Jacqueline-Bethel Tchouta Mougoué’s first book, Gender, Separatist Politics and Embodied Nationalism in Cameroon, is forthcoming with the University of Michigan Press in 2019. The book examines issues related to cookery, gossiping, “sluggish” women who fail to attend the meetings of women’s organizations, slacks-wearing women who drink Guinness, and unruly housewives known as “women extremists,” to illuminate how issues of ideal womanhood shaped the Anglophone Cameroonian nationalist movement in the first decade of independence. By drawing from oral interviews and archival records, such as women’s advice columns, Cameroon’s first cooking book, and the first novel published by an Anglophone Cameroonian woman under a pen name, the book examines how women’s everyday actions became key to shaping the Anglophone Cameroonian nationalist movement in the predominantly Francophone country during the period of the Federal Republic of Cameroon, 1961 to 1972. The book uses the concept of embodied nationalism to illustrate how political elites and formally educated urbanites implied that women’s everyday patterns of behavior and comportment—the clothes that women wore, the foods they cooked, their abstention from gossip, and their adherence to appropriate marital behavior in public spaces—might make a suitable Anglophone Cameroonian persona physically conspicuous on the local, national, and international stage. By drawing upon history, political science, gender studies, and feminist epistemologies, Mougoué demonstrates how preserving conservative ideal Anglophone womanhood, 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 seeks to complicate traditional Africanist scholarship by illuminating the legacy of dual European rule and its influence on contesting gendered ideas about nationalism and political identity in a West/Central African country.
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. 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–even converting a king in Benin–they could (re)claim economic power, social positioning, and ultimately, a masculine ideal that was informed by their Bahá’í religious authority.
Although there is much scholarship on how black Americans and black West Indians served on Christian missions in Africa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in an increasingly globalizing world, there is little focus on how black Africans themselves have influenced religious ideologies and actions throughout Africa. Highlighting the history of the Baha’i Faith Movement in Cameroon illustrates how the religious and social landscape of Anglophone Cameroon–and some parts of West Africa–shifted profoundly, and how young men drove this change in a way that Africanist scholarship has not previously acknowledged.