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    Dr Bernard Fonlon was an extraordinary figure who left a large footprint in Cameroonian intellectual, social and political life.
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    Website of the Literary Award established to honor the memory of BERNARD FONLON, the great Cameroonian teacher, writer, poet, and philosopher, who passionately defended human rights in an often oppressive political atmosphere.
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    A UMI (United Media Incorporated) publication. Specializing in well researched investigative reports, it focuses on the Cameroonian scene, particular issues of interest to the former British Southern Cameroons.
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    Cameroonian poet, writer, journalist and Human Rights activist living in Warsaw, Poland
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    Victor Wacham Agwe Mbarika is one of Africa's foremost experts on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). Dr. Mbarika's research interests are in the areas of information infrastructure diffusion in developing countries and multimedia learning.
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    A West African in Arusha at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda on the angst, contradictions and rewards of that process.
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    Renaissance man, philosophy professor, actor and newspaper columnist, Godfrey Tangwa aka Rotcod Gobata touches a wide array of subjects. Always entertaining and eminently readable. Visit for frequent updates.
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    Prolific writer, social and political commentator, he was a professor at University of Buea and University of Botswana. Currently he is Head of Publications and Dissemination at CODESRIA in Dakar, Senegal. His writings are socially relevant and engaging even to the non specialist.
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    Novelist and poet Ilongo Fritz Ngalle, long concealed his artist's wings behind the firm exterior of a University administrator and guidance counsellor. No longer. Enjoy his unique poems and glimpses of upcoming novels and short stories.
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    The award-winning blog of Dibussi Tande, Cameroon's leading blogger.
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    Rosemary Ekosso, a Cameroonian novelist and blogger who lives and works in Cambodia.
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    Stephen Neba-Fuh is a political and social critic, human rights activist and poet who lives in Norway.
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    Bate Besong, award-winning firebrand poet and playwright.
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    A no holds barred group blog for all things Cameroonian. "Man no run!"
  • Bakwerirama
    Spotlight on the Bakweri Society and Culture. The Bakweri are an indigenous African nation.
  • Fonlon-Nichols Award
    Website of the Literary Award established to honor the memory of BERNARD FONLON, the great Cameroonian teacher, writer, poet, and philosopher, who passionately defended human rights in an often oppressive political atmosphere.
  • Bernard Fonlon
    Dr Bernard Fonlon was an extraordinary figure who left a large footprint in Cameroonian intellectual, social and political life.
  • AFRICAphonie
    AFRICAphonie is a Pan African Association which operates on the premise that AFRICA can only be what AFRICANS and their friends want AFRICA to be.
  • Canute - Chronicles from the Heartland
    Professional translator, freelance writer and a regular contributor to THE POST newspaper. Lives in Douala, Cameroon


I woke up early this morning (20/09/2021) to the sad news of the passing into eternity of Father Etienne Khumbah. I immediately recalled a conversation I had had with him in 1998 after his forceful eviction from Bonjongo. I had intended to publish a narrative of this conversation but procrastination on my part and other countervailing external events conspired to make it impossible until now, sadly posthumously for Etienne. I am grateful to Providence that my frantic search for hours in my disorganized library for this write-up was not in vain. Here below is the text of what I had wanted to publish, anchored on my tete-a-tete with Father Etienne.


The recent call by His Lordship, Bishop Pius Awa, for forgiveness and reconciliation between himself and Rev. Father Etienne Khumbah, as well as between all the faithful and people of the entire diocese of Buea, over the five-year-old “Maranatha” affair, has moved me to dig up notes of a deep conversation I had with Father Etienne on the slopes of the hill of the Immaculate Conception at the Bishop’s House in Kumbo, on Saturday 31st of January 1998. That year’s feast of Ramadan had afforded me a breathing space from my academic commitments and preoccupations to travel from Yaounde to Nso’ to see Fr. Etienne, amongst other reasons. No, I had never been a member of Fr. Etienne’s Maranatha Prayer Group, nor was I seeking faith healing or a miraculous cure for any ailment. I went to see Fr. Etienne as a personal friend and former schoolmate at St. Joseph’s College, Sasse, where his class batch, including mates like Paul Tamajong and Matthias Foncha, was a year behind mine. I was also with him at the Seminary of SS. Peter and Paul, Bodija, Ibadan. I had not seen Etienne since our student days at Ibadan.

