In the Spring of 2015, I submitted a paper to an edited collection on the subject of political commitment in intellectual life. The book’s editors notified me that my piece had been accepted, but other messages followed, citing vague difficulties. Along with my fellow contributors I waited for news of the project, until I woke up one morning two years later suspecting that something was amiss beyond the usual slow pace of publishing timelines.
It occurred to me that if a circumstance having nothing to do with literature were causing a delay in the publication process, then it might be stifling communications too.
The editors were based at the University of Maroua, Cameroon. I presumed that, as English speakers, they belonged to a minority group. I became interested in their conditions in December 2017, when Dr Patrice Nganang, a Cameroonian-born author and professor at Stony Brook University, was detained by the Cameroonian government for three weeks, on charges of seditious libel—eventually dropped—for a Facebook post (now deleted) that criticized twenty-seven-year President Paul Biwa (who has since been re-elected), and an article in Jeune Afrique that described the ordinary reality of Cameroonian people, whose nationwide use of both French and English has been politicized and weaponized.
Dr Nganang’s arrest, and the official public statements concerning it, suggested an atmosphere of suppression and menace, sufficient to discourage if not prevent the publication of a project like ours, and to silence anybody undertaking one.
I learned that, for all the documentation of violent clashes between apparently rogue Cameroonian military personnel and the alleged Anglophone separatists of the southwest region—violent attacks on the part of the military, initially denied by the authorities, and later admitted, following an exposé in the press—a much more serious situation exists, involving multiple documented incidents in schools converted into army outposts in the northern towns of Zelevet and Salak, atrocities that point to a systemic policy of human rights abuse, under which civilians are detained without trial in brutal conditions and tortured as part of an official campaign against Boko Haram, with the United States’ training and support. The University of Maroua is situated between these areas, a mere twelve miles from Salak.
When I found out that the United States military was involved in the persecution of Cameroonian citizens by their own government, I volunteered to help get the book published if I could.