Who / What did we say Goodbye to in Africa in 2019?

Robert Mugabe_4
Robert Mugabe (History.com)

1. President Robert Mugabe, Freedom Fighter and First President of Zimbabwe left us this year… This was a man who tirelessly fought for his country’s liberation, and for the Black race as a whole. Some have called him an icon of liberation, and indeed he was! Julius Malema of South Africa said, “We must not allow our enemies to tell us how to remember him; we know our heroes.” Joseph Kabila, former president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) said, “We will forever remember the worthy son of Africa, who came to our rescue when our country was victim of a foreign aggressor. The continent has lost one of its pan-African leaders, a hero of independence.” Let us keep his legacy up!

2. Toni Morrison, the First Black Woman to Win a Nobel Prize in Literature moved to another plane this year. Luckily, we can still read her thoughts in her profound, heartbreaking, and conscience shakers books.

Toni Morrison_1
Toni Morrison (Source: OvationTv.com)

3. This year, in Algeria, we said ‘basta!’ to the handicapped Abdelaziz Bouteflika who was trying to run for another presidential term. Thousands of Algerians staged sit-ins every Friday for months until they led to his demise! Even though they are now fighting to remove one of his cronies from power… that was a first step toward freedom.

4. We sent our Farewell to Beji Caïd Essebsi, Tunisia’s First Democratically Elected President. This seasoned politician, unity builder, passed away on the anniversary of the republic which reminded people of the role he played in nation-building since independence.

Jean-Baptiste Sipa
Jean-Baptiste Sipa (Source: Cameroun24.net)

5. The Cameroonian journalist Jean-Baptiste Sipa also changed dimension this year. He was known as a tireless seeker of the truth, and kept the Cameroonian government on its toes. An outstanding journalist, colleague of the late Pius Njawe, and head of Njawe’s Le Messager after his [Njawe] demise. I am one of the few privileged ones to have learnt a few things about journalism from him. Cameroon’s journalism has lost a giant.

6. Cameroon shamelessly loss the organization of the African Cup of Nations 2019, which was taken from them because of exacerbated corruption and of course its shameless government which is applauded by the French.

7. The great Zimbabwean singer Oliver Mtukudzi, one of Zimbabwe’s most renowned musicians, joined his ancestors. Interviewed on Eyewitness, Tuku said that, “My music is about touching the hearts… never mind how old. If a baby is born today, she/he must be able to relate to my music.” Indeed, we are still relating and dancing to Tuku’s music.

8. This year, Bujumbura lost its title as the capital of Burundi. After almost 60 years of reign, plus the 40 years during colonial times as Usumbura, Bujumbura has now been relegated to economic capital, in favor of Gitega. Gitega was chosen to become the siege of power because of its central location, as opposed to Bujumbura which is located on the northeastern shores of Lake Tanganyika, almost on the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

9. This year, Omar al-Bashir was ousted by the people of Sudan, after a 30-year reign. The people had had enough of his government which had been marked by corruption, human rights abuses, and which also led to the division of the largest country in Africa into two: Sudan and now South Sudan. There are of course foreign interests that played a major role in this, especially with all the oil fields in South Sudan. Al-Bashir was removed from power on 11 April 2019 by the Sudanese forces after months of civil unrest.

10. Algeria observed several days of mourning right around Christmas for the passing of General Ahmed Gaid Salah. This man was dearly loved, and perceived as the de facto ruler after the power vacuum left by Bouteflika. May his soul rest in peace.

11 Feb 2014 : Cameroon’s National Youth Day

Flag of Cameroon
Flag of Cameroon

Today happens to be the Cameroonian National Youth Day.  I have been thinking about the true meaning of a youth day.  For as long as I can remember, it has always been a speech from the President, and marches/parades from children across the nation.  But is that really what the National Youth Day is all about?  Well, for starters, I must admit that growing up, I was always really proud of marching on that day.  It was as if somehow, I suddenly mattered to the country… as if, from my child’s world, I could somehow influence changes in my country: bring clean water, stop the electricity cuts, build bridges, make better roads, build airports, etc.  It was as if, by marching, I had a say in the direction of my country, I was important; I mattered!  11 February was not just a day off to watch the parade on TV, it was a special day, a day dedicated to me, to my needs as a youth, to my well-being, to my inner desires, and to my potentials.

Youths during the parade celebrating Cameroon's National Youth Day
Youths during the parade celebrating Cameroon’s National Youth Day

As a teenager, the thought started to thaw a little bit, was 11 February only about the President’s speech?  was it just a time to cajole me as a youngster into thinking that I was important? that there was light at the end of the tunnel? that I was the future of the country, when around me, adults were feeling like the future had been beaten out of them? How was I supposed to make changes, when looking at big brothers ahead, I could only see unemployment looming in the horizon?  How was I supposed to concentrate into doing well in school or achieving all these great things I was asked to, when the future looked so grim?  What was the future going to look like with me in the picture?

Today, I see that it was actually necessary to acquire all this education, to read, and to focus, because in reality, even if the president’s speeches were empty words… I have the obligation, no the duty, to think of my elders: Ruben Um Nyobe, Felix Moumié, Abel KinguéOsendé Afana (who was Cameroon’s first PhD in economics), Ernest Ouandié, and countless others who sacrificed themselves so that I could be better.  Yes… it sounds so easy, but to think about it should bring fire, no, rage into our hearts.  Just thinking about all the great minds we have, all this great potentials, talented musicians who influence the world (like Ekambi Brillant who produced Angélique Kidjo who is now a world star), footballers, writers (Mongo Beti), comedians, doctors, scientists, journalists (Pius Njawe), who live and die like paupers, should give extra, ten times, 100 times more fire into our hearts, and really make us realize that we are the indeed the future of our country, and nobody else will build it for us, not even 80 years-old ministers.  I live you here with K’naan hymn to the youth which was sung during the 2010 FIFA World Cup: “Out of the darkness, I came the farthest, … Learn from these streets, it can be bleak.  Accept no defeat, surrender, retreat.  So we struggling, fighting to eat, And we wondering when we’ll be free ... we patiently wait for that fateful day… it is not far away… when I get older, I will be stronger, they’ll call me freedom just like a waving flag“.

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.

Pius Njawe: A journalist and a freedom fighter

Pius Njawe
Pius Njawe

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 50 heros de la liberté de la presse des derniers 50 ans.

Le Messager
Le Messager

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!

Pius Njawe in jail
Pius Njawe in jail

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 leMessager‘ 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!

Check out the website of his newspaper: Le Messager, articles by the Thomson Foundation, The Washington Post and the International Press Institute.

I am posting here a video of him giving a conference about Francafrique in 2009.

Pius Njawe: Cameroun et la Francafrique