Charles Ateba Eyene, the political maverick who gave the leaders of the ruling CPDM party a constant migraine due to his nonconformist positions (he was a member of the party’s Central Committee) died on Friday at the young age of 42. Eyene had a fan base that spread across the entire political spectrum especially among the youths enamored by his anti-establishment writings and utterances. No wonder the most effusive tributes have come not from his colleagues within the CPDM but from opposition circles that would normally be indifferent to his passing.
A controversial figure whose alleged role in the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy activists in the University of Yaounde back in 1991-93 is still the subject of passionate debates today, Ateba Eyene came across as a young man in too much of a hurry to make his mark on the Cameroonian political scene, as if he had a premonition that he wasn’t going to be around for too long. For example he published over 20 books including Les paradoxes du "pays organisateur" : Élites productrices ou prédatrices : le cas de la province du sud-Cameroun à l'ère Biya (1982-2007), one of the most controversial books in recent memory [Click here for my 2009 review]
Charles Ateba Eyene was the quintessential prestidigitateur politique, a master illusionist who had a “little something” for everyone across the Cameroonian political divide. In spite of his anti-establishment rhetoric, he was very much at home within the ruling CPDM thanks to his unwavering allegiance to President Biya and to the very system that he loved to criticize. At the same time, he was the enfant cheri of the independent media and opposition forces because of his acerbic criticism of the undemocratic credentials of the political gerontocracy that rules Cameroon and for his very public disdain for the Beti elite (particularly those from his native South region whom he accused of being “insolently rich” while in the South region remained a backward region where there are “no roads, portable water remains a luxury, the kerosene lamp is still used to light up households”).
Some have argued that Eyene was the greatest political thinker of his generation, a nonconformist who spoke the language of the people and who constantly held the feet of Cameroon’s ruling elite to the fire to their immense chagrin (late last year the CPDM allegedly began disciplinary proceedings against him for insubordination, and, in spite of his rich academic credentials inlcuding a doctorate in political communication, he was exiled to the ministry of culture where reportedly he didn't even have an office).
Others, however, consider him as a pompous showman with little substance beyond all the glitter who was a perfect symbol of the vacuity of critical thinking in Cameroon politics since the années de braise or smoldering years of the 1990s – a perfect fit for a country that excels in chasing shadows rather than the reality. In this regard, they point to his last book, the bombastic Le Cameroun sous la dictature des loges, des sectes, du magico-anal et des réseaux mafieux (Cameroon under the dictatorship of lodges, sects, the anal-magical, and mafia networks) which was replete with outlandish, unsubstantiated and even defamatory claims that landed him in court and forced him reprint a new edition of the book in which some of the defamatory material was deleted.
Either way, Ateba Eyene was, for better or worse, a towering figure on the Cameroonian political, media and publishing landscape who will be sorely missed. May his soul rest in peace.
Sample Tributes on Twitter