‘Je suis venu chercher du travail’ / ‘I Came to Look for Work’ by Francis Bebey

Francis Bebey_1
Francis Bebey

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_Agatha Moudio Son
‘Agatha Moudio’s Son’ by Francis Bebey (Amazon)

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.

Je suis venu chercher du travail

Je suis venu chercher du travail

J’espère qu’il y en aura

Je suis venu de mon lointain pays

Pour travailler chez vous

J’ai tout laissé, ma femme, mes amis

Au pays tout là-bas

J’espère les retrouver tous en vie

Le jour de mon retour

Ma pauvre mère était bien désolée

En me voyant partir

Je lui ai dit qu’un jour je reviendrai

Mettre fin à sa misère

J’ai parcouru de longs jours de voyage

Pour venir jusqu’ici

Ne m’a-t-on pas assuré d’un accueil

Qui vaudrait bien cette peine

Regardez-moi, je suis fatigué

D’aller par les chemins

Voici des jours que je n’ai rien mangé

Auriez-vous un peu de pain?

Mon pantalon est tout déchiré

Mais je n’en ai pas d’autre

Ne criez pas, ce n’est pas un scandale

Je suis seulement pauvre

Je suis venu chercher du travail

J’espère qu’il y en aura

Je suis venu de mon lointain pays

Pour travailler chez vous

I came to look for work

I came to look for work

I hope that there will be

I came from my far away country

To work for you

I left everything, my wife, my kids

In my country over there

I hope to find them all alive

On the day of my return

My poor mother was very sorry

To see me go

I told her that I will come back one day

To put an end to her misery

I had long days of travel

To get here

Was I not assured of a welcome

Which will be worth all this trouble

Look at me, I am tired

To go by the ways

It has been days since I ate anything

Do you have some bread?

My trouser is all ripped

But I don’t have another

Do not scream, it is not a scandal

I am just poor

I came to look for work

I hope there will be

I came from my far away country

To work for you

Inédit

‘Angoisse Quotidienne / Daily Anxiety’ by Etienne Noumé

20150624_FleurIn these uncertain times, I thought about sharing with you this poem by the Cameroonian author Etienne Noumé, ‘Angoisse quotidienne‘ or ‘Daily Anxiety.’ His poem was published in Anthologie de la poésie camerounaise, edited by Patrice Kayo, Le Flambeau. As you read Noumé’s poem, you will find the daily anxiety of the author mounting, as he wonders where he will flee to as hurricanes come and take away his roof, where he will flee to as the torrents sweep away his fields, when will the happy future come? His questions remain of actuality: the hurricanes coming is like wondering ‘where will you sleep, or live?’; the torrents sweeping his fields is like asking ‘where will your income, your food come from?’ the question about the future is like asking ‘when will the spring come? when will this anxiety go away? when will happiness come?’

The poem Angoisse quotidienneby Etienne Noumé, published in Anthologie de la poésie camerounaise, P. Kayo, Le Flambeau. The translation to English is from Dr. Y. Afrolegends.com. I chose the flower above because of all the uncertainty surrounding it, and also because in the end, the light still shines on that flower!

Enjoy the poem below, and let me know what this poem brings to mind.

Angoisse quotidienne

 

Quand viendra la rigueur

des saisons orageuses

ébranchant les dômes

des futaies sauvages,

 

où fuirais-je

la chute meurtrière

des poutres sur les crânes

Quand, froissant, étirant

les cheveux de jungle

l’ouragan dans ses bras

tordra toute la terre,

où dormirai-je,

la paille de mon toit

volant à tous les vents,

où fuirais-je,

la fureur des torrents

balayant tous mes champs,

roulant des allluvions

pour fumer le vallon

germera l’Avenir

en heureuses ombelles?

Daily Anxiety

 

When will come the rigor

of stormy seasons

pruning the domes

of wild forests,

 

where would I flee

the deadly fall

of beams on skulls

When, crumpling, stretching

the jungle hairs

the hurricane in his arms

will twist the whole earth,

where would I sleep,

the straw from my roof

flying off in all winds,

where would I flee,

the fury of torrents

sweeping all my fields

rolling alluvium

to smoke the valley

Where

will sprout the future

in happy umbels?

