By Innocent Chia
If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it is a duck… So long as there is LESA contained in the name of a group in the USA, it cannot raise funds or carry out any public activity on behalf of Our Lady of Lourdes College in Bamenda, Cameroon, until further notice. This is the essence of a November 22, 2012 press release from the office of Cardinal Tumi, citing the Proprietor of the College, following failed attempts at reconciling the belligerent ex-students who are camped into LESA Alumnae and LESA USA, Inc. While complimenting LESA Alumnae for stepping forward in a spirit of collaboration, it calls out the twin sister, LESA USA, Inc. for stalling the “reconciliation process” and “undermin(ing) its procedures”. In what the Chia Report qualifies as Rapid Response Letters to its members, sympathizers and sponsors, LESA USA Inc. has shown no signs of letting down, even amidst news of flock leaving the herd.
What got them here? The Genesis
In the period spanning between 2008 and 2010, it is alleged that LESA USA raised over $100,000 (CFA 50,000,000 frs) for a water system project at their beloved Our Lady of Lourdes College, Bamenda. According to information gathered from serious and credible sources from within the Church and LESA USA, the execution of the project raised accounting concerns. The numbers were not adding up for some and there was a sense of brewing disenchantment within the group.
A second allegation had to do with a Scholarship Fund by LESA USA to benefit the education of the girl child at the School. According to unquestionable sources that have asked to remain anonymous, the funds were handed to a school official, instead of the Office of the Archbishop of Bamenda who is the Proprietor of the School. Allegedly, a list of students who had won this scholarship went into circulation. Their parents, however, did not see a change in their pocket books. They were paying the same school fees as the other students. These parents hit on the alarm button and started writing to the Church hierarchy and LESA USA complaining about the alleged hanky-panky.
Known as fundraising magnates within the Cameroonian community in the USA, the LESA USA household fragmented on their two signature projects – the water system project and the Scholarship scheme. The splintering of the ensemble was because some were questioning the numbers for the water project and the handling of the Scholarship fund. These “daredevils” eventually started what is now known as LESA Alumnae.
Numerically speaking, LESA Alumnae is smaller than the mother organization, LESA USA, Inc. Part of the reason for this, some sources claim, is that many initially viewed the Alumnae group as intransigent and insubordinate. Until now, questions remained largely unanswered as to why LESA Alumnae was unwilling to accept the explanation from the delegated party that took the water project finances to Cameroon. For example, it was explained that receipts for jobs in Cameroon are not as easy to get as one expects and obtains from a USA plumber or handyman, even for repairs as insignificant as a leak in your home. The lack of such receipts, proponents argue, explained the gaps.
The Reconciliation Process
Over the last several years of irreconcilable differences, both parties seemed to have not only hardened the rhetoric against each other but ratcheted the stakes by involving US courts and patent administration. The School and Church hierarchy in Cameroon decided it was time to stop the nonsense.
It is against this backdrop that his Eminence Christian Cardinal Tumi, on his recent visit touting the creation of a new Catholic University in Douala and launching of his new book – My Faith: A Cameroon to be renewed – called a meeting of representatives of both warring factions. The Cardinal was seating in on behalf of Archbishop Cornelius Esua of Bamenda, also proprietor of Our Lady of Lourdes College, Bamenda. The four hour meeting on November 13, 2012 was at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Baltimore. At the end of the conclave the parties came to the following agreement pending approval of the Archbishop Esua:
1) “The immediate withdrawal of all litigations both from Court and the United States Patent and Trademark office;
2) The creation of a transitional council of seven members which will be formed as follows:
i) LESA USA, Inc. will submit names of three LESA Alumnae members and LESA Alumnae will submit names of three LESA USA, Inc. members to sit on the council.
ii) The seventh member of the council will be chosen from a list of six members proposed by both sides from which His Eminence will choose the President of the transitional council. All names should be submitted to the cardinal in writing by Thursday , November 15, 2012.
The function of this council will be to govern the united LESA until the next general assembly in 2012 when the new national executive will be elected, presided by the Archbishop of Bamenda or his auxiliary, assisted by three men chosen by the ex-students.” (See LESA Alumnae web page for the rest of the press release)
The Breakdown of the Reconciliation Process
According to the November 12, 2012 press release from the office of Cardinal Tumi ( Download PressRelease2LESA-1), LESA USA, Inc. “has decided to further deliberate over the propositions even after the Archbishop of Bamenda has approved of them, making them decisions”.
