Scribbles from the den: essays on politics and collective memory in Cameroon, by Dibussi Tande, Bamenda, Cameroon, Langaa Publishers, 2009, 212 pp., £19.95, ISBN 978-9956558919
Dibussi Tande’s Scribbles from the den: essays on politics and collective memory in Cameroon definitely contains no ‘scribbles’. It is a collection of well articulated essays capturing the socio-cultural and political fabric of the nation state of Cameroon and of Africa in general. The 49 selected essays in this volume first appeared on ‘Scribbles from the den,’ Dibussi Tande’s award-winning blog, www.dibussi.com, between 2006 and 2009, a fact which has implications for the tone and texture of these essays. Tande is not oblivious to these implications. As he explains:
‘While editing, I tried as much as possible to remain faithful to the look and feel of the original blog postings, many of which were interactive articles with hyperlinks and/or embedded videos and podcasts’ (p. xii). Addressed to a general audience, these essays are a product of citizen journalism, which is now en vogue as a result of the abundance of digital media. Cheap and accessible web blogs afford citizens like Dibussi Tande an opportunity to collect, analyse and disseminate news and information that is independent, reliable, broad-based and necessary to the practice of democracy. These essays therefore were not written as ‘academic essays’ following stringent citation rules and are not riddled with academic jargon. The author, for the most part, draws on his own informed knowledge to bring incisive analysis to past and present events. Nevertheless, these analyses are thorough coming from the pen (keyboard) of the author who is a graduate of law and political science and also a talented citizen journalist with years of experience.
The essays are grouped thematically in nine parts: ‘The Anglophone file’, ‘Citizenship in the global village’, ‘Collective memory’, ‘The university in crisis’, ‘Presidential politics’, ‘Political pluralism’, Profiles of courage’, ‘Law and justice’, and ‘Random notes’. That Tande begins this collection with the ‘Anglophone file’ foregrounds his identity as both subject and citizen in this enterprise of narrating the nation in the blogosphere and in print. The Anglophone file contains essays that decry the marginalisation of English-speaking Cameroonians in La Republique du Cameroun. As an Anglophone student activist during the height of Anglophone Nationalism in Cameroon in the 1990s Tande’s analysis is instructive not only as a student of political science and law but a bona fide witness and participant in this history. The first article in this section, ‘Language as a tool for exclusion: reflections on Cameroon’s National Bilingualism Day’, provides the canvas for Tande to analyse the apparent marginalisation of English-speaking Cameroonians in Cameroon. As he states:
‘The simple truth is that in as much as Cameroonians obsess about national unity and nationhood, those in charge rarely go out of their way to ensure that these political clichés become reality, not even through largely symbolic gestures such as having a fully bilingual website for the presidency of the Republic, arguably the official gateway of the Cameroon government . . . such acts of omission go to reinforce the feelings of institutional and systemic marginalization that run rampant in the ex-British Southern Cameroons’ (p. 3).
Yet, where Tande’s citizenship journalism manifests itself most admirably is in the prodding of the collective memory of Cameroonians and non-Cameroonians alike. The five essays in this section recover from the historical archives and memory, the lives of some of Cameroon’s unsung heroes like Felix Moumie and Osenda Afana, brutally assassinated because of their anti-colonial and nationalist leanings. But Tande goes beyond recalling history; he indicts Cameroonians for what he terms ‘collective amnesia’. As Tande postulates:
‘The absence of memoirs, autobiographies and biographies in Cameroon is merely one facet of a much broader problem, i.e., the collective inability (or unwillingness) of Cameroonians to keep historical records for posterity or even to consider these records as important contributions to the national collective memory’ (p. 55).
It is in essays like these that Tande makes use of the ‘safe haven’ accorded him by the blogosphere which he has transferred into print. As he argues,
‘For half a century, Cameroonians have been systematically deprived of the appropriate repères historiques or historical reference points that would enable them to analyze political and other events in the country in an informed manner, and place these events in their appropriate historical and geo-political context . . . taking a fresh look at events of the past and going beyond the official narrative when interpreting today’s events’ (p. xii).
However the thematic partitions are for convenience only and do not intimate solid boundaries because most of the essays have one denominator: Cameroon/Africa. The theme that runs through these essays is the debilitating terrain that Cameroonians in Cameroon or the diaspora are forced to call home, but Tande’s web blog translated into the printed word becomes a site of resistance, a testimony that an individual can indeed play a role, albeit a small one, in prodding and shaping national discourse on relevant national and global issues.
Collecting these essays in print is indicative that despite the gains of digital media, the death knell of the print medium is still a long way off and papyrus certainly still rules. In fact, with the evanescent and ephemeral nature of web material, Scribbles from the den: essays in politics and collective memory is a real treasure.
Author Posting. (c) Joyce Ashuntantang, 2010.
This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Joyce Ashuntantang for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Review of African Political Economy, Volume 37 Issue 124, June 2010. doi:10.1080/03056244.2010.484126