 

‘Ils m’ont dit’ de Francois Sengat-Kuo / ‘They told me’ by Francois Sengat-Kuo

I would like to share another poem ‘Ils m’ont dit‘ by  François Sengat-Kuo published in Fleurs de Latérite, Heures Rouges Éditions Clé, 1971. This poem ‘They told me’ is all about reclaiming African-ness. I know it doesn’t quite sound like it, but here is someone who left all to please others, in this case the European masters, and in the end decides to reclaim what is his, his culture, and above all himself. The poem deals with colonization times, the service of African soldiers in World war I and II, and then independence or rather the quest to find oneself. And yes, once he decides to put himself first, they tell him that he is a traitor. I bring you here “Ils m’ont dit” (They Told Me) translated to English by Dr. Y. on Afrolegends.com

 

Sengat_Kuo2

‘A la Princesse’ de Patrice Kayo / ‘To the Princess’ by Patrice Kayo

A true African beauty: Mama Africa, Miriam Makeba
A true African beauty: Mama Africa, Miriam Makeba
Queen Nzingha of Angola
Queen Nzingha of Angola

I read this love poem written by the Cameroonian writer Patrice Kayo. I thought it so deep, beautiful, and worth sharing with all. Enjoy this poem ‘A la princesse / To the princess’! The original was published in Paroles intimes 1972, P.-J. Oswald. The French version of the poem was taken from ‘Anthologie Africaine: Poesie, Jacques Chevrier, Hatier 1988, P.129.Translated to English by Dr. Y., afrolegends.com .

A la Princesse

Tu es l’innocence des fleurs et le sourire de l’aurore

tu es le doux éclat du soir

et la virginité de l’inconnu

tu es la gaiété du ciel etoilé

la candeur des clairs de lune.

 

Tu es la douceur des nuages des belles saisons

tu es la corolle qui s’ouvre

sur l’humble hauteur de ma colline

mais le chemin est long

qui mène jusqu’à toi

tu es l’aube lourde de promesses

et ton sourire, le murmure joyeux

du vent sur la savane

tu es le havre de mon Coeur déchiré

lorsqu’y volète le papillon

du doute et de l’angoisse.

 

Tu es la fertilité de la terre

et la limpidité du matin

tu es le beau pays de mes rêves

le champignon

que je voudrais cueillir

au lever de l’aube de l’amour

tu es l’eau pour ma soif tenace

et dans le gouffre de mon silence

je ne murmure que pour toi.

 

Tu es la hutte élevée par le destin

sur mon chemin sans abri.

 

Tu es l’oiseau posé

sur l’arbre de ma solitude

et quand tu t’envoleras

tu emporteras mon espoir.

 

Tu es le kolatier

planté dans l’étroit champ de mon destin

laisse tomber pour moi

le salutaire fruit de l’accord

pour que par le même chemin

nous titubions ensemble

vers la grande mer

la mer de l’éternité

 

Ecoute je t’aime comme on meurt

innocemment, totalement

et je t’attendrai comme le bonheur :

tous les jours.

 

To the Princess

You are the innocence of flowers and the smile of the dawn

you are the soft evening glow

and the virginity of the unknown

you are the gaiety of the starry sky

the candor of moonlights.

 

You are the clouds’ gentleness on beautiful seasons

you are the corolla which opens

on the humble height of my hill

but the path is long

that leads up to you

you are the dawn heavy with promises

and your smile, the joyous murmur

of the wind on the savannah

you are the haven of my broken heart

as flutters the butterfly

of doubt and anguish.

 

You are earth’s fertility

and the morning’s clarity

you are the beautiful country of my dreams

the mushroom

that I would like to pick

at the dawn of my love

you are the water for my tenacious thirst

and in the pit of my silence

I murmur only for you.

 

you are the hut elevated by fate

on my way without shelter.

 

You are the bird resting

on the tree of my solitude

and when you will fly away

you will take away my hope.

 

You are the kola tree

planted in the narrow field of my destiny

drop for me

the salutary fruit of agreement

so that by the same path

we stagger together

towards the great sea

the sea of eternity

 

Listen, I love you as one dies

innocently, totally

and I will wait for you like happiness:

every day.

