Under the auspices of Cameroon’s Ministry of Arts and Culture (MINAC), 100 young leaders from diverse walks of life irrespective of gender (who were selected as delegates from the 10 Regions of Cameroon) came together under one thinking cap, that of,
“leveraging on our cultural heritage, to foster peace and living together in Cameroon.”
The colourful event, captioned, Cultural Blend Festival (CUBLEF), couldn’t have been more timely, given the socio-political climate in Cameroon, where in recent years, prospects for peace in Cameroon are increasingly being submerged by recurrent waves of violence, especially due to Boko Haram incursions in the Far North and the internecine warfare in the Anglophone (North West and South West) Regions of the country. The conflicts don’t only depict that civic values, social cohesion, and ties of solidarity have been jeopardized, but also reveal a betrayal of our cultural values, given that no Cameroonian culture preaches hate and intolerance, nor espouses the killing of innocent people for any purpose.
From the foregoing, security and stability have become urgent needs, as the desire to return to peace and progress strongly permeates society in general. Thus, there is need to foster a culture of peace founded upon our collective intellectual and moral solidarity – a critical foundation for any future effort towards peace-building. And to achieve this, we needed to seek a common ground based on peaceful coexistence and complementarity, to contemplate a form of community consensus void of demands for unanimity or uniformity in a multicultural and diverse country as Cameroon, and to seek enabling conditions for consensus and pluralism that enable harmonious cohabitation in a single public space (where dialogue can combat misunderstanding, strengthen emerging generations of civil and political leaders, buttress democratic gains, and offer a lifeline to civic actors building bridges among communities threatened by divisions).
It was in the hope that, the Cultural Blend Festival (CUBLEF), would help in navigating the many hurdles in our collective aspiration for peace, that the Network for Solidarity, Empowerment and Transformation for All (NewSETA) organized CUBLEF 2020, thanks to funding from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).
Divine presence at the event cannot be overemphasized. Drawing inspiration from both Koranic and Biblical Wisdom, the venerated man of God, Rev. Acha Gerald, who fed participants with spiritual food at the beginning and at the end of CUBLEF 2020 underlined the significance of building a culture of peace. He stated that religion was one of the dimensions of culture. And went ahead to mention that, in our desire to foster peace and living together, interfaith dialogue had to play a central role, since peaceful co-existence was an essential element of every religion. He encouraged participants to be agents of peace, by building a culture from their respective families, which peace would then be reflected in the way they lived within their communities and nation at large.
“We will not learn to live together in peace by killing the children of other”, Rev. Acha said.
He affirmed that was a civil right that made other rights possible.
“‘Leveraging on our cultural heritage to foster peace and living together in Cameroon will only be possible if the powers-that-be transformed slogans like, ‘living together’, ‘national integration’, ‘unity in diversity’,…into concrete action”‘, Rev. Acha reiterated.
He also recommended a cease fire and the demilitarization of the conflict-stricken North West and South West Regions, as a more reasonable path towards peace-building in Cameroon.
During the 2-day event, participants were treated to enriching discussions led by experts not only reputed for being intellectually savvy, but who were grounded from a standpoint of hands-on experience and policy advocacy, both nationally and internationally. Through the different panel discussions that characterized the event, panelists from Cameroon, Rwanda, Ghana, U.S.A., Switzerland…embarked on different strategies on how to break cross-cultural perceptions of gender stereotypes to peace-building; shared cross-country experiences on seeking effective ways of managing multicultural societies; identified ways of moving from a culture of violence to a culture of peace and took a pledge to implement the same; and, valorized our cultural diversity as an asset for harmonious coexistence and peace. There were equally breakout sessions that culminated in recommendations on how to build social cohesion and enhance peaceful co-existence in Cameroon.
In his welcome note, the Executive Director of NewSETA, Mr. ATEKI SETA Caxton, mentioned that intercultural dialogue was not only about looking at what the other person could offer, but involved taking an introspective look at ourselves, to ensure that we adapted to changing [global] trends. And that because our cultures were handed down from generation to generation, CUBLEF was a platform to collectively fine-tuning the culture of peace, through multicultural dialogue, before handing it down to future generations.
The Keynote conversation at the opening last Friday 18th September, was presented by the Cameroonian-born, Prof. Jean Emmanuel PONDI (one of Africa’s most venerated diplomats and finest university dons). He took delegates on an exploration in search of whether, African cultural values were relevant for development today? He highlighted the importance of using our culture to cement our national unity, and to foster harmonious living together and sustainable development.
One of the high points at the cultural jamboree was the use of sports to display how people from different cultural backgrounds could conveniently achieve a common goal if only they intentionally worked towards that purposefully. Games like football, dodge ball (fondly called dodging), sac race, sprinting, egg race, eating competition, etc were on the menu.
Besides, participants paid a courtesy visit to the National Museum, where they were exposed to the rich historical, socioeconomic, cultural, and political heritage and evolution of Cameroon, thus improving on their understanding of Cameroon.
