Musings on Africa's Success Story

By Peter Wuteh Vakunta

I believe that one day Africa will cease to be a continent saddled with inept leaders, most of whom are stooges of Western powers. Many reasons account for my compulsive optimism. Africans are slowly but surely shedding their dependency syndrome. They are rapidly acquiring technological expertise sorely needed in the stride toward economic prosperity. What is more, Africans are fostering South-South dialogue and encouraging regional trade integration (building and sustaining regional economic blocks amongst African countries). ECOWAS, SADC, NEPAD, are only a few existing examples. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) has been adopted as the continent’s developmental blueprint. I believe that the attainment of Africa’s long-term developmental objectives is anchored in the determination of African peoples to extricate themselves from the tentacles of Western imperialistic manipulation. I have the conviction that Africa’s economic recovery requires a new type of relationship with the West—one in which Africa’s economic partners will seek to promote her developmental objectives, rather than simply exploit her natural resources for the benefit of Western powers.  What Africa desires from the West at this juncture is not Aid but economic partnership on an equal footing.

I have no doubt in my mind that one day Africans will take their destiny into their own hands by combating endemic corruption through moral education and the inculcation of life skills (truth, integrity, loyalty, respect, honesty, trustworthiness, patriotism) into citizens.  No amount of external goodwill is enough to resolve Africa’s internal problems. Africans will learn to be architects of their destinies. I believe that there is light at the end of the proverbial tunnel in Africa. To achieve meaningful economic advancement, Africans will have to think and come up with effective paradigms that would guarantee genuine sustainable development in the economic arena. I think that the time has come for Africa to go beyond blaming the West for all her ills. Africa has to learn to take Africans to task for failing to live up to expectations. I believe that to rescue the African continent from socio-economic stagnation, Africans at home and in the Diaspora must take some bold steps and work in tandem toward fighting poverty in all its shades and colors by all means necessary, including redirecting educational expenditure toward the acquisition of skills needed in the  globalized workplace. I believe that Africa is neither a continent at risk nor one for the taking. She may be home to the world’s most underprivileged people; she may be saddled with some of the deadliest endemic diseases on the globe, she may even be in the throes of underdevelopment. Nonetheless, the incontrovertible truth is that she remains the most robust continent on the planet. No continent that I know of has ever been subjected to the same magnitude of exploitation, dehumanization, denigration, and brutality that have been the lot of Africa. Yet, in the face of all these tribulations, Africans have continued to hold their heads high, and to walk tall in the face of unsolicited provocation. I believe that to forge ahead, Africans must transform their hard-won political independence into genuine economic autonomy. We must eschew servitude in all its forms. We must learn to invest in the future because a saving continent is a prosperous continent. The journey toward de facto decolonization must begin with decolonizing the mind.

It is my belief that in the foreseeable future Africa will metamorphose from a battlefield into a peace haven. Right now, in many African countries, bullets have replaced ballots as instruments of governance. That is because Africans have not understood that democracy and fair-play have the potential to ease a myriad of socio-political bottlenecks. I believe that one day Africans will come to the realization that for every gun that is manufactured in the West, an African is destined to be a casualty. In many African countries, inter-tribal feuds have degenerated into civil wars. This is because most Africans perceive the world through the prism of exogenous values. I believe that one day the Hutu and Tutsi of Rwanda[i][i] will walk hand in hand in the streets of Kigali with neither fear nor rancor. What transpired in Rwanda in 1994[ii][ii] should never happen again! I believe that before long dark-skinned Sudanese from the South will dine with their fair-skinned Arab brethren from the North. There will be no Darfur [iii][iii]genocide when that time comes. It is my fervent belief that one day Francophone Cameroonians will perceive Anglophone Cameroonians as compatriots; rather than enemies in the house. I have no illusions about the fact that one day the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)[iv][iv] led by Joseph Kony will regain sanity and halt the butchering of innocent Ugandans. They will desist from using innocent children as fodder for cannon.

The trail of economic destruction and human suffering left on the African continent by civil wars is without precedence. Why civil wars continue to be routine on our continent remains a moot point. One reason may be that political oppression, racial subordination and economic exploitation have condemned Africans to a common misfortune. But I believe that this will change as Africa begins to count her blessings rather than her woes. Another reason for the recurrence of civil strife in Africa is that aspirants to political power have often held different views as regards new socio-politico-economic dispensations in their respective countries. Sometimes a civil war erupts as a result of the demise of a dictatorial political order under a tyrannical president. I believe that in the near future, it will dawn on Africans that the political boundaries separating one African country from another were derived from externally negotiated settlements, not to say brute European military force, rather than any ethno-linguistic arrangement. In the main, it makes sense to believe that the absence of constitutional blueprints that have stood the test of time in African states has contributed immensely to the prevalence of civil wars on the continent.  I believe that in the face of pressure from international human rights watchdogs, Africans will learn to respect the constitutions they have crafted for the purpose of good governance. Africa’s constitutions will be upheld in the day-to-day governance of nation-states. At present, there is too much toying around with national constitutions in Africa. In the future, there will be a way of holding African leaders accountable for any breaches of constitutions. I believe that Africans are law-abiding, peace-loving people. They desire a safe place to live in. One day Africans will realize that the onus is on them to devise ways and means to reverse the current trend of misgovernment and wanton misappropriation of public funds.

I believe that the day will come when Africa will write her own history. It will be a story of glory and dignity. When that day comes, Africa will no longer be branded a tabula rasa[v][v]. This I believe. The capacity to embrace diversity has always been part and parcel of the African mindset. Our cultures melt and spread into subcultures which in turn generate aggregates. In a bid to mint a common cultural identity and avoid asphyxiation, Africans have the onerous task of embracing their disparate subcultures.  The submersion of various cultures into a holistic African heritage by means of mutual acceptance is one of the extraordinary ways in which Africans could enter into symbiotic intercourse with their kith and kin of different extractions. I believe that this is a rewarding means to commune with members of the global village. Our emotional make-up, our pains and our uncertainties, the strange curiosity of what is generally perceived as our flaws and shortcomings should serve as a support base for our convivial strive toward a common identity.

