More than a writer, Francis Bebey was also a musician. Below is a video where Francis Bebey introduces the viewer to the one-note flute, and the communication system invented by the pygmy peoples of Central Africa to converse with each other using that instrument. As I told you earlier, Francis Bebey headed the music department at the UNESCO‘s office in Paris, where he focused on researching and documenting African traditional music. Enjoy a lesson from the maestro!
Today, as states and countries are slowly reopening after the shelter-in-place due to the coronavirus pandemic, many have been left jobless, and are looking for a job now or in the near future. I think the poem ‘Je suis venu chercher du travail / I came to look for work‘ by the great Cameroonian writer and musician Francis Bebey is very appropriate. The poem below is the story of many immigrants traveling to a foreign land in search of a job, a better life, leaving all behind: families, friends, and country. This poem is very simple, yet so deep as it details the losses taken today, in hope for a better tomorrow. As you think about the immigrants dying in the Mediterranean sea, or those crossing the Mexico-US border, or all the countless faces in the world, take a moment to imagine families torn apart, lives in peril, and possibly no light at the end of the tunnel.
Francis Bebey was sort of a genius: in his early years, he studied mathematics, before going into broadcasting. He was called to Ghana by President Kwame Nkrumah, where he served as a journalist. He began his literary career as a journalist in the 1950s and worked in Ghana and other African countries for the French radio network, Société de radiodiffusion de la France d’outre-mer (SORAFOM) and Radio France International. Later, he wrote novels, poetry, plays, tales, short stories, nonfiction works, and established himself as a musician, sculptor, and writer. His first novel, Le Fils d’Agatha Moudio (Agatha Moudio’s Son), was published in 1967 and awarded the Grand prix littéraire d’Afrique noire in 1968; it remains his best-known work to this day. He also headed the music department at the UNESCO‘s office in Paris, where he focused on researching and documenting African traditional music.
Enjoy ‘Je suis venu chercher du travail‘ by Francis Bebey, published in Anthologie africaine: poésie, Jacques Chevrier, Collection Monde Noir Poche, Hatier 1988. Translated to English by Dr. Y. Afrolegends.com.
“I have been a journalist since the age of 15. I started as an errand boy at a newspaper called Semences africaines, in the city of Yaoundé, Cameroon. Over the past 34 years, I have been arrested 126 times while carrying out my profession as a journalist. Physical and mental torture, death threats, the ransacking of my newsroom, etc., has often been my daily lot in a situation where repression and corruption, even within the press, have become the norm. Woe betide the slightest dissenting voice in this context, for it attracts all kinds of wrath, even from so-called colleagues…”
“I have never felt like a prisoner when I have been behind bars. You can be in prison without being a prisoner; the real prisoners are those who imprison journalists whose only crime is to inform or to express an opinion… ”
“… my long stay in prison above all stimulated my sense of solidarity with others, particularly the poor and the outcast… strengthened my determination to use journalism as a weapon against all kinds of abuse. For there is no better weapon than words for restoring peace and justice among people…”
“To have the privilege of writing taken away from you overnight feels like being victim of a crime…”
“During a lecture I once gave to students from a well-known university in New York, the director of the school of journalism made the following remark: “Mr. Njawe, my students and I appreciated your brilliant exposé of the situation regarding press freedom in Cameroon and in Africa in general. But I cannot help wondering one thing: either you invented all these stories to impress us, which I could understand, or everything you have told us is true and I am dying to ask you why you continue to work in the profession in the suicidal situation you describe?”
“It is indeed difficult to understand why people persist in a profession that causes them so much misery and suffering. As regards my own case, I invariably reply to everyone who wonders this, that I entered journalism the way you enter a religion; journalism is my religion.I believe in it, and a thousand trials, a thousand arrests, a thousand imprisonments and as many death threats will never make me change job. On the contrary, the harder it is, the more you have to believe in it and cling to it.”
“Even in the depths of a prison cell you can feel good about being a journalist. How many times have I not rubbed my hands in my cell, my fingers itching to once again hold a pen between them, when thinking back over my career? How many times have I smiled when recalling an editorial or an article that helped foil the most atrocious plans against Cameroon and its people? If only for consolation, one sometimes ends up saying: “They’re right to take it out on me like this, after all, I haven’t spared them in my articles…“. ”
Respecting ethical standards is of fundamental importance for anyone wishing to be a journalist. It protects you against all kinds of people who would like to teach you a lesson. When you are facing a judge who is being manipulated, it is your irreproachable professional defense that makes that judge examine his or her own conscience. It is what wins your colleagues over to your cause when you are in difficulty. Doing your job properly therefore seems to be the best advice anyone can give a journalist operating in a context of constant harassment. And doing your job properly also, and above all, means avoiding “gumbo journalism“, a practice becoming increasingly widespread in our profession, where people write what they are paid to write instead of giving real information and the truth. While journalists have the right to earn a decent living, even in emerging nations,honest journalists never need pockets in their shrouds…
Journalists perform a social function, which gives them not immunity, but the right to look critically at the way a nation is being run. While playing this crucial role, it is important for them to be protected by the law, but also by the whole of society for which they work…Every time a journalist is silenced, society loses one of its watchdogs.
