Cameroonians are mourning the death of Christian Wiyghan Tumi, a Catholic cardinal who was well known for advocating for peace in the ongoing Anglophone separatist crisis in the country. The 90-year-old cleric was abducted for 24 hours by the separatist fighters in November for asking them to disarm. The Roman Catholic Church said Tumi died in the coastal city of Douala on Saturday.
Tumi gained popularity when he advised the long-serving, 88-year-old Cameroonian President Paul Biya against running for presidential elections but Biya refused.
Following the announcement of Tumi's death, local stations such as Equinoxe TV, Royal FM and Magic FM broadcast some of his sermons, which were aimed at rooting out corruption in the country.
In a sermon Tumi gave in 2010, while he was archbishop of Douala, he said any Christian who has siphoned off state funds should refund the people’s money. He said Catholic teachings oppose theft. Those who have stolen government money, he said, must confess and refund the stolen funds if they intend to be accepted into God’s heavenly kingdom.
His message resonated beyond the confines of the church.
Moussa Oumarou, the coordinator of the Council of Imams and Muslim Dignitaries of Cameroon, says Tumi was influential in promoting dialogue between rival religious groups and churches in Cameroon.
Oumarou says the council is saddened by the cardinal’s death. He calls Tumi an apostle of peace who stood for interreligious dialogue to eliminate tensions between Cameroon’s Christian denominations and Muslims. He says Tumi’s legacy of love for the country, humanity and peace should be preserved.
Tumi was abducted by Anglophone separatist fighters in Cameroon’s crisis-prone Northwest region in November and released after 24 hours. Separatists claimed responsibility for the abduction on social media. They said they were angry over the cleric’s suggestion that fighters should disarm and work toward a peaceful resolution in the restive western regions.
Tumi accused both the military and separatist fighters of human rights abuses against civilians, burning public infrastructure, looting, rape and sexual violence in the region in media appearances. He also asked the government to withdraw its military from separatist areas and called for a cease-fire to end the separatist crisis.
The governor of the English-speaking Northwest region, Deben Tchoffo, said the cardinal was a peace crusader.
“He has been longing for peace and he was kidnapped when he tried to bring the message of peace to the people. He sent a report to the government suggesting that the government should continue to stretch a hand of fellowship to the young [Anglophone separatist fighters] who are still in the bush, asking them [Anglophone separatist fighters] to come out of the bush and join the other Cameroonians to rebuild this nation,” said Tchoffo.
Before Cameroon’s October 2018 presidential election, Tumi gave interviews in which he asked long-serving Cameroonian President Paul Biya to give up power. Tumi said Biya, who was 86 in 2018, was too old to lead the country successfully. The Biya administration strongly criticized Tumi and called him a controversial religious leader.
Andrew Nkea, archbishop of the Bamenda archdiocese in the English-speaking Northwest region said Tumi was a courageous prelate who defended the rights of the marginalized.
“We remember Cardinal Tumi as a fearless apostle. He is a man who stood for the truth and was completely unwavering when it came to matters of justice and of truth,” he said.
Nkea said Tumi educated hundreds of street children, fed the poor and provided funds to treat the sick.
Tumi was appointed cardinal in 1988 by Pope John Paul II. He was born in Cameroon’s English-speaking northwestern village of Kikaikelaki in 1930. The Catholic church in Cameroon says Tumi spoke at least nine languages fluently.