I believe that one of the prerequisites for the collective survival of Africans is their ability to maintain a conscious relationship with one another and with the global community in which they live as a subspecies. This presupposes sinking superficial differences and embracing the all too obvious commonalities. Africans must ensure that their collective consciousness celebrates and enriches rather than alienate them as a people from the community of nations. Africa constitutes an integral part of the international community. I believe our heritage should not be hijacked by foreigners to place us in a pariah state. Our collective diversity should be perceived as part of an integrating process of world diversity. Africans must acknowledge that each culture is never a finished product but rather a rung in the continuum of global cultures. I believe that Africans are interested in relating rather than dominating, in exchanging rather than expropriating. That’s why we remain our brother’s keepers in good and bad times. That’s why we celebrate Ubuntu.[vi][vi]  A Hausa man from Northern Nigeria sees himself as is a brother to a Hausa man from Northern Cameroon. A Fulani woman from Chad is a sister to a Fulani woman in the Republic of Niger; a Bororo from Gabon is kith and kin to a Bororo from Equatorial Guinea, and so on and so forth. That is why they all sing Simunye,[vii][vii] we are one!

Without denying the cosmetic differences that exist amongst us, differences which have been exploited by our detractors to their own advantage, we must acknowledge that what unites us as Africans is vaster that what separates us. This implies that the celebration of our diversity should constitute a stage in the process toward an African Federation, or better yet, the United States of Africa, the only contraption that will enable us to extricate ourselves from external suffocation. As the adage goes, united we stand; separated we will fall. Yes, I believe that the day will come when the African Union[viii][viii] will evolve into the United States of Africa (USA), with nothing to envy from the United States of America or the European Union! Our unity will empower us to face up to the different hegemonic challenges that threaten our very survival in a global community that has become the marketplace for the commercialization of gray matter. That day will be the day of a rebirth for all Africans. I believe that Africa will be born again—African renaissance. With this second birth, our true values will be validated. Africans have a rich culture of care, mutual respect, self-esteem, love and protection. Childcare for instance, is not perceived by Africans as the duty of the child’s biological parents alone. It is seen as a communal responsibility involving members of the nuclear and extended families. That explains why in Africa the young address the elderly as "Pa" or "Ma" regardless of blood relationship. By the same token, the elderly address the young as "son" or "daughter" whether they are biologically related or not.

Africans possess time-honored methods of inculcating moral rectitude and life skills into their offspring. This is a task that commences from the cradle and continues into adulthood. The preservation of cultural competencies is, to my mind, a manifestation of African renaissance which makes African cultures distinct from other global cultures. Espousing the concept of the African personality[ix][ix] is tantamount to embracing those elements of African cultures that identify us as a people with a common heritage. African renaissance is the quest for a modus operandi that would enable African parents, community leaders, teachers and social workers to instill into children respect for cultural values. Renaissance amounts to a revalorization of our customs and traditions. I believe that this does not presuppose the rejection of the cultures of others because Africans believe in inclusion. Accepting the ideals of African renaissance will equip us with the tools necessary to put a premium on our Afritude.[x][x] At the same time, African renaissance should not be construed as a negation of our Western heritage.  Indeed, I believe that Africans can enjoy the best of both worlds, for the simple reason that most of us are products of Western and African traditional schools of thought. We straddle the northern and southern hemispheres on account of acculturation. It behooves us to preserve our African cultural values and bequeath them to our progeny as we received them from our forebears. Let it never be written in the annals of history that on account of our Western education, we became emasculators of indigenous knowledge. We must teach our offspring to be genuinely proud of their African identity. We must encourage them to speak our native tongues. Let our African styles of dress be admired and not perceived as anathema. Let our children relish our cuisine: foofoo, njama-njama, achu, kwa-coco, eru, ekwang, garri, corn-chaff, bobolo, koki, etc. We must teach them to be respectful of others regardless of skin color, age or ethnic belonging. We must guide them to steer clear of substance abuse, hate speech and violence. Most importantly, we must inculcate in them the love of learning. A half-educated person is like lethal ammunition in the hands of a toddler!  In the past, cultural education was seen as the preserve of parents. Not anymore. I believe that this mindset belongs in the trashcan of history.

I think, therefore I am! The musing in this write-up may sound like a pipe-dream.  Far from it! By the way, there is nothing inherently wrong with dreaming? If Dr Martin Luther King did not dream, African Americans would still be riding in the back of buses in the land of their birth to date! If Nelson Mandela did not dream, black South Africans would still be confined to Bantustans and Bantu education today! If Barack Hussein Obama did not dream, the world would never have been treated to the historic inauguration of the first Black president in American history on January 20, 2009! Let us not abort our dreams. In the words of the celebrated Nelson Mandela: “If there are dreams about a beautiful … Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal.” In brief, as we continue to nurse our dream of a beautiful and prosperous Africa, let us not lose sight of the daunting task that lies ahead of us. It is not a task for outsiders. It is ours.

[i][i] According to Compton’s Encyclopedia Online the Hutu were also called Bahutu or Wahutu, and are one of the three ethnic groups that make up the populations of Burundi and Rwanda. The Hutu number between 12 million and 13 million and represent about 90 percent of the population in Rwanda and about 85 percent of the population in Burundi. However when the Hutu first arrived in Central Africa in the 1st Century AD, they found it inhabited by the Twa. The Twa were Pygmy hunters who were forced to flee by the Hutu. When the Tutsi arrived in the 14th or 15th century, the Hutu were subject to political and economic domination. In 1959 antagonism between the Hutu and the Tutsi, who still held the power erupted into violence in the region. In mid 1990s, a civil war broke out between the two groups and thousands of people were killed or forced to flee the country.

[ii][ii] The Rwandan Genocide was the 1994 mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Rwanda’sTutsis by Hutu militia. Over the course of approximately 100 days, from the assassination of Juvénal Habyarimana on 6 April up until mid July, at least 500,000 people were killed. Most estimates indicate a death toll between 800,000 and 1,000,000.