When the Maranatha/Bonjongo Parish crisis started making headlines in the newspapers, I found it hard to believe that it was the Etienne I had known at Sasse and Bodija who was at the centre of the storm. The events, as recounted in the newspapers, sounded so incredible to me that I kept looking out for an opportunity to travel to Bonjongo to see Etienne and confirm/disconfirm things for myself. The first opportunity presented itself at the wrong period. This was the run-up period to the 1997 presidential elections and I was honestly alarmed by reported calls, from the campaign daises of the political bigwigs in the South West Province, for settlers’ eyes to plucked out (Njeuma), failing which they should be poisoned (Oben Ashu). I did not know whether these newspaper reports were veridical or completely fictitious, but I preferred to err on the side of caution and not to travel to the South West Province at a time when there was a chance of being erroneously mistaken for an actual or potential “come no go”, with the consequent danger of losing my eyes which I value so much for reading and writing.

We are living through a system in which one could be jailed for simply speculating on the health or ill-health of the ‘democratic’ Leviathan. Story-telling is an important part of our traditional cultures and dreaming is an involuntary universal phenomenon. But may it not be the case that I would be in jail today had I told the story of the dream I had the night Pius Njawe was jailed? I saw Pius Njawe (in the dream) watching through the prison bars, before the magic year 2000 (still in the dream), a state funeral in which the mourners were rejoicing, dancing, and stomping in unison to the improvised beat of the grave-diggers. Then when the coffin was about to be lowered into the grave, his excellency jumped out of the coffin and sat on top of it, and started waving his hands at people on all sides. Everybody scattered in all directions, running for dear life. Do you think I would have escaped a prison sentence if I had told this dream, given that my past dreams have enjoyed a 75% rate of veridicality? Is it safe to dream dreams, let alone relate dreams, in our Republic?

When “la democratie avancee” advanced and transformed itself into “la democratie appaisee” and anti-settler rhetoric abated, I fixed a date for traveling to Bonjongo to visit Etienne but, before the fixed date could arrive, Etienne was suddenly forcefully removed from Bonjongo, allegedly with the help of circa 300 armed soldiers.

Before talking about my January 31st, 1998 conversation with Father Etienne, the following brief background is necessary. At Sasse College, Etienne was at first not Etienne. His name was Stephen Ntellah. Even ‘Khumbah’, which I believe to be his father’s name, was not yet part of his nomenclature during his early days in Sasse. We just called him ‘Stephen Ntellah’. Many of us in Sasse at the time did not yet bear our fathers’ names. Some of us had come from sub-cultures within which anyone who called you by your father’s name or who boldly called your father’s name, instead of saying ‘Baa so-and-so’, was surely provoking you into a fight. “He called my father’s name” was always a good excuse for having slapped someone. It was during registration for the GCE exams that many students would usually be advised to put their father’s name as their family name or surname. The ubiquitous birth certificates of today were not yet a common practice and to make, say a passport, you got any older person to swear to an affidavit in court as to how old you were.  The official ages some of us are stuck with today are the ones some uncle or cousin had sworn to from memory in our absence. But that is not the story I set out to tell.

At Sasse, Stephen Ntellah struck me as a personification or incarnation of what in later years I came to understand as the ‘Aristotelian mean’. Average and moderate through and through, he was not an extremist in any domain; he participated in all activities without being particularly outstanding or remarkably mediocre in any. He was spontaneously friendly, had a phlegmatic temperament, never exhibited excitement, and always spoke or responded to people in an even, calm voice, preceded or followed by a truly charming smile. He was very robust in health and had a remarkably huge chest, on account of which we just nicknamed him “Chest”. I don’t remember him ever falling ill, either at Sasse or in Boddija. The introduction of French as a serious subject in Sasse might have had something to do with Ntellah’s eventual preference for the French version of his name but for us, his school mates, once we learned that the English equivalent of ‘Etienne’ was ‘Stephen’, we never called him ‘Stephen’ again but always ‘Etienne’. By the time he went to Bodija, Ibadan, his nomenclature had firmly solidified as ‘Etienne Khumbah’. ‘Stephen’ and to some extent ‘Ntellah’ were left hanging on the memory walls of Sasse College, but the charming smile and spontaneous friendliness were carried along to Bodija.


Etienne and Gobata in Bodija circa 1972

Etienne and Gobata in Bodija  c. 1972



An outsider to priestly formation or Seminary life may not know this but, amongst Seminarians or trainee priests, some are acknowledged by their peers as outstanding in their piety or holiness, real or pretended. At SS. Peter and Paul Seminary, Bodija, Seminarians who excelled in holiness could be easily recognized, as they spent all their free time kneeling and sometimes audibly crying before the Blessed Sacrament or before the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Then there are some known by their peers for their impiety and recklessness, including even visits to brothels. A seminarian colleague once told us: “I believe that God is calling me to be a priest exactly as I am; a smoker and womanizer”. Here again, Etienne maintained the via media, the Aristotelian mean, exhibiting neither extreme holiness nor un-holiness. He enjoyed a remarkable charisma amongst both fellow seminarians and parishioners.