Le 3 Mai est la journée internationale de la liberté de presse. Pour moi, quand je grandissais à Douala, la liberté de presse avait toujours été symbolisée par Pius Njawe et son journal ‘le Messager‘. Qui au Cameroun n’a pas lu ‘le Messager’? Qui n’a pas souri sous les caricatures du ‘Messager Popoli‘? Je dévorais assidument chaque page de son journal… Au debut, quand j’étais toute petite, la rubrique ‘Takala et Muyenga‘ était la seule qui m’interessait car elle était amusante et il y avait de très belles carricatures (oui j’admets… j’aimais les dessins). Petit à petit, j’ai commencé à lire l’éditorial écrit par Pius Njawe lui-même, et puis finalement le journal tout entier. Mon père étais un abonné hors-pair, et c’est grâce à lui que le ‘Messager’ est devenu presque synonyme de ‘vraies‘ nouvelles (i.e. non contrôlée par l’etat) dans mes pensées. Pius Njawe avait un don, une passion: il aimait la vérité! Il était à la recherche de la vérité et du bien-être de la société civile. Il n’avait pas peur d’aller en prison pour avoir publier des articles poignants contre le gouvernement en place; il avait d’ailleurs été arrêté plus de 126 fois. En 2000, Njawe est nommé parmi les 50heros de la liberté de la presse des derniers 50 ans.
Quand je pense que Njawe avait créé ‘le Messager’ à l’age de 22 ans en 1979, sans même avoir fait d’études avancées… C’est surprenant!… non, impressionant! Il avait toujours était guidé par sa passion, et c’est certainement pour cela que ‘Le Messager’ était si différent de tous les autres journaux de la place: il était authentique, mû entièrement par la passion et la recherche de la vérité impartiale… bref par le journalisme à l’état pur! Que puis-je dire? La perte de Pius Njawe est comme la perte d’une perle precieuse, car Pius Njawe était effectivement une perle rare pour le Cameroun. Il avait résisté pendant 30 ans, et avait payé de cela par ses détentions arbitraires en prison, le saccage de ses bureaux par le gouvernement, l’exil au Benin (qui avait duré 1 an), la fausse-couche de sa femme (qui avait été battue en prison), la mort de sa femme, et ensuite lui-même. Il a payé de sa vie son amour de sa patrie, de la vérité, et du journalisme. Une chose est sûre et certaine, il a touché chacun d’entre nous, et son oeuvre continuera à jamais. Hasta la vista Pius, tu nous a ouvert les yeux à la cause de la démocratie et de la liberté. Tu resteras dans nos memoires comme étant le plus grand combattant, et opposant camerounais, car tu t’es opposé au népotisme, à la dictature, à l’injustice, et à la gabegie. Comme disait si bien Agostinho Neto: “La lutte continue et la victoire est certaine!”
May 3rd is the World Press Freedom Day. Pius Njawe and his journal ‘le Messager’ have come to symbolize this day to me. Pius Njawe’s pioneering work as the head of le ‘Messager‘ has marked me for as long as I can remember. His journal was not only the first true alternative to Cameroon Tribune (state-owned newspaper), but the real way to find news about what was truly going on in the country. In 2000, the Austria-based International Press Institute listed Mr. Njawe among its 50 world press freedom heroes of the past half-century. The institute called Mr. Njawe “Cameroon’s most beleaguered journalist and one of Africa’s most courageous fighters for press freedom.” Yes… Njawe was the quintessential freedom fighter in a country where the press was constantly controlled and held under the sword of Damocles by the regime. He was arrested over 126 times, most of the time simply for telling the truth and keeping the government under constant check. He embodied what true journalism is all about: the impartial search for truth. While resisting the regime for over 30 years, he had come to symbolize the true voice of the people, the voice of those who could not speak, those who had no one, the people of Cameroon. We salute you Pius, you were indeed a true freedom fighter, and the true representant of the people! You will sorely be missed!