[iii][iii] Darfur genocide refers to the massive killings that have resulted from the conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan. One side of the armed conflicts is composed mainly of the Sudanese military and the Janjaweed, a Sudanese militia group recruited mostly from the Arab Abbala tribes of the northern Rizeigat region in Sudan. The other side comprises a variety of rebel groups, notably the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, recruited primarily from the land-tilling non-Arab Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit ethnic groups. The Sudanese government, while publicly denying that it supports the Janjaweed, has provided money and assistance to the militia and has participated in joint attacks targeting the tribes from which the rebels draw support. The conflict began in February 2003.
In northern Uganda, thousands of children are victims of a vicious cycle of violence, caught between a brutal rebel group and the army of the Ugandan government. The LRA is ostensibly dedicated to overthrowing the government of Uganda, but in practice the rebels appear to devote most their time to attacks on the civilian population: they raid villages, loot stores and homes, burn houses and schools, rape, mutilate and slaughter civilians unlucky enough to be in their path.

[iv][iv]Tabula rasa (Latin: blank slate) refers to the epistemological thesis that individual human beings are born with no built-in mental content, in a word, "blank", and that their entire resource of knowledge is built up gradually from their experiences and sensory perceptions of the outside world. Generally proponents of the tabula rasa thesis favor the "nurture" side of the nature versus nurture debate, when it comes to aspects of one's personality, social and emotional behavior, and intelligence.

[v][v] Its name comes from the Zulu word "ubuntu", translated as "humanity to others", describing the ubuntu philosophy: "I am who I am because of those around me," a positive aspect of community.

[vi][vi] The word "Simunye" is borrowed from the Zulu language. It means "we are united".

[vii][vii] The African Union (abbreviated AU in English and UA in French, its other working language) is an inter-governmental organization consisting of 53 African States.  Established on July 9, 2002, the AU was formed as a successor to the Organization of African Unity (OAU).

[viii][viii] Francis Niba Ngwa. “New Language for divided Cameroon.” Retrieved   February 20,2007from 

[ix][ix] Reference to Es’kia Mphahlele’s book titled African Image (1974).
[x][x]  Quality of being African


Pidgin: Cameroon's Lingua Franca or Continental Creole?

By  Peter Wuteh Vakunta
Pidgin English, also called broken English, is a lingua franca spoken in quite a few countries on the African continent, including Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cameroon to name only a few. In Cameroon, Pidgin English, also called Cam-Tok or Majunga Tok is the chief medium of communication for the great majority of people. Cameroonian Pidgin English is an English language-based Creole. 
It is a blend of English, French and indigenous languages. This lingo has been in active use in Cameroon for over five hundred years. It started in the Slave Trade years, resisted a German ban during the German annexation (1884-1914) and survived post-independence neglect. Pidgin took flight when it became a makeshift language used in the plantations. Today, it has left the plantations for the homes and other domains of public life.  
The first attempt to codify Pidgin English and endow it with conventional usage was made by the Catholic Church in Cameroon, which used it to produce a number of religious materials including the catechism.  Broadly speaking, five varieties of Pidgin English exist in Cameroon, namely Grafi Kamtok, the variety used in the grassfields region of Cameroon and often referred to as 'Grafi Tok’, liturgical Kamtok—this variety has been used by the Catholic Church for three quarters of a century. Francophone Kamtok is the variety spoken mainly in French-speaking cities such as Douala, Bafoussam and Yaoundé among others. Limbe Kamtok is the type of Pidgin English spoken mainly in the South-West Province, notably in the coastal area around the port that used to be called Victoria and is now Limbe. Bororo Kamtok is the variety that is spoken by Bororo and Fulani nomadic cattle traders, many of whom travel through Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon.   
Pidgin English embodies concepts that would at best be partially expressed in formal English. It sustains a world view, culture and way of life. It facilitates social intercourse among people who originate from different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds.  A critical understanding of Pidgin English requires not only a thorough grasp of the socio-cultural matrices from which the words and expressions originate but also an immersion in an Afro-centric worldview. Pidgin is believed to be the parlance of the proverbial man-in-the-street in many parts of Africa. It is rich, exciting and vigorous. Pidgin accommodates grammatical distortions and deviations from syntactic conventions. Oftentimes, these distortions are purposefully created for the sake of re-enacting personal or collective life experiences.  
Of the over 200 indigenous languages spoken by Cameroonians, only Pidgin enjoys the privilege of being spoken by people from all walks of life and social strata. Pidgin is no longer restricted to small talk; it is no longer the language of the uneducated. Although for a long time, Pidgin has been perceived as a language used mostly by illiterate and semi-literate persons, this mixed language has now gained currency among the educated in Cameroon as well. It has attained the status of language of literature, business and music. Cameroonian writers and other artists employ Pidgin in order to ensure group solidarity and to reinforce a sense of belonging. Francis Njamnjoh, Peter Vakunta, Patrice Nganang, Mongo Beti and Ferdinand Oyono to name but a few frequently resort to pidginization as a mode of linguistic and cultural appropriation. 
Cameroonians, in general, resort to Pidgin English for the purpose of phatic communion in informal contexts. It is important, I believe, to perceive pidginization as an attempt to make European languages bear the weight of African imagination, worldview and sensibilities. Pidgin English enables pidginophones to respond more realistically to the prevailing circumstances under which discourse takes place in Africa. Most importantly, it has become a mother tongue for children born to parents from different ethnic backgrounds.  
Cameroonians are not alone in their experimentation with languages. Linguistic creolization exists in virtually every country on the African continent.  Everywhere, people of all ages are trying to jettison the yoke of cultural imperialism by indigenizing European languages in an attempt to better convey their thought patterns, imagination and lived experiences. In South Africa, there is a l pidgin called tsotsitaal. It is a mixed language spoken mainly in the townships of Gauteng province, such as Soweto and Sophiatown, West of Johannesburg, but also in other agglomerations all over the country. The word tsotsi is Sesotho slang for "thug" or "robber". Its meaning has been extended to include "to con"; it also means to be cool or street smart. The word taal is the Afrikaans  word for "language". Tsotsitaal is built on the grammar of several indigenous languages, namely Xhosa, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Zulu and Sotho. It is a permanent work of language-mixing, code-switching, and word smiting. 
Linguistic creativity is the main characteristic of Tsotsitaal-speakers. Tsotsitaal spread first as a criminal language. Only criminals at first could understand it. Later, it acquired the status of a prestigious sign of rebellion against the state and its police force.  At present, Tsotsitaal refers to any gang or street language in South Africa. As a gangster language, Tsotsitaal or Iscamtho as it is often called, is a symbol of youth, city-slickness and the multilingualism characteristic of South Africa (each of the country’s eleven official languages is represented in Tsotsitaal). It has become a language proper for both male and female speakers. Mastering Tsotsitaal constitutes proof that one knows the urban environment well enough to cope and not be threatened. Among the youths, this lingo is often used as a strong identity marker, and many young homosexuals appreciate it and use it as their main medium of communication. It has also become a language used in exchanges with older people, who previously would have been offended to be addressed in the tsotsi language.
Another mixed language spoken in Southern Africa is Fanagalo. This is one of a number of African pidgin languages that was developed during the colonial era to ease communication among people from diverse linguistic backgrounds. Adendorff (2002)  observes that it developed in the nineteenth century in KwaZulu-Natal Province as a way for English colonists to communicate with their servants and was also used as a lingua franca between English and Afrikaans-speaking colonists. Fanagalo or Fanakalo is a pidgin (simplified language) based on the Zulu, English, and Afrikaans languages. It is used as a communication code, mainly in the gold, diamond, coal and copper mining industries in South Africa—and to a smaller extent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. 
Fanagalo is used extensively in gold and diamond mines because the South African mining industry employs workers on fixed contracts from across southern and central Africa, including Congo, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Malawi and Mozambique. With workers originating from a range of countries and having a vast range of different vernacular tongues, Fanagalo provided a simple way to communicate and is still used as a training and operating medium in the mines. Adendorff describes two variants of the language, Mine Fanagalo and Garden Fanagalo. The latter refers to its use with servants in households. Mine Fanagalo is based mostly on Zulu vocabulary (about 70%), with some words from English (about 25%), Afrikaans and Portuguese. He describes Mine Fanagalo and Garden Fanagalo as being basically the same pidgin. Fanagalo is a rare example of a pidgin based on an indigenous language rather than on the language of a colonizing power. Zimbabwe has a variant known as Chilapalapa, while Zambia's variant is called Cikabanga. 
Anyone with the remotest interest in translation and cross-cultural communication cannot help but ask the nagging question: what are the ramifications of code-switching and creolization for translators? As translation critic Paul Bandia points out: “The difficulty of translating pidgins and creoles … lies in the fact that there is hardly any direct equivalent relationship between English-based pidgins and French-based pidgins in West Africa” (1993).  Yet pidgins are charged with socio-cultural significations that reveal a lot about the characters in the discourse. It is, therefore, of crucial importance to retain these linguistic variants in the translation process because they are employed by speakers in order to capture the socio-cultural context of communication. 
The purpose of this article has not been to provide a framework for surmounting potential translation hurdles that may arise from the use of hybridized languages in Africa. My objective has been to acquaint the reader with the existence of mixed languages on the African continent and to underscore the linguistic/cultural richness of Africans. Africans from all walks of life resort to pidgins such as Camfranglais, Pidgin, Moussa, Nouchis, Fanagolo, and Tsotsitaal amongst others as a means of ensuring group solidarity. Creative writers tend to use these blended linguistic varieties to underscore the socio-cultural specificities that inform and structure their narratives. It enables them to convey the worldview of Africans.
Peter Wuteh Vakunta, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA
[1] Afrikaans developed among the Dutch speaking Protestant settlers, and the indentured or slave workforce of the Cape area in southwestern South Africa that was established by the Dutch East India Company. It is mainly spoken in South Africa and Namibia, with smaller numbers of speakers living in Botswana, Angola, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Zambia.
[1] Adendorff, Rajend "Fanakalo—a pidgin in South Africa". Language in South Africa, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
[1] Bandia, Paul. 1993. “Translation as Culture Transfer: Evidence from African Creative
Writing.” Traduction, Terminologie, Rédaction 6.2, 55-78.

