NUMBER 2, 1997

pages 9-11



In this interview, the Cardinal Archbishop of Douala Christian Tumi stresses that the Church is alone in its concern for man's integral development. Problems would be easier to solve if there were less foreign interference. "Let them help us, if they wish, but let them respect us"

by Gianni Cardinale

Regular Army air raids on three guerrilla-controlled towns. Air attacks continue against the rebels in eastern Zaire. Blitzes swell the river of displaced and refugees. With these front page headlines, the Osservatore Romano continues to hammer home that there is no sign of a let-up in the drama overwhelming the heart of Africa. The killing goes on in the Great Lakes region "amid the general indifference of the international community" as John Paul II has said on several occasions.

Therefore, 30DAYS continues its interviews with eminent African Churchmen. After Zaire's Cardinal Archbishop of Kinshasa Frederic Etsou-Nzabi-Bamungwabi and the Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, 30DAYS now turns to Christian Wiygham Tumi, Cardinal Archbishop of Douala, Cameroon. Born in 1930, Tumi studied in seminaries in Cameroon and Nigeria, and then read Theology in Lyons and Philosophy in Fribourg, Switzerland. Appointed Yagoua's first bishop in 1979, he was promoted to coadjutant archbishop of Garoua in 1982 assuming the pastoral guidance of this archdiocese in 1984. Made a cardinal in 1988 he was named archbishop of Douala in 1991. Tumi has also been president of the Cameroon Episcopal Conference and was a member of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. In 1994, he sewed as presiding delegate of the African Synod.

Cardinal Tumi is not calling for armed intervention by the international community but believes that "in the case of the Great Lakes region, one would greatly hope in moral pressure on the part of the superpowers and the international community to force the brothers in conflict to engage in dialogue. And he adds: "But I would also say that, at this moment, the sale of arms in this region is a crime against humanity.

CHRISTIAN WIYGHAM TUMI: Africans of all creeds are very attentive to everything Pope John Paul II says. After all his travels in Africa, the continent sees him as a universal moral authority. That is why his concern about peace in Africa is greatly appreciated and his teaching taken seriously.

TUMI: In our view, the international community is generally 'indifferent' to the humanitarian dramas unfolding in the heart of Africa. This indifference must be put into the context of a world where ethical values count for little. The impression is that people are afraid to tell the truth or condemn evil. The impression is that anything that does not bring man materialistic or hedonistic benefits is useless. If evil contributes to man's economic growth and material wellbeing it automatically becomes something good, according to the promoters of the doctrine that usefulness is the origin of all values. And there are countries which believe themselves to be indispensable and which believe they have a world mission to impose their utilitarian ethic on every other country and especially on the poorest countries that need their financial aid. So it is not surprising that the objective ethic which the Pope proposes to the world's political and economic leaders meets with general indifference on their part. However, we believe that the Pope must go on proclaiming the doctrine of the Church long and loud whether he is heeded or not. Evil is temporary, while good and truth are eternal. These are the things that save us.

TUMI: I personally do not believe that a military solution is the answer either to the problem in the Great Lakes region or to anything else. What must be stressed is that after blood has been shed in Africa, one must truly be Christian in order to forgive. For, in the traditional context, it's the rationale of revenge that prevails. This is why everything possible is being done throughout this conflict to keep dialogue going and prevent all-out war. I am always amazed that Europe continues its quest to punish Nazis 50 years after World War II. In my view, it is to be hoped that the superpowers and the international community in general will exert moral pressure as far as the Great Lakes region is concerned and oblige the brothers in conflict to engage in dialogue. But I would add that, at this moment, the sale of arms in this region is a crime against humanity.

TUMI: I think that being baptised is one thing and being a Christian or living as a Christian is another. It must also be acknowledged that in this region, according to information reaching us from reliable sources, many Christians lay down their lives for their brothers and continue to do so. This paradox is to be found in all the communities of believers in Christ: there are people who let themselves be transformed by the Gospel and there are the others. That we are Christians, there is no doubt. But few of us live coherently with that. While I have no wish however, to justify 'the lack of evangelical courage' on the part of some Christians in this region, everybody knows that these humanitarian dramas are mainly caused by the political order. As happens everywhere, politicians in Africa hold on to power for a long time. They exploit tribal sentiments in order never to let go of the reins. 'Whoever does not belong to my ethnic group is an enemy to combat', they say. Unfortunately, the man in the street, the illiterate, listen to them and, out of fear, they allow themselves to be dragged along by this administrative elite without ethics. The illiterate and the rural man follow the cultured man from the city blindly.

