Patrice Nganang (Translated from French by Emmanuel Ndeh Avwontom)
“Anglophone writers appear to me akin to the Albatross in Baudelaire’s poetry. The English language that they acquired from their colonial past arms them with broad wings, but the Anglophone issue clips them in their impeding flight.”
An intellectual crime is being committed in our country: that of segregation against Anglophone Cameroon Literature. The crime is unfolding before the very eyes of our national Intellectuals, with our consent as stakeholders and, often spurred by our most respected, yet conniving francophone Intellectuals. Salient in mind are Achille Mbembe’s fumble in an article he published on the Anglophone issue. The fact, therefore, that a francophone student can complete education, beginning at Nursery school right up to a University degree – twenty years in all – without so much as touching a poetry collection, a work of prose or a drama piece published by an Anglophone writer is illustrative of the magnitude of the literary apartheid which has been used by our educational system to brainwash us.
The opposite likely holds true for Anglophones, who may have been subjected to the same form of segregation by the doings of a so-called ‘‘bilingual” State (in a country with over 200 languages), which actually inculcates segregation in the minds of its citizens through school syllabi it controls single handed. To think that the English books I read as a child - the only time when as a francophone I came in contact with fragments of Anglophone Cameroon literature – the characters namely Yemi, Babayola etc - all had Nigerian names!
With the State of Cameroon orchestrating and perpetrating the Literature Apartheid in which we are brought up, it is hard to consider Cameroonian Citizens – both Anglophone and Francophone - otherwise than as innocent victims. Indeed, any other perception can only be attributed to bad faith. Neither Bole Butake’s or Ndumbe Eyoh’s theatre appearances on CRTV, nor the few poems read during bilingual training programs in the University of Yaounde could come anywhere near making up for twenty years devoid of gradual education acquired through literature, thereby making Anglophone Authors outcasts from the syllabi of Francophone schools. At 20 therefore, never having read a book by an English speaking Cameroonian Author, my encounter with Anglophone literature was indeed a form of political resistance; an act of bravery indeed. That such resistance was fired by the discovery of Bate Besong’s courage, of Boh Herbert during the student uprisings of the 90s when CRTV francophone journalists were the national scorn, by no way mitigates the fact that my contact with Anglophone literature came belatedly. Mea Culpa. Schools I attended would have been of no use had they not served as the cradle for nurturing literature awareness; the very foundation of literature. Yet Authors, and Writers to be more precise, enjoy freedom they derive from the language they use; the fact being that literature is a function not only of formal education and context but also of the language used.
Through the pen Writers blur the borders of handed down education. Language becomes the Writer’s only abode. Yet, as a writer I have always been saddened that many Anglophone Writers back home too readily ‘‘bark up the wrong tree.’’ In their justified revolt against the State of Cameroon; the engineer of the despicable Literature Apartheid that holds sway back home, they too easily vent their venom blindly against ‘ The Francophone’ – ‘frogs’ who are no less victims than themselves. Though understandable and politically justified, the transformation of the Anglophone into a social and political identity tends to be self destructive in terms of literature as it afflicts Anglophone Authors with short-sightedness. May I explain. By pigheadedly picking a fight with Francophones, do Anglophone Authors not lose out on the potential of the borderless language that they use, namely: English ? Is it appropriate for Literature among the minority Anglophones in Cameroon to assert itself as a minority literature: “Anglophone Cameroon Literature?’ Quite paradoxical indeed and not quite understood by Mongo Beti who in an article entitled: ‘‘ God Deliver us from Francophonie’’ wrote: ‘‘I suspect that one of these days I shall once and for all revert to being an Anglophone’’. Quite frankly, if the size of a country were commensurate to that of its literature, neither Aimé Cesaire nor Derek Walcott would be great poets considering how tiny their native islands are.