Lapiroisms: Language of Resistance in Cameroonian Music

By Peter Wuteh Vakunta

Regardless of genre, music performs a myriad social functions; it reflects the joys, sorrows, hopes and despair of the people whose lived experiences constitute the subject matter of songwriting. As Rick Hesch points out, “songwriting may be the one true expression of a people’s sorrow, despair and hope”[1]. He notes that the Wobblies wrote and performed songs as instruments of mobilization in the early twentieth century. Music and the American civil rights movements of the sixties became almost synonymous, as many African-American musicians, from James Brown to Stevie Wonder, celebrated black consciousness and called for social change.   Tayannah Lee McQuillar and Fred Johnson (2010) note that Tupac Shakur’s rap songs translate the traumas experienced by Tupac himself and disillusioned African-Americans. His song titled Holler If Ya Hear Me from his album Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z struck a chord with a large section of disaffected African-American youths exasperated by poverty, police brutality, racial profiling and more. In the same vein, the rappers who presaged urban riots in France have proven that social imbalances can provide material for resistance. They see the connection between their experience in the banlieues[2] and that of African-Americans living in the inner cities.  Most French Rappers tend to have recourse to Verlan in their songwriting as a means of masking significations in order to say out of legal harm’s way. Verlan is a popular youth slang, or argot, formed by reversing the syllables of a word. For example, problème in Verlan is blèmepro; père is répé, and mère is rémé. In an article titled “Le Camfranglais, Un cousin du Verlan?” (1989), Michel Lobé Ewané draws striking parallels between Camfranglais and Verlan. He posits that Verlan was invented as a secret code by French youths, drug users and criminals to communicate freely in front of authority figures (parents and police).  The term ‘verlan’ is itself a reverse-syllable, which becomes l'envers (meaning backwards) when turned round.  French musical groups such as NTM, Ministère AMER, and Assassins often resort to Verlan in order to speak angrily about life in the French suburbs through songs that attack the police, the government and the French state.  Senegalese-born French rapper, MC Solaar, is notorious for his predilection for this urban lingo. His first album, "Bouge de là", ("Take a hike") became a hit in late 1990s. MC Solaar gained new fans in North America and the world over in early 2004, when his 2001 song "La Belle et Le Bad Boy" was featured on the final episode of the popular television series Sex and the City.
Musical resistance is not the preserve of the West.  African musicians use music to articulate the pressing issues of the day. Senegalese musical virtuoso, Baaba Maal, discusses Africa’s weighty social problems in his songs. His compatriot, Nuru Kane says: “For me it’s very important to talk about African problems, we need new leadership…If I’m to be a revolutionary it will not be to kill people—music will be my arms.”[3] Lucky Dube (born: Ermelo Dube) (pronounced: Doo bay) is considered one of South Africa's most outspoken musical performers. Although he initially sang in the traditional Zulu mbaqanga style, his move to reggae in 1984 was sparked by his quest to express his anger against the oppression perpetrated by the apartheid system that fragmented the country along racial lines and dehumanized Black South Africans. In a similar vein, Fela Ransom-Kuti was both a musical maverick and symbol of resistance in Nigerian music. Afrobeat, the style he forged in the ‘70s, is insinuating but hard-headed, with stubbornness encoded in its sound and lyrics. Its grooves are unhurried and hypnotic, with guitar, bass and drums locked into repetitive patterns while voices and horns leap freely. Fela’s lyrics denounce corruption and injustice, and call for a return to authentic African values. It takes umbrage at corrupt politicians in Africa. Fela was defiant by both instinct and ideology. He was repeatedly arrested, beaten and imprisoned for his opposition to a succession of Nigerian regimes. In 1977 soldiers burned down his Kalakuta Republic, the compound where he lived with his wives, musicians and entourage. Afterward, Fela also changed his middle name to "Anikulapo" (meaning "he who carries death in his pouch"), stating that his original middle name of Ransome was a slave name. In 1977 Fela and the Afrika 70 released the hit album Zombie, a scathing attack on Nigerian soldiers using the "zombie" metaphor to describe the methods of the Nigerian military. The album was a smash hit and infuriated the Nigerian government, setting off a vicious attack against the Kalakuta Republic, during which one thousand soldiers attacked the commune. Fela was severely beaten, and his elderly mother was thrown from a window, causing fatal injuries. The Kalakuta Republic was burned down, and Fela´s studio, instruments, and master tapes were destroyed.  
To the West of Nigeria, lies the Republic of Cameroon, a hub of musicians who have gained notoriety for their resistance against inept leadership,  abuse of power, misappropriation of public funds, corruption, ethnocentrism, tribalism, and influence peddling to name but a few of the countless ills plaguing the national polity. Nyamnjoh and Fokwang observe that some Cameroonian artists “have gone into satirical comedy where they combine music and sketches that caricature, lampoon and moralize on the shortcomings of political life in Cameroon”(2005, p.262).  Foremost among this group of defiant musicians is Lapiro[4] de Mbanga who has created his own slang—Lapiroism, for the purpose of satirizing the imperfections of the regime in power in Cameroon.
Musical Lapiroisms
