This, according to a friend here involved in the primary school system is an actual statement made by an actual teacher to actual students here in Buea.  Students in Cameroon are taught not to question the authority or scholarship of their teachers from an early age and, even if they were, there was no handy map of the world available for them to look up this reference.  It’s more than disturbing to think of what passes for an education in the some parts of the US, until you get to Cameroon and realize that American kids got it pretty good in comparison. 


Even when you look into High School and make a decidedly fairer comparison – the relative nature of history - the realities of schooling in the US are flawed but decidedly pro-American.  In the US from an early age I was taught a revisionist version of history.  The Native Americans loved the Colonists and helped them survive the long winter (Thanksgiving).  The US got out of the great depression by entering the Second World War.  The Europeans held colonies and were bad people for doing so – the US in contrast liberates countries from Dictators and are good people for doing so.  These interpretations of history may be flawed but at the very least they inspire a little national pride.


Cameroon suffers from the same revisionist form of history according to my counter-part Walters (who is now a history major at the University of Buea).  We were discussing his classes and he was so proud to exclaim that these most recent classes were the first time he had ever heard any narrative beyond, “Africans were lost, uneducated, and without purpose before the ‘colonial masters’ from Europe came to save them from themselves.”  The first time, in his 20 some odd years of life, that he had be taught that Africa as a continent has a rich intellectual, cultural, and economic history dating well before the Germans could claim anything close to an empire.  Imagine learning a revisionist form of history that casts Americans as classless, without moral virtue, and inherently dependent on the British for our existence.  Imagine what that would do to the psyche of American kids.  It’s almost impossible to think about because our own narrative of history is so deeply ingrained in my own proud-to-be-an-American sense of self.  As a white, upper-middle class, educated woman from the US I simply cannot imagine feeling inherently inferior.


When I first arrived I went to a debate and an adult Cameroonian offered up a disturbing argument to the question, “Is Europe to blame for Africa’s problems?”  I can argue both sides well; but under no circumstance could I understand his line of argument.   He executed perfectly the rationalization for every colony ever created, “Before the Europeans arrived we were living in sin and without any technology.  Look at all that they have given to us and be grateful.”  Another man, who had obviously studied in University and was a self-identified pan-African, said that all over Africa civilizations were thriving and developing technologies without the aid of the Europeans.  He rebuffed the argument to resounding approval from a number of the adults in attendance; but it was clear that there was an internal struggle for most between these two schools of thought. 


So what does this all mean?  A city, possibly a country, possibly a continent of people growing up and being told that they are inherently less than their white, European counterparts:  A people using the history books that have been rejected in Europe as outdated for their primary texts because the latest editions are prohibitively expensive.  What does it mean when your teacher tell you are less than another by virtue of your birth and your books provide examples to back up the assertion?  It means that unless you are lucky enough to go to college that you will die believing this as fact and with that information two main paths are carved out for you:  compliance or defiance.  You can reject all that is outside of your daily interaction as foreign and unwanted or you can spend your life wishing you had a different one.  Neither option is ideal when we consider the challenges of globalization and the desperate need to provide economic and social stability throughout Africa.  Neither is acceptable when we think about the challenges of global security, terrorism, and the much-debated “clash of civilizations.”  How can we achieve global peace and justice with inequality is so deeply ingrained on all sides?


Call it what you will but I must make a plug for YAN here.  Computers are available in Buea – but not readily and there is certainly not a culture of learning focused on them.  My kids are desperate to know how to be a success in the world and I am desperate to teach them that I don’t have all the answers.  That instead they can use what resources they have around them, including the Internet, to investigate a number of paths and choose what they think is best for their future.  The can view papers by African, European, Asian, and American scholars on the civilizations and tribes in ancient Cameroon; on the history and formation of their country; or, on the controversy that surrounds their political system.  At minimum, they can look to see that China is a huge country smack in the middle of Asia and nowhere near North America or the Bahamas.   One hopes that with this knowledge will come empowerment and with empowerment will come self-actualization.  One day maybe they will stand in a local school debate as adults and confidently assert that Europe is not solely to blame for all of Africa’s problems or it’s successes; but that the legacy left a undeniable mark which Africa must continuously work to resolve in order to move forward.