By Martin Jumbam
this last part of his interview, Celestin Monga , who has always been
known for political and economic writing, discusses the other forms of
writing he is involved in, notably creative writing, travel diaries,
among others. As a parting shot, he warns that merely getting rid of
Biya won’t cure Cameroon of its ills. It will take much more than just
a change of guards at Etoudi. The system itself must be thoroughly
over-hauled and changed before the Cameroonian people can start to
breathe a sigh of relief after all these years of Biya’s misrule.
Monga, you seem to be involved in much writing outside your field of
politics and economics. That’s quite impressive. Where do you find so
much time to write?
day has 24 hours. If I give 9 or 10 of those hours to BICIC, I still
have 14 to myself to sleep, reflect and write poetry, or something
about poetry, you surprised many people with your recent collection of
poems, Fragments d’un crépuscle blessé. I was struck by the astonishing
effect of the juxtaposition of words and images. Absolutely depressing
but beautifully executed pictures in black and white from South Africa.
should say here that it isn’t a book about South Africa. It’s a book
about Africa, period. You don’t need to go to South Africa to see the
scenes depicted in those pictures. Just go down to New Bell, a few
miles from here, and you’ll see the police brutalizing helpless
citizens the same way the police do to blacks in South Africa; you’ll
see there poor, hungry people sleeping in gutters.
idea to place pictures and words face-to-face came from my Congolese
friend, the novelist Sonny Labou Tansi, who wrote the “Foreword” to the
book. I was happy he brought up that suggestion because I was impressed
by the quality of those pictures and I wanted to add a few words to
them as a way of expressing my sensitivity to the plight of the
oppressed everywhere in Africa. The way we react to our Pygmy
population in this country, for instance, is not any different from the
way whites react to blacks in South Africa. That’s the message I wanted
to get across.
You’ve published another book, this time about your travels in Djibouti entitled Un Bantou à Djibouti.
I was considerably shocked by the barrenness of the land. One has the
impression that the country is a massive wasteland and this depressing
picture is made all the more poignant by the astonishingly revolting
picture you paint of the fate of the Djiboutian woman, especially the
excision of little girls, etc. Was that a deliberate attempt to shock
believe if you want to be realistic in Africa, you’re bound to shock
people. There are no two ways out of it. This book was banned in
Djibouti and the government of that country has written very hostile
articles against me in the press. That was really funny. How can the
government of Djibouti ban a book written by a Cameroonian? I have no
intention of taking over power in Djibouti. (Laughter).
Why did you go to Djibouti of all places?
wanted to take a short holiday and travel in Africa. I have a few
friends in Djibouti I’d known from my student days in Bordeaux and
Paris. They invited me to their country and I went with my notebook and
what you have there is the result of the entries from that notebook.
How long ago was that?
Oh, that’s just a few years ago; about three years or so ago.
also gave a very detailed description of the role of the French,
especially the French Military, who take delight in degrading
Djiboutian women, some carving tattoos on prostitutes with their
knives. Quite revolting.
That shows you that the French cannot be thinking of me as a good choice for the leadership of this country (laughter). We have lots of people here in Cameroon who are much better for that job.
thing struck me when I walked in here: the absence of body-guards. I’d
expected to be thoroughly frisked by no-nonsense, walkie-talkie-totting
men at the door of your office. Aren’t you afraid for your life?
not afraid of death; it’s a normal part of life. My job obliges me to
receive many people everyday. Can you imagine a banker barricading
himself behind an army of body-guards? I would look funny, won’t I?!
Security doesn’t mean a THING IN THIS COUNTRY: Mr. Biya’s Mafia can use
extreme measures, even hired assassins, against anybody at anytime. The
only security I have is the solidarity of my fellow citizens.
Mr. Monga, I’ll like to thank you for your time. Any parting words to end our interview?
I’ll like to get across is that the problems of our country today are
not only the problems of an individual. Let’s not for once imagine that
once Biya is no longer ruling this nation, than that will be the end of
our worries. Cameroon will not automatically become a paradise on earth
simply because Biya is no longer ruling this land. Far from it. Every
Cameroonian, in short, every African today, must open their eyes and
clearly assess the challenges of the moment as a way of preparing for a
better tomorrow. The main challenge of the moment is to change the
mentality of our people, to make them understand that Cameroon is not
just one huge cake which any one can just chop up a huge chunk and walk
away with; but rather that Cameroon is a place we can all prepare so
our children will like to live in it. That’s the first thing I’ll like
second thing is that in the world of today, characterized by dramatic
changes in the USA, Eastern and Western Europe, we, as Africans, should
remember the likes of Kwame Nkrumah, who had a vision of a united
Africa. That’s the only way we can survive in the world of today. I
cannot boast of a developed Cameroon when next door Gabon, Central
Africa or Chad are not developed.
When I travel anywhere in Africa, I consider myself as a citizen of the
country in which I happen to find myself. When I wrote about Djibouti,
I was writing about my country, my people. I never consider, for
example, a Nigerian as stranger in this country. That’s ridiculous. We
are one and its only in such oneness that we can survive in the world