Cameroon: Lapiro for ever

The Cameroon musician Lapiro de Mbanga died on the 16 March 2014 in Buffalo in the United States. In Cameroon, his departure was highly regretted in spite of all the problems he had had with the judiciary. Lapiro’s legacy will live on.

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By Jane Bell

In Cameroon, in the weeks after his death, many debates were organised on radio stations and television about Lapiro de Mbanga to pay him last tribute. The general remark was that Lapiro had died while the democracy – which he strongly criticised in his song titled ‘Constitution constipée’ (Constipated Constitution) – remained a ‘constipated democracy’.

According to many music pundits, ‘Constitution constipée’ was the song that sent Lapiro to prison in 2009.

Lambo Sandjo Pierre Roger – nicknamed ‘Lapiro de Mbanga’ or ‘Dinga Man’ – died three years after he was released from prison. He was accused of inciting public disorder during the February 2008 hunger strike. Till his release, Lapiro pleaded not guilty and decided to go into exile. The reason for this drastic move was that his life and that of his family was under threat.

They obtained an asylum in the United States and settled in Buffalo in September 2012. There, he was free to express and defend his opinions – a liberty which he said he did not enjoy when he resided in his own country, Cameroon. Through social networks Lapiro continued to criticize the government of his country concerning various pertinent government lapses.


Unfortunately, Lapiro was diagnosed with cancer. This happened already while he was imprisoned. He lived in the United States only for two years.

Immediately after the news of Lapiro’s death had broken, the disputes he had had with the government did not stop the press from relaying the news. Even the state media where his music was banned didn’t hold back with informing the public about it, publishing several articles and reports dedicated to the musical icon.

Some private news papers like La Nouvelle Expression said it was because of the strong messages in his songs that he was killed. He was compared to Pius Njawe, another freedom of expression advocate who was also sometimes at loggerheads with the Cameroon government, and who died in road accident while in the United States.


Those for who Lapiro was fighting, the voiceless class of the society, are fatherless. Their advocate is no more. One of them was saying: “Who is going to talk for us again? Lapiro leaves the world without finishing his work. We still needed him.”

Interviewed by La Nouvelle Expression, Barrister Rene Manfo and Lapiro’s lawyer said the judicial procedures which Lapiro has intended against some of his detractors will now stop because of his death.

On 28 March 2014, Lapiro was incinerated in Buffalo according to his wishes. His friends and relatives organised some wake keepings with prayers in his house in Mbanga and in various places around the country. According to Lapiro’s wife Louisette, “the judge that put Lapiro in jail announced that he would organise a mass for him”. Probably a move to ask for forgiveness for having sentenced an innocent man.

As we say, an artist dies but his artistic works live on. Lapiro lives for ever.



Video: Lapiro de Mbanga’s speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum 2013.



Reactions

After Lapiro’s death, many reactions were registered in the national media of Cameroon. Here is a selection.

Compiled by Jane Bell

Marcel Nzepa, Lapiro’s friend
I am in pain. When I accompanied Lapiro to the airport when he left Cameroon to USA, he told me: “It will be difficult for me to come back alive”. When he reached the United States, he told me he feel better. He even sent me some pictures. The last time I spoke to him on phone, he told me he was very sick and even asked me to pray for him. On the 31st December 2013, he sent me an SMS saying: “My son, I imagine what you are enduring there. I spend my time between house and hospital”. Lapiro was such a committed artist and just for that, his death is not a surprise to me. I am only surprised that it comes so early.”

Josua Osiho, SDF parliamentarian
“I am sad. I knew he was sick but I also knew that he will overcome the sickness. Lapiro was someone who contributed a lot on the political and cultural landscape of Cameroon. I am very sad. His departure is certainly the end of on era. I hope his children will overcome this trial.”

Barrister Rene Manfo, Lapiro’s lawyer
“He used to tell me that if he did not go to prison, he would not have this sickness that has killed him. He felt very disappointed and was very offended when he was chained with Paul Eric Kingue (another prisoner) and trailed through Nkongsamba like a brigand. Too many thinks that lead him to hate his country, reason why he has refused that his corps be brought back to Cameroon. Lapiro was a man thirsty by justice. He was courageous as depicted in his slogan while in jail: “2011 is tomorrow”. Meaning that the sentence will still expire and he will speak forth. For him till his death, he was jailed arbitrarily.”

Adala Gildo, artist
“I salute this great guitarist I met in the 1980’s. Lapiro de Mbanga was a popular artist, very commited. He was a bit iconoclastic, but it was his style to tease the power. He was not hesitant to criticize the members of the government. I think he has touched his generation”.

Tamne Pius, musician
“It is a hero that has just fallen. It is thanks to Lapiro that Mbanga’s town is known today. As every man, Lapiro had his passion, his convictions and contradictions. Concerning his death, my wish is that his detractors and admirers notice that he was a patriot who wanted to see an honest and prosperous Cameroon.”


17 March 2014:
Cameroon / USA: Lapiro moves on to the other side
By Daniel Brown (with audio recording)

12 May 2013:
Cameroun: Imprisoned for singing ‘Constipated Constitution’
By Media Foundation for West Africa