 

‘Sous-Developpement’ de Charles Ngande / ‘Under-development’ by Charles Ngande

Corruption_2Thinking about all the wasted years of corruption, mismanagement, neo-colonialism, nepotism, and all the -isms going on in many African countries after independence, I thought of sharing with you this poem by the Cameroonian author Charles Ngande.  The poem can be found in Anthologie Négro Africaine by Lilyan Kesteloot, Edicef 1992, P. 329.  The English translation is offered to you by Dr. Y., http://www.afrolegends.com

Sous-développement

J’ai croqué tous mes rêves

Dans les fragiles écuelles de nos indépendances,

Assis

Dans les fauteuils

Des banques étrangères!

Under-development

I chewed all my dreams

In the fragile bowls of our independences,

Seated

In the armchairs

Of foreign banks!

Interview de Thomas Sankara par Mongo Beti

Thomas Sankara
Thomas Sankara a Ouagadougou

Je n’ai pu m’empêcher de partager avec vous ce pur joyau d’un autre temps: une interview du President Thomas Sankara par Mongo Beti.  Cette interview n’avait jamais été publiée auparavant, jusqu’à ce que l’épouse de Mongo Beti, Odile Tobner, la mette sur le site de la Société des Amis de Mongo Beti (SAMBE).  En 1985, Mongo Beti eut une entrevue privée avec notre ‘Che’ africain, Thomas Sankara, à la fin de laquelle, il lui envoya d’autres questions auxquelles Thomas répondit.  Ci-dessous, vous trouverez quelques extraits de cet entretien, où j’ai mis les questions de Mongo Beti sous formes de thèmes, et les réponses de Sankara suivent juste après (en bleu).  Pour l’intégrale, prière de visiter SAMBE.

==========

Sur les attaques ennemies:Il y a partout aujourd’hui, aux quatre coins du continent, des N’Krumah, des Lumumba, des Mondlane, etc. Que Sankara soit éliminé aujourd’hui physiquement, il y aura des milliers de Sankara qui relèveront le défi face à l’impérialisme. …Toutefois, pour mille et une raison, notre peuple et la jeunesse révolutionnaire africaine restent attachées à Sankara et ne souhaitent jamais que le moindre malheur lui arrive.

Sur la corruption: “Sans être un sociologue averti, ni un historien des sociétés précapitalistes africaines, je ne pourrai pas affirmer que la corruption est propre aux sociétés africaines. C’est un phénomène lié avant tout au système capitaliste, système socio-économique qui ne peut véritablement évoluer sans développer la corruption. Elle est donc incontestablement un héritage maudit de la colonisation. Ainsi, logiquement, pour combattre valablement la colonisation, le colonialisme et même le néocolonialisme, il faut aussi s’attaquer à la corruption.

Alexandre Biyidi Awala, a.k.a. Mongo Beti
Alexandre Biyidi Awala, a.k.a. Mongo Beti

Sur les traditions africaines et la place de la femme (polygamie, excision): “On ne fait pas de révolution pour régresser dans le temps. C’est pour aller toujours de l’avant. La Révolution ne peut qu’étouffer tous les aspects négatifs de nos traditions. C’est cela notre combat contre toutes les forces rétrogrades, toutes les formes d’obscurantisme, combat légitime et indispensable pour libérer la société de toutes les emprises décadentes et de tous les préjugés, dont celui qui consiste à marginaliser la femme ou à la chosifier. … Nous luttons pour l’égalité de l’homme et de la femme, pas d’une égalité mécanique, mathématique, mais en rendant la femme l’égale de l’homme devant la loi et surtout devant le travail salarié. L’émancipation de la femme passe par son instruction et l’obtention d’un pouvoir économique. Ainsi le travail au même titre que l’homme, à tous les niveaux, la même responsabilisation et les mêmes droits et devoirs sont des armes contre l’excision et la polygamie, armes que la femme n’hésitera pas à utiliser pour se libérer elle-même et non par quelqu’un d’autre.”

Sur la cooperation, et la conference au sommet des chefs d’Etats francophones: “Lutter pour son indépendance face au colonialisme ne veut pas dire que l’on se prépare, une fois celle-ci obtenue, à quitter la terre pour aller s’isoler
quelque part dans le cosmos.  Quant aux conférences au sommet des chefs d’État francophones, ils servent, chaque fois que nous avons l’occasion d’y prendre part, de tribune, de tremplin pour notre révolution, pour la faire connaître, de dire ouvertement ce qu’elle pense de ces conférences ou instances politiques. Y participer pour dénoncer ce qui ne va pas dans l’intérêt des peuples africains est une stratégie beaucoup plus payante que les sarcasmes envoyés de l’extérieur.

