Below is an interview I granted Cameroon Tribune in 1987, in Yaounde, while on a one-week mission to Cameroon from London. The interview was conducted by Veteran Journalist, Sylvester Gwellem and published in The Weekender, the weekend edition of Cameroon Tribune. It is to be recalled that at the time, Sopecam, the parent company of Cameroon Tribune, operated two different versions of the paper, a French one and an English one. This interview was published in the English edition of the newspaper.
“A journalist of international repute, Tikum Mbah Azonga, working for the weekly magazine `West Africa`, stopped by at the Cameroon Tribune office in Yaounde recently, on one of his junkets to Africa and had a chat with our Weekender Staff man, Sylvester Gwellem, on issues ranging from the socio-political to the economic. The excerpts:
C.T.: Mr. Azonga, your byline has been very prominent in the magazine, West Africa for the past two years. Please, can you tell us who you are?
Azonga: Well, I was born in Baforchu in the North West Province of Cameroon. I attended Sacred Heart College in Bamenda and later entered the Cameroon College of Arts, Science and Technology (CCAST) in Bambili. After that, I taught briefly and then proceeded to the Ecole Normale Supérieure Annexe de Bambili where I studied in the Bilingual Letters Series. Later I went to Besançon in France where I obtained the Diplôme De Professeur de Français Langue Etrangère, which is a diploma in linguistics applied to the teaching of French as a Foreign Language. I then continued at the Ecole Superieure de Traducteurs-Interpretes in Lille, still in France, where I graduated with a Maitrise-level diploma in translation and interpretation. Thereafter, I was recruited by the French government as a native speaker of the French Language and sent on secondment to the British government which in turn posted me to the Aylestone High School in Kilburn, North London and I taught French. While teaching full time, I underwent a year’s crash course in journalism at the London-based Africa Magazine.
C.T.: You certainly replaced another journalist, Mark Doyle, who was very popular among Cameroon readers of West Africa. Where is he today?
Azonga: Yes, I must tell you that Mark Doyle’s articles inspired me very much. When I was a student in France and read the magazine, I wrote and introduced myself to him.He then arranged a meeting at his home in London. When I got there, he gave me a rousing reception characterized by a sumptuous meal. When I returned to France, I started sending him my own contributions for publication in West Africa magazine. That is why when President Paul Biya made his first official trip to Britain in 1985 after acceding to the helm of affairs in Cameroon, I wrote some of the articles that covered that trip.I have great admiration for Mark. Regarding his whereabouts, when he left the magazine and I succeeded him there, he joined Amnesty International. Right now, he is working for the BBC.
C.T.: Do you think that as a Cameroonian working with such an international magazine, you have objectively portrayed Cameroon to the outside world in its correct perspective?
Azonga: You have to know that I am not there only for Cameroon. I am satisfied with what I have done so far. Within that time I have made both friends and enemies.
C.T.: The general feeling among your Cameroonian professional colleagues is that you are just another Cameroonian civil servant in the service of of “West Africa” magazine?
Azonga: As a journalist I am independent and have never been in the service of any government.
C.T.: From the way you have written the special issue (your magazine has done on Cameroon) the economic crisis in Cameroon does not appear to be as serious as people at home think. Is it a true assessment of the situation?
Azonga: We can’t understand the situation in Cameroon unless we know what is going on in other African countries. Although there may be a few irregularities in the payment of salaries , the situation is so bad in other countries that even civil servants have not received salaries for more than four months. In some cases workers have been forced to surrender a certain percentage of their salaries. Again, while Cameroonians have enough food on their tables and even more to export to neighbouring countries, there are some countries that can not boast of a square meal per day.
C.T.: Don’t you think our economic crisis has come too early?
Azonga: I don’t think so. But I know there has been some mismanagement in the sense that our parastatals were supposed to contribute a lot to the national treasury. But the parastatals lacked coordination and control and very often the people at the top employed workers by resorting to criteria that were incompatible with the job for which they were employed. Some people were employed even when there were no posts available. So because they were neither qualified not required, they couldn’t do the jobs well. That was a waste of manpower and time. I visited an office where a typist was picking at her typewriter with two fingers and even reading the keyboard. Such things should not happen.
C.T.: What about the measures take?
Azonga: There is no indication that all the necessary measures have been exhausted but those taken so far are in the right direction.
C.T.: What about the sales of WEST AFRICA in Cameroon?
Azonga: The sales are not bad and not good. There is the problem of distribution which will be sorted out soon. I take this opportunity to appeal to Cameroonian readers to keep up interest in events in other parts of the world.