To look at Etienne today, one could scarcely guess that he was a star actress (sic) in his days at Bodija. Both of us belonged to the extra-curricular club: Effective Speech Organization (ESO). Inter alia, the ESO used to produce at least one major play every year. When Sarif Easmon’s The New Patriots was produced, Etienne was cast and starred in it as Mrs. Barbara Heyford and came through so convincingly that the audience was convinced we had brought a lady to the seminary to act a play with us. Etienne’s charisma with Bodija parishioners was greatly enhanced by the role he so effectively played in this drama performance.


Etienne and Gobata in Bodija as actors in THE NEW PATRIOTS produced and directed by Rev. Sister Brenda Murray

Etienne and Gobata as actors in Bodija
Etienne and Gobata as actors in Bodija
Etienne and Gobata as actors in Bodija

The Major Seminary of SS. Peter and Paul, Bodija, Ibadan, run at the time by American Dominicans of the Order of Preachers (OP), was a modern avant-garde Seminary which permitted liberal practices – an elected student representative council, a students’ common room with dancing facilities, the Seminary chapel being also a parish church, permitting regular social contact with lay Christians, periodic drama performances to which the public was invited, etc., - practices unheard of in other seminaries the world over. The life at the Bodija Seminary was planned and organized around four main axes: study, prayer, manual labour, and recreation. For real self-development this plan is unbeatable.

In 1972, shortly before Etienne and the other Cameroon seminarians were transferred from Ibadan to Enugu, I decided to quit the path to “Fada work” in spite of having consistently received Alpha ratings in all academic courses and other divisions of the training. No one seemed to suspect it, but I had been tormented by doctrinal and conceptual doubts in my unfolding career as a priest; in short, I had slowly discovered that, against the unfolding background of Catholic dogmatic theology, I was a potential heretic within the Church. Many of the dogmas we were told one had to believe under pain of not being a Christian, let alone a priest, appeared to me as mere metaphors which could not be taken literally without absurd consequences. But one was invited to believe them firmly, ultimately as mysteries whose truth is guaranteed by God. For instance, I did not see how the doctrine of consubstantiation, whereby the priest’s words of consecration turn mere bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, could be true in any literal sense, except metaphorically. In short, at many points, I found Paganism more reasonable than Christianity. I thus considered it better to step aside and take the back bench as a lay person in Church, until I could come to terms with my skeptical doubts. I am still a skeptical back-bencher today but that is a different tale altogether. It is Father Etienne I set out to talk about.


Cameroon Seminarians in Bodija, Ibadan

Cameroon Seminarians in Bodija 2  circa 1972
Cameroon Seminarians in Bodija 2  circa 1972

When Etienne and I met at the Bishop’s House in Kumbo on 31 January 1998, we first spent a lot of time in the usual pleasantries and reminiscences of two good friends who had not seen each other for nearly a decade. Then I asked him a serious question: Is it true that they came with over 300 troops to evict you from Bonjongo? Etienne affirmed that it was quite true and confirmed all the other details the newspapers had sensationalized: that they had knocked on his door around 11:00 PM and, as soon as he opened the door, they immediately bundled him, manu militari, into a waiting vehicle, without allowing him even to step back in and change his shirt. In the waiting vehicle, sandwiched between two hefty soldiers, he was driven non-stop, with only a brief pause in Bamenda for refueling, to Kumbo, where he was deposited at the Bishop’s House around 7:00 AM the next morning.

Next question: What about the alarm system you are alleged to have installed all over the Bonjongo Parish compound? I had believed that this, at best, must be an exaggeration of the newspapers, but Etienne confirmed that there was indeed such a system but that he had refrained from setting it off because, had he done so, his supporters would have come out in their numbers to defend him and there would surely have been a blood bath. He expressed a lot of happiness that the whole episode had ended without any human casualties.

Lastly, I asked Etienne that, given his conflict with the Bishop and the great popularity of his prayer group, was he contemplating quitting the priesthood to continue with his charismatic healing Ministry? Etienne responded that quitting the priesthood had never occurred to him and that whatever he does must be done within the Catholic Church although the authoritarianism of the hierarchy is not easy to handle.


Father Etienne Khumbah was a very good man, notwithstanding any shortcomings he may have had as a human being. MAY HE REST IN PERFECT PEACE!

Gobata, Yaounde, 20/09/2021 

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