Time is relentless, it impacts the entire life cycle, every human being, every society, every people. Unfortunately, the wish of the French poet Alphonse de Lamartine, who begged “O time, suspend your flight”, cannot be fulfilled. Time flies away, wiping out, should we not be careful, everything we have fought for all our lives. After battles of all kinds – economic, political, scientific, military, etc. – humans must preserve the tangible traces of their activity. Our armies and national defence are not spared. The victories won in the various battlefields, the deeds of sometimes anonymous heroes under the national flag, must be made public. Indeed, we have a duty to remember those who perished to defend the integrity of our national territory.
Long written by foreigners, the history of our people, our nation and our defence was likely to remain that of yesterday’s conquerors. Today is quite different, and we can tell the story of our past better than others. The skillful pens of our land must definitely be placed at the service of our collective memory. Our history is rich enough to produce books pouring in thick and fast. Who will recount the battles of Amchidé, Kolofata or Kerawa? Should we forget the tragic face-offs and battles for control of Isanguele, Jabane or Idabato, what would the Green Tree agreements refer to? And if one day the borders agreed in a peace process were to be questioned, how would we remember that it was at the cost of the lives of certain heroes that they were acquired?
Let us write and ease the writing of our military history. Should the ink on the paper become faded, illegible or erased, let us write it on iron and stone.
When the thunder of cannon fire, the bursts of machine-gun fire and the clatter of caterpillar tracks passed, flowers sprouted on the graves of the soldiers who had fallen on the front lines, and then weeds gradually invaded the little plot of land set aside for these servants of the Nation. But what will become of the Nation when she once again needs arms to defend her, if other young men have not taken their place in the ranks? The country will always need these defenders. The metal of mute weapons, wrecked armoured vehicles and other enemy weapon systems could be melted down to make statues and effigies in memory of our heroes, so that these worthy men never disappear. General Kodji Jacob will be remembered as the Americans remember Paton, General Kameni as the Greeks remember Hector, Lieutenant-Colonel Beltus Nkwene Ekwele as Achile, Lieutenant Youssouf Mahamat as Ajax, Navy Lieutenant Ngnassiri, Private 1st Class Aboulouguié Jean-Marie and so many others, as heroes forever silent! Indeed! But from the silence of eternal rest, may they smile as they see their own reflection on the valiant juniors they have raised up. Their personalities will be a powerful means of emulation for younger generations in search of reliable models.
And should metal erode, rust or melt, we will engrave our memory into stone.
Stones are so close to the earth that swallows everything, they remain the greatest bearers of traces of ancient civilizations. From rock paintings to fossilized skeletons, the oldest evidence of human existence lies in stone. Following the retrocession of the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon, the Chief of the Armed Forces of our country, the first citizen, urged us to “erect steles in memory of those of our soldiers who fell on the field of honour…”. This instruction will certainly soon find a stronger practical application, in the Memory and Remembrance activities within the Ministry of Defence.
Let us use granite! No. Marble, to celebrate our heroes! A people without memory is a people without a future, as Aimé Césaire once said.
We need to remember in order to continue to exist as an army, as a society, as a nation.
By Honoré Jean MPEGNA, Head of Memory and Remembrance Division/MINDEF/SED/CACVG