Update: Less than two hours after reception and immediate release of this DECLARATION, we learnt from Cinépress (Cameroonian Film Critics, association member of Africiné) that the young filmmaker have been found early the same day - April 3rd, 2013, in Mendong area, Yaoundé 6, grievous bodily harm with a amputated finger. - The Facilitator, Africiné
For quite some days now, the kidnapping of Richard Djif, young film maker and multitalented artist, has sent shock waves across the Cameroonian public opinion. He was flagrantly abducted between the night of Saturday 23rd to the morning of Sunday 24th March 2013 at the Bonamoussadi student residential neighbourhood in Yaoundé.
At the origin of this horrendous and cowardly act, the release and screening of his latest movie, named: 139... LES DERNIERS PRÉDATEURS (139... The Last Predators), which depicts the abuses of a 139-year-old totalitarian regime, in an imaginary country named Chimpanz. The young director, Djif, and the other movie stars have in recent weeks been receiving poison-pen messages warning them to immediately stop distributing the film.
This abduction intervenes amidst authoritarian tensions in Cameroon, noticeable for several years now by multifaceted barriers to free dissemination of works of artistic creativity, orchestrated by the powers that be, and targeting especially film productions, via outright censorship and prohibition of the screening of films and documentaries deemed "embarrassing". The real issue with these works, beyond the authoritarian pretext of "breach of public order", is their (real or alleged) scathing attack of the Biya regime in power
since 1982, or that of a few multinationals operating in Cameroon and which are objective allies of the regime.
A few cases in point
April 2011: A human rights film festival organized in Yaoundé, which had all the required authorizations, is eventually banned just a few hours before the launching ceremony. The reason evoked: "Absence of approval of the Minister of Culture on all films to be screened".
The Big Banana Trailer from Franck on Vimeo.
Still in April 2011: The screening of the documentary La Banane (Banana) is prohibited.
Directed by Franck Bieleu, the documentary portrays the situation of slave labour to which are reduced Cameroonian workers on the banana plantations in Penja, run by the French company PHP, as well as the subordination and passive and/or active compliance of the political and administrative authorities in Cameroon towards PHP.
August 2011: Ama Tutu Muna, Minister of Culture and President of the "National Commission for the control of cinematographic works and audio recordings", which is also shamelessly referred to as the "Censorship Commission" formally prohibited the "use and/or import of the film Le Correspondant (The Reporter) across the Cameroonian territory". The film in question is a feature film directed by Henri Fotso. It is about a young African journalist sent on a mission on an island to cover general elections for a new parliament and the designation of a new Prime Minister. Is it the film's central theme of "political change" which was so blistering as to frighten members of the "Censorship Commission?" What's more, some officials of the Ministry of Culture discreetly advised the film maker that it would be better to file a query with the Commission of Censorship and "wait for the October [ 2011] presidential elections to pass by" [Note 1]...
In the month of March 2013: It is a recent film from director Jean-Pierre Bekolo named Le Président. Comment sait-on qu'il est temps de partir ? (President. How do we know it is time to leave?) that was under censorship. The ban had not yet been formally served to the director; but the French Institute of Yaoundé, in a gesture of amazing indulgence to the stifling of individual and collective freedoms, set the tone by refusing to screen the film on the pretext that the director had not "obtained the rights to broadcast [it] in Cameroon". This means, in simple terms, that the film may not have received the visa of the "Commission of Censorship".
The authoritarian drift
Far from being specific to the field of cinema, the persecution of critical thinking continues to invade the entire public space in various forms. In literature, the case of the writer and essayist ENOH MEYOMESSE is the most telling example of the authoritarian excesses of the Cameroonian regime for which the law no longer has anything to do with justice, but is primarily used to transform thought ‘ crime into violation of common law and ultimately cover up villainy. ENOH MEYOMESSE, was arrested on November 22, 2011, tortured and imprisoned on alleged grounds that he was the brain behind a gang of thugs… The travesty of justice that ensued resulted in the conviction of the writer for seven years in prison, despite the outrage of the national and international public opinion.
In universities, a brutal repression against the rare autonomous student movements is being openly conducted. In August 2012, four students, members of the Association for the Defence of students' rights in Cameroon (more popular under its French acronym Addec)
were given a three-year suspended prison sentence, for having planned a demonstration within the campus of the University of Yaounde II. They were in actual fact demanding the departure of the corrupt rector who was then at the helm of this institution.
