Lapiro de Mbanga: the Voice of the Voiceless is gone!

Lapiro de Mbanga
Lapiro de Mbanga

The current news of Lapiro de Mbanga’s death really took me by surprise.  It really saddened me.  In the past few months, Cameroon has lost some of its most valiant fighters: Abel Eyinga, Charles Ateba Eyene, and now Lapiro de MbangaLambo Sandjo Pierre Roger, also known as Lapiro de Mbanga, was a freedom fighter for those without voice; he was an outspoken critic of the government of Paul Biya, and made himself the spoken voice of thousands of Cameroonian who could not speak and whose rights were bent.  Ndinga Man, or the guitar man, used music to say what others were afraid to say.

Flag of Cameroon
Flag of Cameroon

Born in the village of Mbanga, just north west of Douala, Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo started his career under the name of Pastor Sandjo Lapiro in the late 70s when his disks were made in Nigeria.  He later adopted the stage name of LAPIRO, part of his name LAmbo PIerre ROger, of Mbanga his birthplace.  In 1986, he collaborated with his fellow countryman Toto Guillaume (from Kassav), and came out with Pas argent No Love, and then No Make Erreur.  He chose to sing in Pidgin, mixed in with some English, French, and Douala, for all his countrymen to understand, and to articulate all the daily injustices he witnessed.  The Jamaican Jimmy Cliff praised Lapiro’s qualities on the album’s back cover, and hoped to see him go international.  Lapiro’s strong stance, without any deference against the authorities, gained him an immense popularity just like the Nigerian artist Fela.

Lapiro de Mbanga - Na You
Lapiro de Mbanga – Na You

His songs echoed the struggle for democracy in Cameroon.  For the past 25 years, Lapiro’s songs – No Make Erreur, Pas argent no love, Kop Nie, Mimba We, Na You, Ndinga Man contre-attaque : na wou go pay ? – often flirted with censorship and provoked the ire of officials.  Like he said of the president who did not want to leave power, Day di go mandat di bole…  But it was his 2008 composition Constitution Constipée which really brought Lapiro face to face with the country’s repressive justice system, and landed him three years in the country’s jails.  This protest song denounced the amendment of the constitutional clause, which limited presidential mandates to two non-renewable seven year terms.  As usual his lyrics mixed in humour and anger in calling for Biya to step down, since the pacho (old man) is daya (tired) and has outlived his usefulness.  The song was banned from airwaves; but since “impossible n’est pas camerounais” it was leaked out, and became the anthem for the youths and workers’ protests against the steep rise of the cost of living in the February 2008 riots.  Lapiro was arrested and thrown to jail for inciting violence and arson.  He spent the next three years ‘rotting’ in jails in Douala as a political prisoner in the worst conditions ever: sleeping on the floor in the rain, sharing the cell with 50 or more others, eating one meal a day, not having access to proper health care, etc.  It is believed that he was only granted his freedom in 2011 because he was on the verge of death.  In 2012, he sought and was granted political asylum in the USA.  He arrived with his family in September of 2012.  Lapiro joined his ancestors last night…

Lapiro de Mbanga - Our ambassador
Lapiro de Mbanga – Our ambassador

All said and done, Lapiro was really the idol of the downtrodden and forgotten people, the sauvetteurs and the bayam selams; he was the voice of the voiceless.  Many believe the opposition leader John Fru Ndi would have never had the “aura” he had in the 90s without Lapiro.  Truly Lapiro sang for the people, talked about the youth’s shattered dreams, the division, the tribalism, the corruption, the decadence, and the ills of the country.  Cameroon has once again lost one of his great sons.  This makes me want to ask Bob Marley’s question: How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?  It really hurts, but we should remember Lapiro, our ambassador, as the outspoken critics, the voice of those without voice, and the “complice of the contre man” as he said himself.  Ndinga Man, rest in peace! Enjoy No Make Erreur!!!

Condemnation of Rudolf Douala Manga Bell – August 8th 1914

Rudolf Douala Manga Bell - ca 1900s
Rudolf Douala Manga Bell – ca 1900s

On August 8th, 1914, a proclamation signed by Governor Karl Ebermaier was posted on all the principal places of the town of Douala, stating:

People of Douala, I am here to announce that Manga (Rudolf) Bell is condemned today to death by hanging because he has betrayed the Kaiser and the empire.

That same day, at 5PM (17:00) in the evening, the respondent was executed by hanging, with his relative and secretary Ngosso Din.

The official statement from the governor stating the charges incriminating the Bell king, continues as follows:

Adolf Ngoso Din, Assistant to Rudolf Manga Bell
Adolf Ngoso Din, Assistant to Rudolf Manga Bell

He [Manga Bell] admitted, at the last minute, that he had been led by the fear of revenge from his countrymen, from those whom you know, who, by fear, secretly remain in the background, those who brood poison and seduce the people.  May the blood of Manga fall back on those who led him on the path of crime!  He who does not want to become a traitor, like Duala Manga and his aids, should pull away from his seducers, who secretly remain in the background preparing poison!  Whoever has fair intentions will be welcome.  The government of Kaiser will always be just and grateful to the loyal aids and loyal subjects.

What we deplore is the result of machinations carried by these of men of darkness who – the governor says – have always been at work to excite the people, to maintain it in terror with their poisons and kept under the yoke to their benefit. T ear yourself from them and you will be happy.  Manga himself, in his last hour, prayed his people that with his death, loyalty to the Kaiser and obedience towards the government may return into the heart of the Douala people.

