Excerpts of an open letter from Celestin Monga to Lapiro de Mbanga written shortly after Lapiro's arrest in April (An English translation from the CAMNET forum).
My dear complice Ndinga Man,
I won’t ask you how you are doing. I am sure that, from the depths of your prison cell, you are in top intellectual form and that you are already assembling some caustic lyrics for your next album. I can only imagine the pity which you must have towards the poorly paid policemen who are charged with humiliating you day and night… Some irony: you have never stopped fighting for these same people throughout your entire adult life. And there: these sicklings are now inflicting all kinds of humiliations which give them the illusion of wielding some modicum of power. For once in their lives, they are, in their own way, "somebody".
But you knew this. You have never been duped. You have never been a Mboutoukou. . . Life sometimes imitates those bad western movies from our childhood: no good deed ever goes unpunished. Those who have benefited the most from you generosity are often those who feel most humiliated by it. They feel indebted and thus guilty. The may pretend to be unfriendly, treacherous, implacable. I am sure that you must be smiling every morning and evening as they parade before you with false airs of importance, their poorly tailored uniforms and their shoddy professionalism. They are hungry. They are afraid. They have children to feed. They cannot look you in the eye; deep in their hearts, they know that you are in fact a hero. They have to do well in pretending to respect the orders they receive, to merit their meager pittance. If not, they could also find themselves in the dungeon. Like all the knick-knack ministers who are picked-up at random at the whims of the "President of the Republic", and who pass without transition from the cushion chairs of their stolen Mercedes to the humid and stinky prisons of Yaoundé or Douala.
Grand Ndinga Man,
I’m thinking: 2008, already. 2008, 1991. Seventeen years. The days seem to be going backwards and Cameroon’s history is sputtering. Of course, we know that history is tragic. But how painful it is to observe that, since 1991, our country has made the trip... backwards in time. What a disappointment to see you in a cell like the ones in which many Cameroonians found themselves some twenty years ago, simply because you were suspected of voicing you opinion, and of having expressed your citizens right to dissent.’ What a nightmare to come to terms with the fact that many sacrifices agreed to by so many Cameroonians have been wasted. And to be taken so many years back to when I was the one spending nights in a cell, while Ben Decca, André-Marie Tala, Djeukam Tchameni, Charles Tchoungang, Protais Ayangma and you were lending your voices across the nation to have me liberated.
Above and beyond our crossed paths and the microcosm of our individual cases, how sad it is to see that our country has practically returned to the starting point, and dug itself deep in negation: late last February, more than a hundred people met death from police violence in just five days – simply because they had organized protest marches against the rising cost of living, against the scandal of corruption, against the ambitions of the Etoudi monarchy. Several hundred dead in a nation of 20 millions inhabitants, is the equivalent of 1,500 deaths here in the United-States.
Meanwhile, the prophets of democracy at the White House, the Pentagon and the Congress, these same people who wanted to impose lessons on ethics and liberty upon the whole world, remained silent. They looked away. The courageous actions at sensitization carried out by human rights activists did not impress them. It must be said that neither the 200,000 deaths in Darfur, nor the four million deaths in the Congo have shaken them from their "long dogmatic sleep" (Achille Mbembe). It is therefore not the disappearance of several Bantus under the oppressive and humid tropical sun which would upset their serenity and their good conscience.
Worse still, thousands of Cameroonians die quietly each day, for various reasons: lack of access to potable water; they cannot get to the nearest dispensary, often located more than ten kilometers away; or they get there only to find out that these so-called health-centers have neither the drugs, the minimum equipment, water, nor the electricity, and not even a doctor. They die because they are trying to go about their work and find themselves in a traffic accident? A quarter century after independence, the roads that the colonial powers generously bequeathed us have disappeared, for lack of maintenance. During this time, the monarch at Etoudi has learned to play golf and to listen to Mozart. Will Tiger Woods be able to hold his own?
Even the press freedoms which Pius Njawe and others thought were hard-won in 1991 now appears to be a distant memory. Yes, of course, several radios and private television stations have since received authorization; licenses and sometimes even subsidies and much needed financial support for their activities. On condition of establishing a program schedule which celebrates futility, variety programs, distractions and the most crass buffoonery. As long as it only showcases comical negroes dancing ndombolo, the "government" is quiet. When the media dare to broadcast songs by you or Longué Longué denouncing corruption, debauchery, and impunity, woe-be-tide their promoters: taxation inspectors will first visit them. Then, bailiffs. Equinoxe TV, Radio Equinoxe and Magic FM leaned from this sad experience. If they don’t get the message, they will be sent the torturers from Military Security (Semil), even those who have the most sinister-looking faces. Then, they’d be thrown in prison after a parody of due process under various pretexts, or traffic accidents will casually be arranged for them. No one would doubt it, since it is publicly well known that the roads and the vehicles circulating across the country are in a deplorable state, and that most of the drivers to whom the State has given licenses do not know how to drive?
You see, Lapiro, in a way, the situation is even more troublesome today. In 1991-92, we at least had the advantage of innocence, maybe even of naïveté. Many among us even thought we could change the country. We benefited from the intellectual and moral leadership of men like Mongo Beti, Ambroise Kom, Fabien Eboussi Boulaga or Jean-Marc Ela; men who were at ease in their own skin, not expecting any allowance, subsidies, or any validation whatsoever from the monarch in Etoudi. The political elite who came forward from the shadows at least had the excuse of ignorance and of ill preparation. Seventeen years later, the political incompetence is unacceptable. You were therefore right in being especially hard on them.
Yes, Ndinga Man,
Cameroon is today a sad metaphor for our continent. Misery and suffering have dehumanized us. In Washington, many Americans to whom I speak about the situation in our country uncaringly shrug their shoulders. The most sincere among them spell what, in their eyes, characterizes us: our habituation to misery and fatalism; the superficiality of our pleasure-seeking elites; our passive acceptance of a discounted existence; the crises of endless violence; in short, permanent despair and a limitless appetite for mendaciousness.
I’ve learned to manage my anger. I therefore do not get angry when I hear people who wish us well describe us in these terms. Once I explore the basis for their opinion, they clearly tell me that Africa has not had a monopoly on suffering and injustice. However, while other communities have learned to overcome the curses of history and to pull themselves up from oppression, Africans have instead locked themselves up either in a primitive nationalism, or in a sterile sourness about the past, thereby positioning themselves in the eyes of the world as perennial victims who are only able to offer to humanity’s conscience nothing but their tears and their bitterness...
Complice Ndinga Man,
I have been more long-winded than I expected. Your paranoid jailers will spend time reading between the lines, looking for signs of a coup d`état which you and I may be planning. Tell them to relax and to drink a little Matango to your health.
You must soon leave your cell. A lot of work awaits us. Cameroonians urgently need your energy, your unique brand of satire, your outburst of laughter, your hoarse voice, your foul character, your pigheadedness, your courage, and your unconditional love for that our country.
While waiting to see you freed, I propose that you meditate within the confines of your cell about this statement by Martin Luther King: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy".
Washington, 10 April 2008