for Strategic Studies, and a former adjunct professor of African Politics & Government at Georgetown University. He is perfectly articulate in both French and English
Upon graduation from University of YaoundÊ, he worked for the Water Corporation, SocietÊ Nationale des Eaux du Cameroun (SNEC) and later for Cameroon Airlines both in the coastal city of Douala where he established and managed the Legal department for more than six years before departing Cameroon to pursue further studies at Harvard University. Shortly after graduating from Harvard, Fomunyoh served on internships with the Law Offices of the Bank of Boston (USA), and Standard Chartered Bank in Douala, Cameroon. In 1993, he joined the National Democratic Institute as senior program officer. Today, as senior associate and regional director at NDI, Fomunyoh has organized and advised international election observation missions, designed and supervised country specific democracy support programs in partnership with civic organizations, political parties and legislative bodies across Africa. In the course of his work, Fomunyoh interacts regularly with heads of state and government, cabinet ministers, elected officials, political and civic leaders. He recently designed and helped launch the African Statesmen Initiative a program aimed at facilitating political transitions in Africa by encouraging former democratic Heads of State to stay engaged in humanitarian issues, conflict mediation, public health and other key sectors of political economic and human development on the continent. As an authority on democratization in Africa, Fomunyoh is highly solicited by news organizations and makes frequent guest appearances on major mainstream media including Cable News Network, British Broadcasting Corporation, National Public Radio, Voice Of America, Radio France Internationale and Radio Deustche Welle. He provides interviews for print news organizations such as the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Washington Times, Le Monde and ‘International Herald Tribune. In one of his multiple media outings, Fomunyoh considered colonial rule as “…a terrible moment in African history and for the world too…”, but he also places culpability for Africa’s current problems on what he unambiguously terms “…bad governance and lack of visionary leadership…” Fomunyoh upholds the supremacy of the constitution and strongly objects to distortions of the document to suit personal or sectional whims. He points to the Ghanaian example as schemata for budding democracies. Chris Fomunyoh recently remarked:
It is extremely important to frequently renew political leadership in every country so new leaders can bring a fresh perspective to global trends and developments, and help move their countries in ways that may differ from previously long held typical and traditional approaches.
Through his life, work and pronouncements, Christopher Fomunyoh espouses respectful communication even amongst disagreeing parties – the kind of dialogue that reaches for compromise by considering the views of all parties involved through ‘yesable’ proposals. Fomunyoh remembers putting this practice to use in the mid-1970s, as one of the executives and founding members of the UNESCO Club at the University of YaoundÊ; and before that, in his activist days as a student leader and president of the Moghamo Students Association from 1975 to 1979. Fomunyoh’s Foundation Radio, in Bamenda Cameroon vigorously upholds the creed of ‘Giving Voice to the Voiceless’ and strives to provide a platform for airing the concerns of the silent/impoverished majority and the establishment of the right contacts for obtaining much-needed skills for self-reliance. His family foundation TFF, partners with various traditional civic and administrative institutions within Cameroon to foster these goals. That has earned him encomiums among various Cameroonian constituencies such as: the Sawa Women of Bonendale, Douala in the Littoral region, some of whose cultural and development projects the Fomunyoh Foundation has supported; the Moghamo Women Empowerment Center in Batibo; and the chieftaincy in Dschang in the Western Region where Fomunyoh holds the honorific traditional title of ‘Suffo’.
In the months leading to the 2004 presidential elections in Cameroon, Fomunyohâ€™s name was touted by various interest groups, parties and independent observers as a potential candidate for the race. A few years before the 2011 presidential contest, speculation was rife in the Cameroonian media of both French and English expression, the blogosphere and the Cameroonian Diaspora about the possibility of a Fomunyoh vs Biya show-down. While many Cameroonians pondered the possibility of holding credible, free and fair elections when the election administration body – ELECAM – was perceived as partisan, they also sax 2011, as likely to be an epoch-making poll. Fomunyoh has not dropped a traceable hint about his immediate plans; yet a lot seems to be submerged in the unsaid. His comments to the media have been a blend of nostalgia for some aspects of the country of his teenage years and an unflappable optimism for better years ahead and the possibilities and potential for positive and meaningful change for Cameroon and Africa as a whole. Growing calls for Fomunyoh to jump into the political fray in Cameroon represent a variety of things to a variety of people: Cameroonian democrats need a boost to their advocacy efforts in favor of good and accountable governance given the government’s performance; while Cameroonians in the Diaspora would love to see someone at the helm of the State that could use his/her international stature to regain credibility for the country and its reputation on the world stage.
Strong Case for Southern Cameroons
Dr Fomunyoh has been very vocal when it comes to crisis rocking the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. Speaking as a witness in the Canadian House of Common’s Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, Fomonyuh went back to the root causes of the five-year-old armed conflict blaming majority French Cameroon government for aggravating it by bad faith efforts to assimilate Anglophone minority into Francophone majority.
He expressed three main worries namely: government’s inclination to use military and brute force to resolve legitimate political grievances of Anglophones, continuous poisoning of minds because of killings and atrocities perpetrated in former British Southern Cameroons, lukewarm attitude of international community beyond a few declarations and now resolution 684 of US Senate.
He argued that Canada is in a unique position to contribute to an end to the armed conflict that addresses root causes, mutually respectful relationship across Africa and with European countries that it could leverage and galvanise to help end the conflict.
Dr Fomunyoh has repeatedly advocated for immediate ceasefire and cessation of hostilities and public commitment by the government of Cameroon and non-state actors to negotiations with third-party facilitation. Use good offices to engage France to leverage position to get the government commit to peace negotiation to bring an end to and address root causes. Adopt targeted sanctions against perpetrators of torture and other atrocities.
Many observers, however, say the root cause of the ongoing crisis has yet to be fully addressed and that is why the violence persists. This can only be solved if the root cause of the crisis is addressed through a meaningful dialogue by both parties.
“I have said so myself. Until we get down to the root causes of the conflict, we are not going to solve it. We have to have the courage and address the grievances and until we do that the rest is just sugar-coating, speeches about a sense of normalcy that is not there. This is unacceptable and we need to address that,” says Dr Fomunyoh.
With the call for an end to the violence coming from within and from international bodies, the Regional Director says inviting the leaders of these groups and sitting down in a room using a neutral platform with help from mediators may just be the key to bringing an end to the crisis.
The Anglophone crisis, he says, has gone past the level at which decrees from a government minister can handle. According to him, the crisis is more than one government can handle and drive it to its logical end. If the present situation continuous, it would be terrible, he notes.
“If the government comes on the table with representatives of these armed groups and that both delegations come out with a joint communiquÊ saying from henceforth no gun shall be fired in the North West or South West Regions, that kind of joint approach is likely to pay dividend than what we have seen thus far,” Dr Christopher Fomunyoh reiterates.