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THIS EARTH, MY BROTHER: Suggested Reading List For Marafa Hamidou Yaya 

By Francis Wache — It is debatable now, Mr Marafa Hamidou Yaya, whether history will recognise you as a linchpin of the CPDM, the umpteenth Secretary General of Mr Biya’s Presidency, the fire-fighting Minister of Territorial Administration who, at the last minute, salvaged doomed twin parliamentary and municipal elections in 2002 or the outstanding, popular, award-winning epistolary writer Cameroonians have recently discovered in you.

As you prepare to release your blockbuster account of your romance and tribulations with Biya’s New Deal, it might be helpful for you to see what your predecessors, languishing in fetid cells around the globe, penned down in their lonely moments. It is generally held that good reading precedes good writing. You are condemned to write because, as Martin Luther King Jr argues, “what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?”

It is in the spirit of easing your writing task, and tackling tedium in your dungeon, that I am proposing this reading list. I have no illusions that they’ll slam a heavy sentence against you. Something like 15 years at least. You know the reason: you’re too embarrassing a foe to be allowed loose on the streets. Whatever the case, have a good read.

1. For 27 years, Nelson Mandela groaned and moaned on Robben Island, South Africa’s Archipelago.  Besides leaving prison to become president, Mandela also published his best-selling and spell-binding autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, most of it scribbled secretly while in prison. While sequestered on Robben Island, Mandela used to coo with starry-eyed conviction: “We’ll leave this damned place and rule South Africa!” Most often, his companions guffawed. He was proved right.

He stepped out of prison to rule the multiracial South Africa. I gather you want to be President whenever you leave prison. That, to me, is a legitimate ambition. However, you must resolve to be, like Mandela, a transitional President who will put in place the democratic structures Cameroon sorely needs and then disappear.

2. Written from a prison cell, Martin Luther King’s Letter From A Birmingham Jail sparkles with tremendous elegance and rhythm and cadence.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was the remarkable Black-American leader of the civil rights struggle in the 60s. Letter From a Birmingham Jail is the pastor’s searing epistle from jail a la St Paul. King was a votary of Gandhian non-violence. This did not spare him from the indignities of the white rabid racists and segregationist bigots. He was arrested and confined in prison after he organised a non-violent protest against racial segregation.

It was while cooling his heels in that cell that King wrote his famous letter on April 16, 1963. In his letter, King argues that, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” That is why, Mr Marafa, while waiting for your date with destiny, you could ruminate on the following four steps of a Kingian non-violent campaign: “collection of facts to determine whether injustices exist (you have a battery of such facts, notably that compensation for victims of a plane is collected and distributed among brigands).

The next step is negotiation (remember that you should never negotiate out of fear but you should never fear to negotiate. You know the main stakeholders on both sides of the political divide so, negotiation should be easy.) The third step is self-purification (this is easier now that you are away from physical contamination.

In fact, this period of the current Ramadan must have afforded you enough time to engage in self-purification. The last step, of course, is direct action. As soon as you leave your dungeon either by acquittal or after serving your term, you must swing into action and occupy the public space that has been abandoned by all parties. You are sure to roll on the waves of popular acclaim.

3. Mahatma Gandhi began life as a swanky lawyer in apartheid South Africa and later metamorphosed into what Churchill contemptuously referred to as ‘a naked kafir’ crusader for the independence of India. Because of his non-violent approach and several fasts, he succeeded and India gained independence in 1948. Gandhi was a fierce revolutionary but he waged his battle in a peaceful manner.

In the end, he won. Later, Martin Luther King Jnr. of the “I Have a Dream” fame would emulate Gandhi with the extraordinary results that he scored in the civil rights movement. His dream lives on. Obama is a product of that dream. Don’t attempt any hunger strikes. Your jailers will only gleefully let you rot and happily announce that you committed suicide. Of course, Cameroon is not India.

4. The Man Died: In this book, Wole Soyinka, Africa’s first Nobel Laureate in Literature, narrates his ordeal in prison, the thoughts that besieged him and how he maintained his sanity. A key quotation in this book is: “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.”

Mr Marafa Hamidou Yaya, you are a man. A real man. With balls. Perhaps, you are the President that Cameroon never had – or will have. Whatever the case, make sure that the man in you does not die. In order to keep an agile mind and not descend into despondency, this book is a must read. One way I suggest for you to survive the travails of prison is to read omnivorously and to write compulsively, incessantly. Start reading (or rereading) from my list.

5. Adolf Hitler was a man gnawed with paranoia. He saw enemies everywhere. He was obsessed with power. Germany was too small for him. He wanted to rule the world. Anybody who disagreed with the Fuehrer’s grand design had to be muzzled or eliminated. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of those marked for elimination.

He was opposed to Hitler’s megalomania.  In 1943, while Hitler’s delusions of grandeur ballooned, Bonhoeffer was arrested, purportedly for plotting to assassinate Hitler. While in prison, he wrote Letters and Papers from Prison. That sounds like an inspiring title for your forthcoming book.

During Nazi Germany, he was a participant in the German resistance movement and a church leader. In 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested in a plot to assassinate Hitler and was executed two years later. These and other works remain influential in the role against tyranny and genocide. Heeding Dante’s warning, he opted for resistance. He paid the supreme price: he was executed.

6. Jack Henry wrote In the Belly of the Beast while serving a prison term for murder. During his imprisonment, he kept up a lively and copious correspondence with Norman Mailer, a distinguished American writer. It is generally believed that this stream of correspondence contributed to Jack Henry’s release after spending 25 years in prison. This book narrates the chilling and grim life behind bars, especially the effects of isolation on a prisoner’s mental state.

7. Writings of St. Paul: Mr Marafa Hamidou Yaya began his life on the side of the oppressors. Then, the thunder rumbled, and he began to give sleepless nights to the regime through his letters from Kondengui. Rattled, the regime transferred him to the safer SED. Paul of Tarsus, also known as Saint Paul, was a ferocious persecutor of the Christians until he started preaching the Good News after Christ died. Because of his evangelisation, he was repeatedly arrested and detained. Anytime he was in prison, he wrote profusely to his followers. The Pauline Letters or the “Writings of Saint Paul” refer, in general, to his letters and teachings.

8. The last but not the least would be publications from your jailed erstwhile colleagues. They, too, have heeded Martin Luther King Jr.’s prediction that writing while in prison becomes automatic because, as he puts it, “what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?”

Your co-prisoners have not left their pens idle: They could give you a new perspective: Jean Marie Atangana Mebara wrote Lettres d’Ailleurs while Titus Edjoa following his mystical predilections has published Meditations (Jacques Fame Ndongo, the specialist on penitentiary literature, is still to review this book.)

Yves Michel Fotso’s pen, too, has not been idle. In fact, he wrote some letters to his billionaire dad. They make compelling reading. So, you see, this is quite a useful list that will spare you any boredom as you await your rendezvous with destiny.

First published in The Post print edition no 01376

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