According to Nyamnjoh and Fokwang, “Lapiro epitomizes the strengths and controversies surrounding a protest musician” (269). Born in Mbanga as Pierre Roger Sandjo Lambo, Lapiro is a songwriter known for his satirical lyrics, criticizing politicians and addressing social and economic injustice in Cameroon.  He has devoted his musical career to singing about the daily travails of pain, marginalization, exploitation and rejection faced by a great many Cameroonians. Lapiro has refused to be at the beck and call of politicians in his homeland and has instead used his music to plead the cause of the wretched of the earth.[5] Singing mainly in Camfranglais (township lingo), and Pidgin English (Cameroonian Creole), he is able to reach a broad audience in all strata of society, especially those where his diatribes are well received, i.e., the young urban unemployed, cart-pushers, hawkers, sauveteurs, street sellers, beyam sellam, taximen and bendskin drivers. Lapiro has earned the nickname Président du petit peuple or “President of the down-trodden” on account of his committed music. Lapiro has become a symbol of peaceful resistance to the erosion of democracy in Cameroon, but has paid a big price: imprisonment, deteriorating health and financial bankruptcy. In his first album, Kob  Nye[6], Lapiro berates Cameroonian politicians for their role in the socio-economic morass and widespread misery orchestrated by bad governance in Cameroon. He identifies with the opposition in Cameroon and became popular as a result of his outspokenness during the trial of two Cameroonian intellectual critics of the government of Mr. Paul Biya— Célestin Monga and Pius Njawé, both charged with treason and contempt of the Head of State many years ago.
Lapiro’s lyrics speak of the experience of hunger, deprivation, uncertainty in the lives of suffering masses, and the need for the rule of law in his homeland. His songs admonish State officials against turning a blind eye to the predicament of the petit peuple or downtrodden. In Mimba We, he sings: “You wan dammer, you mimba we; you wan suler, you mimba we; you wan nyoxer, you mimba we-oh.  Mimba we-o, tara.” This could be translated into Standard English as: At table, remember us; when having a drink, remember us; when having sex, remember us. Oh, remember us, you who are our leader. Words like ‘dammer’, ‘suler’,’tara’ and ‘nyoxer’ are Lapiroisms created for the purpose of veiling discourse from law enforcement officers—gendarmes, police and the military. It is a composite language minted to communicate to the common people in a language they best understand. ‘Dammer’ is a camfranglais word that could be translated as ‘to eat’; ‘Suler’ is ‘to drink’; ‘Tara’ is ‘big shot’. In other contexts, this word translates as ‘friend’; ‘nyoxer’ is a euphemism for ‘sexual intercourse’. Lapiroisms became popular in Cameroon between 1990 and 1992, an era associated with the emergence of opposition political parties. An impressionistic inspection of fluent speakers of Lapiroisms reveals that they are peddlers, taximen, bendskinneurs, wheelcart pushers, hawkers, prostitutes, vagabonds, thieves, prisoners, gamblers, conmen, musicians and comedians. The lexical manipulation, phonological truncation, morphological hybridization, semantic shift, hyperbolic and, relexification, and dysphemistic extensions characteristic of Lapiroisms reflect the provocative attitude of its speakers and their jocular disrespect of linguistic norms and purity, clearly revealing its function as an anti-language (Halliday 1977).
This urban lingo does not function like other slangs all over the world; it is unique in combining elements from French, English, Pidgin, and Cameroonian vernacular languages as this example from his song “Tout le monde à Kondengui” (Everybody to Kondengui) clearly indicates:  “We dong hypothéquer avenir for we njaka forever and ever” (we have mortgaged the future of our children forever).  The word smiting in this statement calls for close analysis. Lapiro employs four languages in this single sentence. “We” and “forever and ever” are Standard English words. “Dong” is a Pidgin English word which could be translated as “have” (we dong = we have). “Njaka” is an indigenous word culled from Duala, a local language spoken in Cameroon. Sometimes Lapiro resorts to the technique of semantic shift as seen in the following sentence: “Je jure que yi own mandat dong shot (“Tout le monde à Kondengui). [I swear that his days are numbered]. As in the previous statement, the singer combines lexes from French, English and Pidgin to create a third code. It is interesting to note that the word “shot” has been given a new meaning in Lapiro’s lingo. In this context the word could be translated as “short-lived”. “Yi own mandat dong shot” could be translated as “His days are numbered”.  “Mandat” is a French word that means “term of office” or “money order”, but used by Lapiro in this context in reference to the duration of someone’s life on earth. Another example is: “Big Katika for Ngola and yi Nchinda dem say….” It should be noted that the word “Nchinda” is a Pidgin English word that describes the servants of traditional leaders such as chiefs and Fons. However, Lapiro endows this well-known word with a new signification. In the excerpt above “nchinda” refers to the ministers appointed by the Head of State to serve him, just as royal pages serve the Monarch. The word “Ngola” is the indigenous name for Yaoundé, used here metonymically to represent the Republic of Cameroon. “Katika” literally means “bouncer” in a nightclub but has undergone semantic shift in Lapiro’s lyrics to refer to Head of State or President. These examples brook no doubt that Lapiroisms is a composite language consciously developed by the song writer through the process of relexification. Chantal Zabus defines  this mode of writing as the writer’s attempt at textualizing linguistic differentiation and conveying African concepts, thought patterns and linguistic concepts through the ex-colonizer’s language (23).
Moreover, Lapiro employs parallelisms to sound a clarion call for open rebellion against an ailing polity in Cameroon as this excerpt culled from his Album titled Lef am so (Live and Let Live) indicates:
Ma complice dem for Mokolo-o!
Ma complice dem for Nkouloulou-o!
Ma complice dem for Marché central-o!
Ma complice dem for  gares routières-o!

