Objects
Paul-Henri Souvenir ASSAKO ASSAKO

MPANDO Gédéon (sculpture), Engelbert Mveng and Atelier Arts Nègre (design, decoration in relief on the architectural structure), Armand Salomon (architecture)
1973 -1976
concrete
height of the sculpture: 7m
Atemengue Plateau Yaoundé, Cameroon
Wikipedia Creative Commons

A Landmark of National Prosperity

 

The Reunification Monument recalls an important moment in Cameroon’s history, the political reunification of the “two Cameroons”, the Francophone and the Anglophone part, in 1961, leading up to the birth of the United Republic of Cameroon (the geographical space called Cameroon) in 1972. President Ahmadou Ahidjo and the public authorities commissioned this landmark as a celebration of the Cameroonian people’s prosperity in the aftermath of Independence. The history of this unification is important for education because it brings together the historical memory of approximately 200-250 ethnic groups living together in the Republic of Cameroon, a mosaic of cultures committed to sharing a common life. The narrative holding this nation together is all the more relevant today because this national project is facing heavy challenges. Since the end of 2016, the socio-political crisis known as the "Anglophone crisis" has shown that unity is an unstable value. The conflicts and armed insurgencies in the North-West and South-West prove the fragility of national unity.

Paul-Henri Souvenir ASSAKO ASSAKO
Paul-Henri Souvenir ASSAKO ASSAKO

 

The "reunification" is the result of a synergy of different societies willing to modify their way of life and the principles of their socio-cultural organization in order to cope with the vicissitudes of the colonial yoke. These societies are based in the Great West, the Coastline, the Southern Forest, the East and Lake Tchad, the regions that mark Cameroon’s geography. Each of these regions is home to a large number of ethnic groups such as the Bamileké, the Bamun, the Akunakuna, the Babungu, the Duala,the Beti, the Fang, the Peul, the Kirdi, the Fula, the Dourou, the Fali, etc. The date of May 20th, 1972 marks Cameroon’s passage from Federal Republic to United Republic by referendum. This date can be said to be the culmination of the political commitment initiated on the 1st of October 1961 with the reunification. Based on this commitment of 1961, Cameroon continued the construction of a unitary state and the consolidation of national unity encompassing the country's entire population. It can be argued that this unitary state was the only way to protect Cameroon’s sovereignty after Independence and to implement projects of prosperity. In President Ahidjo’s words of 1961: "It is together that we will make our Cameroon finally returned to the borders of our ancestors1, a modern country where it will be good to live in a climate of freedom, fraternity and prosperity." (Mveng 1985, 262).

 

monument 04

 

The Reunification Monument is situated on "Plateau Atemengue", Yaoundé’s political and administrative centre. In this area, the colonial administration had placed institutions for education and administration that were crucial constituents of the new country: the National Assembly, the school of administration and the judiciary, the military headquarters, the Leclerc High School and the University of Yaoundé, to only name a few examples. The large boulevard initially used for the parades commemorating the celebration of the feast of national unity is located on this plateau as well. Placed on top of the city, amongst the republic’s essential institutions the Reunification Monument was obviously meant to become a reminder of the sense of unity amongst the initiatives engaging the Cameroonian republic.

 

The ensemble of the Reunification Monument consists of an architectural structure and a sculpture. According to Noé Tonye2, its shape emerged from sketches selected by the public authorities following a national and international competition on the theme of reunification launched by the Cameroonian Head of State. However, the identity of the authors of this monument suggests that they might also have been directly commissioned because they appeared qualified for the job due to their previous projects. These artists are Gédéon Mpando and Engelbert Mveng with his “Art Nègre Workshop”, who both used to receive public commissioned in Yaoundé at that time. Annette Schemmel (2015, 66) points out with regard to Engelbert Mveng: “As the author of Cameroon’s first national history, a contributor to ABBIA {Revue}, and a politician in Ahidjo’s service, Mveng enjoyed an excellent reputation among Cameroon’s élites. His social standing also led to secular commissions ». A third partner was the French architect Armand Salomon. His involvement in the realisation of this monument is due to his proximity to the French government, who probably recommended him to the Cameroonian government, according to Noé Tonye.

 

Although the conditions of the commission are somewhat obscure, Engelbert Mveng is known to be the designer of the spiral tower as well as of the representation of the cultural areas of the new state, while Gédéon Mpando created the monumental statue and Armand Salomon was in charge of the realization of the spiral-shaped building. Arguably, the teaming up of three professionals had a symbolic dimension because building a "merged" nation called for the commitment of society as a whole. Such a vast project required an explosion of research and creative initiatives towards a culture of common values driven by teaching and education. The involvement of several Cameroonian artists and a French architect in the design and the construction of this monument reflects the political will to involve different parts of society and to create mechanisms that are operational and serving the interests of national unity.

