INTERVIEW WITH HOWARD MEH-BUH MAXIMUS
Howard Meh-Buh Maximus is a Cameroonian writer originally from the Northwest region but grew up in the Southwest. He is one of the winners of the Morland African Writing Scholarships 2020 entering the scholarship program organized by Miles Morland Foundation (MMF) with a proposed fiction that reflects the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon.
In an interview with ANTOA, Howard shared his experiences with us in such a chaotic and challenging period.
Please tell us, Howard, how’s the situation in Cameroon today?
I don’t know how to say this. Actually, Cameroon hasn’t been fine in a long time. There has been huge political unrest and we’ve been having “Ghost-towns” and Lockdowns because of it. This morning though, it is relatively okay, I guess. The country is hosting African Nations Championship where other African countries are participating in the sporting event. Football fanatics have been watching the games at the stadium.
Because I like to stay home, I have been trying to catch the games on TV, and even though I have heard of gunshots and harassments in certain areas, I haven’t experienced it for a little while as I am almost always indoors. We still have “Ghost-towns”.
So, the Anglophone crisis has been going on for like 4 years now. How has this affected you, and your community?
The Anglophone crisis or the Southern Cameroon crisis as it is sometimes called, has been going on for about 4 years and has affected people broadly. From the people whose lives have been lost, their relatives and friends. Right down to people who haven’t lost anyone directly, but whose day-to-day routines have also been affected.
For about 4 years, Mondays have been declared “Ghost-towns” in these regions and therefore we don’t go out on Mondays. We are not allowed to, and you don’t see cars moving. We stay indoors all day and people try to catch up with activities over the weekend.
I remember starting my Ph.D. program in 2016, and this was around the period the crisis started. Internet was disconnected for months during this period, so I had to travel from Buea to Douala every week, so I could get access to the internet for my assignments and presentations. It has really been a lot of catching up. This is how it has affected me, and then there are the people who have died. As a writer, there’s a lot of stories begging to be told of our current reality.
Do you see the crisis coming to an end?
I don’t think there’s anybody who actually knows. I think all that we do is hope that things get better, because how do you really know when it would end?
There have been calls for dialogue that end up in futility. It has hardly yielded anything. We are only hopeful.
Amid all these, you were able to fictionalize reality. Please tell us about your book?
A lot has happened within 4 years of the Southern Cameroon struggle. There have been killings and the burning down of schools and so on. Amongst other things, last year, in February 2020, there was a shooting at Ngarbuh, a village in the Northwest, where about 22 children were killed for going to school. It’s just a mess here.
So, I decided to tell a story about what is happening. I realized too that a lot of people don’t know about Cameroon. It’s weird. Even neighboring countries like Nigeria. I have been to Nigeria a couple of times, and I remember a lot of people asking me:
“How do you speak English so well when you’re from Cameroon?”
And this tells me that there’s a lot they don’t know about Cameroon, especially the Southern Cameroon or English-speaking Cameroon.
So I decided to write about young adults in an acapella choir because music is also a strong part of Cameroonian culture. The acapella group is made up of four friends going through their own struggles and trying to make it big. Like every other person, they struggle to achieve their goals, and then they are caught up by the crisis. So, it’s 3 boys in their late teens and early 20s with a group leader who is older.
Speaking about music, how’s entertainment like in Cameroon?
I am proud of how much it is growing. So many of us grew up consuming a lot of American, Nigerian, and Ghanaian products. Yet even now, we hardly see other countries consuming ours. Apart from the old school makossa legends, we have great new school musicians here too like Daphné, Jovi, Blanche Bailey, Stanely Enow, and Salatiel who did a song with Beyoncé, and others are doing great too.
When it comes to movies, a lot of people are putting in the work as well. My personal favorite, I may be biased here because he is my brother, Proxy Buh Melvin, who is a fantastic scriptwriter, paving a pathway with legacy. He’s single-handedly written 2 series that are both on African Magic Showcase.
And one of his current projects, “The Fisherman’s Diary” co-written with Enah Johnscott, the director, and produced by Kang Quintus, has been accepted for the Oscars. Cameroon continues to build its entertainment industry, creating different platforms to support new talents. I am still hopeful though, that literature finds its space here as a major form of entertainment as well.
We’re in a period where there’s global challenge health-wise, economically, politically, and socially. Despite so, you’ve had a great win as a writer becoming one of the scholars of Miles Morland Foundation. How has it been for you so far, Howard?
The political environment and Covid-19 have made things quite difficult. As well as the typical challenges of adulthood. I had to suspend my Ph.D. program at some point. I was in a dilemma, completing the degree or primarily focusing on my writing. I didn’t do much writing this year.
I was really low-key and most of what I applied for were spontaneous and at the nick of time. And that’s how it happened with the Kalahari Short Story Competition in which I emerged as one of the winners and the Miles Morland. There were about 1000 entrants for the scholarship, but 4 emerge winners from around Africa (Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, and Libya).
What the Morland foundation does is this: they know you have a great story idea, but you can’t write it because you don’t have the time, perhaps you’re working, you need money to live. So, they pay you to write so you don’t have to work for a year. Every month, based on agreement, you get to submit 10,000 words until the book is completed. So they are paying you and putting pressure on you to finish the book.
They believe the story you want to tell is powerful and so they encourage you. I think what they’re doing is incredible. Especially for writers like me who need a system. I think I work better under structures, and deadlines keep me in check. Otherwise, I end up procrastinating. Hopefully, by the end of the year, I’ll have the manuscript ready, the first draft at least, that I may have to rework.
Thank you for talking to us, Howard, and success with your book.
By Elijah Christopher,