[My accomplices in Mokolo-o!
My accomplices in Nkouloulou-o!
My accomplices in the Main Market-o!
My accomplices at the motor park-o!]

This passage sounds like the voice of a rebel leader summoning his people to take up the cudgels and to battle with emasculators of social justice—oppressors.  People listening to this piece cannot ignore the power of repetition that conveys the meaning intended by the songwriter. The esthetic beauty of this song derives from the singer’s use of a distinctive rhetorical device, namely repetition. It is repetition that gives dynamism to Lapiro’s songs. Each time certain words are reiterated, the impact grows stronger. For example, a word like “complice” is pregnant with meaning. It could be interpreted as “comrades in arm”, “accomplices”, or “sympathizers”.  The word relates the germ of meaning which it carries.  Furthermore, repeated words recall the utterances which have preceded them. As Julien points out, “… repeated words have dual verbal signification” (1978, p.82). The passage above derives its force and eloquence from Lapiro’s use of parallel phrasing. Parallel phrasing creates an accelerating rhythm as specific words and phrases are repeated.  The ‘o’ in each sentence above is a marker of orality in Cameroonian discourse.

Language mixing is part and parcel of Lapiroisms. Lapiro mixes codes derived from several Cameroonian languages. The technique of code-switching enables him to level diatribes at the Cameroonian Head of State and his lieutenants without running the risk of being apprehended. He mixes Camfranglais slangs, French, and Pidgin English expressions for the purpose of underscoring the plurilingual socio-cultural backdrop against which his songs are written as this excerpt from Tout monde à Kondengui, illustrates: 
Envoyez tout le monde à Nkondengui!
Tout le monde à Nkondengui!
Big Katika à Nkondengui!
Tous les ministres à Nkondengui!
Bienr! Bienr Bienr!
Je jure que yi own mandat dong shot…
Dat be say njaka for njaka for we njaka
Dem go come boulot for pay dang ndoh...
Big Katika for Ngola and yi Nchinda dem say…
            Comme vous pouvez le constater,
Cameroon dong capside…
Yes, mombo, this country no well…

[Send everybody to Nkondengui!
Everybody to Nkondengui!
Big Katika to Nkondengui!
All his ministers to Nkondengui!
Sure! Sure! Sure!
 His own mandate has ended, take it from me,
This implies that our great grandchildren
Shall work to pay back these loans back
Big Katika in Ngola and his lieutenants say…
As you can see for yourselves,
This country is topsy-turvy,
Yes, my friend, this country is sick…]

This passage speaks volumes about the linguistic innovation characteristic of Lapiroisms. Lapiro’s language could be described as a melee of several codes.  In his lyrics, he tells the story of the disenchantment of the rank and file. To do so effectively, he is obligated to speak in a language that is intelligible to them.  Interestingly, this lingo is likely to pose insurmountable comprehension obstacles to listeners not familiar with Lapiroisms. A word like ‘Katika’ is a polysemous lexeme. In other words, it carries several connotations. In a similar vein, ‘mandat’ has undergone a semantic shift and taken on a new signification. Nchinda’ is a loan from Pidgin English. ‘Ndoh’ is a camfranglais word for ‘money’.

