« Corruption in Sub-Saharan Africa is a grotesquely multi-faceted monster, capable of making your blood run cold ( ) Like leprosy, it eats away at African societies, thwarting any real development. » Mongo Beti, Dictionnaire de la Négritude, Hamattan, 1989
« I was born in a context in which writers necessarily took a political stance » (1) said Mongo Beti during an interview with our journal. It is no coincidence that we have chosen to quote Mongo Beti as an introduction to this edition: he was an unflagging opponent of corruption and called for « non-violent civil resistance » (2). Every year since his death, Cameroon and neighbouring Nigeria have fought neck and neck to be ranked first on Transparency International’s list of the world’s most corrupt countries!
Given the singular context, it is not surprising that this issue-our 60th-is particularly critical.
In a country in which the majority of the population does not have access to drinking water, despite its abundance, culture seems to be an unheard-of luxury for most.
The state has long failed in this field. Only 0.15% of its budget is allocated to funding a Ministry for Culture that has become a Sleeping Beauty. The subversive nature of his works (Une vie de boy*, Le vieux nègre et la médaille*) inspired great expectations and yet the prestigious writer Ferdinand Léopold Oyono did little to change the status quo during his six years as Minister. The true creators, who refused to belong to a sterile, superficial intelligentsia, had no other choice but to go into exile. Organizing the few festivals that pretty much constitute the most of cultural activity is not an easy task, given the lack of basic infrastructures, particularly auditoriums. Cultural activity would certainly no longer exist if it weren’t for the support of NGOs and foreign cultural centres.
There is no shortage of private initiatives but they are almost always short-lived, largely due to a lack of funding, but also because they lack professionalism and have almost no collective spirit. A good example of this is the failed attempt to resolve once and for all the crucial problem of writer royalties, which was thwarted by excessive debate, scheming and personal rivalries. In Cameroon, when the media mention culture, it is almost always in relation to some financial scandal or other.
And yet, this « Sleeping Beauty » is very much a beauty!
Cameroon is probably the African country with the most active traditional, pre-colonial, cultural heritage, which is an inexhaustible source of inspiration.
In every field, from multimedia art to rap, dance, sculpture, literature and theatre, renewed forms and styles are proof of an incredible potential that is mostly expressed beyond the country’s borders.
The real protagonists-the artists-of the Cameroonian cultural scene need an outlet through which to express their impatience and anger. The intent of this issue is neither to shower them with praise, nor to provide a catalogue. With a major election looming, this issue might serve as a « list of grievances » for a possible analysis of the state of culture in Cameroon.
Institutions and attitudes alike will need to be revolutionised if Sleeping Beauty is to be brought back to life.
*Translated as Houseboy (1966), The Old Man and the Medal (1969)1. Interview by Boniface Mongo-Mboussa with Mongo Beti, Africultures, 16 March 1999.
2. Interview by Patrice Nganang with Mongo Beti, Africultures, 14 May 1999.///Article N° : 5726