For those of you versed with the sociopolitical crisis affecting the English-speaking regions of Cameroon, It is still a shock to many that what started over five years ago as a peaceful protest by teachers and lawyers has metamorphosed before our very own eyes into an armed conflict. The degree of material, immaterial and human loss incurred so far and the effects of such loss and instability have left many in despair. For over five years, different voices and stakeholders have tried to raise awareness and advocate for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Among such initiatives, is the Raising Voices for Peace project masterminded by Njakoy Wan Nditoh. That’s basically what we are here to talk about today.
TS: Welcome to our chat room Njakoy.
Njakoy: Thank you. It is a pleasure for me.
TS: The “Raising Voices for Peace” project was your initiative. What was your inspiration? We are aware that it’s a reaction to the ongoing conflict in the English-speaking part of the country but, what exactly caught your attention?
Njakoy: Being in the shoes of someone who has directly been affected by the ongoing armed conflict in the English regions of Cameroon, I naturally felt that it was my duty to add my voice to the already existing campaigns which were appealing for a cessation of hostilities. When mention was made of negotiations, the ultimate wish was for a sincere dialogue that hopefully would have corrected the wrongs and thus put an end to the situation before it went out of control.
So, when the hashtag End Anglophone Crisis Now was doing rounds on social media and garnering both national and international support, I felt like this was the right time for me to mobilize several poets in a bid to weigh in on the message. That is, putting an end to this crisis which could have been averted if we had prioritized the force of argument and not the argument of force.
TS: If my memory doesn’t fail, this came up after the gruesome killing of school children in Kumba. Was that the immediate cause or should I say, instigator?
Njakoy: From the moment the strike action degenerated into an armed conflict, it always appeared to me that we collectively needed to do something early enough in order to avoid reaching the point of no return. Instinctively, I didn’t really know what powerful step I could take to add my voice to those who were already doing a lot in that direction. However, when two of my poems were accepted in an anthology that described the lived experiences of people from these crisis-hit regions, I saw in the project an opportunity to develop other avenues through which people could call for an end to the conflict without necessarily going beyond the boundaries of the law. It is in this direction that the idea was nurtured. However, the unfortunate gruesome killing of pupils in Kumba could be said to be the sounding call that led to the birth of this project. There was no other better time than that one. The sad event made us realize how fast we were running out of time. As such, given that it is in times like these that people are prone to expressing their recollected experiences and sense of unadulterated creativity, our team saw in it an opportunity to reach a larger audience with our message of peace while at the same time sensitizing Cameroonians on the importance of joining their voices so as to create an impact. It was no longer a matter of who was Anglophone or not. We were all concerned as a nation. And as a result, we all had to raise our voices to say, “stop”.
TS: The title: “Raising Voices for Peace” is a catchy one. Why this choice?
Njakoy: As an experienced communicator, you would bear with me that memorable and catchy slogans are extremely vital in communication campaigns like these ones in which the very existence of the state, as well as the livelihood of its citizens, are on the line of total destruction due to misunderstandings that have shaped the social and ideological construct of a people over time. As such, in order to avoid creating a situation of dissension that may put to question one’s neutrality (in quotes) as an observer of the unraveling facts, the other co-authors and myself, had to brainstorm on an encompassing and catchy title that could better represent all the voices of potential contributors put together. So, by entitling this poetry collection “Raising Voices for Peace”, we were out to underline the fact that all the children of Cameroon irrespective of their cultural or linguistic backgrounds were voicing out their desire for a return to normalcy in the English Speaking regions of Cameroon.
TS: The next question was supposed to be on the goals of this project. Your answer already touched on that. Is there anything you would like to elaborate on?
Njakoy: Definitely… The goal of this project was first and foremost to throw more weight behind the End Anglophone Crisis Now campaign and of course to sensitize Cameroonians on the importance of renewing with peace and prioritizing peaceful avenues in solving internal as well as external differences. Because if you would ask me, I would be tempted to say that though Cameroon has often appeared as an island of peace in the sub-region, the argument of force has unfortunately been used several times to attend to issues that needed to be treated with peaceful mechanisms.
TS: Why poetry? Why didn’t you organize a demonstration like different groups have been doing?
Njakoy: Unfortunately, I couldn’t organize a demonstration like others did because I believed that there still existed several other underutilized methods to bring back peace. And, committed literature just appeared to be one of them. More so, I was, and am still very convinced that this method is more sustainable and risk-free in an attempt to raise awareness toward achieving the goal behind Raising Voices for Peace.
TS: How many poets or contributors were you able to group?
Njakoy: It is very surprising that though the call for submissions was on very short notice, we were able to bring on board over 65 poets from all cultural and linguistic backgrounds in Cameroon. The collection was indeed a veritable representation of Cameroon’s convivial diversity.
