The Mwalimu’s Reader: a collection of critical journalistic essays, by Johnnie MacViban, Kansas City, USA, Miraclaire Publishing, 2011, 156pp., $ 15.00, ISBN-13: 978-0615576350
Fervent listeners of the radio programme Cameroon Calling— which has stood the test of time— will see The Mwalimu’s Reader as a time capsule because each piece will take them back to the period during which it was written; it will make them relive history through political and cultural commentary. The Mwalimu’s Reader is a compilation of articles written between the years 2002—2006, and broadcast by Johnnie MacViban on radio. The pieces are philosophical, analytical, political, anecdotal, historical, slightly epistolatory and travelogues which discuss issues concerning Cameroon and the world.
Cameroon Calling is a Sunday morning radio programme on Radio Cameroon which is characterized by an objective, unapologetic and unflinching outlook on the society which captivated the attention of most English speaking Cameroonians. It was originally called Cameroon Report and the poignant nature of its analysis and socio-cultural commentary made the powers-that-be keep an eye on these journalists armed with the power of the media. Many a journalist who broadcasted on Cameroon Calling was blacklisted and detained, and in 1986, the “gang of three”, made up of Sam Nuvalla Fonkem, Ebssy Ngum and Johnnie MacViban were incarcerated for airing over Radio Cameroon a piece on “The Enemies of Democracy”. Over the years, attempts have been made by the powers-that-be to ban this programme and other journalists have been imprisoned.
Oscar Labang in the foreword attests the impact of Cameroon Calling when he says “At some point in the life of the radio listening Cameroonian, Sunday morning had significance beyond church going. Two radio voices had critical sermons to deliver and listeners eagerly awaited— Njomo Kelvin with The Grape Vine from Buea and Mwalimu Johnnie MacViban with the Letter from Garoua ” (p. vi) .
The book is divided into two parts: Yaoundé: the Return from Douala and the Letter from Garoua. The first part is a probing and analytical journey which goes beyond the headlines to give an informed perspective on occurrences and issues like the power and role of the media, the price of peace in a troubled world, democracy, elections, Cameroonian literature of English expression, economic assessments, the educational system, the Congo, unemployment, and the state of music and cinema in Cameroon among others.
The second part takes us on a journey to the North— with griots, minarets, ignored wildlife reserves, poverty, a neglected tourism potential, local art, Bird Flu, corruption, durbars, Ramadan and the journalist’s right to know and speak out. While the first part is more argumentative and analytical, this section is rather exploratory, anecdotal, and shorter than the first.
In a highly allusive and self-conscious prose— which is typical of Johnnie MacViban’s writing— politics and society are deconstructed as had been done by writers after whom he has fashioned The Mwalimu’s Reader, and they are legion— Lewis Nkosi, Peter Pan Enaharo, Jonathan Swift, Benjamin Franklin, John Henry Newman, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Martin Luther King, Ambrose Bierce, Lytton Strachey, E.M. Foster, William Hazlitt, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Samuel Johnson, Charles Lamb, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Maynard Keynes, C. S. Lewis etc.
In a nutshell, this book puts together for the first time on print selected write ups which were aired on the seminal radio programme Cameroon Calling between 2002— 2006. These articles, enunciated with intellect, dissect imperative political and cultural issues in Cameroon and beyond, placing Johnnie MacViban at the forefront of political and cultural commentary. His forte is exposed in a memorable medley of over forty pieces which discuss issues and people such as elections, terrorism, cinema, the Congo, oil and geopolitics, democracy, art, journalism, economics, Manu Dibango and Bate Besong, and above all, the book confirms Salman Rushdie’s piece from Index on Censorship, in which he opines that “What one writer can make in the solitude of one room is something no power can easily destroy.”
Dzekashu MacViban is the author of Scions of the Malcontent.