The translation to English is offered to you here by Dr. Y., www.afrolegends.com.  You can find the original published in French by the Cameroonian Quotidien Mutations on Bonaberi.com.  Don’t forget to read the article by Suzanne Kala-Lobé on NjanguiPress.com.

Rudolf Douala Manga Bell: One of Cameroon’s first Resistant

Rudolf Douala Manga Bell - ca 1900s
Rudolf Douala Manga Bell – ca 1900s

Today, I would like to talk about one of the heroes of Cameroonian history, Rudolf Douala Manga Bell, who stood against the Germans in the 1910s in Kamerun.  His courage, and strong determination earned him the right of martyr and hero in the history of the Douala (or Duala) people, and thus of Cameroon.

Rudolf Douala Manga Bell was born in 1872, and studied in Cameroontown (modern-day Douala).  He was the first son of King Manga Ndumbe Bell, of the Douala people.  After completing his primary education and part of his secondary school in Cameroon, he went to study at the Lycée of Aalen in Bonn (Germany) finishing secondary school.  He later went on to study law at the university there.

Kamerun (German Cameroon)
Kamerun (German Cameroon)

Manga Bell married Emily Engome Dayas, the daughter of an English trader and a Douala woman after his return home in 1896.  He also became a civil servant.  On 2 September 1908, he succeeded to his father as Paramount Chief (Chef Supérieur) of the Bell dynasty (founded since 1792) which encompassed the Bonamandone, Bonapriso, Bonadoumbe, all owners and inhabitants of the Plateau Joss in Douala.  In those days, Douala was composed of several tribes: Bakole, Bakweri, BambokoIsubu (or Isuwu), Limba (or Malimba), Mungo, and Wovea.  Among those chiefs, some of them including the famous King Akwa, signed a Germano-Douala treaty on 2 July 1884, which placed Cameroon under German protection.  Cameroontown thus became Kamerunstadt.

Rudolf Douala Manga Bell, Leader of Douala people
Rudolf Douala Manga Bell, Leader of Douala people

In 1910, the German governor of Cameroon, Theodor Seitz, approved an urbanization project for the city of Douala (Kamerunstadt had been renamed Douala) set to turn it into one of the largest ports of Africa.  The project outlined a plan to relocate the Douala people inland from the Wouri river to allow European-only settlement of the area.  Neighborhoods such as Neu Bell, Neu Akwa, and Neu Deido were to be created for the indigenous people; these new allotments were going to be separated from the ‘European city’ by a barrier 1km wide (early version of apartheid!).  The expropriations affected most of the Douala clans, who were angered and formed a united front behind Manga Bell.  Rudolf Douala immediately refused, and told the Germans that the treaty signed in 1884 did not stipulate the removal/expulsion of the locals from their lands, and that this separation constituted a form of apartheid.  Manga Bell then enlisted the help of Hellmut von Gerlach, a German journalist.  Gerlach managed to secure a suspension order from the Reichstag Budget Commission in March, but the order was overturned when Colonial Secretary Wilhelm Solf convinced elements of the press, businessmen in the colony, politicians, and other groups to finally rally behind the expropriation. Manga Bell and the Douala requested permission to send envoys to Germany to plead their case, but the authorities denied them.  In secret, Manga Bell sent Adolf Ngoso Din to Germany to hire a lawyer for the Douala and pursue the matter in court.

Adolf Ngosso Din, Assistant to Rudolf Manga Bell
Adolf Ngoso Din, Assistant to Rudolf Manga Bell

Manga Bell then turned to other European governments and to leaders of other African ethnic groups for support.  His envoys to other Cameroonian leaders reached Bali, Balong, Dschang, Foumban, Ngaoundéré, Yabassi, and YaoundéCharles Atangana (Karl Atangana), leader of the Ewondo and Bane peoples, kept Manga Bell’s plan secret but urged the Douala leader to reconsider.  In Bulu lands on the other hand, Martin-Paul Samba agreed to contact the French for military support if Manga Bell petitioned the British.  However, there is no evidence that Manga Bell ever did so.  In Foumban, Ibrahim Njoya, sultan of the Bamum people, rejected the plan and informed the Basel Mission on 27 April 1914 that Manga Bell was planning a pan-Kamerun rebellion.  The missionaries alerted the Germans.
Noticing the German lack of respect of the signed law, who started removing locals from their lands, Bell allied with other chiefs of Cameroon to counter the colonial plans.  During the mutiny, the Germans arrested the Douala leader and Ngoso Din on 10 May 1914 accusing him of high treason.  Their trial was held on 7 August 1914.  World War I had just begun, and an attack by the Allied West Africa Campaign in Kamerun was imminent; accordingly, the trial was rushed. On 8 August 1914, Rudolf Douala Manga Bell and Ngoso Din were hanged.

Let us all celebrate Rudolph Douala Manga Bell,  the Tét’èkombo (the king of kings in Douala), the first, the uniter of Cameroon (already reaching out to other kings), and one of Cameroon’s biggest resistant.  Enjoy this old rendition by Charles Ewandje (probably recorded in the 70′s) of Tet’Ekombo an ode to resistance and to the land.  The song was written in 1929 in memory of Rudolf Douala Manga Bell.