TUMI: In this deplorable situation, the Church has the onerous duty to keep on proclaiming the Good News when it is opportune and inopportune: that we are all brothers whatever our ethnic origins. We have one Father: God. From the moment someone says, in faith: 'Our Father, who art in heaven, he must accept all men as his brothers. The bond between Christians, who together make up the mystical body of Jesus Christ, is stronger than the bond between members of a natural family. The blood tie is temporary while the spiritual bond is eternal. So I believe that if we Christians in Africa were truly to live out our Christian brotherhood, we would make an enormous contribution to building justice and peace in the continent. Every Christian community, then, must be the mark and witness of the unity that Jesus so desired for all who believe in Him. The Church in Africa needs witnesses more than preachers and in any case a witness is necessarily a preacher.

TUMI: The priest comes from a given Christian community. He has the qualities and faults of his community of origin. If he has not taken his priestly formation seriously, he will find himself exercising his ministry with all those faults in place. So there will be priests in any community who react to things without thinking as the laity do and who are even worse than the laity in that the layman might not always have the means or the opportunity of a solid spiritual formation. So it is not surprising that a few priests have been implicated in these fratricidal wars, however deplorable. In fact, the priest should be a unifier, a basis of unity in society, the salt of society. He is the representative of Jesus Christ who loved all men without exception, even his murderers. Fortunately, there have also been many priests who gave their lives for people who were not members of their own ethnic group.

TUMI: I don't think this is a way forward. I doubt that the countries which colonized Africa can do much today. Are these countries totally without blame for what's happening? What interests them today? The lives of Africans or their own economic plans? If these powers really love Africa why do they remain indifferent to what the Pope says about the 'humanitarian dramas' consuming the heart of the continent? These powers did nothing to prepare Africans for independence. How can a man be ready for independence if he has not been given solid schooling? In my country, all the primary and secondary schools were confessional. We know that many of these institutions were founded against the colonial will. The Church is alone in its concern for the African's integral development. Perhaps Africans would find it easier to resolve their disputes if there were less interference by the colonials in our affairs. Let them help us if they wish but in respect for our African way of seeing and doing things.

TUMI: There surely are personalities who have the substance to become great politicians ready to serve their peoples. But they have not yet had an opportunity to do so because those in power today in this continent don't want change, considering that they are taking advantage of the situation. Whoever is in power wants to stay there at all costs. Whoever is in power is not prepared to draw a net distinction between their good and the common good which they should be administering with transparency. This is why competent people don't dare criticize those in power - even in a constructive way - for fear of their lives. People, young political personalities who could question unjust economic accords and the status quo, who could change the alarming political and economic situation of Africa today, are eliminated very easily in Africa, sometimes with the complicity of foreign powers. Africa is not lacking in truly potential political leaders. What is lacking is the opportunity to use their ability in the service of the continent.

TUMI: It would seem that this is more a struggle between two world powers - France and the United States - and purely for economic interest. These two countries are already much more developed than our continent put together. It could be that they seek at least to maintain their current development level even if this means plunging the countries of Africa into the abyss of total poverty and annihilation. One has the impression that these so-called developed countries are strongly hoping that developing countries will disappear off the face of the earth. If what I'm saying sounds like a judgment of values, then I apologise. There are no problems between African English and French speakers. The problem is being introduced from outside.

TUMI: It is on hope that the African lives today because he knows that no man-made situation is eternal. Everywhere in Africa, there are groups rising up against all that happens in the continent but conversion means becoming aware of one's personal weaknesses. Many Africans are conscious that change is necessary in Africa. To date, people had been looking for work after completing their studies. Today, the opposite is true - many want to be entrepreneurs, not hired hands. And everywhere, justice and peace movements are forming. Then, too, our schools and universities both private and public continue to educate the young. A well-educated man is a strength on which a country must be able to count. He is the foundation of all hope. If those who help us also respect us, by respecting our priorities, Africa will always be grateful to them.

Picture caption - Dakar, Senegal 1972, Ian Barry Picture caption - Cardinal Christian Tumi of Cameroon Picture caption - The Africa of two great photographers. Here, refugees in Zambia 1978, Peter Marlow


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