At the National Museum (Picture credit: NewSETA)
The crux of the matter was the closing ceremony, emceed by the celebrated CRTV journalist, Cameroon-born, Albert Njie Mbonde, who made the event even more fun-filled and relaxed. It witnessed the showcasing of the unique features making up the 4 major cultural areas of Cameroon (the Sudano-Sahelian, the Fang-Beti, the Grass-Field, and the Sawa) through cultural outfits and regalia, cultural parades, folkloric music, and a cultural dinner of Cameroon’s invaluable gastronomy (with meals like Achu, Corn Fufu and Karti Karti, Sanga, Water Fufu and Eru, Koki, etc). The presentation of trophies and certificates at the end, further embellished the moments spent together with a rainbow colouration.
Throughout, the conspicuous presence and unalloyed support of the Ministry of Arts and Culture (MINAC), represented by Mrs. Esther Oum, is worth mentioning. She lauded NewSETA and its team, and added her voice to amplify the quintessential role of our culture in building peace, thus encouraging delegates to follow suit.
“Let’s unite our cultural plurality”, Mrs. Oum admonished.
“Let’s get out of inferiority complex and bee proud of our culture which portrays our originality. The return to authenticity has been launched: latecomers and absentees will only have themselves to blame…”, she revealed.
“Because our cultural heritage has the capacity to change our outlook both within and without, it has to be at the forefront” Mrs. Oum concluded.
Meanwhile, in his closing word last Saturday 19th September, the Executive Director of NewSETA, Mr. ATEKI, accentuated that harmonious living together was very possible if only we willingly committed our efforts towards it, for, the seeds of hope were still there.
“If we must have peace today, peace must begin in the mind”, Mr. ATEKI asserted.
He cheerfully appreciated his team, delegates, panelists and presenters, guests and other stakeholders, and confidently disclosed that he was sure the lessons learned were an essential trigger towards building present-day and future peace in Cameroon. He apologized for any shortcomings during the event.
Mr. ATEKI remained very upbeat that the goal of CUBLEF and the expectations of the delegates had been met.
The corollary to this was the testimonies from different delegates.
“NewSETA from the bottom of my heart I am saying thank you very much for…the beautiful family you have given birth to. May God richly bless you and give you the wisdom to sustain this wonderful vision…and the team”, Frederick Nasako.
“This is one of the most amazing experiences of my life as an activist. The lessons where so huge that no classroom can give me that, the leisure, and the FOOD, very important. Thanks so much team NewSETA for putting up such a classical event…. It’s always difficult to say goodbye to amazing young leaders after a gathering like this one. May God bless the organizers, and open doors to more funders so we can always come for events like this”, Solomon Ateh Pemamboh.
“I sincerely thank NewSETA for this unique experience. What I’ve learnt in just two days is mighty. I found friends, brothers and sisters. I pray that the Good Lord blesses and keeps you. It is really had to say goodbye but we hope to meet again”, Njimanu Njong Vanisa.
“We remain unendingly grateful to the entire NewSETA team who demonstrated plenty [of] love and concern for us during our stay in Yaounde”, Tata Elvis.
“Thank you NewSETA. [It was a] very enriching experience for the work ahead”, Mirabel Ngong.
“…The lessons I have learned here and the relationships I have developed have made a world of difference in my life. I owe that to all of the wonderful, knowledgeable and professional leaders in this group. I’ll take all of you with me on my next peaceful adventure…. It was wonderful and thank you. It’s sad that we are separating”, Derek Wultof.
“It was an incredible and amazing experience…. Thanks to NewSETA Team, the session was really mind blowing and transforming. May God bless and prosper you in all your endeavours to foster peace in Cameroon”, Epiphania Ngum.
“I will like to really thank NewSETA enormously for having granted me the privilege to be amongst the selected delegates…, for you have permitted me to see and testify that we can live together in peace if we truly wish to…. I and much fun and met beautiful friends…. If before coming to NewSETA I had a derailed thought, I am proud of what I have learned and I have changed as a result, and…can now sensitize those around me that have such a strange way of thinking…. That we came from different Regions, and could live together in harmony and in perfect symbiosis signifies that ‘peace can reign and peace will reign [in Cameroon]”‘, Melingui Agnès Nadège.
“Congratulations and thank you NewSETA…for organizing such a wonderful event and giving us the chance to explore into our cultures, as well as encounter new faces and experiences. In the end I didn’t see it as a festival anymore… I felt more like I was in a class room…. May God continue to give you the inspiration and resources to organize such events. Continue fueling the inspirational fire of productivity and positivity in Cameroon youths. Long live NewSETA”, Nah Shanga.
“I [have] attended a lot of conference, but [this] one was truly outstanding, NewSETA is saying…[Cameroon’s] story as it should be told. I cannot say how much I have learned, but…I agree that ‘a lot of us don’t even know we didn’t know.’ Your choice of facilitators, [trainers and panelists] was super great and they loaded us with more than we could carry…. NewSETA delivered more than I expected and it was tremendously great. The organization, promptness and humility the NewSETA team…was remarkable and terrific. Most importantly, the choice of participants for this conference was great: [with] such nice, resourceful, and approachable people…. I wish we could meet all the time”, Abdul Aziz.