/ 20 March 2023

Cameroon a dangerous place to be a journalist

Martinez Zogo 1 (1)

In Cameroon, one of the most popular radio talk shows is Embouteillage, aired on the private radio station Amplitude FM, whose anchor was Mbani Zogo Arsène Salomon, better known as Martinez Zogo or “Le Maestro”.

On 17 January, reports started trickling in of Zogo’s kidnapping. He was missing for five days before his naked body was discovered on the outskirts of the capital Yaoundé.

Rene Emmanuel Sadi, Cameroon’s communications minister, said Zogo’s corpse showed signs of torture. Autopsy results provided by his family show the extent of his injuries, including a broken leg and missing fingers.

Zogo had a reputation as an outspoken critic of private and public sector malfeasance. At the time of his death he was investigating business tycoon and media guru Jean Pierre Amougou Belinga.

In one of his last broadcasts, Zogo claimed to have incriminating evidence detailing how Belinga and his allies in the government had allegedly syphoned billions of CFA francs from the state’s coffers. This was not the first time that Zogo had upset powerful people. He had previously been suspended from the air and imprisoned as a result of his critical comments.

Another journalist, Samuel Wazizi, was arrested and detained in August 2019 for criticising the government’s handling of a separatist revolt in the country’s English-speaking northwest and southwest regions. He was later reported to have died in custody, but his family has yet to see his body.

“Press freedom in Cameroon is controversial,” said Charlie Aimé Tchouemou, editor-in-chief of Amplitude FM.

President Paul Biya set up a commission to investigate the murder. According to the secretary general at the presidency, Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, it has led to some arrests and many others are still being sought. Their identities have not been made public.

Reporters Without Borders revealed the arrests of about 20 members of Cameroon’s General Directorate for External Investigation, including its boss, Maxime Eko Eko, and its special operations director, Justin Danwe. Belinga, who owns the newspaper L’Anecdote and the TV channel Vision 4, and his wife were also arrested.

‘Killed like a pig’

Zogo’s wife Diane has written a letter to Biya and other world leaders demanding justice and protection for her family. “My husband was killed like a pig, let justice take its course.” Zogo’s family has declined to receive his body until after the killers have been arraigned in court.

For close to a month before he was killed, Zogo had become increasingly aware that his life was in peril, but had vowed to expose those “killing” the state. His sister Moungou Crespence said he “used to tell us that he will die for his people”.

Zogo’s colleagues are hopeful that because the investigations were ordered by the president, his killers will be brought to justice. But the commission has an arduous task ahead of it, amid accusations that senior government officials were complicit in the murder.

On 4 March, the state prosecutor presented to some of the suspects the charges levelled against them, and placed them in pre-trial detention in the Kondengui maximum security prison in Yaoundé. The key detainees are Maxine Eko Eko, Justin Danwe and Jean Pierre Amougou Belinga. The charges range from kidnapping and torture to complicity in kidnapping and torture, but none of them has been charged with murder.

Since Zogo’s death, Equinoxe Television, a private TV station in Cameroon, has begun its 8pm show with a tribute to him. 

This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper produced in partnership with the Mail & Guardian. It’s designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here