Sur le franc CFA: “le franc CFA, lié au système monétaire français est une arme de la domination française. L’économie française et, partant, la bourgeoisie capitaliste marchande française bâtit sa fortune sur le dos de nos peuples par le biais de cette liaison, de ce monopole monétaire.

Sur le panafricanisme et Nkrumah: “Tout le monde constate aujourd’hui avec amertume, face aux méfaits et autres exactions de l’impérialisme en Afrique, que N’krumah avait très bien raison d’aller de tous ses voeux à l’unité du continent. Néanmoins l’idée demeure et il nous appartient, il appartient aux patriotes africains, de lutter partout et toujours pour sa concrétisation. Il appartient à tous les peuples panafricanistes de reprendre le flambeau de N’Krumah pour donner espoir à l’Afrique.

Sur le parti unique: “Ce qui est discrédité c’est le parti unique bourgeois, parce que obéissant à une idéologie d’injustice, donnant le premier rôle à une minorité au détriment de la majorité. Un parti unique démocratique, c’est-à-dire un parti du peuple, ne peut en aucun cas être discrédité, parce qu’au service d’un peuple, des intérêts de la majorité. C’est sur une telle base qu’il faut voir la question du parti unique, qui est aussi une vision des masses.

Sur la privatisation de certains secteurs: “La révolution burkinabé considère l’initiative privée comme une dynamique qu’elle prend en compte dans l’étape actuelle de la lutte du peuple burkinabé. … L’État ne peut pas s’engager dans une étatisation tous azimuts, même si le contrôle d’un certain nombre de secteurs vitaux de notre économie s’avère indispensable.

Au camarade Mongo Beti, 3/11/85
La patrie ou la mort, nous vaincrons !

Mongo Beti, One of Africa’s Greatest Writers

Alexandre Biyidi Awala, a.k.a. Mongo Beti
Alexandre Biyidi Awala, a.k.a. Mongo Beti

Today I will be talking about a writer of the caliber of Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong’o, a writer often forgotten, a writer who fought with his writings for independence, a Cameroonian writer who wrote about Cameroon’s first freedom fighter Ruben Um Nyobé, and whose writings were banned… you have probably guessed it, I am talking about the great Mongo Beti.

Mongo Beti was born Alexandre Biyidi Awala, on 30 June 1932 in Akométan, near Mbalmayo, south of Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon.  From a young age, Mongo Beti was already exposed to the currents of independence and freedom that were shaking Cameroon, and was exposed to Um Nyobé.  He would eventually get expelled from the local missionary school at 14, for being outspoken. As he himself said “At the time, I was very shocked by the idea of confessing my sins to someone else.” He would eventually attend the Lycee Leclerc in Yaoundé, and then move to the Sorbonne in Paris, France, for further studies.

'The Poor Christ of Bomba' by Mongo Beti
‘The Poor Christ of Bomba’ by Mongo Beti

Mongo Beti claimed that he entered writing through writing political tracts.  His first piece was a short story published by Alioune Diop in 1953 in Présence Africaine, “Sans haine et sans amour” (Without hatred or love). He first started writing under the pen name Eza Boto, by fear of retaliation from the French colonial regime. His first book “Ville Cruelle” or “Cruel City” published in 1954, was actually on the school program in all high schools of Cameroon for many years in the 80s to late 90s. His second novel “Le Pauvre Christ de Bomba” (“The Poor Christ of Bomba“) was published under the pseudonym Mongo Beti, to distance himself from his previous piece.  The name Mongo Beti means in Ewondo, ‘Son of the Beti people’.  This new novel created a scandal because of its satirical and biting description of the missionary and colonial world.  Under pressure from the religious hierarchy, the colonial administrator in Cameroon banned the novel in the colony.  This novel was followed by “Mission Terminée” in 1957 (winner of the Prix Sainte Beuve 1958), and Le Roi Miraculé, 1958.  All three books were translated into English and many other languages, which gave Beti a lasting international reputation. During this time, he also worked for the review Preuves, for which he reported from Africa, as well as a substitute teacher at the lycée of Rambouillet. He later on taught at the Lycee Pierre Corneille of Rouen until his retirement in 1994.

