Writing stands on a foundation of Liberty, of courage and honesty. It is the use of the alphabet to produce meaning. And yet, never has this definition of what I do been made clearer to me than now when I am incarcerated. It is a reminder that, indeed, the writer stands up before the State and always will; and, therefore, stands on the side of those causes we deem “lost”, but that point us in the direction of our future. Here, that means the Anglophone cause. Here, moreover, the Ambazonian cause. For today in our country, it is there on the pulsating shore of the Moungo River, a river I crossed several times these past weeks on travels for which I’ve been criticized; it is on the Anglophone side of the Moungo that courage, honesty, and liberty reside. What I experienced there are among the most sublime moments of my life.
And yet, the writer that I am has, now and forever, only one tool to express these virtues: the alphabet. The alphabet enables us to express ideas; it is something we each teach our children and, as the penal code informs us, any parent that refuses to send their child to school, to instruct them, risks being sent to prison. In other words, teaching the alphabet is a duty of citizenship. And yet, the alphabet is non-violent. That is what sets the writer apart from any other person, be they soldier or viper: the writer is non-violent. For whoever uses the alphabet, non-violence is inscribed on the very tools of his trade. This is true even if being a writer positions him fundamentally on the side of those men and women whose historic mission is to overturn the status quo, to bring about change.
Cameroon will be Anglophone or it will not be. That, in fact, is the principle behind the battle that is shaking the foundations of this country. We see it already in our families, where increasingly children are sent to Anglophone schools, even when they are French speakers. The Francophone tyranny that holds us all captive—and that is keeping me in these offices of the judiciary police in Yaoundé, where the likes of Marafa and Abah Abah were held before—it knows deep down that it is already condemned. It knows that because, since our children are all becoming English speakers, it has already lost the future. And then the age of the dictator, which should really disqualify him from office in any event, just makes the situation all the more disgraceful. The production of this disgrace, the regime’s perpetuation, is only possible due to the incarceration of its citizens and the transformation of Cameroon into a Carceral Republic—a reality we are each living through. It is clear that a country where the president of the Senate is a convict and whose Minister of Communication is an ex-prisoner; a country that is keeping an entire government in chains in Kondengui prison, can teach us nothing about Liberty. Yes, in Cameroon, from now on, liberty is found only elsewhere: Liberty is Anglophone.
The Cameroonian State, which magnifies reports of several soldiers being killed while remaining silent about the hundreds of English speakers killed by soldiers, has taken sides. The state has ceased to be bilingual—as the Constitution proclaims it to be—and become a Francophone state. And those it sends to the front are Francophones, just as those they kill are Anglophones. Given the stark divide on the battlefront, the position of the writer—who sings of liberty, courage, and honesty—is easy to identify. It’s not even a matter of reflection but one of reflex. It is here that I make my stand, I can be nowhere else, as Luther said, when the cause of Protestantism was echoing across Germany; as Emerson said, when abolition was shaking up the United States; and, of course, as said Mongo Beti, who responded to the rebels’ call for Cameroonians of good conscience to stand and be counted. This is how courage and honesty produce Tomorrow’s Republic.
Our country will not emerge from this war, with its rapidly rising tally of dead, unless it forges a new social contract. Drafting a new Constitution is really the cause that is rallying the people of Anglophone Cameroon, whatever their politics. Yet the writing of that Constitution brings us back to the call for a new type of writing, and hence to the need for the writer to assume the role of the Concierge of the Republic. What is at stake is the founding of a new Republic, one that has inscribed on its soul, in its pulsing heartbeat, respect for each individual’s liberty, the freedom for each to become what they will. It is obvious that such a Republic is possible only insofar as its emergence activates the wisdom and imagination of this country’s children. That this can only happen on the ashes of the current regime is undeniable. There is no need for further debate: this can only come about once Biya has taken up the place that awaits him in Kondengui. How many good people will be incarcerated or lose their lives defending a regime that has already been condemned? More and more, the answer to this question is being taken from the Cameroonian people and placed in the hands of the soldiers—the military, the gendarmerie, the police—who, in response to the revival, are ordered to kill. Our collective liberation will begin on the day when, as once happened in Bamenda, they instead answer the call of their professional duty—the duty of all citizens—and stand on the side of the Cameroonian people. On that day, the Nation will rise over the Republic and the tyrant will flee.
PJ, Yaoundé, 9 December, 2017
[trans. Amy B. Reid]