THE JOURNALIST CYRILLE EKWALLA.
By Celestin Ngoa Balla, US Africa News. Updated 2015-02-26
USAfrica News: Tell us Cyrille Ekwalla, was it merely coincidence that you have chosen to organize a protest against Boko Haram on February 28 in Montreal, Canada, a date already chosen for the “Great March” in Yaoundé?
Cyrille Ekwalla: No, not a chance. From the moment the principal initiators of the Cameroon-Canada Collective 'United Against Boko Haram"--namely Raphael Yimga Tatchi (Head of Africa within the Development and Peace), Mboua Coming (journalist and activist) and myself--agreed, like many Cameroonians all over the world, that we had to do “our part”, it seemed entirely appropriate and consistent to attach our action to the February 28 date. By choosing this date, we are putting ourselves in unison with mobilizations by Cameroonians conscious of the war which is taking place in the far north region of Cameroon where, as we know, the number of deaths, civilian and military, is increasing, serious injuries are piling up, and especially, where a humanitarian tragedy is being written before our eyes, which were until now almost indifferent. So, if we want to express our solidarity and fraternity with our compatriots in this region, it is logical for us to use that date. But let me add this. It is possible that some know about this date "February 28" thanks to the "Great March" scheduled in Yaoundé in support of defense and security forces. So much the better. However, for others--who are nonetheless concerned with supporting our defense forces in the war against Boko Haram--it is above all a day to commemorate the martyrs of February 2008, when hundreds of young Cameroonians died for exercising their freedom as responsible citizens. And we will also point this out. So you see that this date was not chosen by chance.
USAfrica News: Can you talk about your specific plans for the demonstration, and what goals you hope to achieve?
Cyrille Ekwalla: It's very simple. We have invited people to take part in a vigil. It will be held in a park in downtown Montreal, framed by the police of the city. This vigil is built around three axes, which are: supporting victims and building a chain of solidarity; supporting the defense forces and Cameroonian and Chadian security; and finally to challenge the Cameroon government and Canadian elected officials in charge of international relations for their political parties. I can already assure you of the presence of the leader of the premier opposition party in Parliament in Ottawa, and also of the Cameroon High Commission in Canada. And it is part of our objectives: to raise awareness of Cameroonians in Canada and Canadians to the humanitarian situation is growing in the far north of our country, to get the message to our troops and those of foreign countries that that we are supporting them and "keeping the flame burning" among all stakeholders, citizens, organizations, governments ... for the fight against Boko Haram.
USAfrica News: For some of your compatriots in the diaspora--in the Americas and Europe--organizing such an event signals that you are helping Paul Biya to secure his position as President of the Republic. What do you say?
Cyrille Ekwalla: …Let’s be serious! Tell me by what alchemy a march or a vigil, the objectives of which are clearly stated, namely support to victims and refugees from Boko Haram, is "helping Paul Biya to secure his position as President of the Republic"? And what is signalling that we are only concerned about finding out a young Cameroonian being abducted, raped by force, or having his throat cut, or a village being burned “in order to secure the position of Paul Biya?"
Cameroon is fighting against a terrorist group and Cameroonians are being killed; others are becoming refugees in their own country; we’re seeing ghost towns springing up. There have been marches in the name of the fight against Boko Haram which were praised Paul Biya, I cannot deny it, but this is not our case.
USAfrica News: How do you explain that in the powerful states of North America there is less talk about Boko Haram compared with other Islamists who are plaguing Libya and the Arab countries of Asia
Cyrille Ekwalla: In my opinion, there is less talk, as you say, because Boko Haram has not yet grabbed the interest of these countries, or as some believe, because the presence of Boko Haram coincides with their interests. And the interest of a vigil like the one we are mounting on February 28 is precisely to air these other voices, and lead the media to take a little more interest.
Usafrica News: How do you explain the absence of the Nigerian diaspora on the streets of major world capitals during the protests against Boko Haram, given that Nigeria is where the root of this sect lies?
Cyrille Ekwalla: The Nigerian diaspora reacts like the rest of Nigeria. For us Cameroonians, Boko Haram is not a "phenomenon" as the Minister of Communication, Issa Tchiroma, continues to refer to it - surely the language he uses facilitates the idea- Boko Haram is a reality. For Nigeria, Boko Haram is a terrorist group that occupies roughly three (3) states among 36. That does not mean they are not worried. But once you have integrated the political dynamics going on within our powerful neighbor, taking into account the "corruption", particularly within the military hierarchy, you understand why, when faced with Boko Haram, the approaches of other countries are different than that of Nigeria. In a word, Boko Haram is not a priority for Nigerians as it is for us Cameroonians. And the Nigerian diaspora is the mirror image of Nigerians at home.
USAfrica News: As a journalist, how do you regard the media coverage of the war in Cameroon against Boko Haram?
Cyrille Ekwalla: If you'd asked me this three weeks ago, I would have told you “there is no media coverage of the war in Cameroon against Boko Haram." In your opinion, where does the perception come from that in 4/5 of the country, the fight against Boko Haram resembled a "passing fad"? This comes principally from the political authorities and Paul Biya, who first played down the conflict and even presented it as collateral damage from power struggles and positioning within the current ruling elite. Do you think the media would really care? L’Oiel du Sahel was the first to mention the Boko Haram conflict, followed by some independent media who tried to somehow attract attention to this topic.
The breakthrough came just a few weeks ago with the actual entry of Chad into the conflict. Owing to media management of the conflict by Chad, the Cameroonian authorities – the primary sources of information on the conflict - have changed their approach. One cannot minimize the pressure exercised by the independent media, but also social networks, since it sparked a reaction from Paul Biya, as you know. Today, local media, if they are not embedded, cover the conflict with the means at hand. And it's not bad in terms of working conditions and resources provided by their newsrooms.