"Main basse sur le Cameroun..." de Mongo Beti
“Main basse sur le Cameroun…” de Mongo Beti

‘Wanted’ in the colony because of his sharp writings, and his connections to the UPC of Ruben Um Nyobé, Mongo Beti stayed in France. Ruben Um Nyobe’s murder by the colonial administration in 1958, truly shook Beti to his core; he fell silent and did not publish any book for the following decade. In 1971, he finally wrote “Main Basse sur le Cameroun, autopsie d’une décolonisation” (Cruel hand on Cameroon, autopsy of a decolonization) which was censored upon its publication by the French Ministry of the Interior Raymond Marcellin on the request, brought forward by Jacques Foccart, of the Cameroon government, represented in Paris by the ambassador Ferdinand OyonoThis essay perhaps sprang from frustration and rage at the collapse of the UPC rebellion and the public execution of its last leader, Ernest Ouandié, in 1970.  It was a devastating critique of the authoritarian regime of Cameroon, and asserted that Cameroon and other colonies remained under French control in all but name, and that the post-independence political elites had actively fostered this continued dependence.  The 1970s also saw two of his most passionately political novels, “Remember Ruben and “Perpetue et l’Habitude du Malheur,” both published in 1974.

In 1978 he and his wife, Odile Tobner, launched the bimonthly review Peuples Noirs. Peuples Africains (‘Black People. African People‘), which was published until 1991.  This review chronicled and denounced tirelessly the evils brought to Africa by neo-colonial regimes. During this period were published the novels La Ruine presque Cocasse d’un Polichinelle (1979), Les deux mères de Guillaume-Ismael Dzewatama (1983), La revanche de Guillaume Ismaël Dzewatama (1984), also Lettre ouverte aux Camerounais ou la deuxième mort de Ruben Um Nyobé (1984) and Dictionnaire de la Negritude (1989, with Odile Tobner). Frustrated by what he saw as the failure of post-independence governments to bring genuine freedom to Africa, Beti adopted a more radical perspective in these works.

'La France contre l'Afrique' de Mongo Beti
‘La France contre l’Afrique’ de Mongo Beti

Mongo Beti returned to Cameroon in 1991 after 32 years of exile.  In 1993 he published La France contre l’Afrique, Retour au Cameroun, a book chronicling his visits to his homeland.  After retiring from teaching in 1994, he returned to Cameroon permanently.  He opened the Librairie des Peuples noirs (Bookstore of the Black Peoples) in Yaoundé and organized agricultural activities in his village of Akométam.  However, his return did not leave the government silent: he was subjected to police aggression in January 1996 in the streets of Yaoundé, and was subsequently challenged at a demonstration in October 1997.  In response he published several novels: L’histoire du fou in 1994 then the two initial volumes Trop de Soleil tue l’Amour (1999) et Branle-bas en noir et blanc (2000), of a trilogy which would remain unfinished.  He was hospitalized in Yaoundé on October 1, 2001 for acute hepatic and kidney failure which remained untreated for lack of dialysis.  Transported to the hospital in Douala on October 6, he died there on October 8, 2001. Some critics noted the similarity of his death to that of his heroine Perpetua, who also died while awaiting treatment in one of the country’s overburdened hospitals.

'Trop de Soleil tue l'Amour' by Mongo Beti
‘Trop de Soleil tue l’Amour’ by Mongo Beti

As I write about him today, I feel very sad that we, in Cameroon, don’t honor our heroes.  No one can even fathom the depth of Mongo Beti’s work.  It is immense, and his service to Cameroon’s history is beyond our imagination.  At a time when everybody was scared of the regime (and rightly so, after the ‘maquis‘ years), he dared to write.  From afar, yes, one might say from the safety of France and not Cameroon, he continued his mission of informing, and enlightening us.  How many contributed like Mongo Beti to our knowledge of Ruben Um Nyobé?  I am sure Mongo Beti’s book “Main basse …” is one of the rare written accounts of Ernest Ouandié.  The African writer, Boubacar Boris Diop wrote: “Sans jamais se courber devant personne, il [Mongo Beti] a réussi à faire d’un simple pseudonyme un cri de ralliement. Sa vie durant, il a haï l’hypocrisie, le vain folklore et les faux-fuyants. Il est resté fidèle, jusqu’au martyre, à sa passion de la liberté.” (Without ever bending to nobody, he [Mongo Beti]  succeeded in turning a pseudonym into a rallying cry.  Throughout his life, he hated hypocrisy, vain folklore, and subterfuge. He remained faithful, up to martyrdom, to his passion for freedom.)   Your work, O Mongo, is a true treasure in the archives of Cameroon.  Peace be with you Mongo, you are not just a son of the Beti, but rather a son of Cameroon… Peace to you Mongo Cameroon.

