Valsero, one of Cameroon’s most socially and politically engaged rappers, has released a new single in which he dishes up acerbic criticism of President Paul Biya‘s 33 years of “dictatorship”.
The song, titled “Motion de Soutien” (Motion of Support), is dedicated to the Cameroonian people and is a not-so-subtle response to the recent flurry of “motions of support” from militants of Cameroon’s ruling party asking the 83-year-old Biya to seek another presidential mandate in 2018.
The lyrics target more than three decades of broken promises, false hopes, unfulfilled dreams, widespread despair, corruption and disillusionment in Cameroon:
33 ans de dictature
33 ans de corruption
33 ans de népotisme
33 ans de destruction
33 ans de souffrance de misère sans interruption
33 ans d'arrogance, de violences et d'humiliation
33 ans de mensonges bercés par des illusions
33 ans de pénitence de sueur de larmes à profusion
33 ans de prières toujours en quête de solution
33 ans de 33 pour noyer nos ambitions
33 years of dictatorship
33 years of corruption
33 years of nepotism
33 years of destruction
33 years of uninterrupted suffering and misery
33 years of arrogance, violence and humiliation
33 years of lies soothed by illusions
33 years of penance, sweat and tears in abundance
33 years of prayers still in search of a solution
33 years of 33 export beer to drown our ambitions
According to Valsero, the outcome of Biya’s 33-year reign has been a massive exodus of young Cameroonians willing to risk it all in search of greener pastures:
Regarde ces jeunes ! Ils ne rêvent plus sinon de partir très loin
Regarde ces jeunes ! Ils ne luttent plus, ça sert à rien pour certains
Tu veux garder le Cameroun pour toi ? OK, on te le laisse !
Va s’y prends-le ! Et si tu veux, étouffes toi avec !
On préfère prendre la Mer et mourir parmi les poissons
Y a plus de chances de s'en sortir au milieu des requins
Look at these youths! All they dream of is to go far away
Look at these youths! They’ve lost the will to fight because it’s not worth it
You want to keep Cameroon to yourself? OK, we’ll leave it to you
Go ahead, take it! And smother yourself with it if you wish!
We would rather take to the seas and die among the fish
We have a better chance of surviving in the middle of sharks [than in Cameroon]
And, in one of his most direct attacks on the president yet, Valsero lashes out:
Tu as fini par rendre plus faible une nation qui était plus forte avant.
J'espère que tu es content, car pour moi tu resteras le dernier des présidents.
Un jour viendra où tu payeras ta facture…
Le people aura sa revanche dans cette vie ou une autre…
You have weakened a once powerful nation, and I hope you’re happy
As far as I am concerned, you shall remain a president of the worst kind
A day will come when you will pay your debt…
The people will have their revenge in this life or the next
From ‘Letter to the President’ to ‘Motion of Support’
Nicknamed The General by his fans, Valsero came into the limelight in 2009 with a song titled “Lettre au President” (Letter to the President) in which he called on Biya to rein in Cameroon’s “plundering and arrogant” ruling elite and give Cameroon’s alienated and marginalized young people a chance. “Lettre au President” established Valsero as the voice of the downtrodden alongside protest singer Lapiro de Mbanga.
Since then, Valsero has released numerous tracks—including two additional letters to the president—in which he bemoans the unwillingness of Cameroon’s ruling elite to address the country’s socio-economic problems and the president’s continued indifference to the plight of Cameroonian youths.
A 2010 Radio France International (RFI) portrait of the rapper explained how his music is often greeted by Cameroon's authorities:
Valsero has opted to speak out. In Cameroon, a country where people generally suffer in silence for fear of retribution or keep quiet at a price, the gravel-voiced rapper with his blistering looks is something of a meteorite. As a result, his dreaded tracks aren’t broadcast on state radio or TV, and his concerts are regularly banned by the authorities or interrupted by the police.
‘This music encapsulates the failed system of Paul Biya’
Valsero’s song has raised a firestorm in Cameroon, and the video went viral within hours of it being released on YouTube and Facebook. Social media has been inundated with heated and usually acrimonious debates over Valsero’s message.
In a Facebook posting, blogger Mark Bareta argues:
This music encapsulates the failed system of Paul Biya… Whatever we see today with the Biya regime is as a result of a failed government, bad judgment, lack of effective planning, no future policies for its infrastructures, corruption, etc.
According to Twitter user Franky Taz:
— Frankytaz (@franky_taz) May 12, 2016
This is an autopsy of a crime committed by the state. We need your spirit and determination. You have our unconditional support @GeneralVALSERO #Valsero.
While conceding that “Motion de Soutien” is a nice song, Twitter user Cheikh Kemit TSIMI believes, nonetheless, that it is encouraging Cameroonians to be resigned to their fate:
— Cheikh Kemit TSIMI (@TMarcelTSIMI) May 12, 2016
Valsero's new song is more about sadness than violence; more about resignation than resilience. Well done anyway.
‘This country is in bad shape, but it shall rise again’
Valsero’s detractors and critics, many of whom are supporters of the president, have also taken to social media to lambast the new song. In a commentary posted on one of the largest Cameroonian Facebook groups, Zulu Uhem Mesut accuses Valsero of defeatism:
Comme le Maréchal Pétain en Juin 1940, VALSERO est un GÉNÉRAL LÂCHE. Il invite la jeunesse camerounaise des ÉGOUTS à abdiquer face au combat de la survie quotidienne en prenant le chemin de l'exil RISQUÉ. Surprenant plutôt pour un GÉNÉRAL des DAMNÉS !
Nous préférons encore danser au rythme de ” COLLER LA PETITE”… qui nous donnent l'espoir… au lieu de nous associer à des appels à immobilisme du GÉNÉRAL FUYARD, déserteur du FRONT DE GUERRE.
Just like Marshal Petain in June 1940, Valsero is a cowardly General who is asking Cameroonian youths in dire straits to give up the fight for survival and take the risky road to exile. This is a surprising message from the General of the Damned!
We would rather dance to songs like “Coller la petite” [which was temporarily banned in Cameroon for immoral lyrics] that give us hope… than listen to calls to do-nothingness from a General who has deserted the warfront.
In an unsigned open letter to Valsero, another supporter of the president argues that Cameroonians rather than Biya were the problem:
Le Cameroun va mal c’est vrai, et ce depuis des décennies, certains fonctionnaires incompétents, voleurs, détourneurs de fond publics, des hommes d’affaires égoïstes qui au lieu de créer les richesses ne pensent qu’a devenir maire ou députés pour avoir des facilites dans l’import-export, Changeons d’abord d’habitudes.
Frater laisse les histoires des 33 ans la, faisons ce que nous avons à faire pour que le pays avance…
Valsero le pays ci va mal, mais il va se relever, voilà pourquoi le chef de l’État a parlé de résilience, comme moi, il sait qu’un état fort impose le changement des mentalités. »
True, Cameroon is in bad shape, and this has been the case for decades; there are incompetent and corrupt civil servants who embezzle public funds and there are greedy businessmen who, instead of creating wealth, only want to become mayors or members of parliament so they can get preferential treatment for their import-export business. Let's start by changing our ways.
Brother, forget about this 33 years business and let's do what we have to do to move our country forward.
Valsero, this country is in bad shape, but it shall rise again. That's why the head of state talked about resilience [in his end of year message]. Like me, he knows that a strong state requires a change in mentalities.
There has been no official reaction thus far from the government of Cameroon or from the president. However, it is almost certain that this song will not be broadcast on state radio or TV.