The writer Patrice Nganang was detained on Wednesday 6 December in Douala, Cameroon for publishing an online report about a visit he made to his home country. His report highlighted the tense situation in a region accused by President Biya of Cameroon of being a base for terrorist groups.
The crisis in the Anglophone region began at the end of 2016 when its representatives complained of the under-representation of their regions in the principal institutions of the country such as schools and government departments. Twenty percent of Cameroon's population is Anglophone (English-speaking) while the rest are mainly French-speaking.
The crisis has become entrenched with Anglophone lawyers and teachers striking over demands for more respect for the English language as the nation's official language used in all government documents. In October 2017, protests led to violent breakouts causing the death of at least seventeen people.
Patrice Nganang is well known for his trenchant positions on numerous subjects of Cameroonian and African society. For example, his book ‘Contre Biya’ (‘Against Biya’), encourages young Cameroonians to “demonstrate their citizenship:” Nganang writes:
We don't need to teach courage to the young. They already have it. I see so many people go to prison for their ideas. To accept tyranny is to abdicate.
Nganang has also questioned development matters in other African nations, including the decision of civil society activists such as Aminata Traoré (Mali) to come out in favor of pro-coup elements among the soldiers.
Patrice Nganang was detained at Douala airport in Cameroon just as he was about to embark for Harare, capital of Zimbabwe. He faces charges of threats against the president of the republic, illegal immigration, and fraud.
Solidarity with the writer-activist is being organized via social media. A petition demanding his immediate release has been published by a collective of writers and has already been signed by 6,992 users as of 15 December. A crowdsourcing platform has also been set up to help his friends meet lawyers’ fees.
The following Al Jazeera video published on 13 December 2017 summarizes the facts leading up to the writer's arrest:
The petition from a group of mostly African writers describes Patrice Nganang's impact and personality:
Critique féroce et conscience qui ne s’agenouille pas, il a fondé le mouvement « Génération Change » et entreprend depuis plusieurs années tout un travail aussi bien sur le terrain que dans son écriture, dénonçant les immobilismes, fustigeant les pouvoirs corrupteurs. On peut le traiter de fou, on peut ne pas être d’accord avec lui mais il est inacceptable de continuer à traiter ainsi ceux, artistes, écrivains ou autres, qui accomplissent ce qu’ils croient être juste, un devoir citoyen de sortir son pays du marasme où il se trouve.
A fierce critic and an unbending conscience, he founded the movement ‘Generation Change’ and has for some years laboured away, on the ground as much as in his writing, at exposing the political stalemate and castigating corruption in power. You can call him mad, you can disagree with him, but it is unacceptable to continue to mete out such treatment to those artists, writers or others, who fulfil, as they see it, their rightful civic duty to drag their country out of its current mire.
Boris Bertolt, a Cameroonian journalist for Actu Cameroun (News from Cameroon in English) and a friend of the writer, addressed the following open letter to him:
Voilà bientôt une semaine que tu as été kidnappé dans des conditions grotesques et es détenu par l’appareil répressif et oppressif de la plus vieille tyrannie d’Afrique. Quand je pense tous les jours, toutes les nuits à toi, à ta douleur, à ta souffrance. J’ai mal de mon impuissance de te sortir par tous les moyens des bras de la tyrannie. Le Cameroun a véritablement besoin d’intellectuels engagés résolument au service du peuple, des opprimés. Au Cameroun, tu appartiens à cette catégorie. Les intellectuels libérateurs. Ceux-là qui sacrifient leur temps, énergie, leur argent, la famille, les enfants pour construire le changement.
It will soon be a week since you were kidnapped in grotesque circumstances, and locked up by the repressive and oppressive machinery of the oldest tyranny in Africa. When I think daily, nightly, of you, of your grief, of your suffering, it is with painful awareness of my powerlessness to pull you free, by whatever means, from the hands of tyranny. Cameroon so needs intellectuals resolutely committed to the service of the people, the oppressed. In Cameroon, you belong to that category: liberationist intellectuals. Those who sacrifice their times, their energy, their money, their families, their children, to build change.
Jean-Michel Devésa, a Professor of French Literature in France, has also written an open letter, addressed to the French President Emmanuel Macron:
Sa famille et ses proches sont sans aucune nouvelle de lui. Le sort de ce collègue avec lequel je travaille et que j’ai édité cette année m’inquiète au plus haut point. Je vous demande par la présente de faire en sorte que notre pays interroge par voie diplomatique, et selon les usages, la Présidence camerounaise afin d’avoir des nouvelles de Patrice Nganang, de savoir s’il est sain et sauf, et de connaître son lieu de détention s’il est détenu.Je vous prie en outre de faire le nécessaire pour que Patrice Nganang soit libéré sans plus attendre, attendu que sa « disparition » et le cas échéant sa détention arbitraire porte atteinte à ses droits fondamentaux.
His family and his friends are without any news of him. The fate of a personal work colleague, whose work I had the privilege to edit this year, is of the highest concern to me. I urge you by this letter to hold the Cameroonian Presidency to account, through all the usual diplomatic channels at our country's disposal, for sharing news of Patrice Nganang, so we may know if he is safe and sound, and his place of detention, if he is detained. I ask you further to do what you can to secure Patrice Nganang's freedom without further delay, seeing as his “disappearance” and, if such is the case, his arbitrary detention, stands in violation of his basic rights.
Nganang is confirmed to be detained in the Maximum Security Prison of Kondengui in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
A few Twitter users have voiced their concerns via the hashtag #freengagang. Cameroonian influential tech expert Rebecca Enonchong wrote:
People! This could be any of us tomorrow! When regimes start silencing intellectuals, they silence truth. Let’s stand up for @nganang! #Cameroon. https://t.co/13BnSYNvF0
— Rebecca Enonchong (@africatechie) December 7, 2017
Julie Owono, Cameroonian Global Voices contributor also wrote:
Cameroonian writer, professor, activist Patrice @nganang was arrested in Douala, Cameroon, and taken to undisclosed location. This important voice in the #anglophonecrisis must be released, #activismisnotacrime #freeNganang pic.twitter.com/2wDSQHmupM
— julieowono (@JulieOwono) December 7, 2017