‘But Akem Is In His Grave, And, Oh, The Difference To Me!’ – Wordsworth
One foreding morning when I was just settling down for breakfast on my Kenwood dining table, I received a distress call from one of my big uncle’s sons, Benedict Akem Ngong. Akem addresses me ‘Ba’ – meaning ‘Father’ – each time he calls to keep me posted with the situation of the family and life in Muteff village. During such calls, he would protest how he planned to visit me in Bamenda but couldn’t because of my constant travels within and without Cameroon . The time I was around he couldn’t visit because the road to Bamenda had been blocked .
Despite all this, Akem would never cease pleading with me not to give up on buying and keeping all the English-language newspapers which, as had always been the case, l would send to him. He had the penchant for those that reported on the demise and burial of his political idol, Ni John Fru Ndi, the late SDF Chairman. He comforted himself with the fact that although the road blockade had frustrated his intention to personally travel to Bamenda to witness the funeral, he would make up for it by reading about the politician’s life and politics in newspaper reports.
Over the past years, Akem used to rely on me to buy English language newspapers from Bamenda and send them to him in Muteff village, situated dozens of miles away. He would advise me never to be worried about the newspapers’ publication dates, further reminding me that since he was one of the few in the community to have access to them, he was the source of authentic information. He was also using the facts published in such newspapers as The Guardian Post, The Post, The Herald Tribune, The Voice, Newswatch, Municipal Updates, The Advocate, The Reporter, and Cameroon Tribune , to dispel political misinformation and disinformation especially on the latest happenings in the war-torn two English- speaking regions of North West and South West.
Since it was usually difficult to find available and trustworthy individuals going to Muteff from Bamenda, I used to buy and keep the newspapers until such a time that he would find one. Akem resolved to spend virtually 10% of his hard-earned income as a farmer to pay for the newspapers. While his mates in the village would call to request one financial assistance or another, Akem’s calls were usually to remind me to keep the newspapers for him. He was always quick to reassure me of his ability to repay me. He would also express his zeal to one day be a councillor on the SDF ticket to spearhead development in Muteff. While other able-bodied men and boys in the community spent nine of the 12 months of the year in farms at Cameroon’s coast, Akem never spent more than three months out of Muteff village. While struggling to always be in the know of any fresh information, Akem would substitute the delay in the delivery of the newspapers by listening to the local CRTV and Ndefcam radio stations, and even the BBC World Service. His inability to receive newspapers in real time was a major man-made handicap.
But on Monday, August 6, 2023, I was too busy to pick one of his usual early morning calls. In the wee hours of Tuesday, August 7, 2023, I received a call from a kid brother in Muttef who delivered to me the sad news of Akem’s gruesome killing the previous night by suspected Anglophone secessionist militants.
As a strong advocate of the right to self-esteem and self-determination of minority Anglophones in Cameroon, Akem was not only an unapologetic reader of Anglophone newspapers, but also a staunch supporter of the SDF political party which coincidentally had its fief in the Anglophone regions. He held firmly to the belief that minority language newspapers needed the support of everyone in society. And although this 50+ years old gentleman never went beyond Government Secondary School, GSS, Fundong (where he was nicknamed Yorks because he hated copying notes and so relied on past students’ notes), Akem was, by every measure, a fast learner . In the process, he developed very strong political convictions that enabled him not to be pushed around by just anybody. Although Akem hated copying notes, he read widely which catapulted him to know many poems by heart, including Keate’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ and Shelley’s ‘ Ozymandias’. But the one poem I recommend in his memory is William Wordsworth’s ‘She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways’, and for a reason.
Akem was quite a reclusive guy. He was also a self-made man who had grown to also become a wholesale supplier of drinks in Muteff. He hardly ever discussed the details of his social life with anyone, although he occasionally made failed attempts to get married. Yet, he was full of love for mankind and would openly disagree with anybody without meaning any evil, less so in colluding to spill any human blood. When they came after him that fateful Monday night, he couldn’t run for his dear life because of his childhood leg deformity. He meant a lot to me, to well-meaning Muteffians, and the entire English language newspaper community in Cameroon.
As an avid reader of the minority English-language newspapers in Cameroon, Akem joins the silent majority that has gone before him, bubbling with dreams of contributing to a better fatherland that never was. He is certainly one of those who have been worried about the dwindling fortunes of English language newspapers caused by the tough economic headwinds. He was also fed up with mass murders and senseless killings of potential buyers, readers, and advertisers. Since the beginning of the over-seven-year conflict, Akem refused to rely on social media as a veritable source of information. He always stayed glued to the old school – the printed word. Apart from myself, no journalist or media owner/publisher ever knew of his existence and his attachment to the newspaper world. The reason for my dirge which is culled from William Wordsworth’s famous lines:
‘(He) dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove
A Maid whom there was none to praise,
And very few to love…
He lived unknown, and few could know
When (Akem) ceased to be
But (he) is in his grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!’
If all of Benedict Akem Ngong’s two legs were well formed, he could surely have survived the deadly onslaught on his life.
Minority English-language newspapers in Cameroon might have been handicapped by the seven-year prolonged deadly conflict and the tough economic headwinds, but their new umbrella kid on the bloc, the Cameroon English Language Newspapers Association, CENPA had been quick to begin conducting a diagnosis of their dire situation and launching an advocacy aimed at lobbying the government to institute special measures to assist them to remain solvent.
This is critical not just because minority English language newspapers have lost most of their customers like Akem, and others to the seven-year-senseless war, but also because since the outbreak of the conflict, a critical mass of readers has migrated to propaganda slots and mediums fanning the flames of the conflict online. With violent extremism on the rise, middle-of-the-road and traditional media outlets publishing in the English language and English-speaking audiences in Cameroon have been threatened by crosswinds, especially with the acute lack of business supplements from the corporate world.
Supporting Minority English language Media would give Akem a peaceful rest:
The recent call by CENPA on the government of Cameroon to urgently take special measures to support the ailing minority media finds expression in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National, Ethnic, Religious, and Linguistic Minorities, unanimously adopted on December 18, 1992. The said Declaration requires that States ensure that minority voices are continuously heard and their issues incorporated into mainstream media and culture. It compels States to ‘support minority language media because they are key to promoting minority cultures and identities, and providing marginalized groups with access to information about wider social issues’. Akem was a strong believer of this UN Declaration which if the government of Cameroon respected in the first place, the current deadly conflict would have been avoided.
2023 has been one of the most challenging years for the news media in the world in general and Cameroon in particular. Charitable giving for non-profit media outlets like The Colbert Factor has declined to the lowest levels recorded ever since we introduced the reader-supported model.
Despite such challenges, we remain optimistic about the future of The Colbert Factor (soon to become The Gwain Factor) thanks to the incredible generosity of readers like you who chip in to support our vision and mission.
But right NOW, we are far behind the fundraising goals we set for The Colbert Factor to support school resumption in the local Muteff community, where Benedict Akem came from, and where educating the younger generation was his forte. We wish we were faster so we quickly close this chapter and settle down to our ever-demanding job of creating the kind of relevant content you have always loved.
Will you support The Colbert Factor today to send over 200 dropouts back to school in the adjacent village communities of Muteff, Abuh, and Ngwah? Just MoMo 677852476
And you would be putting a smile on someone’s face with your widow’s mighty mite