My life in exile

Alex Mbom, president of the Cameroon Freethought Association, tells about his difficult journey behind the organising of Freethought

How it all started

In March 2004, I found through a contact the Vaud Association of Freethought in Switzerland with its president J.P. Ravay who sent me some documents on the freethought and a review of International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). At the same time, I exchanged some letters with Bobbie Kirkhart, president of Atheist Alliance International (AAI).

This contact with Bobbie Kirkhart turned out to be a life changing moment. He invited me to the conference jointly organised by the Nigerian Humanist Movement (NHM) and IHEU. There I was able to meet a few important persons from the secularist movement at an international level and have a thorough debate. It was after my return from this Tai Solarin Conference that CAFTA (Cameroon Freethought Association) was born, under Bobbie Kirkhart's expertise.

Getting active

Our first project that was funded by AAL, was realised in October 2004, in the city of Ebolowa in the South of Cameroon, and dedicated to the popularisation campaign of freethought ideas through consciousness-raising the public with posters.

Soon other actions followed. We opposed against the translation of the Bible into more than 250 national languages by the NGO SIL and against the ceremony of consecration of Jean Mbarga as bishop at the municipal stadium of Ebolowa.

Our stand in the debate over homosexuality in Cameroon did not draw us much sympathy from some officials in the local public services. This hatred was shown by anonymous letters threatening my life which I personally received and by intimidation. But it didn't end there.

After the series of threats which I received and together with psychological pressures within my university, in the evening of 10 October, 2005, I was attacked and physically aggressed, receiving blows and tortures by two apparently unidentified youths. These two strange people asked me to stop publishing articles criticising God and His men, or they were ready to eliminate me. As I was not willing to disappear in such a way, nor to cease articles and letters of opposition, I had to go. I had to seek shelter from those unidentified fanatics' violence and cruelty. That forced me to withdraw from the scene for a while and seek refuge in Nigeria.

Seeking refuge 

I arrived in Ibadan on 27 October 2005 around three in the afternoon, where I, after a week of adventurous travel by road, directly joined the NHM headquarter.

On my arrival in Nigeria, AAI through NHM and their dynamic Executive Secretary Leo Igwe, had already arranged a place where I could stay during my strange exile. AAI has always been present; their President Bobbie Kikhart taking good care to my case.

It is not easy to run away from one's country in emergency, unexpectedly, without knowing what the next day will be like. But in Nigeria I was welcome.

I was in charge of the library of the Center for Inquiry-Nigeria. I got involved in NHM activities such as the current campaign against Ritual Killing, the press conference against the vote of the law against homosexual marriage in Nigeria, and the research on paranormal phenomena and new religions such as Eckankar.

The support of AAI enabled me to ensure the links with my group in Cameroon. Thanks to my General Secretary Herve Meno and the treasurer Gibering Bito, CAFTA continued to hold Sunday meetings.

A new home

AAI and NHM have shown that Humanism is my new home, as Taslima Nasrin said : "The love I received from you is my home". I did not feel a stranger at the NHM office. Nonetheless, I sometimes felt a stranger in the streets or in a taxi because in Ibadan, the "official" language remains Yoruba.

The few months I spent at the NHM office made me realise how difficult it is to lead our fight for non-belief. The NHM office is almost not supplied with electricity. Every evening, I had to buy a candle to be able to work. Sometimes it took two weeks to finish writing an article because of a lack of electricity supply for the computer.

I think it is time for the Freethought community to devote more attention to the working conditions of African humanists. A lot have the will to work like Leo, but they have no means. I have learnt a lot during my strange exile in Nigeria. I saw how Leo held an organisation like NHM; without a budget, but in the end with a positive result.

My stay in Nigeria was profitable since I made connections with the Centre d'Action Laïque (CAL), through its federation of Free Inquiry, that was very interested in my projects such as the House for secularism and the library of free thought in Cameroon, as well as the organisation of the first French-speaking international secular conference in Africa in 2007 in Cameroon.

I have also established contact with Mr Clement Dartevelle, President of the Federation and of the Cercle du Libre Examen of Brussels Université Libre (ULB). And thanks to the Center for Inquiry Transnational, through Norm Allen Jr, Executive Director of African American For Humanism (AAH), a Freethought library in Cameroon can start soon with prometheus books. 

Back to Cameroon, I am proud to know that I am welcome. I am confident that I have nothing to fear now.