Are you writing for the drummer or for the dancing little bird?

(“For when we see a little bird dancing in the middle of the pathway, we know that its drummer is hiding in the nearby bush.” Chinua Achebe from Arrow of God, chapter 4).

I recently wrote a reflection in which I lamented the continual shedding of blood in Cameroon, my homeland. In it, I pleaded with blood-harvesters, on both sides of the divide, to heed the words of the prophet Isaiah as he urges them to ‘beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks’ (Is 2:4). The prophet of old is asking them to turn their weapons of war into instruments of agriculture and other development projects.

After reading me, someone wondered out loud who I was writing for. “Don’t you think you’re wasting your time because neither the fellows in the bush, the so-called ‘Amba boys’, nor the soldiers coming out of the barracks, will ever read these things you write. Then, who are you writing for?”    That was a question of audience. When I write, who do I have in mind?

It was then that I recalled a proverb by that incomparable Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, in which he says that “… when we see a little bird dancing in the middle of the pathway, we know that its drummer is hiding in the nearby bush.” It is not the little bird dancing in the middle of the pathway that I write for. It is too busy dancing to its drummer’s music to care about my writing. It is rather the drummer in the bush that I target in my writing.

In the Cameroonian context, the little bird dancing in the middle of the pathway represents those youngsters, who are being massively recruited into the government army from all over the country, some looking like kids below fifteen, to kill and be killed in the war zone that has been dubbed “Ground Zero.” They are the children of the poor, from Lake Chad in the Far North, through the savannah plateaus of the Adamawa highlands, to the thick impenetrable forests of Fang land in the deep south, who are sent out to torch homes, kill, steal and chase off into exile those of our people who manage to escape their murderous rampage. Their drummers are the warlords of the land, hiding in their air-conditioned offices in the capital city.  Those are the people to whom I address my outrage. Let them allow peace and justice to bloom and blossom in this martyred land!

The reality of war is beginning to strike deep into the remotest villages of our land, outside “Ground Zero”, because the children of the poor are increasingly going back home in body bags. You may remember the Catholic priest in a remote parish in the southern part of the country, appealing for an end to this senseless war, with tears in his eyes, as he stood over a coffin freshly brought back home from the war front. Listen to him: “Tell the Chief of the Army to put an end to this war.  The children of army colonels are not the ones dying in this war. The children of army generals are not dying in this war. The children of ministers are not dying in this war. It is only the children of the poor who are dying in this war.”

Of course, no one paid any heed to the poor priest’s teary pleadings.  Why? Because, as the priest rightly said, it is not the children of the warlords who are dying in this war. They have been carefully shipped off to Europe and the Americas, where they attend expensive schools and live in luxurious homes their parents have bought for them with money looted from our country’s treasury. It is not rare to read of scandals involving some of those children as they yield to some of the worst temptations of life in foreign lands: drug-trafficking, cocaine-snuffing, prostitution, among others.

Let me now turn my attention to the “Amba” drummers, for whom I also wrote that piece.   These are our brothers and sisters, residing for the most part in Europe, particularly in the Scandinavian countries, and in North America.  They funnel weapons of death to the little birds dancing in the middle of the footpath, their foot soldiers, the so-called “Amba boys.”

Over the past over six years, the little birds dancing in the pathway have learnt to wield those life-snatching weapons of war, supplied by their drummers, with devastating efficacy. They kidnap the poor for heavy ransoms; torture and kill the very people they say they are out to ‘liberate’ from ‘foreign’ domination.  From their hideouts, their drummers have vowed that our children cannot attend school, an injunction their little birds, dancing in the pathway, have enforced with tragic consequences. They amputate the hands of our children, who dare disobey their school-imposed sanctions (remember Bamenda). They invade schools and kill our children (remember Kumba).  They humiliate our children and their teachers by forcing them to undress and run home stark naked in the street (remember Buea). They dump explosive devices by the road sides and children, who naively pick them up, thinking they are toys, have been killed or maimed for life (remember little Dora Fonyuy in Kumbo).

In the meantime, their drummers’ own children calmly and peacefully attend school where they and their parents have taken refuge. The other day, social media carried a story of one of the major drummers, living in the frozen slopes of a Scandinavian country, inviting the whole world to join him to celebrate his daughter’s graduation from university.  Wherever these drummers are hiding, the story is the same: their own children are in school, and when they graduate, they post their graduation pictures on social media, and invite us to join them to celebrate their children’s ‘brilliant’ academic achievements. The question is, what of our own kids in “Ground Zero”? Should they too not be allowed to attend school and also celebrate their own academic achievements?

To you, “drummer-rulers” of this land; this tortured and bleeding “Land of Glory, Land of Promise”; to you also, self-styled “drummer-liberators” of my people, I address my ardent plea: please, give peace and social justice a chance in our war-battered land! Our people have suffered enough!

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