By Dr. Peter Vakunta
Like all brutal dictators the world over, President Paul Biya of Cameroon continues to tighten his grip on power by having recourse to ruthless suppression of the basic freedoms of Cameroonians. Lambo Pierre Roger Sandjo (a.k.a Lapiro de Mbanga) is languishing in the New Bell Central prison in Douala for daring to compose a song titled Constitution Constipée (Constipated Constitution)[i] in which he castigates the Cameroonian Legislature for fiddling with the supreme law of the land to suit the whims and caprices of the executive. Pius Njawé, owner of the Le Messager group of newspapers, and head of the Press Free Media Group who died under mysterious circumstances last year in the United States of America had a record number of 126 incarcerations under the nefarious Biya regime! Joe la Conscience, Loum-based musician and freedom fighter, also came under the axe of Mr. Biya’s demented soldiers not too long ago. His teenage son was shot to death by the Cameroonian military. Joe la Conscience’s only crime was that he dared to organize a one-man nonviolent protest against attempts to scrap presidential term limits from the Cameroonian constitution. In February 26, 2010, three journalists, namely Harry Robert Mintya of the weekly Le Devoir, Bibi Ngota of Cameroon Express and Serge Bobouang of La Nation were arrested and are now languishing in jail, awaiting trial after they published a document in which the Secretary General at the Presidency of the Republic, Laurent Esso, is said to have urged the manager of the country’s hydro carbon corporation (SNH) to pay some commission worth $3million for the purchase of a ship. Last month, Kah Walla, a presidential hopeful, was subjected to a snake beating by Biya’s super-brutal military following an abortive uprising in Douala intended to send a clear message of exasperation to Biya who has been in power since 1982! The list is interminable. Popaul’s latest victim is Bertrand Teyou, committed writer and human rights activist. Teyou is leaking his wounds in the notorious New Bell maximum security prison after publishing two books, L'Antécode Biya (Biya Anti-Code) and La Belle de la République bananière: Chantal Biya, de la rue au palais"(The Belle of a Banana Republic, Chantal Biya, from the Street to the Palace). What follows is an interview he granted Patrice Nganang from his prison cell in New Bell where he is serving a two-year term.
Patrice Nganang: Hello Bertrand! How are you?
Bertrand Teyou: I am okay. Listen, I am not despondent. I am upbeat because I know that the act that has landed me in jail is a just cause. I wrote a book to express my feelings on the status quo in Cameroon, my homeland. My incarceration is, thus, attributable to my attempt to express myself freely. I have health problems due to the terrible meals I eat here. I have come down with hemorrhoid and mucus. My stomach is infected. The doctor has written a medical report in which he recommends special diets.
Patrice Nganang: How are you treating yourself medically?
Bertrand Teyou: I have access to the Douala General Hospital. Each time I have a medical appointment, I am escorted there. I have to pay for everything, including the person that escorts me to the hospital. When I don’t have the money to pay, I postpone my appointments. I find it absurd that a prisoner has to pay for an escort. This is corruption! I pay to be given a place to sleep in prison. If I don’t pay, I will be made to sleep in mud containing garbage. If I did not have money to pay for a sleeping place, they would have made me sleep in the yard.
Patrice Nganang: Where do you get money?
Bertrand Teyou: From the little savings I had made before being arrested and sent to prison. But I am now broke, to tell you the truth.
Patrice Nganang: Do you have legal assistance— attorney or legal counsel?
Bertrand Teyou: No, I don’t have an attorney at this point in time. I had a lawyer to defend me for the first book but don’t have one for the second one. All lawyers are scared. Chantal is a bigger threat than her husband in Cameroon. When I write a book about Chantal Biya I am arrested but no one bothered me after the publication of my first book on Paul Biya.
Patrice Nganang: What’s your greatest need at the moment?
Bertrand Teyou: My most urgent need is to pay my fine, the more so because my health is deteriorating with each passing day. I am wearing a diaper as I talk to you right now because I am bleeding profusely. I had to resort to diapers as a preventive measure. The most urgent need for me now is to get out of this dreadful situation which is taking a hash toll on health. The second point I would like to make is that the sale of my books has not been prohibited. We could find ways to sell my books in Cameroon and overseas, given that there has been no formal ban on these books.
Patrice Nganang: You say your books have not been banned?
Bertrand Teyou: The books have not been banned. Sales outlets have been intimidated but have not been prevented from selling my books. A ruling of the Court did not affect the sale of my books. I inquired from the judge and she asserted that books cannot be censored in Cameroon. However, there are intimidation tactics being employed to impound my books. My office in Akwa has been ransacked, but these are mere intimidation maneuvers given that my books have not been legally prohibited in Cameroon. So they can be sold.
Patrice Nganang: What pushed you to write this book?
Bertrand Teyou: My book is the free expression of a citizen. I hold no grudge again the First Lady but I refuse to live in a country where she has excessive control over the lives of citizens. I cannot stand the fact that our country is rotten and no one seems to be bothered about doing something to turn things around. We are entitled to rise against the injustice that is crippling our country. We cannot let evil go unquestioned. This is the attitude I adopt in my writing. The struggle continues in spite of the travails I am going through right now. Each hurdle reinvigorates me. This system is bad for everyone.
Patrice Nganang: So, you stand by your books?
Bertrand Teyou: I acknowledge the fact that I have been excessive in my self-expression but this is the normal reaction to expect from a citizen overwhelmed with discontent. I was expressing my discontent after having been persecuted for publishing my first book. So, this book is the expression of my dissatisfaction with what is going on in Cameroon, especially the macabre system that gives Chantal Biya the leeway to treat people around her with extreme cruelty.
[i] All translations are mine except where otherwise indicated.