Since February 2013, it has been the turn of leaders and members of the University of Buea Students' Union (UBSU) who have been arrested, tortured and imprisoned at the central prison of the city of Buea, before being brought before the courts. They are guilty of
having been opposed to the rather surrealistic and Bolshevik decision of the Vice Chancellor to have student representatives elected by a college of university lecturers! Minang Roger, the president of UBSU, kidnapped on February 14, 2013 and detained later at the central prison of Buea for several weeks, could only recover his freedom after having paid a FCFA 500,000 bail (about USD 1,000), as ordered by the judges who were clearly receiving instructions from the government. Some of the trials against these students are currently underway. They will be appearing in court again on April 4th, with the complaining party being the Vice Chancellor and the Governor of the South West region.
This sad chronicle of barriers to individual and collective freedoms is definitely not exhaustive and could be extended to political organisations, as was recently observed with the incarceration and indictment of two political leaders of the UPC political party in Douala,
for having planned to hold a public demonstration yet regularly declared.
It is therefore not only intellectual and artistic creativity that is in peril, but freedom, democracy and justice. And it is in this context where authoritarian zeal, the grotesque as well as buffoonery race for victory that the censorship of films branded as "politically incorrect" is systematized. The threats received by Richard Djif after the release of his film and the kidnapping that ensued should rightly be understood as part of such a trend, which is akin to excision of artistic creativity.
Indiscriminate and unjustifiable brutality.
Richard Djiff and some members of the crew that produced the dreaded film had received several threatening messages between the 16th and the 23rd March on their mobile phones. Here are some excerpts (translation ours):
"MR. Fofie Djimeli; you no longer have time to run. Stop your destabilization. That's the goal of your film. Death is around the corner"; "those manipulating you should be bold enough to reveal themselves. Your film is aggressive; it is a threat to social peace. Keep it in video clubs….if you take it to households you will pay dearly; unless you think you are immortal." ; "Mr. FOUOFIE DJIMELI and colleagues, you don't have an interest in living. You've decided to dig our grave, so we'll make sure you fall in first"; " MR. FOUOFIE DJIMELI, journalists and political analysts would do nothing to save you. You will be crushed. Withdraw this crap from circulation. Be careful! Be careful! Be careful! " ; " MR. FOUOFIE DJIMELI, you no longer have much time to be on the run, stop your
destabilization, that's the only goal of your film. Death is at the corner "; "Mr. FOUOFIE DJIMELI, it's not hard to get you a coffin. NJAWE's friends and ADDEC will all be present at the cemetery. This conspiracy of a movie will be stopped and we will be longlived"
On March 26, two days after the disappearing of the film maker, the actors who starred in the film received this other sms: "We have proofs of the conspiracy against peace at E12 [ Richard Djif's house number]. You don't want to abdicate? Bastos does not pay. Neither Njawé nor ADDEC, nor foreigners will save that Bamiléké (name of Djif's tribe) man, Fouofie Djimeli, that filthy Bangam (name of his village). Let us wait, the waves come and go".
These messages leave no doubt on the fact that it is the distribution of the film 139… The last predators which is being questioned. From this, it is therefore legitimate to hold the
government of Cameroon accountable and responsible for the physical integrity of the film maker Richard Djif, who went missing between March 23rd and March 24th.
The recourse to kidnapping as a technique may seem confusing, unprecedented and surprising at first. However, it should also be put back in its right register - semiunderground action - and recalled that this type of strategy is, in fact, not new. In terms of political repression in Cameroon, covert action has often overlapped and complemented the official repression, giving it a continuation in the perpetration of crimes and the dissemination of some form of terror that is impossible to justify and to assume legally.
It is at this juncture necessary to emphasize that the young film maker Richard Djif is also a Masters 2 student in "Performing Arts" at the University of Yaounde I and a member of ADDEC. During the student strike action in April-May 2005, which crippled several State
universities in the country, he stood out for his abundant production of poems on the themes of freedom resistance and hope, that had struck the imagination of the student community, and added to the ethical and aesthetic dimensions of the movement.
However it is known that since the 1990s called "the smouldering years" the Cameroonian University has continued to be infested with militias under the pay roll of numerous caciques of the regime in place. The daily newspaper Le Messager, in its issue no. 1999 on Wednesday, November 02, 2005, devoted a whole kit to the creation of "militia groups" on campuses by key (University!) administrative and political actors. Le Messager had for instance published a series of letters by Jean Messi, former Rector of the Universities of Yaounde I and of Ngaoundéré, addressed to senior State officials (such as the Minister of Higher Education, the Minister of Culture, the Prime Minister and the President of the
Republic, among others), all members of CPDM, the party in power. In those letters, Mr. Jean Messi claimed to have "created and animated [tribal] militias in the University" between 1993 and 1998, to thwart student strikes and protect the regime in place, with the
support of his former Private Secretary.
