INTERVIEW WITH Prof. Alfred Snider
Proff Alfred Charles Snider, an Edwin Lawrence Professor of Forensics at the University of Vermont in the USA has diagnosed appeal to authority as the major argumentative challenge in Cameroon. The Post caught up with this expert in debate, argumentation and persuasion as he was chairing a one week workshop which culminated into an inter-university debate championship in the Catholic University of Cameroon in Bamenda, recently. Read on
The POST: we learnt from your speech during the opening ceremony that you have been to Cameroon and more specifically the Catholic University of Bamenda two times to sensitize the people on debating. Do you have any particular interest in this region?
Proff Snider: I have an interest in any region that is interested in debate and it is the people and students in Cameroon and more specifically the officials of CACTUC University who contacted me and convinced me. Also, I met with Marius Binyou-bi Homb, the President of the Cameroon Debate Association (CDA)in Botswana and learnt of his visionary work to promote debate in Cameroon and I said ‘I want to be part of this effort.’ That is why I am here.
The POST: What do you think about the impact of debate in Cameroon?
Proff Snider: That is really up to the Cameroonians to decide. I am a foreigner. I learn from you, I share ideas but its up to the individuals. I see fantastic ability of reasoning, of speaking, of persuading and of solving difficult problems in Cameroon and that makes me very optimistic, especially with the fantastic leadership of the Cameroon Debate Association (CDA).I have trained debaters in 41 countries around the world . The clear fact is the Global discussion is incomplete unless the African Voice is heard and the African Voice is incomplete without the Cameroonian voice.
The POST: Could you tell us more about your relationship with this Cameroon Debate Association?
Proff Snider:My relationship with the CDA is excellent. I have been inspired watching them. I communicate with them, I see the work they are doing and they have a lot of struggles, it is not easy. I admire people who work hard even when it is difficult. But the goal is important. That is why I love working with them and standing in solidarity with them in their efforts.
The POST: What difficulties do you face as a trainer in Cameroon?
Proff Snider: The major argumentative Challenge in Cameroon is appeal to authority. Just because an important person says something or does something or believes something does not mean we should do it or accept it. There has to be logical, good reasons behind it. I cannot say for instance that Obama smokes Cigarettes so it is OK for me to do it. That is not an argument. Another striking issue is appeal to tradition. It is wrong to say “We have always done it this way so let us continue to do it”. If we had always accepted this appeal to tradition, then we would always have slavery. We would still be eating around in open fire at night without homes and without medicines. Tradition can stand in the way of progress. This does not mean that all tradition is bad. Traditions that are supported by good arguments are good traditions but traditions that are not supported by good arguments support the fallacy of tradition. Time-management is equally another challenge. Cameroonian youths hardly show up on time and this is a major problem because success belongs to those who show up on time.
The POST: You have taught debate in over 41 countries around the world. How do you compare Cameroon with other developing countries you have trained in?
Proff Snider: I think Cameroon is better than other developing countries when I compare it with countries like Botswana or Irak. I think that one of the differences here is that partnerships are formed between Universities and Cameroon Debate Associations. My hope is that there should be partnerships between schools, Universities, debate associations and Government because if we all became partners then the reality of creating a true debating nation can happen.
The POST: Are you going to come back to Cameroon?
Proff Snider: My schedule is very busy. If I do not come back. If I do not come to Cameroon, it is because I went somewhere where they have no debate. Cameroon has the beginning of debate. The seed is planted. I would love to come back but if I get the chance to go to Iran or North Korea, I will most likely go there. Otherwise, Cameroon debate and Cameroon Debate Association would always be in my heart.
The POST: Many Cameroonian women feel Public Speaking and debating is for men. The What advice do you have to give to them to that effect?
Proff Snider: There are many problems facing us in the 21st Century. We need 100 and not 50 percent of the brains and voices of our people to solve these problems. Women must be heard and they would be heard. They should not be afraid. It is easy to just seat there and be quiet. They have very important things to say. No issue is discussed effectively unless my sisters voice has been heard. That is why I am so encouraged to hear the strong voices of my Cameroonian sisters.
The POST: What is the take-away message of this Cameroon Debate Academy?
The take-home message is that we have a lot of ability. We may not think we have these abilities but we do. We may not think that we are intelligent enough to understand complex issues. Many Cameroonian youths were very shy at the beginning, hesitant to speak and then as the week went on they became more and more confident. These are the things I see growing-the ability to understand and the ability to speak. It is in this regard that I judge this to be a success.
Interwiewed by FRANCA SULEM YONG