Interviewed by Dibussi Tande for Global Voices Online (View original interview in French here)
Global Voices Online: Although the Cameroonian blogosphere is not so well known, it is certainly a source of crucial information about Cameroon, especially during this current period of uncertainty that has seen a minister arrested and kidnappings on the rise. Dibussi Tande talked with Florian Ngimbis, president of the Cameroonian Bloggers Association (CBA) and winner of the Best Francophone Blog award during the 2012 Best of the Blogs Awards (the BOBs), to assess the state of the local blogosphere.
Global Voices (GV): For starters, can you describe your blog Kamer kongossa?
Florian Ngimbis (FN): Kamer kongossa is a blog that I launched in 2008. It consists of short articles written in a colorful and humorous manner, in which I find myself in more or less hilarious situations while taking a critical look at the society I live in.
GV: Kamer kongossa is one of the most popular blogs on the Francophone African web today. What is the secret to your success?
FN: My success, if any, is due to the fact that I don't make up anything. Most of my stories are about people and situations that a majority of Cameroonians can relate to. All I do is make the stories concise and palatable and spice them with a good dose of humor.
GV: Radio France International (RFI) describes you as a blogger who “depicts Cameroon with vitriol and humor,” while Deutsche Welle, the German international broadcaster states that you write “acerbic columns” which denounce the regime in power in Cameroon. Do you consider yourself a socially and politically committed writer?
FN: The level of social injustice has reached a critical level in this country. It would be unthinkable for me not to be an activist/writer. The level of “vitriol” in my writings is equal to the degree of love that I have for Cameroon and to the rage that I feel as I watch it being despoiled by a band of vultures. If the hatred for these vultures is synonymous with being a committed writer, then yes, I am committed and my writings are stones that I aim at the heads of these cursed birds.
GV: What are the origins and objectives of the newly established Cameroonian Bloggers Association (CBA) of which you are the president?
FN: The CBA is a grouping of bloggers who have decided to come together to promote blogging at a national level. We meet frequently to discuss issues related to blogging and the digital environment in Cameroon.
GV: Some people think that creating an association of bloggers goes against the very essence of blogging and citizen journalism which are supposed to be free, informal and devoid of any institutionalization and hierarchy.
FN: I think so too, and I have always expressed this point of view whenever I take the floor. However, the trend towards forming associations has been dominant. Thus, one after the other, bloggers in Francophone countries have moved towards syndication. I am against this but I understand that this trend is linked to the context. In Cameroon in particular, blogging is a long distance race in which the blogger is all alone. It is difficult to motivate oneself in such circumstances. Between power outages, temperamental Internet connections, along with all other difficulties in life, the Cameroonian blogger is usually abandoned. By joining an association, the blogger discovers that he is not alone; he benefits from the advice of others and from the training that we offer. He also improves his blog content by interacting with other bloggers. Many bloggers have personal projects and their blogs are merely extensions of these projects. We pool our resources to help move these projects forward.
In addition, the battle is also elsewhere. It is about lobbying to lower the cost and increase the quality of Internet service in our country. The concerted effort required to make this happen finds its meaning in an association such as ours. Each blogger is free in his tone, his words, and his choices; the CBA is an association, not a government.
GV: At the moment, the CBA is made up primarily of Francophone bloggers residing in Cameroon. Are you thinking of bringing the other two key components of the Cameroonian blogosphere – that is, Anglophone bloggers and bloggers living abroad (both Anglophone and Francophone) – into the CBA ?
FN: Language is neither a factor for inclusion or exclusion. Even if you blog in Bassa'a, you will be part of the community as long as you're a Cameroonian blogger. Even if you live in Cochinchina, it is your “Cameroonianness” that interests us. The worry is that the CBC, like all other segments of the nation that Cameroon is supposed to be, is hindered by the compartmentalization of Cameroonian society. Bilingualism is essentially a colonial legacy which was handed down to us during our pseudo-independence. Bilingualism in Cameroon is not about being able to speak two languages, but about having a society in which we can speak one language or the other. Now, language is the glue that binds people together, however, it can be transformed into a barrier when it is ill conceived. As a result, we have Anglophones on one side and Francophones on the other, and it is astounding to see to how much both groups are strangers to each other, and practically never come together to carry out projects. Nonetheless, we are fighting ardently to change this, and we have Anglophone bloggers in our association. A major lobbying effort towards the Diaspora is ongoing and the restructuring of the CBA blogosphere will be complete in a few months.
GV: Does the CBA aim to become an actor on the national political scene and serve as a sentinel guarding against the regime in power? If not, why?
FN: We are neither a political actor nor a political party. Some of our members blog about hair or cooking!!! Well, some of us are on the way to becoming true opinion leaders! We are helping them to improve their potential. We help activists carry out their campaigns and train “threatened” bloggers on Internet security. We don't force bloggers to think in a particular way, however, if a blogger initiates a campaign to protest against the limited access to running water in Yaounde, he will certainly get the support of other bloggers once he informs the CBA of his campaign. We are not a thought movement, but we encourage the emergence of opinion leaders, each within his domain.
GV: What is the profile of the typical Cameroonian blogger?
FN: Young, between 20 and 35 years of age on average, financially unstable, very outspoken and cultured.
GV: What is your assessment of the Cameroonian blogosphere?
FN: There are very few bloggers at this time, and even fewer who are truly influential in their domains. We have too many general blogs and very few specialized blogs.
GV: There are many who think that the Cameroonian blogosphere is slow to take off because it is inward-looking.
FN: I respect that point of view but I don't share it. And, it depends on what we mean by take off. Our country has one of the most exorbitant Internet connection costs in Africa, along with a rotten service. The Internet is still classified as a luxury or a utilitarian object. Blogging in Cameroon is a luxury that only a very few can afford.
GV: How do you explain the fact that many Cameroonian bloggers living in Cameroon are recognized internationally but are not well known in Cameroon?
FN: My answer is in my previous statement. How can you be known in a country that has an Internet penetration rate of less than 5 percent? The concept of a “blog” is not yet part of our habits; Facebook and Internet meeting sites are much more anchored in the collective imagination. But all this will change, and I am proud to see so many Cameroonian bloggers helping the movement go forward.
GV: Your blog posts are usually republished by Cameroonian newspapers. Can we deduce from this that there is close collaboration between traditional journalists and bloggers in Cameroon?
FN: Collaboration? No. There is even rivalry, with journalists in a state of mind that we've come to threaten their livelihood, which is not true. Each blogger is unique and his work takes the direction that the blogger wants. I don't do reporting or news but write opinion pieces after the fact. Some newspapers open their pages to me because my texts are well written and I have an ever-growing readership which is a guarantee of quality. After all, what does a newspaper publisher want other than having his newspaper read? So why spit on content which is potentially sellable and which does not infringe on the newspaper’s editorial policy? The more open-minded journalists call me, and depending on the quality of the newspaper, I decide to collaborate with them or not.
GV: What does your crystal ball tell you about the future of the Cameroonian blogosphere?
FN: We are the future, and we are writing that future now.
This interview conducted by Dibussi Tande was originally published by Global Voices Online, a website that translates and reports on blogs from around the world.