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[Interview] The Pope's Missed Opportunity on Africa
Atemkeng Akamda, a native of Yaounde, Cameroon, ponders on the message behind Benedict XVI's tour
Amin George Forji (amingeorge)     Print Article 
Published 2009-03-23 10:45 (KST)   
Pope Benedict XVI's first visit to the African states of Cameroon and Angola has generated much media attention. As his trip draws to a close, I have been curious about the feelings of ordinary African citizens, especially in the countries where he visited. Meanwhile there is enormous fanfare across the continent for the possible blessings he may have brought; there is equally much disappointment amongst many others who believe he was mute on certain critical issues.

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While chatting on MSN on March 21 with Atemkeng Akamda, my classmate from high school who is still resident in Yaounde, I became very curious about the visit, after a little persuasion, he accepted to answer my concerns in the form of an interview for OhmyNews. Mr. Atemkeng who is teaching Computer science at a missionary school in the capital city, is one of those who believes that the Pope missed an opportunity to caution African leaders, especially president Biya of Cameroon.

The Pope was recently in Cameroon on the first lap of his African tour that also took him to Angola. As a resident of Yaounde, how would you describe the feeling that you had during his trip?

First, I did not attend the mass, mainly because am not a Catholic. But I honour the authority of the Pope. No one could live in Yaounde and not feel the Pope's visit. Security was tight, and made life a bit uncomfortable, but was very necessary.

I think the feeling here in Yaounde like the rest of the country was a very exciting one, because after all, the August Guest is a leading moral figure. But it was also a very confusing atmosphere. Naturally, the public media (Cameroon Radio Television- CRTV) narrowed all news to the Pope's visit. Statements from CRTV and the presidency seem to suggest that everything was rosy in Cameroon, and that the Pope was coming to cement the "good" things that the government has been doing.

You say the mood was confusing also. Can you expand on that?

You see, most people throughout Cameroon still live in abject poverty. All the paths and roads that the Pope and foreign cameras had to ride on were painted, all kiosks of hawkers along the way were bulldozed without any compensation, and millions of Francs CFA (local currency) were spent like never before by this government on a single project. Of course, it was a success, I mean the preparation. But the question most Cameroonians are asking is that why can this government not spend the same energy to better the lives of Cameroonians. People were surprised that they know how to plan something positive and get it done. We thought they know only corruption and poor governance, and just don't care.

Tell me about the Pope's actual visit. Do you think he met the anxiety and peoples' expectations?

Well, for ardent Catholic faithful, yes, he quenched their anxiety. Many believed his choice of Cameroon as first African country for his trip was an indication that God has the country in mind.

Personally, I believe it was a missed opportunity for the Pope to sound a strong warning to African dictators. That was my own expectation. That he would tell President Paul Biya in broad daylight and in the presence of every Cameroonian that changing the constitution to stay in power for life is immoral and unchristian. I expected to tell African dictators that elections must be free and fair, that the national cake belongs to everyone in the country. I expected to warn against corruption. When he chose Cameroon, many of us thought it was because he wanted to pass a message to Biya, considering that he is one of the oldest heads of states in power (Biya has been in power for 27 years).

We have a big moral deficit in Cameroon, and we wanted the Pope to address and bless the country.

Most of the things you mentioned are political issues. Can it be that the Pope wanted to separate religion from politics?

The statement from the presidency read that the Pope was coming in two capacities-as head of the Roman Catholic Church and President of Vatican. The Vatican flags were everywhere. I think they expected him to talk some politics. Without good politics, Christians cannot operate well. He talked against condoms. I don't agree with him on that issue, but I think that is an example of a political decision being embarked on by states. He is one of the few persons in the world that has authority to discuss any topic.

What in your opinion is the biggest thing that would be remembered of the Pope's Cameroon visit?

If the Holy Father would look back at the videos of his stay in Cameroon, he would know exactly the line that clicked. He got his highest applause when he told youths and young people in armed conflicts, disasters and orphans, in his concluding during his Open mass at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium that God loves them and has not forgotten about them. It touched the souls of every African.

What do you suppose the government learnt from his visit?

[Laughs] I suppose they are celebrating that he did not criticize it openly. The visit has been used to legitimize actions of the government, even when millions are suffering in abject poverty.

I wish President Biya would now employ the same effort to construct Cameroon, since he wants to be there for life.

©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Amin George Forji

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