By Hope Nda & Sendy Forlemu
Amid rising cases of human rights abuses in Cameroon, particularly in the crisis-hit Northwest and Southwest regions, an arts group based in Buea is using creative poetry and drama to champion calls for the protection of rights defenders.
Stage Life, as the group is known, is a troupe of young, talented and high-spirited artists, who believe that the quest for human rights could be better achieved if rights defenders are first protected.
To voice out this conviction, Stage Life organised a human rights-centred poetry show named Poetry Jam under the theme: “A Tough World Outside, Stand as my witness campaign,” in Buea, Southwest Region, on June 26.
The poetry campaign aimed at highlighting the invaluable contributions of human rights defenders who have persisted in standing for the poor, despite being often threatened or arrested in the exercise of their duties, said Boris Taleabong Alemnge, one of the co-founders of the group.
“It is over five years and people have been arrested every day and there’s no body to talk to them and I think arts is the softest way through which people can express their plights,” he said.
At the poetry jam event, the group used poetry (music, poems) to decry serious rights abuses that have been committed during the ongoing Anglophone Crisis, one of them being the massacre of about 21 civilians (mostly children) in Ngarbuh, Northwest Region, on February 14, 2020.
Using music and words to portray the cruelty of many of such incidents that have characterised the crisis in Anglophone Cameroon, Stage Life urged belligerents in the conflict to stop the killings, especially the killing of children.
They also highlighted challenges women and girls are facing amid the conflict; they equally urged stakeholders to shun bad governance, which some stakeholders opine has contributed to heightening the crisis.
In their poems, Stage Life alluded to the exemplary human rights initiatives of advocates like Nelson Mandela; Pakistani gender activist, Malala Yousafzai; and Cameroonian human rights crusader, Barrister Felix Agbor Balla.
They also urged world governments, including the Cameroon Government, to protect human rights defenders and to free those who have been incarcerated.
“Human rights defenders – we realised that they defend, they advocate, they are always there to fight for human rights, to fight for justice. And more often than not, there is always no one to offer them protection,” said Ntui Oben Achaleoma, one of the leading members of Stage Life.
Stage Life has been advocating human rights protection for five years now through poetry and stage drama. They have performed for several high personalities, including Cameroon’s Prime Minister, Chief Dr Joseph Dion Ngute. Their advocacy revolves around social cohesion and tolerance, human rights, gender protection and morality. The recent Poetry Jam was the first time Stage Life were participating in the “Stand as my witness campaign,” an initiative funded by an international human rights organisation, CIVICUS.