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Letter to Charles Ateba Eyene

Tuesday 4 March 2014

From Mwalimu George Ngwane

Ateba EyeneAfter watching the funeral rites of Komla Dumor, the ace-Ghanaian BBC journalist over BBC Television on 21st February 2014, I decided to remote-control my TV channels in search of any other information that would soothe my agonized and bereaved soul over the death of Komla. Komla, whom the Ghanaian President aptly described as “Ghana’s gift to the world” chose to die on the day of my birthday, 18th January at the tender age of 41. My search for some good news on TV instead met with the breaking news on LTM TV announcing on the news bar “Dr. Charles Ateba Eyene is dead”. Charles, gone?

My memories quickly ran back to 1998 when you stopped me at the Yaounde main Post Office to tell me that I was your teacher of English in C.E.S (Government Secondary School) Diang, East Province in 1986. I looked into your eyes for a few minutes and shouted “Yes, I was your teacher but you never took the subject seriously even though you were a bright chap in “Quatrieme’ (Form Three)”. You smiled back and we went down memory lane talking of how you lived with your brother, Etoundi, who was also my colleague and the difficulties you faced as a student but very happy that you were now a student in the University.

In 2002, you visited Kribi and met me in Government Bilingual High School Kribi where I was serving as Vice Principal of the Anglophone Section with your brother Etoundi also part of the school staff. You asked if you could use your high connections to propose me for the position of Principal and I said I would rather follow the legitimate path to upward career mobility. In 2004, I was appointed Provincial Delegate of Culture for South West and you called to congratulate me and also remind me that you were a staff at the Ministry of Culture. Like everyone now knows, I was suspended from my duties as Provincial Delegate for “writing unpatriotic and offensive” articles against the state. I had served as Provincial Delegate only for three months but was given a suspension sentence for five years.

So when Minister Oyono who suspended me was replaced in 2008 by Minister Ama Tutu Muna, I came to Yaounde to acquaint Madam of my situation. You intercepted me on the staircase leading to the Ministry of Culture and insisted to know what had brought me to the Ministry. As I was about to explain you burst into a hilarious laughter and then said “Prof (as you always called me), do not bother to see the Minister, you and I have been blacklisted in the Ministry of Culture”. I still went ahead to see her and of course nothing changed about my suspension, safe for the fact that I was appointed to be hanging around in the Ministry of Culture Yaounde in 2009 with no specific duties. Three days after that functionless appointment, I wrote a letter on 27th April 2009, to the Minister to send me back to my Ministry of origin (Secondary Education) and left back for Buea. It was only in 2010 that I got a letter sending me back to Education.

Charles, you promised coming to Buea to launch your well acclaimed and award winning book “Les paradoxes du pays organisateur…” Every time you had a TV appearance you would call me later for my honest appraisal and the communication lines remained open between us even on that 21st February when I called your phone after reading the news and it must be one of your relatives who picked the call to confirm that you had gone.

You Charles Sylvestre Ateba Eyene have gone like Komla Afeke Dumor at the age of 41 just one year older than Komla. We all know that even though you, like Komla died so young you both lived a fulfilled life of values. Charles, Cameroonians shall continue to use the public domain (never have I seen a young man’s death find consensus and compassion in both the social and traditional media outlets) to discuss your vocal and frontal aspersions on both the elite and the policies of the state.

You, like Thomas Isidore Noel Sankara of Burkina Faso, tried to move the predatory elite from their comfort zone of material affluence to the battle front of policy influence. You, like Julius Sello Malema of South Africa, became an independent voice challenging the monolithic cacophony of your party caucus. You like, Albert Womah Mukong, Pierre Mila Assoute, Simon Anyopeuh Munzu acted like a lone ranger questioning the compass of the party-ship even if you always chose to exonerate the pilot from any blame. You, like Bernard Nsokika Fonlon, saw that the essence of academia was to transform the academic into a public intellectual, a political gadfly and a social advocate who pricks the conscience of humanity to reforms and the soul of society to renewal.

I know that even though you lie still and motionless, you have bonded a family reunion with your wife and your sisters and brothers (including Etoundi) who left this world before 21st February 2014. I am sure you can hear the echoes of the voices of the people on whose behalf you shouted. But have no illusions; some of them will sing your praises, others shall dance and castigate you and still others will be sitting on the fence. Some will call you a patriot, others a zealot and yet others a traitor. In this vocation of social advocacy you have both friends and foes. But like the old time musician Roger Daltrey would say “that is the way of the world”. My young student-friend, you now have the luxury of silence because the music from the celestial skies has lulled you to eternal rest.

I know that if you had your say, you would, like Martin Luther King, tell the mourners who shall attend your funeral on March 29th these words:

I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy tell them not to talk too long. Tell them not to mention that I have a PhD in political communication; that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I am an Alternate Member of the Central Committee of the C.P.D.M; that is not important. Tell them not to mention that I have published more than twenty books; that is not important. Just say that I was a drum major for justice and a votary of truth; tell the mourners what I lived for and not what I died of because many shall die of an illness but few shall live for an ideal. Tell them I lived trying to redesign the intra-party democratic architecture of my party yet even on my dying bed I wondered if I had succeeded.

Yes Charles, in this complex Cameroonian theatre of the absurd you have played your part and left the stage with a thunderous message and an indelible mission. It is left to the audience to, like Frantz Fanon says, either fulfill or betray that mission. Sleep, Charles, Sleep and do not bother to reply for where you are there are no pens or papers, just angelic voices and the Messiah’s trumpet call.

See online: Letter to Charles Ateba Eyene