Issues at stake

Issues At Stake: Projecting Journalists As Emergency Historians

Yerima Kini Nsom

By Yerima Kini Nsom

The name Valetin Simeon Zinga produces vibration in Cameroon’s media landscape. For over three decades, this journalist cum author has walked the whole gamut from the print to the audio-visual, to corporate communication and back. He has remained an ideological slave boy in the pursuit of journalistic excellence, especially the dignity, the nobility, the sanity and the scientific accountability that goes with it.

Zinga is a dynamo of intellectual power whose mind continues to churn out ideas as to how journalism can be rescued from the gnawing fangs of mediocrity and charlatanism in our country – small wonder that two years ago he steered the creation of the Media Association for Mediation and Citizenship, 2MC, which he pilots as pioneer President.

On this year’s World Press Freedom Day that was commemorated on Tuesday, May 3, Zinga took a huge number of his colleagues from the madding crowd of those who gathered around the UNESCO theme of “Journalism Under Digital Siege”. He used his creative ingenuity to organise a round table discussion on how journalists who are considered as emergency historians can effectively contribute to writing history. Some journalists who have published books were aboard the panel discussion moderated by ace communicator, Nana Payong, at the Advanced School of Mass Communication in Yaounde.

It emerged that the practice of journalism and book writing are intricately linked either by design or conspiracy of circumstances. From its humble beginnings in the ancient Roman Empire where Julius Caesar began posting some articles on “acta diurnal” (daily events) in public places, print journalism has always been a subset of book writing. Caesar’s handwritten articles that were posted on the walls of buildings where people gathered to take decisions in the true participatory democracy, witnessed a revolutionary kink when William Caxton and John Guttenberg invented the printing press in England and Germany respectively.

Despite the close relationship with each other, some school of thought holds that the newspaper is a natural enemy to the book. Ace journalist, Samuel Bokuba, raises this debate in a foreword to Prof. Kofele Kale’s recently published book: “The Past As A Prologue”.

 Bokuba recounts how, in the 70s, the venerated Prof. Fonlon was urged to published into a book a series of his very critical and high-minded articles that were published in a newspaper column known as “Random Leaves”. The erudite professor did not budge. Now it appears as if those articles died with him in 1986. Today, he is being censured for not realising the importance of transforming those articles into a book. Again, Fonlon, did not seem to see the dichotomy between the ephemeral nature of the newspaper and the book as an undying channel of mass communication.

While yawning the gulf, Sam Bokuba takes solace in the views of two renowned communication scholars, Edmond and Jules de Concourt. The duo wrote in 1885 that: “that ephemeral sheet of paper, the newspaper, is the Natural enemy of the book as the whore is to a decent woman.”   The claim here is that people who delight in publishing articles in newspapers hardly write books and therefore hardly enjoy the immortality of their works.

They might have been right at that epoch. Such a claim now is arguably contradictory because the newspaper is one medium that stands tall as a source of inspiration for the writing and publication of many books. Many journalists who wrote political, literary and even economic columns in newspapers and ran radio commentaries in the heydays of multiparty politics in our country, finally compiled such articles and commentaries into books. For instance, almost all the articles that were published in the column “No Trifling Matter” by Rotcod Gobata in Cameroon Post Newspaper were published into a book titled: “The Past Tense Of Shit”.

Veteran Journalist, Julius Wamey, held sway by compiling a collection of articles from his “Postman” column in Cameroon Post into a book entitled: “Bamenda, Where Heroes Go To Die”. When the media induced the caesarean birth of multiparty politics in Cameroon in May 1990, the entire team of the CRTV Sunday morning flagship programme, Cameroon Calling, was shoved into detention at the Kondengui Central Prison. After their release, two of their crew members, Boh Herbert and Ntemfac Ofege, wrote the story of the programme, the mutation of events and their arrest in a book titled: “Prison Graduate”.

Veteran Journalist and Teacher, Sam Nuvala Fonkem (late) also published a book, Snapnots, which is a collection of articles he published in different newspapers. He equally compiled a series of critical reports presented on a Radio Cameroon programme, “Cameroon Report” into a book entitled: “Incisive Journalism”. These examples should serve as a source of inspiration for journalists who write columns and incisive articles on landmark events. I just wonder what a great book one would have been reading now had the Dr. Bob Forbin (late) compiled his collection of his high-minded and scathing editorials in The Herald Newspaper into a publication. Dr. Fongot Kini-Yen Kini (late) once expressed disappointment to me that he was not in Cameroon at the time to encourage Veteran Journalist, Charlie Ndi Chia, to published articles of his highly applauded column, “Ink In My Blood.” into a book.

Away from compiling newspapers articles, many journalists in Cameroon have published books that can be relied on in many spheres of the academic vineyard. They are: Kikiyshiy Lawrence, Ateh Francis, Pochi Tamba, Mwalimu Johnie Macviban, Valentin Zinga, Tricia Oben, Rachel Malongo, Mireille Bisseck, Huges Francois Onana, Jean Brunu Tagne, Jean Lambert Nang, Gustave Samnick, Guy Roger Eba, Zacharie Ngniman and Haman Mana among others. Yet, the emphasis should be laid on the call for journalists to do their work well and equally make enormous contributions to the writing of our contemporary history. For, leaving our history entirely in the hands of political historians is a big risk.

For, there are some unpleasant historical facts that such people will remember to forget in a hurry or misinterpret in order to please their masters in high places. The same people remember not to forget doctored historical facts that can easily put a smile on the faces of those who rule and ruin Cameroon.

While commenting on the topic “Journalists as Historians”, the Director of the Advanced School of Mass Communication, Prof. Alice Nga Minkala, read out a telling excerpt from Henri Bandolo’s book. The extract describes vividly how the April 6, 1984, foiled coup took place in Yaounde. She was driving home the point that journalists better describe vivid scenes of history in their books.

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