Patrice Nganang

Beyond Commitment

a response to the Seminar’s Provocation

Patrice Nganang


It is impossible to write literature today without starting with Foucault’s and Barthes’ dictum according to which the author is dead, and with him any concept of ‘oeuvre’ – of ‘works’. That writing becomes possible only on the grave of a closed conception of literature is the gate to all possibilities, and new technology has made such possibilities tangible. From my first laptop I bought in Germany in 1992 to my present MacBook, I personally could see the realm of my computer expand in a truly dramatic fashion. From word processing to the internet and to social media, the transition from writing as a communication tool to networking through writing has certainly redefined the potentialities of literature. This expansion of the domain of a writer has impacted the way I practice literature, even though I do not have a personal webpage. Literature has never been a form of testimonial for me, but rather a way through which I intervene in life. It is important to say that to me, intervention means to anticipate and not react to political events. As such, it means more a participation in creating reality, than a comment on events in interviews and statements or declarations. This is a position I presented in Yaoundé in 2005, during a conference entitled ‘the dissident principle’. I will elaborate on two ways through which, combining literature and technology, I endeavor to create political meaning such as to achieve a sustained change in Cameroon:

1. Platforms: platforms are the most important tools in politics: political parties, petitions, etc., are all platforms, since platforms are a binding commitment of individuals who are determined to impact reality through a specifically defined way. If my Manifeste d’une Nouvelle Literature Africaine is a theoretical intervention in which I explained the anticipatory potential of literature, it is not a platform. The most important platforms I created to realize the ideas formulated in the Manifeste are: pulsations, a journal of new African writing, whose first issue will be published on April 14, 2012, spearheading different other possibilities, including its publication in the form of a newspaper in Cameroon, and possibly the creation of a publishing house; Tribunal Article 53, a citizen’s tribunal, whose goal is the rewriting of article 53 of the Cameroonian constitution that grant a post-mandate immunity of the current Cameroonian president; the setting of a mock trial against Paul Biya; the collection and publication of testimonies of the victims of the Biya regime; the sustained help provided to writers and journalists in the form of the Bibi Ngota Award for Journalism against Impunity in Africa, but also to prisoners in the form of gifts; and finally the constitution of a ground operation made of activists to educate Cameroonians in matters related to their rights: i.e. through campaigns like ‘arbiter!’ that combined soccer and politics during the All African Games. The platform unites many writers and intellectuals across the globe, and has already been legalized in Cameroon in the form of a NGO.

2. Networking: it would be too long to elaborate on the diverse ramifications of what I understand as networking since its essence is the factual and daily work with individuals scattered across the globe around specific issues, using mainly the internet: Skype, Facebook, etc. The most important examples here are: the campaign ‘9-10-11 Don’t Touch My Vote!’ which I ran with a Cameroon-based NGO, Cameroon O’Bosso during the last presidential election, and through which we could train 2000 voting observers and publish 30000 information booklets on voting procedures; the Committee for the Release of Bertrand Teyou (Coliberte), which united twenty intellectuals (critics, writers, etc.) to work for the release of Cameroonian writer Bertrand Teyou who was arrested and jailed for a book on Biya’s wife, was freed from jail after a successful campaign, and is currently on a year-long residency in Mexico City; the platform ENOH! for the Freedom of Enoh Meyomesse another jailed Cameroonian writer. The platform ENOH! connects many committees that are constituted across the globe with associations and people (it is made of around 70 people), to work for the release and rehabilitation of the writer who is currently facing fifty years in jail on false charges of having planned a coup d’état. Such intervention work, without having the formalization of platforms, are continuations of a personal dream I have, to establish a sustained Constitutional Front made of lawyers, writers, activists, journalists, politicians, in other words, made of people of resource on which one can always count in matters of urgency. As opposed to platforms, networks are therefore action groups and are ephemeral. If platforms are built around an idea (article 53, New African Writing) and are mostly a long term plan, networks are built around a necessity and are therefore a short term action plan, i.e. the arrest of somebody.

Ultimately, the function of platforms and networks is to redefine the position of a writer in African societies in such a way that writing can truly become a prehistory to reality and the writer less a social commentator than a creator of facts; a premonitory of the future. Technology is important in such a constellation particularly because I write about Cameroon and about Africa from outside: as such, technology is an extension of my hand. Yet a redefinition of a writer’s position in African societies is more than necessary, particularly because of the fact that today, all Africans are citizens (except in Morocco and in Swaziland), and as such the most urgent task for all Africans today is the protection and the defense of their rights; it is therefore the fight against their disenfranchisement by tyrants. That Africans are citizens today means that their subjectivity is defined in political terms not according to a malleable concept called ‘culture’ or its derivatives like ‘tradition’, nor according to ideologies (‘socialism’, ‘panafricanism’, etc.) but according to the texts of the law. In fact if during the nineties, particularly during the National Conferences and the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, with the sole exception of Benin, religious authorities, particularly priests and bishops (and never Imams), were tasked with the moral authority over the drafting of many an African country’s basic laws, with the Assises nationales it held between June 2008 and June 2009, Senegal finally gave a writer, an intellectual, Amadou Mahtar Mbow, the central position in the composition of that country’s future – a position even a political writer like Wole Soyinka struggled for but never truly achieved in Nigeria. This is a welcomed evolution and a realization of my personal dream for writing. After all, as a wordsmith, a writer is the true custodian of the republic. Contemporary Africans are fundamentally textual beings, and because of its intimacy with words and texts, literature provides the space on which the questions of their rights and citizenship are tested – preemptively.

This paper is circulated by the author under the terms of a Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 license. For details, see:

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