Issues At Stake
By Yerima Kini Nsom
Reporters Without Borders was brutally frank on its recent ratings on press freedom in Africa. The organisation published an indicting report ahead of this year’s World Press Freedom Day that was celebrated on Monday, May 3. In its report, Cameroon and Eritrea unenviably stood out of the madding crowd as the most dangerous countries in Africa for journalists. The outfit virtually unveiled an inventory of the atrocities the Cameroonian authorities have committed on journalists in the past few years: the arbitrary arrests, imprisonments and killing of journalists without trial on trumped up charges.
The organisation takes exception to the fact that some Cameroonian journalists have been tried at the Military Tribunal on unfounded claims that they are supporting terrorism. The worst case, so far, has been the death of the Buea-based journalist, Samuel Wazazi, in military custody in 2019. Even though the President of the Republic is said to have ordered for an investigation on the issue, it has been silenced since then. The entire population gropes in the dark. The corpse of that journalist has not been released to his family for burial.
Two years have gone by, and the entire nation seems to be relegating this gruesome act of military cruelty to the dustbin of collective amnesia. I wonder if the whistle blowers have equally been infected by this vicious forgetfulness in such a way that they cannot remember that justice has not been rendered to the fallen journalist. Otherwise, why did they forget to be constant, insistent reminders that the soul of Wazizi needs justice: Is the investigation reportedly ordered for by the President of the Republic still going on? What was its mandate? How long will it take for Cameroonians to know those who are responsible for the death of the journalist, who was accused of collaborating with separatist fighters in Buea?
The barbaric death of the young journalist is too gruesome to quickly skip the tenacity of memory. Yet, the brutal exit of that boy, innocent or not, is gradually becoming a victim of inadvertent and wilful forgetfulness. Those who are in the dock of public opinion for such a barbaric act consistently remember to forget such a scandal. They equally pray ceaselessly that the entire nation and the whole world should forget that a young journalist died in custody and his corpse is yet to be released to his family.
That event that agitated the nation for weeks is a tell-tale as to how much of a scapegoat the journalist has become in our crisis-plagued context. Those who, extra-judicially, forced Wazizi’s soul to prematurely separate from his body, pushed Government into a self-inflicted curse.
Such a curse seems to have the potency of an aphrodisiac for more intimidation, harassment and the detention of journalists. Otherwise, the authorities will not continue to keep Paul Chouta, Kingsley Njoka among other journalists in prison on trumped-up charges without trial. The journalists who remain firm, principled and critical of wrongdoing are ready victims of arbitrary arrest and torture by the police. Sometimes they are arrested for doing just their job.
It was a veritable scandal recently that some journalists were arrested and hauled into detention for covering the fact that the main opposition leader, Prof. Maurice Kamto, was put under house arrest. Were the police officers who arrested these journalists so determined to bloody Cameroon’s image in the international public space as a hell where the press is in chains? Given the barbaric torture meted out on those journalists, we do not need to go far to see the real enemies of the republic. For, even if the boss of the central police station were just a stark simpleton with a hard hole in his brain, he ought to have known that one can tell the decree of freedom in a country by the observing the way journalists are treated.
For, they now give the impression that any overzealous “nano” can flout republican values, violate the rule of law and get away with it. If such a dangerous precedence is allowed to go on, Cameroon will look like a jungle and an extensive psychiatric asylum wherein everyone has gone bunkers. Can we allow a few people to decide to stop Cameroon from being a democratic republic? A few people are bent on sabotaging and eroding the democratic values that President Paul Biya has put in place over the years. In their dictatorial mindset, critical journalists should all clip their tails, capitulate like frightened dogs under the whip and the lash. This is an affront to the ideals of our President because he wants to be remembered as the one who brought democracy and its compliment of free expression and of a free and an unfettered press to Cameroon.
The authors of our national calamity are so determined to hide their mess by gagging and muffling the critical the press. In a bid to fasten the lease of control round the neck of the press, they have no qualms expressing their views to the effect that they would be much happier if the independent press drops critical reporting and behaves as if it were just an extension of the Ministry of Communication.
Thus, the professional journalists that are driven by socio-politico-cultural and economic answerability now clash with those who are driven by the preservation of the narrow interest of the power-class. In their modus operandi, they are so determined in muzzling the critical press in a desperate attempt to protect themselves against the kind of public opinion that does not put a smile on their faces.
Even though the fear of the hit men is the beginning of wisdom in the current dispensation, journalists should not stop beaming their searchlights on the abuses that adulterate the corporate image of our country. The caution for them is to write to survive the villains that are deaf to rhyme and reason. They should meander through the despotic booby traps. They should do this without losing sight of the fact that the potency of the republican duty of journalism is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Taking sides with dream killers and vision murderers is like breaking the covenant that journalism has with the people. Journalists should mainstream peace, tolerance, human rights and democracy-laden advocacy in their reports.
Those in high places should see critical journalists as partners in the building of the national edifice and not as enemies of the republic. The fraternity of the mercenary press that the authorities are more comfortable with cannot help them. They are not only frugal with the truth. They go as far as insisting that the czar is well dressed even when, indeed, he is stark naked.
Happy World Press Day!