Listen to this story:
YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A leading priest in Cameroon has challenged intellectuals in the central African country to be constant seekers of truth, as the nation was reeling from the gruesome murder of a journalist, whose body was found on the outskirts of the capital, Yaoundé, at the beginning of the week.
The remains of journalist Martinez Zogo were found on Sunday, after his disappearance January 17. Reports say Zogo had sought refuge from his assailants in a police station, but was taken before he reached safety. Zogo had been reporting on a corruption story, and frequently used his Amplitude FM radio station to highlight similar stories involving government officials and others.
“[W]e live in a world where people are telling us that other things are more important than human life,” said Father Humphrey Tatah Mbuy, Director of Social Communications for the Catholic bishops of Cameroon. “For a few dollars or euros,” he said, “people are ready to do away with human life.”
“Human life in our world today has been reduced to nothing,” Mbuy said. “When we were growing up, if you saw blood, you followed up to make sure that it is not human blood. Today, the spilling of human blood is so much and so common that children jump over corpses and call it roasted meat.”
Mbuy was speaking January 24 in Yaoundé, at an event to honor prominent Cameroonian historian, Willibroad Dze-Ngwa.
A Catholic who teaches political history and international relations at the University of Yaoundé I and serves as founding executive director of the Africa Network against Illiteracy, Conflicts, and Human Rights Abuse, Willibroad Dze-Ngwa has been honored with the title of Professor.
Dze-Ngwa said the title is only as good as the use he makes of it. “Professorship only means something if I use it for the service of humanity,” Dze-Ngwa said.
Dze-Ngwa has been front-and-center in national efforts to find solutions to separatist conflict in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions, and has done substantial work in the drive to disarm, demobilize and resettle ex-Bokom fighters and separatists.
Cameroon was divided into English and French mandate territories after World War I, followed by a period of UN Trusteeships and then independence in 1960-1961 under a federal system that was unsatisfactory to everyone. There were years of civil strife and strongman leadership, as well as tensions with neighboring Nigeria and Chad.
Telling the story of the country’s frequently troubled emergence from colonialism into a unified national and political identity has not always been a straightforward matter. When past bleeds into the present, public intellectuals are tempted as much as others to serve partisan ends.
Mbuy’s remarks also touched on the tense and ongoing struggle for truth and integrity in the Cameroonian academy, especially among those who document and chronicle Cameroon’s history.
“We live in a world in which people have relativized the truth in such a way that people lie with impunity,” the priest said. “The truth is frightening,” he also said. “Of course, the truth frightens because only the truth can liberate.”
Mbuy said he gets sorely disappointed when university teachers, who ought to be dedicated to pursuit of truth, instead distort it – especially when they do so apparently to serve political causes.
Quoting a great Cameroonian champion of bilingualism, Prof. Bernard Fonlon, Mbuy said intellectuals should be constant seekers of good and right and implacable opponents of evil and wrong.
“An academic who lies is a counterfeit: it’s one of those that the late Professor Fonlon said should be made anathema,” Mbuy said. He also said academics should be able to investigate and get to the truth of things, highlighting the goodness and beauty inherent in truth, and at the same time work tirelessly to expose and dispel falsehood.
Mbuy also called on intellectuals to use their knowledge for the service of humanity.
“Education has to do with humanity,” he stated. “No matter how well educated you are, if you are not able to respect human life, you are nothing.” Calling the human person “the center and height of creation,” Mbuy said there is “nothing in the world that is more [valuable] than human life.”
The eclipse of God in public intellectual life was another of Mbuy’s themes.
“If you don’t have God at the center of your life, then you are a clever devil,” Mbuy said. “Education without God is nothing.” He called on Dze-Ngwa to always keep God at the center of his life, keep defending the truth and use his academic accolades for the service of humanity.
“In most of our African tribes, no matter what you have and no matter how much power you can control, if you do not respect human beings, they call you a nothing person. It’s not what you have that is important. It is how many people you can impact.”