Tribute to a Fallen Hero
By Peter Vakunta, PhD
Revolutionary ideas tend to outlive their originators. It takes a selfless hero to change a society. Lapiro de Mbanga, born Lambo Sandjo Pierre Roger on April 7, 1957 was a conduit for social change. He fought for change in his homeland and died fighting for change in Cameroon. Lapiro believed in the innate goodness of man but also had the conviction that absolute power corrupts absolutely. He was noted for contending that “power creates monsters.” His entire musical career was devoted to fighting the cause of the downtrodden in Cameroon. He composed satirical songs on the socio-economic dystopia in his beleaguered country. In his songs, Lapiro articulated the daily travails of the man in the street and the government-orchestrated injustices he witnessed.
Initiated into the pro-democracy movement of his own accord in the early 1990s in the wake of the launch of Ni John Fru Ndi’s Social Democratic Front (SDF) at Ntarikon Park in Bamenda, Lapiro remained steadfastly committed to his crusade against misgovernment, politics of ethnicity, tribalism, corruption, culture of impunity, influence peddling, electoral fraud and gerrymandering. Lapiro was laureate of many prizes, the most prestigious of which is the Freedom to Create Award, conferred on him by Freemuse in November 2009 at a ceremony in London. This write-up is my celebration of one man’s vendetta against a cancerous regime that thrives on the rape of democracy and human rights abuses. Paul Biya, Lapiro’s pet-peeve, symbolizes inhumaneness, misgovernment and the abortive democratization process with which Cameroon has come to be identified. The leitmotif in Lapiro’s musical composition is the entertainment of resistance in Cameroon against overwhelming odds. As a songwriter, he distinguished himself from his peers through bravado, valiance and the courage to say overtly what many a Cameroonian musician would only mumble in the privacy of their homes.
Lapiro was an anti-establishment songwriter who walked tall where angels dread to tread. For daring to compose an acerbic song titled Constitution constipée (constipated constitution) in which he lampooned the Cameroonian Head of State for tinkering with the national Constitution, the singer was arrested on September 9, 2009 and incarcerated in the notorious New Bell prison in Douala for three years on trumped-up charges. He was ordered to pay 280 million CFA francs (640,000 US dollars) as compensation for damage caused during riots where protesters had taken to the streets, angered by high living costs and a constitutional change that would allow the country’s president to stay in power indefinitely. Released from prison on April 8, 2011 he was later given political asylum by US authorities. On September 2, 2012 Lapiro relocated with some members of his family to Buffalo in New York where he died on March 16, 2014 after a long illness. What a loss for Cameroon and the international community!
I am working on a book that will provide the world with ample information on the issues that motivated this fallen musical virtuoso.
Dr. Peter Vakunta is professor of modern languages at the University of Indianapolis, USA