Indeed, in one of several defiant Rapid Response missives signed by the President of LESA USA, Inc., Enaka M. Yembe, M.D, to her flock, sympathizers and donors, she states:
“Yesterday you may have received a press release notifying you that LESA USA has been dissolved. Kindly note that LESA USA stands strong and intact.
No "dissolution" of LESA USA ever occurred.
Our Association is made up of over one hundred formidable Christian women. We stand strong, are full of zeal and are committed to using our God given talents and resources as well as sharing the gifts bestowed upon us by Our Heavenly Father to improve the lives of the girl child. We are most thankful to you our donors and patrons for your consistent and invaluable support.
We are a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in existence for over fourteen (14) years.
As you can confirm, our track record is clear and can never be expunged. Also, you know that our Association, LESA-USA, cannot be dissolved by the stroke of a pen. Any messages you receive to that effect are therefore immaterial...”
Sources are confirming that the movers and shakers of the Cameroon community in the Maryland area, including its biggest, most ardent donors at LESA events are appalled and are rallying away from LESA USA, Inc. as the leadership muscles against the Church.
Another alignment for the decision of the Cardinal and Archbishop Esua of the Bamenda Archdiocese is coming from the Chair of the Cameroon Catholic Community, Jude Ambe. In a November 23, 2012 mail, he writes:
“My dear LESANS, I want you all to understand that we share and feel your pain just as we do with the multitude of Associations and individuals in our community who refuse to make their differences and pain a matter of public consumption.… However, as a leadership team, we give deference to Church Authority and the manner and direction they have decided to chart in their attempt at solving and or managing the problems within LESA.”
But the hardest blow to the organization seems to be coming from within as wheels are falling off the cart. Members have either been sending in their letters of resignation or unsubscribing from LESA USA, Inc. group email.
The Standoff – The 2013 Golden Jubilee celebration of the College
In the November 22, 2012 unmasking press release from the Cardinal, erstwhile regarded as “spiritual director” by LESA USA, Inc., it is made clear that not only can there be no fundraiser by any LESA group in the USA, it expressly states that:
(II) “LESANS in America willing to attend and participate in the upcoming celebration in Cameroon….should do so as individuals”
Meantime, the President of LESA USA, Inc. stayed unambiguous in her letter:
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, we will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of our beloved Alma Mater in the first week of January 2013 at Our Lady of Lourdes College in Bamenda. If you cannot make it to Cameroon in January, please join us in Atlanta, Georgia from June 13th to 16th, 2013 as we celebrate our Golden Jubilee again during our fourteenth annual convention. The Atlanta Airport Marriott Hotel has been contracted to host this event...
This is one convention you definitely do not want to miss.”
Conclusion – Affaire a suivre
As to the field of LESANS that I have been talking to for this report – from LESA Alumnae to LESA USA Inc and even Independents – this fight is all about the clash of egos within LESA USA and a wanton failure to understand and respect organizational bylaws, procedures and hierarchy. As I thought about it I said to myself – “How apropos that the Cardinal has been out here talking about leadership crisis in Cameroon. Who are we to be insulting Biya when … we appoint friends to positions of responsibility not because of their know-how…a friend is made the financial secretary even though they failed Arithmetic in primary school and Math in Secondary School. How different are we? How different am I? How different are the organizations in which you and I are members?”
In the meantime, followers of the LESA USA, Inc. have to be asking themselves some tough questions, should they continue the standoff: 1) What is the mission statement of LESA USA, Inc. as submitted to the IRS? 2) If the Archdiocese in Bamenda or our Alma-Mater at Lourdes, supposedly beneficiaries of our Mission Statement and work, say we are no longer speaking for them, what legitimacy do we have in the eyes of the IRS? 3) Who does it benefit to continue the standoff - the Alma-Mater, the Archdiocese, LESA USA, or the leadership of LESA USA?
I am reliably told that during the meeting in Baltimore the Cardinal told the representatives of both factions the following: a) Our Lady of Lourdes College existed before an Association of ex-students was formed and will exist whether or not there is an Association of Ex-students. b) Stay in your homes and take care of your husbands and families. 3) Finally, when you are successful at taking care of your homes, then you can give to the Church and to your Alma-mater. It is food for thought.