These clandestine fascist groups are regularly activated, should the need arise, to defend the "Tribal Government", supposedly threatened by the protesters "from elsewhere". Thus,
in April and May 2009, Addec's headquarters were flooded with letters of intimidation and threats signed by a hitherto unknown group: "Republican Direct Action". A few days later, during a silent march organized within the campus of the University of Yaounde I by the student union, the perpetrators of these threats did not hesitate to appear publicly, one of their leaders who had multiplied acts of provocation and watered demonstrators with insults and life threats, promised that the next action of this nature would be "fatal" for them. All of this was done with the knowledge and blessing of university authorities.
The daily Mutations, in its issue no. 2401 on May 12, 2009, gave an account of those acts, publishing a photograph of the man who was hurling insults and threats; it was learned later
that the man was no-one else than…the former Personal Assistant of the Rector Jean Messi [Note 2] who described him in his famous letters mentioned above as a kinetic element for the regular activation of tribal militias in universities.
It would not be surprising that the disappearance of Richard Djif is the work of under-cover groups, acting in the shadow of some barons in power in Cameroon. It is however clear that their priviledged area of action has always been the student residential area Ngoa Ekelle where Richard Djif lives.
We hold the Government of Cameroon accountable for the disappearance of Richard Djif
In such a context of harassment, where artists' fundamental rights, such as freedom of thinking and of creation, are jeopardized by the use of extreme means like abduction; and where repressive violence is now as blind as disproportionate, we, the citizens of Cameroon, signatories of this declaration, hold Cameroonian authorities directly
responsible for the disappearance of the film maker Richard Djif.
It is a matter of extreme gravity whose horror and unbearable cruelty is accentuated by the fact that it comes in a period of calm; in the absence of any political agitation, of any social unrest or desire from the artist to foment it. If the physical integrity and the life of film maker Djif were to be endangered - something we would not want to imagine -, this episode would then be the crossing of a new red line, the last without doubt, in this form of warfare that the
Biya regime seems to lead against the intelligence and spiritual resources of Cameroonians.
Cameroonians will not accept it! Humanity as a whole that is committed not only to respect for human dignity and fundamental freedoms, but also to freedom of thought and the freedom to create will not tolerate it.
We demand and expect of the Cameroonian government that it clarifies immediately the disappearance of Richard Djif; that it should do its utmost best to ensure that light is shed on this despicable act; that those responsible for this act, which seeks to threaten creators
of artistic works and to break up any attempt to produce critical art, should be are arrested and severely punished; that the protection of artists and intellectuals should be ensured and their freedom guaranteed.
We demand that the "Commission of Censorship" of cinematographic works and sound recordings of the Ministry of Culture, a shameful and scandalously regressive body, should be abolished without delay, as well as the system of prior authorization that governs film
productions in Cameroon, as it is, indeed, a relic of the time of the unpopular "orders against subversion".
Cameroon is not an "off-world," a secluded place cut off from the rest of the world. Here, like elsewhere, it is not law, freedom and justice that will shrink in the face of villainy, deception and ignominy. Cameroonians of today, like those of yesterday, know how much
their history is shaped through cultural intermingling and open-mindedness. Proud to inherit and to build a diverse and cosmopolitan nation, they will not yield to the dishonourable
outpourings from the runts of hate and to agents of divisionism- of whatever kind.
We demand the release of Richard Djif, and at the same time freedom of speech, thought and imagination!
April 1st, 2013
For more information, go to:
http://www.facebook.com/ensembleliberonslecineastericharddjiff ; you can also follow us on
The first signatories:
Valsero, Patrice Nganang, Ngono Alain, Som 1 Joseph Desiré,Yves Mintoogue, Bergeline Domou, Okala Ebode, Omaande Salomon, Batogna Gnitchogna, Linjuom Mbowou, Paul Armand Menye, Djontu Mouafo, Thierry Batumi, Herve Nzouabet, Appolinaire Tchoupou, Hector Kamdem, Ndi Gilbert Shang, Romuald Hervé Momeya, Benang André.
www.facebook.com/EnsembleLiberonsLeCineasteRichardDjiff ; you can also follow us on [twitter] #EnsembleLibéronsLeCinéasteRichardDjiff
[Note 1] : daily newspaper, Le Jour of August 3rd 2011.
[Note 2] : See: Addec, Report on the state of human rights in the Cameroonian universities, June 2009, p. 9.