A Stony Brook and Princeton professor was relieved to be home after being detained for three weeks in Cameroon following the publication of an article criticizing the African nation’s president.
Patrice Nganang, a professor on sabbatical from Stony Brook’s cultural studies and comparative literature department, was expelled from Cameroon and flown to Washington this week, once all charges were dropped by a local judge amid international calls for his release.
“They put me on a plane and I didn’t know where I was going,” Nganang said Saturday from his home in Hopewell, New Jersey. “I was happy to see the U.S. Embassy reunited me with my wife, who came to pick me up. There was no reason for them to have put me on a plane to D.C.”
Nganang, 47, was initially stopped Dec. 6 at the airport in Douala as he attempted to leave Cameroon to meet his wife and family in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. He was held in Kondengui Central prison after being charged with insulting Cameroon’s army and inciting violence.
Born and raised in Cameroon, Nganang holds dual citizenship. He returned to his home country to report on an internal conflict between the French-majority government and the English-speaking minority, which is about 30 percent of the population, he said.
The nation was previously split between the French and British after World War I. President Paul Biya, 84, has been in control of the republic since 1982.
Nganang said he spent three weeks speaking with English-speaking Cameroonians to document their protests and wrote an article in Jeune Afrique magazine that criticized the government for its handling of the separatist crisis in the Anglophone regions.
The government has escalated its control over the separatist English movement through limited access to goods, jobs and schools, Nganang said. Demonstrations have turned violent, leading to the deaths of protesters.
“There has been an absence of dialogue of people who come from the same country, but have stopped speaking together,” Nganang said.
Nganang was set for a Jan. 19 trial, but a judge dismissed charges Wednesday under an article of the country’s criminal procedure code that provides for a full interruption of a trial if it is likely to “seriously imperil social interest or public order,” Nganang’s supporters said.
Nganang was returned to the airport with armed guards who would not tell Nganang if he was flying back to Zimbabwe or the United States.
He learned he was flying to Washington after boarding the plane. He said he may not return to his country until there is a regime change.
“The U.S. Embassy did a lot behind the scenes to make sure I was treated well. I came back to see a huge international campaign for my release,” Nganang said. “I’m going to have to stay here and consider my exile to have started.”
With Christine Chung and Zachary Dowdy