In 2001, Lapiro produced an album titled Na You, a pidgin expression that could be translated as ‘You are to Blame’ in which he took the ruling party (Cameroon People’s Democratic Party—CPDM) to task for failing to halt the economic crisis and growing corruption plaguing the country. Another song, ‘Constitution Constipée (Constipated Constitution) expresses Lapiro's strong objections to the constitutional amendment that has allowed President Paul Biya to stay in power after 2011. Lapiro believes that music should be used as a strong tool to denounce oppression and power abuse. In his own words: “Music is a sort of weapon; sometimes instead of using guns, you use music, you use the voice, you use the sound and people who are against freedom will be shot down by your lyrics,  by your sound, by your musical  attitude”(Interview, 2010). Mimba Wi, Lef am so, Small Mami, Pas argent pas amour, Ndinga Man Contre-attaque are only a few of the many albums that have endeared Lapiro to Cameroonian music lovers. Arguably the most talented Cameroonian musician, Lapiro is credited with having created a new lingo--Lapiroism[7]. He uses a blend of broken French, Pidgin English, and indigenous language words to mask the underlying messages in his songs. It is this linguistic hodge-podge that has come to be known as been Lapiroism.  Lapiroism is undergirded by the phenomenon that Harvard Professor, Henri Louis Gates, Jr. equates with linguistic trickerism or signifying[8]. Signifyin (g) is closely related to double-talk and trickery of the type used by monkeys, but, as Gates himself admits, “It is difficult to arrive at a consensus of definitions of signifying (261).” Bernard W. Bell defines this concept as an “elaborate, indirect form of goading or insult generally making use of profanity.”[2] Roger D. Abrahams writes that to signify is “to imply, goad, beg, and boast by indirect verbal or gestural means (260).

In sum, Lapiro de Mbanga is an anti-establishment songwriter. He is both an entertainer and social critic. His danceable lyrics are both hosannas of hope and lamentations of the socially ostracized. He takes jibes at Cameroon’s morally bankrupt leaders exemplified by dereliction of duty.  His lyrics have an evocative appeal on an array of music connoisseurs on both sides of the Mungo River. Lapiro’s success in creating a novel lingo bears testimony to the extraordinary intellect of this self-taught musician. His songs have produced a tonic effect on a new generation of young Cameroonian musicians. Committed musicians like Longue Longue are producing musical compositions that call into question, impunity, administrative arrogance, bad governance, corruption, influence peddling and other social ills that impede social progress and economic development in Cameroon. Lapiroism is a lethal tool wielded with dexterity by this polyglot singer in his head-on vendetta against the nation’s grave-diggers.
About the Author
Dr. Peter Vakunta is Professor at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey-California, USA.

[1] Hesch, Rick. “Music of Oppression. Music of  Resistance”, Retrieved January 7, 2007 from
[2] Suburbs
[3]  Christopher Thompson. “Mixing Music and Politics in Africa.” Retrived September 4, 2007 from’8599,1658765,00.html
[4]  Lapiro is an acronym for Lambo Pierre Roger. He has other nicknames,  including ‘Ndinga Man (Guitar Man), le Président des sauveteurs and Tara. See  Nyamnjoh and Fokwang (2005).
[5]  Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Trans. Constance Farrington. New York: Grove Press, 1966.
[6]  This is a Pidgin English expression for ‘turn a blind eye’. Nye refers to the repressive forces of state violence that regularly unleashes terror in Douala and other opposition strongholds in Cameroon.  There is a pun or verbal tricksterism here given that Lapiro makes reference to gendarrnes in his songs in veiled terms.
[7]  Slang comprising French, pidgin English and Indigenous language words
[8] The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism is a work of literary criticism and theory by American scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. first published in 1988.

Resolving Language Debate in African Literature
Published in Daily Independent, Nigeria (4 July 2010)
By Yemi Adebisi 

Lagos — The recent challenge by a Cameroonian writer and literary critic, Peter Wuteh Vakunta of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States of America (USA) against the most published postulation of foremost Kenyan writer and apostle of indigenous language, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, on strong recommendation of writing literature in indigenous language, is a clear indication that there is need for global writers to readdress the claim. The attention of the world toward embracing indigenous language should not be treated with levity, experts have suggested.

According to Vakunta's review, "the question of language choice in African literature has caused significant ripples in the pool of literary criticism. The genesis of this discourse dates back to Obiajunwa Wali, who in 1963 wrote an article titled "The Dead End of African Literature." In the referred works of arts, Wali argued that "the whole uncritical acceptance of English and French as the inevitable medium for educated African writing, is misdirected, and has no chance of advancing African literature and culture." He further pointed out that until African writers accept the fact that any true African literature must be written in African languages, they would be merely pursuing a dead end. Wali even sounded a fatalistic note when he opined that "African languages would face inevitable extinction, if they do not embody some kind of intelligent literature, and the only way to hasten this, is by continuing in our present illusion that we can produce African literature in English and French." These postulations have given rise to a groundswell of contentious, even tendentious discourses among writers and critics of African literature.

Vakunta examined the seminal work of Ngugi, the most vocal on this issue, entitled, Decolonising the Mind: the Politics of Language in African Literature (1986), where he (Ngugi) argues over and over again that to qualify as African, African literature has to be written in indigenous languages. As he puts it, "Literature written by Africans in European languages... can only be termed Afro-European literature; that is, the literature written by Africans in European languages." He describes his return to African languages in his fictional writing as "a quest for relevance," noting that the use of indigenous languages in fictional writing is a liberating venture that enables Africans to see themselves clearly in relationship to themselves and to other selves in the universe. Thus, Ngugi's rhetoric broaches the most urgent problematic of postcolonial African writing: the issue of how language (medium) becomes the message in a work of literature. It is a logo centric approach that puts a premium on words and language as the fundamental expression of external reality. In this paper presentation, more light was shed on the language question in African literature. It delves into the contradictions inherent in Ngugi's posture in favour of the unassailable position of indigenous languages in contemporary African fiction.

While Vakunta absolutely agreed that language embodies all the great moral, gender, philosophical, and in fact, physical issues humanity has grappled with from time immemorial, he insisted that language has been exploited by fictional writers to all intents and purposes, ranging from language as deconstruction in Orwell's 1984 (1977), language as a room without a view in Kafka's The Trial (1937), to language as a gap through which reality escapes in Robbe-Grillet's Le Voyeur (1955) or from cyclic language as unmaking in Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude (1982), language as seduction and disillusionment in Nabokov's Lolita (1955) to language as an expression of otherness in Nganang's Dog Days (2001). There is always a "sense of carnivalesque enjoyment in the pyrotechnical properties of language-as- narrative."
Vakunta, expressing his staunch belief said, "however, to reduce the problematic of postcolonial literature to the question of language seems to me an untenable argument. Although I understand where Ngugi is coming from, and see the importance of promoting the use of indigenous languages through writing, I can't help but think that his argument is completely circular and that he seems to contradict himself all too often. Africa has so many languages. In my home country, Cameroon, one can count over 200 languages. If one writes in one of these languages, how would the people from the other linguistic communities be able to read the books? Only the few speakers of the language in which the literary works are written would have access to the message."

