Abbreviated Research Activities (Full CV available upon request)

Jacqueline-Bethel Tchouta Mougoué’s first bookGender, Separatist Politics and Embodied Nationalism in Cameroon (University of Michigan Press, 2018) examines the gendering of political identity, nationalism, and separatist/secession movements in twentieth-century Cameroon. The book draws on oral interviews and archival records to examine women’s roles in the Anglophone Cameroonian nationalist movement in the first decade of independence. The period this book addresses, 1961 to 1972, corresponds to the period of the Federal Republic of Cameroon which consisted of two socio-politically autonomous states: the West Cameroon State (Anglophone with British administrative legacies), and the East Cameroon State (Francophone with French governing inheritance). Drawing on oral interviews conducted between 2011 and 2017, as well as archival records, Mougoué traces the origin of Anglophone Cameroonian women’s roles in maintaining political power in the Anglophone, western state. This role did not take the form of openly criticizing the government in Francophone Cameroon as annexationist and hegemonic; women left this to the men who openly demanded secession. Rather, in this period, educated urban elite women carved new spaces of socio-political power by using a variety of mass media outlets to monitor women’s behaviors and thus subtly stressed Anglophone Cameroonian separatism and nationalism. Even as elite women in West Cameroon increasingly entered the formal workforce, women’s advice columnists, cookbook authors, and politically elite women urged them to maintain Christian morality and traditional gender norms as a means of claiming superiority over their Francophone neighbors, protecting West Cameroon’s reputation as a moral nation on the world stage. Preserving conservative ideal Anglophone womanhood, gender norms, morality, cultural values, and political identity came to be seen as the lynchpin of Anglophone unity in English-speaking towns in Cameroon.

Highlighting the history of early Anglophone nationalism illuminates why Anglophone secessionists languish in prisons or exile today, and why even United Nations officials now decry the denial of self-governance to English-speaking regions of contemporary Cameroon. In addition, international news reports have suggested that the western African coast could further be destabilized if Anglophone Cameroonians and pro-Biafrans – the Igbo people of Nigeria who have long fought to secede from the country – join forces to seek self-determination. Thus, the book complicates traditional Africanist scholarship by illuminating the legacy of dual colonial rule and its influence on contesting gendered ideas about nationalism and political identity in a West African country.

Women Should Use National Dress

Anna Foncha wearing the West Cameroon women’s national costume, March 14, 1964. Source: Cameroon Times, Cameroon National Archive in Buea.

 

Mougoué’s current research, like the first book, highlights gender history. Religious Masculinities, Social Calamities, and the Baha’i Faith Movement in Cameroon, traces the history of the Bahá’í Faith in English-Speaking Cameroon and focuses on masculine identities between 1957 and 1985. The Basel Mission Society, a Christian missionary society that originated in 1815 in Germany, was highly influential in West Cameroon from 1886 until the late 1950s. It successfully established Christian church affiliation as a component of Anglophone Cameroonian men’s masculinity, along with the financial security to marry and establish an independent household, but its Anglophone mission collapsed in the late 1950s, causing a social and religious crisis mainly affecting young men of low social and economic positioning. For these young men, Christian church membership fees were onerous, and they had no access to even the lower leadership positions that the mission made available to some African men. Many converted to Bahá’í; over 90% of Bahá’í converts were young men the Basel Mission Society had Christianized. Converts forcibly occupied Basel Mission churches and converted them to Bahá’í Houses of Worship. The religious and social landscape of Anglophone Cameroon shifted profoundly, and young men drove this change in a way that Africanist scholarship has not previously acknowledged. I will examine this spectacular reversal between 1957 and 1985, a process by which marginalized young men claimed social and religious authority in their communities. These men, who could not readily access masculine ideals supported by Christianity, found an alternative in Bahá’í conversion that not only rid them of the cost of church membership but offered a source of income if they became Bahá’í missionaries. As missionaries converting Africans throughout the continent, they could (re)claim economic power, social positioning, and ultimately, a masculine ideal that was informed by their Bahá’í religious authority.

 

Enoch Olinga Ali Nakhjavani and some Cameroon Bahais

1954: Early Bahá’ís in Cameroon. Front (left to right): Enoch Olinga, Ali Nakhjavani. Back (left to right): Benedict Eballa, David Tanyi, and Samuel Njiki.

 

1967: First National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Cameroon

1967: First National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Cameroon

Images from here.