By Samira Edi
I am glad that Mr. Ngwane has revisited the issue of the paucity of Anglophone Cameroon writing in his interview with African Writing magazine - the problems facing the writer in Cameroon are legion. Not least is the fact that the region does not even have bookshops worthy of the name. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of talent in Cameroon. Mr. Ngwane is in a fine position to talk about the challenges that face writers back in Cameroon. His account of the ordeal suffered at the hands of the American Embassy officials is an eloquent testimony of double standards of the Foreign Embassies. They are responsible for frustrating many gifted Cameroonians from having the required outlet to realize their full potential outside.
Another great source of difficulty for the Cameroonian writer is the readership. Literary apathy is real. But that is also because works are hardly promoted and talked about in the press or the Media. How does a paper like Cameroon Tribune publicize a book which criticizes the Government, when their editorial is an egregious act of naked sycophancy, with the editor squelching his way into the hall of shame with unnecessary blathering about the President?
Publicity requires real money. It is expensive to do book promotion in the press in Cameroon, so any writer should be looking outside for sponsorship. Cameroonian writers tend to work in collaboration with Universities as a cheap means of publicity. But most universities are politicized, and will not give any oxygen of publicity to a literary work which criticizes the Government. At a book-signing ceremony, Gendarmes sometime burst in and smash up the place, just like they do in any military dictatorship.
So there lies the dilemma. Does the writer sacrifice their artistic freedoms by stifling the more abrasive and acerbic wit, in order to stay out of the gulag and get published, or defy the Government and unleash the literary daemons?
Alienation within Cameroon
Also, the alienation that the Anglophones have felt in Cameroon could be blamed to an extent for this literary paucity. But poverty on a general scale does not provide a healthy climate conducive for the growth of literary creativity. I agree with Mr. Ngwane that the muses of yesteryears have shown proof of their talent much more than today. But times have changed. Theirs was a time when Africans were encouraged to publish through Macmillan Books, African writer series etc.
Today, some writers are at seas as to where to publish or what to write. Some have scumbled their art, as they do not know whether to write history, fiction, political satire of just plain memoirs.
Ossified Writing Culture
It may seem that the writing culture in Cameroon has ossified and died. In fact, reading some of the badly cobbled writs, one might come to a very premature conclusion that literary creativity stopped developing since that time when we knew Michael Jackson as a Blackman! Anyway, that was a joke.
However, I remember how deeply engaging I found my dad's copy of "The Trials of Mr. No-Balance" by Victor Elame Musinga. It was such a joy to read. Absolutely fantastic. It was a simply crafted narrative with a theme that would resonate sweepingly in the transverse of the human demography. Corruption is a social malaise that transcends all territorial boundaries. And through his half-wit office boy of a hero, he takes the reader on a journey of victory of good over evil. So style and substance weighs heavily on the interest in these types of output. It was the same experience I had when I read Oyono Mbia’s “Trois Prétendants Un Mari” Ferdinand Oyono’s “The Old Man and the Medal” etc.
The Role of Politics
The ossification of the literary creativity might just be the thinner end of the wedge, for the greater problems lie in the Cameroonian socio- political adversity. Creativity cannot flourish and thrive in Cameroon as it is. Politics has despoiled creativity more than anything else. In a situation where people were inspired to express their suffrage in protest literature, it seemed as if there was a general release of a malignant virus of groupthink. In the wake of our political expression, there opened a gateway to literary expression. There was such a thriving outburst of literary creativity. But where are they now?
You could say the literary world of Cameroon was at that point hijacked by strategic confusionists. That fantastic opportunity still did not produce works of world renown. Instead, it produced a crop of fortune hunters eager to pen anything and pass it off as protest literature. Yes, they wrote loads about what a lot of people thought at the time; especially about the oppression. But they did not put in the terms that sustained the reader’s interest. Unfortunately, this wonderful burst of literary creativity died when the politics ceased to sizzle. And it was not for lack of talent or trying. We simply did not have the impulses that promote creativity in Cameroon and the commitment to forge ahead even after failure.
The Nigerian Example
Comparatively, Nigeria has more diverse cultural, political and historical points of references which provide a richer source of material for their writers. There is already a healthy community of readership out there, who made enough noise inside and outside of Nigeria that they became a giant literary force to be reckoned with. But literary creativity in Nigeria is not an isolated development. It is rooted in the traditions and the societal idiosyncrasies. It is almost imbedded in the cultural experiences of their daily life. And most importantly the writing culture is an iconic feature of University life in the country. When they write, they have a ready audience with an “educated” palate for reading, already been raised in the reading and writing culture. As yours truly says; "There is ANGER in NiGERiA, oh!" They have the source and the opportunity and they use it well!
No Support Structure for Creative Writing
In addition to the issue of poverty and political adversity, there is the absence of Publishing Houses. If we could get away from the institutional arguments and look at the practical side of things, we lack the typical paraphernalia for creative writing. Libraries, book clubs, publishing houses, museums etc. The patter of our muses as a strong collective body would be impactful to win over the hardnosed publisher if only they knew that there was money to be had from the Cameroonian writer. And without the seriousness of that thriving culture of collective creativity, the publisher becomes a disinterested party.
So the paucity and deficit of creativity in Cameroon is an amalgamation of multiple factors, none the least of which is our own apathy towards Cameroon writing. How to penetrate and unblock that freeze is a matter for collective concern.