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Sam-Nuvala Fonkem And The Foot-Prints of An Exceptional Era Of Journalism In Cameroon 

I usually shun hyperbole in speech and writing, but I can state that by ensuring the legacy for posterity of Cameroon Report (Cameroon Calling), Sam-Nuvala Fonkem placed indelible foot-prints of an exceptional era in Radio Journalism in Cameroon.  In November 2014, I was lounging during a break from panels at the African Studies Association Conference in Indianapolis, IN when my friend and countryman, Dr. Augustine Ayuk eagerly waved a book at me.  I could barely restrained my excitement when I saw the title:  Incisive Journalism: The Best of Cameroon Report (1978-1986) by Sam-Nuvala Fonkem.  As I turned the book over, thumbed through the pages, my eyes misted.  We wrote at the late 1970s and 1980s long before the digital dawn.  Yet, I held a record of our time in my hand.

Why was I almost in tears?

First of all was the surprise.   Sam had carefully held on to the scripts we wrote long – hand about two decades ago.  For me personally, as I stumbled on a piece I wrote about Alexander Haig, the then US Secretary of State on yet another attempt at the elusive peace between Israelis and Palestinians, it felt like I had gone full circle.  Sam had encouraged me to read and to write about American affairs among my other diverse interests.  And in 2014, I was looking at the beginning of my academic journey as a teacher of US Foreign Policy today!  All of the Cameroon Report team of that era, especially those of us who contributed to the edited volume by Sam dispersed around the world like prodigal children; some had passed on to eternity.  It is the book, edited by Sam that ensured the world should never forget a time in history when “the best of Cameroon Report” was produced.  It is a legacy that we should hope the generation of Journalists today will emulate.

Regulars to the watering holes, the bars, we visited in Melen and other locales in Yaounde often wondered aloud how a group of Journalists, guzzlers of beer and other potent liquids could sober up enough to produce the work you find in Incisive Journalism.  Sam worked hard in the newsroom, but, like all of us, enjoyed a good drink, puffing away as he smoked and chatted with local folk.  To him, the places where people of all classes gathered were Journalistic beats of sorts – there we felt the heart-beat of the street, of the country.  We got tid-bits of where to look for facts to support the stories and the commentary we wrote.   Did we go overboard with the drinking at times? Of course, Sam would have been the first to concur.   He carefully distinguished between his professional responsibilities and the life of an ordinary citizen.

Sam was eager to pass on Journalistic skills not only to us in the newsroom; he paved that path to teaching that most of us took after Radio Cameroon Days.  We followed his lead into teaching and International Organizations in Cameroon and elsewhere.

Sam was a leader of an exceptional era of Radio Journalism in Cameroon.  That era produced legacies such as his edited volume that will continue to remind all of the first-rate work of his peers.  It was an era that stirred intellectual ambitions generated in the raucous newsroom as we debated and ran down the stairs on Saturday mornings to record our segments for Cameroon Report.  It was also an era that steeled his peers to face professional setbacks and move forward and away – some into graduate schools and faculty positions across the world; others, like Sam-Nuvala Fonkem into senior management positions at the United Nations, the World Bank, and elsewhere.

It was a glorious era, indeed. And we all miss Sam already.

Benn L. Bongang, Ph.D

Professor & Chair

Department of Political Science & Public Affairs

College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences

Savannah State University

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