TS: Dealing with such several people probably wasn’t easy. How did you manage the number and did you work alone?
Njakoy: I am a very flexible and accommodating person. And, I am very thankful that members of the brainstorming committee behind this project share similar traits. So, we had to design a strategy which consisted of sampling the submissions, identifying those that were in line with our requirements, editing them and then contacting their authors individually in order to reach an agreement on the versions that were to appear in the finished copy. Of course, there were times we had to make concessions so as to strike a balance which proved indispensable given different specificities and writing techniques. You shouldn’t forget that all poets know when and how to brandish their poetic licenses.
TS: We noticed there are some poems in the collection written in French. Is the attitude towards the subject matter the same as those written in English?
Njakoy: Yes, that’s a brilliant remark. We even went beyond French and English and accepted submissions written in pidgin English. And this was purposefully made to give room to all Cameroonians who felt that they had something to contribute towards the attainment of our commune objective which was that of silencing guns and championing a return to peace and normalcy in the Anglophone Regions. As you know, Cameroon belongs to all of us, and there was, therefore, no logical reason for us to leave anyone behind because of a language barrier or the fear of incomprehension given that whatever thing that happens in the two English regions, repercussions are being felt everywhere within the national triangle.
TS: Why was the collection made available to all for free? Why didn’t you sell the book at a giveaway price or use it to raise money for the internally displaced?
Njakoy: I think peace has no price. And, as a committed writer, it would be morally wrong for me to commercialize material that can create awareness and sensitize Cameroonians on the importance of peace. There is an urgent need for us to renew with peace in this nation, and if we truly love this country, we shouldn’t be motivated by financial remuneration but, rather, we should prioritize saving lives over everything. As for the possibility of raising funds through this book to assist internally displaced persons, we are planning in the near future to partner with organizations which have demonstrated some level of credibility in this domain. We could animate their fundraising campaigns with a live recitation of poems from this collection.
TS: Do you think the objectives were attained?
Njakoy: Without being overzealous, I would say time will tell whether we did a good job or not. The project is alive. And like a dove, it is flying towards the right quarters at every given second. And so, we remain very hopeful that the real actors and stakeholders of the Anglophone Crisis will heed the call and add their voices to ours and together we will preach peace. For, a house divided against itself cannot stand.
TS: Apart from the initiative you came up with (that is writing) what other means would you have loved to use to convey your message?
Njakoy: To the best of my ability, I think, this is the only way I as a common citizen would have been more effective in conveying my message of peace and the silencing of guns.
TS: The book is free but how accessible is it considering that it’s an ebook? What efforts have been made for it to reach its target audience?
Njakoy: I must confess here that we are still to satisfactorily sensitize the Cameroonian audience about the easy accessibility of the book. Actually, from observation, the idea of ebooks seems not to be very popular among Cameroonians. People tend to prefer hard copies over soft ones and that is why despite the existence of free soft copies, a lot of people have contacted us for hard copies instead. This notwithstanding, publishing the anthology as an ebook was a strategic decision.
We were faced with time constraints and at the same time, we eagerly wanted to hit the nail while the iron was still hot. Publishing the anthology as a free ebook, therefore, was the best and most affordable option we had. If we had waited and gone through the painstaking process of publishing the collection as a hard copy, we might have lost the attention of our audience. Also, given the short notice, there were chances that we might not have been able to garner the needed financial means indispensable to producing enough copies that could be freely distributed to Cameroonians
TS: Any issue(s) left unaddressed by the poets that you would love to table and comment on?
Njakoy: I think the book, through the plethora of themes highlighted across the over 150 poems that make up the collection, did satisfactorily address our main concern and thus, by doing so, it equally created avenues that could be explored by stakeholders in their quest to provide a long-lasting solution to this crisis that is slowly materializing into civil strife.
TS: Are there any future projects at the moment? Are there any plans for a second edition or a second volume? Or maybe something completely different?
Njakoy: Of course, we are looking forward to perpetuating the movement. There are going to be other projects for sure though I can’t tell with certainty the type of themes that we will be dealing with. This notwithstanding, I can guarantee you that the collective is looking toward other fruitful collaborations of this nature. There is a possibility for a volume 2 but this will depend more on the evolution of matters on the ground. However, for some time now, we have been contacting publishing houses with whom to partner so as to revise this present edition and publish some hard copies that would be eventually distributed to public libraries in Cameroon.
TS: Thanks for agreeing to share with us. It was an enlivening and enlightening exchange. Thanks for your time and best of luck with your future endeavours.
Njakoy: Thank you. It was a pleasure.
Click here to download a free copy of Raising Voices for Peace.