Denis Atangana, a 24-year-old Cameroonian student, was sentenced to one year in prison for attempting to organise a march on a university campus. Far from discouraging the young activist, it inspired him even more to pursue a political career and bring about change.
Denis Atangana is an undergraduate student in political science in the Cameroonian capital, Yaoundé. Last June, he founded the association Save the University of Yaoundé II-Soa. "It's a student body for voicing demands," says Atangana.
"The main reason for creating this association was to denounce the lack of infrastructure, the non-uniform admission criteria for Master's programmes, and the poor management of the university's food budget, which translates into the poor quality of the meals."
On 29 June, Denis Atangana wanted to organise the first protest activity for the association. He proposed to gather his fellow students for a peaceful march across the university campus to demand the departure of the university's chancellor at the time, Jean Tabi Manga, who was accused of mismanagement. "Manga called the police and I was arrested before the march could start," says Atangana.
About a month later, at the close of a trial widely followed by the local media, Atangana was declared guilty of "organising an unauthorised manifestation" and was given a one year suspended sentence to take effect in three years time. In the meantime he remains a free man.
However, says Atangana, "if I were to engage in any student or political protest within the next three years, I will immediately be arrested and put in jail without trial. This is intimidation. The verdict shows that the trial was politically motivated and not based on facts. It's a strategy to silence the youth and discourage further student manifestations."
Far from discouraging Denis Atangana, the court's verdict inspired him even more. "In order to expand our scope and include students from other universities, Save the University of Yaoundé II-Soa will become the Students' Think Tank for Development and Democracy," says the young activist. "I will also enter into politics," he adds. "From now on, I will be doing more than just student protests. I want to make a contribution towards change in Cameroon. That is my struggle for my country."
Illegal locked in
Atangana puts his money where his mouth is, as he joined a group of fellow students who are working on the creation of an opposition party called Movement for the Revival of Cameroon (MRC). On 13 August, MRC officials held a press conference to present their manifesto. Police stormed the conference hall to disperse the meeting, cut off the electricity, the sound system and the air conditioning and illegally locked the crowd in for nearly two hours.
Regression of civil liberties
In Cameroon, any political gathering that doesn't sing President Paul Biya's - in power for the last 30 years - praise, is systematically banned. Government authorities use every possible means to ban political meetings including beatings, illegal confinement and even the abduction of political leaders.
"We are witnessing a regression of civil liberties," says Atananga. "It's another reason why I am engaging in politics, to change these things. I want to contribute to change in my country. I hope to become Cameroon's youngest ever mayor after next year's municipal elections."