In his broad argument, he said the most important aspect of the contradiction is Ngugi's decision to translate his books originally written in his mother tongue, Gikuyu, into the English language for the purpose of widening his readership. It would be recalled however that Ngugi's latest novel, Wizard of the Crow (2007) was written in Gikuyu and later translated into English by Ngugi himself. Vakunta bluntly objected to Ngugi's claim and said, "He is so terribly against writing in English, yet we are reading his books in English! Ngugi's stance on language is pretty inflexible, or too inflexible, in this era of globalisation. I don't mean to be at all offensive, but I feel his stance is a little hypocritical in that after condemning writing in European languages, he still uses English to educate people about this."

If Decolonising the Mind, Ngugi's tool of combat is written in English, the critic said, "I'm bothered every time I read something written by him in English or hear him speak in English. Naturally, I'm not saying he shouldn't write or speak in English, but doesn't he see why it is somewhat necessary to do so? A proverbial expression in my mother tongue cautions against destroying the tree whose fruits you savour."
He further argued that, "the mere fact that his indigenous-language fictional works have been translated into English so that they may be read by a global readership and Africans who don't speak Gikuyu makes Ngugi's frivolous argument a non starter. His latest book, Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir (2010) that I reviewed not long ago is written in English! Ngugi is aware that he needs to reach a broader audience/readership; therefore, he writes in English. Isn't this an indication that his pontifications against the use of imperial languages in African literature are spurious? If he only wrote in Gikuyu, wouldn't he unquestionably have a limited readership?"

In one of his essays "The Language of African Literature" (Decolonising the Mind, 4-33), Ngugi endeavours to account for the rationale behind writing African literature in European languages, which includes a broader reading audience, publishing/distributing opportunities, and the majority of awards that are only given to works written in European languages. Yet, Vakunta never saw it wise for him to make a vindictive declaration and recommendation that have today become almost a global discourse among the literati. "What does this say about his dogged determination to write only in his mother tongue? Ngugi finds it hard to stop writing in English or translating his own works into English because he is a product of the same linguistic/cultural dualism that nourishes his creative genius. I believe that he is merely resisting the psychological effects of the perplexities that arise from this ambivalence. What would happen if Mungaka, an indigenous language spoken in the grass fields of Cameroon, became very popular and a French writer began writing their books in this native tongue? Would these books still be classified as Mungaka literature regardless of the French content of the works? How about a Kenyan who grows up speaking Gikuyu and later learns Japanese and starts to write fiction in this Asian language? Would his works be Kenyan or Japanese? Because intriguing questions like these are bound to arise, creative writers need to give serious thought to the language question in literature."
The critic, though all out for Ngugi's verdict subtly submitted that he only comprehends the importance of writing in African languages for the purpose of safeguarding cultural heritage.
In his profile, Vakunta has written in Cameroonian Creole (Pidgin), Camfranglais, and Hausa in his attempt to transpose not only the speech patterns and mannerisms of Cameroonians into the written medium but also to underscore Cameroonian worldview and imagination. His mission was clear when he further stood his stand that, "to argue that one has to write in one's mother tongue in order to earn a place in the ivory tower of African literati seems to me lame contention. If African writers only wrote in their native languages, wouldn't this alienate readers who only read in European languages? Wouldn't alienation harbour grave consequences, especially from the pecuniary point of view?"
He insisted that Ngugi's uncompromising position is only one side of an ongoing argument in favour of the decolonisation of African literature (Chinweizu et al, 1983). "Like Ngugi, Chinweizu, Jemie and Madubuike posit that the use of European languages in African literature is a perpetuation of the neo-colonialist tendencies that seem so pervasive in African economies, politics and cultures. Arguing along similar lines, Ngugi observes that there is no difference between a politician who argues that Africa cannot dispense with imperialism and an African writer who believes that European languages are indispensable. As he puts it: "I believe that writing in Gikuyu language, a Kenyan language, an African language is part and parcel of the anti-imperialist struggles of Kenyan and African Peoples"(Quoted in Olaniyan and Quayson, 302).
On his part, Chinua Achebe observes that for him there is no choice; he has to write in English: "But for me there is no other choice. I have been given the language and I intend to use it" (Morning Yet on Creation Day, 62). If you want to get reward for your hard labour (writing), you need a wider audience.
It could be inferred therefore that Achebe's writing does not usually conform to the European language idiom and syntax not because he is not proficient in English but because he is smart enough to manipulate the English language to bear the weight of his Igbo imagination and sensibility. As he puts it: "The price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to many different kinds of use."

Africa's shame
Published in Africa Today (04/30/05)

By Peter Vakunta Wuteh
Led by Adolf Hitler, the Nazis committed an unpardonable crime against humanity. Fuelled by hatred for the Jews, they exterminated about six million Jews in gas chambers. Half a century after this gruesome tragedy, similar criminals, this time on the African continent are doing the exact same thing. Not long ago, the Hutus of Rwanda concluded that the Tutsis, ethnically related to the Banyamulenge of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), were 'cockroaches' that did not deserve to live and therefore had to be exterminated. The genocide that lasted a mere 100 days claimed the lives of a million people!
On Friday August 13, 2004, another shameful incident occurred on our continent. At a refugee camp in Gatumba, Burundi, ethnic cleansers headed by a self-proclaimed born-again Christian and leader of the Palipehutu-FNL, murdered in cold blood well over 150 children, women and men in their sleep.
The situation in Darfur, Sudan is no less disgraceful. A bunch of demented militias calling themselves the
have killed about 30,000 people, forced a million out of their homes and left an estimated 2.2 million in dire need of relief.
I won't even bother to ask the obvious question: what has the African Union or the UN done concretely to halt this carnage? I would rather ask the less obvious one: when are we going to stop portraying ourselves to the world as a bunch of demented barbarians?
Peter Vakunta Wuteh, Madison,