Global Dominance of Literature in English
Yet in the making of Authors, English has an obvious advantage over French, with the growing trend for Francophone Authors to migrate to the USA - Conde, Glissant, Djebar, Nkashama, Waberi, Mabanckou, Nimrod, Dongala, and yours truly – being a mere tip of the iceberg. Many of his articles especially the hilarious ‘Pièges en Amérique’ – show that Mongo Beti’s quest for ‘anglophonisation’ was not mere jesting. Rather, it was an understandable longing by the Francophone Author for the vast Anglophone literary world. Access not only to the USA but to England, Australia, Canada, India, not to mention South Africa and of course Nigeria which as we know has been a springboard for many Authors including late Bate Besong, and which happens to be my literary Fatherland.
People living out of the English and French speaking spheres, such as Germany, know that English also permeates it and that African literature is understood there to mean English speaking African Literature primarily. Francophone literature having no existence there. The truth is that at world level, not only is French a minority compared to English, French Literature is all the more so compared to English Literature. Simple example: Of all African Writers who have won the Nobel Prize for literature, three are Anglophones and one is “Arabophone’; none is francophone. Writers, who in terms of literature, accept the typically Cameroonian contradiction of transforming Anglophones, who are a majority by virtue of their language, into a socio political minority would have brought to naught their basic freedom as Writers, scared off by the bullying of Biya and his clique. In due course, it turns out to be a self inflicted insult to the intellect.
The Anglophone Albatross
Anglophone writers appear to me akin to the Albatross in Baudelaire’s poetry. The English language that they acquired from their colonial past arms them with broad wings, but the Anglophone issue clips them in their impeding flight. It may be a good idea, I believe, for them to extricate themselves from the tendency to fight Francophones whereas they could have engaged the state back home. For with the demise of the UPC, they hold the key to our freedom for all. They also need to understand that their minority perspective restricts them into local hero Authors, not readable beyond Anglophone schools in our country and on CRTV. As Authors therefore, the significance of their work seems to be wholly prevaricated on connivance with the state that ignores us all and gratifies their subservience by including their works on the official booklist which it controls.
A little digression here by way of concluding. I recall a reading in Berlin during which I was abruptly interrupted by a Cameroonian Lady who wanted to know from which part of Cameroon I came from. This apparently innocuous question that Cameroonians ask each other bear tribal undertones, but the lady, Bamileke as myself, though from Bamenda, wanted more specifically to know if I were ‘Anglophone or Francophone” as the meeting was in German. I had no way of guessing that my answer, in her eyes, would dispossess me of any right to state what in my view, was Cameroon’s situation, namely the sidelining of the people by a State that takes it for a foe. No way. For her, since I was not an Anglophone like her, I was straight away part and parcel of the nefarious policies of “La Republic du Cameroun’. My embarrassment was not merely intellectual, it was equally that she and I, both Bamileke, were holding this surreal conversation in German, in the presence of Germans who, truth be told, understood nada of what was going on, far removed from a State, Cameroon, the Maestro of our cacophony and which indeed has been cracking up in laughter since 11 October 1961.
In my understanding, acceptance of such Linguistic Apartheid in Literature will always constitute the embodiment of the true prison that entangles our literature – whether written in French or English – just when it wants to spread its wings and fly. It holds back writers and critics from excelling. I feel, unfortunately, that Cameroon Anglophone writing is till too enmeshed in the miasmal mist of that trap.
Subtitles by Scribbles from the Den
Translated from French by Emmanuel Ndeh Avwontom
UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda – Arusha, Tanzania
About Patrice Nganang
Born in Yaoundé (Cameroon) in 1970, Patrice Nganang is currently Associate Professor for French and German at Shippenburg University (Pennsylvania, USA). Patrice studied Comparative Literature at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University (Frankfurt / Main, Germany), from which he also holds a PhD.
Most of his fiction is written in French and published by French publishers. He first published a collection of poems, Elobi, in 1995, and is the author of several novels: La promesse des fleurs, Temps de chien, La joie de vivre, L'invention du beau regard, among others.
His most acclaimed novel, Temps de Chien, was awarded the Prix Marguerite Yourcenar (for Francophone writers living in the USA) in 2001 and the Grand Prix Littéraire de l'Afrique Noire (leading literary award for African Francophone writers) in 2002. This novel has been translated into German in 2003 under the title Hundezeiten and released in English under the title Dog Days in 2006 (Dog days, University of Virginia Press).
Source: University of Kwazulu Natal website