The architectural component of the monument to the reunification of Yaoundé has the appearance of a giant cone built of concrete. This cone consists of two spirals which describe a sinusoidal movement, and which unite on the top. The basis of this architecture is a circular structure and each spiral is a form of concrete slide made up of stairs to the top. A high column in the centre and four parallel pillars support the structure as a whole. For these four main pillars, the Art Nègre Workshop has designed reliefs showcasing characteristics of lifestyles, landscapes, cultural and artistic elements from the North, South, East and West of Cameroon. In a similar style, the team has pictured school scenes, construction scenes of modern architecture, scenes of farming, etc. for the decoration of the underground part of the building, thus celebrating the process of transformation and development of both society and land.

 

monument 08             monument 09

 

Details of a pillar cladding representing the diversity in the Cameroonian regions: the cone-shaped architecture and an initiation mask of the Kounga from Cameroon’s West; the abbia motifs and the hunting scene characteristic of the forests on the South Cameroonian plateau and finally the fishing scene which recall the Littoral region.3

 

 

 

monument 02

 

The sculpture by Gédéon Mpando that is situated in front of the spiral architecture reinforces the idea of ​​a united nation as a foundation for development, fulfilment and prosperity in its own way. The artist has personified the nation in a figurative sculpture. The composition represents a stocky colossus (53 tons, height of 7m) in a seated posture of great stability. He holds a torch in his right arm while his left hand serves to support the four children who are clutched to him. The children’s visible efforts to climb up the colossus make for a strong vertical tension, echoing the cone-shaped architecture in the background. Mpando’s sculpture reveals a kind of serenity. Its strong expressiveness is due to a harmonious play of masses and volumes in the treatment of forms. Both artists’ contributions translate a vision of the nation that is both poetic and critical and as such essential to the development of a national society. Both components of the monument incorporate the idea of ​​belonging to a nation that is united and hence display the most universal property that an image can acquire in such a context: its true ontological significance (H. Belting, 2004). 

 

Let us come back to the relevance of this monument’s imagery. The inhabitants of the territory of Cameroon have inherited a common history of colonization. This history has forged socio-cultural, symbolic, emotional and political ties between ethnic groups. E. Renam speaks of these ties as the “fusion of populations” (1882). These links constitute the raw material of the national collective memory. It can be argued that it is worthwhile to overcome the obstacles to the consolidation of this nation due to the socio-cultural sedimentation of these ties. Disappointment with the promises of prosperity have resulted in calls to return to regional autonomy, be it in the form of a federal state or in the form of secession. Precaution needs to be preserved, however, because deconstructing the Cameroonian Republic constituted in the 1960s and 70s would imply calling into question the historical heritage, that Cameroon was born from the colonial system developed at the African conference in Berlin in 1884. The consequence would be the restoration of a precolonial environment. Instead, it seems more productive to critically analyse the historical stakes in favour of the development of today’s society.

 

Overview report on the current political situation in Cameroon (April 2021) - in German: Link https://www.bpb.de/internationales/weltweit/innerstaatliche-konflikte/327306/kamerun?pk_campaign=nl2021-04-07&pk_kwd=327306

 

References

 

  • RENAN Ernest. “Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?” Bulletin de l’Association Scientifique de France. 26 March 1882.
  • BELTING Hans. 2004. Pour une anthropologie des images, Ed. Gallimard
  • BAHOKEN J.C. et ATANGANA Engelbert. 1975. La politique culturelle en République unie du Cameroun. Éditions Les Presses de l’Unesco.
  • MVENG Engelbert. 1985., Histoire du Cameroun. tom 2. Yaoundé. Ed. CEPER.
  • CHEICKH ANTA DIOP. 1079. nations nègres et culture, Ed. Présence Africaine
  • SCHEMMEL ANNETTE. 2015. Visual arts in Cameroon - A Genealogy of Non-formal Training 1976-2014, Langaa Research & Publishing CIG, Mankon.
  • ASSAKO ASSAKO Paul-Henri.2014. L’art au Cameroun du XXe au début du XXIe siècle: étude des expressions sculpturales en milieu urbain, thèse présentée et soutenue en vue de l’obtention d’un doctorat/Ph.D en Histoire de l’Art.  UY1-Cameroun. p. 571.
  • https://www.osidimbea.cm/collectivites/centre/monument-reunification/
  • www.mbogliaa.com

 

Footnotes

 

1) The expression ‘boundaries of ancestors’ refers primarily to the idea of traditional cultural heritage and its appropriation for planning the prosperity of the nation.

2)  https://www.osidimbea.cm/collectivites/centre/monument-reunification/

3) Source of images: ASSAKO ASSAKO Paul-Henri. 2014. L’art au Cameroun du XXe au début du XXIe siècle : étude des expressions sculpturales en milieu urbain, thèse présentée et soutenue en vue de l’obtention d’un doctorat/Ph.D en Histoire de l’Art,  UY1-Cameroun,  p. 571

 

 

published February 2021