‘Ils Sont Venus’ de François Sengat-Kuo / ‘They Came’ by François Sengat-Kuo

Le partage de l'Afrique a la Conference de Berlin de 1884
Le partage de l'Afrique à la Conférence de Berlin de 1884

As we talk about neo-colonialism, and the new conquest of Africa, I thought about sharing this poem ‘They Came‘ by the Cameroonian writer François Sengat-Kuo published in Fleurs de Latérite, Heures Rouges Éditions Clé, 1971.  In the poem, he talks about colonization and how Africans were fooled by European missionaries who were always preceding European explorers and armies.  I particularly like the sentence: “they came, … bible on hand, guns behind.”  How true! In the days of colonization, Europeans claimed to be bringing civilization and christianity to pagans across the globe.  Today, they bring development, globalization, and democracy…  same ol’ thing → submission and slavery of the people.  Enjoy!

Ils sont venus

au clair de lune

au rythme du tam-tam

ce soir-là comme toujours

l’on dansait

l’on riait

brillant avenir

ils sont venus

civilisation

bibles sous le bras

fusils en mains

les morts se sont entassés

l’on a pleuré

et le tam-tam s’est tu

silence profond comme la mort

 

They came

by the light of the moon

to the rhythm of the tam-tam

that night as always

we were dancing

we were laughing

brilliant future

they came

civilization

bibles under the arm

guns in hand

the dead bodies piled up

we cried

and the tam-tam was silenced

profound silence like death

Pius Njawe in his own words

Pius Njawe
Pius Njawe

The following excerpts are taken from the article Never a Prisoner published in Pambazuka in 2006, in which Pius Njawe talks about himself.

“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.

Ferdinand L. Oyono: The Old man and the Medal

Ferdinand Leopold Oyono
Ferdinand Leopold Oyono

Yes… I am actually talking about Ferdinand Leopold Oyono, the Cameroonian writer mostly known for his novels ‘Une Vie de Boy‘ (Houseboy), ‘Le Vieux Nègre et la Medaille‘ (The Old Man and the Medal), and Chemin d’Europe (Road to Europe). I must admit that I have only read the first two. I have decided to focus only on Oyono literary achievement, even though his literary career was quite short, and he also served as ambassador and minister under different presidents of Cameroon for over 40 years.

Une Vie de Boy (Houseboy)
Une Vie de Boy (Houseboy)

In his novels, Oyono uses satire to denounce the colonial system, the abuse Africans suffer in the hands of the European. Oyono writesUne vie de boy (Houseboy) as a diary, and casts a critical view on the relations between Africans and Europeans during the colonial era. The main actor is a young boy, who leaves his family where he was mistreated, and ends up with the French missionaries, and later on works as a houseboy for the ‘Commandant’; where he quickly becomes the center of querels between the Commandant and his wife, and is frequently beaten because of what he knows.  In his second novel, Le vieux nègre et la medaille (The Old Man and the medal),  Oyono evoked the deep sense of disillusionment felt by those Africans who were committed to the west, yet rejected by their colonial masters. Meka, the main protagonist, receives a medal for his services to the French colonial administration, for donating land to the French missionary church and above all for sending his two sons to the second world war where they are killed.

The Old Man and the Medal
The Old Man and the Medal

It is interesting that despite his short literary career, Oyono has managed to write two of the most important African novels depicting the relationship between the European colonizer, and the African colonized, a relationship made up of disillusionment, abuse, modernism, education, and cohabitation of two worlds where one is imposed on the other. The British newspaper The Guardian wrote a really good article saluting this great Cameroonian and African writer.