My short-listing as ‘Author of the Year’ for the 2013 Women4Africa Awards has come as a huge shock to me. I have also been short-listed as ‘Career Woman of the Year’ and ‘Role Model of the Year’. But that did not surprise me. Maybe because, over the years, I have had many tangible achievements as an advocate and campaigner for African communities, I did anticipate that these accomplishments would, sooner or later, be acknowledged by fellow Africans.
When it comes to my writing, however, I have always felt that it was not good enough. Any author I met or studied, African or otherwise, seemed far better than me. My recognition by Women4Africa has made me suspect that I might have been experiencing some sort of impostor syndrome. It has also prompted me to examine my journey as a writer, in order to determine my achievements in all objectivity.
Chantal Aboa is one of my two pen names, the other being Susan Akono. My birth certificate states that I was born in 1975 in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital. However, since my grandfather, who had it made, is now dead, I can reveal that some of the information contained in that document must be taken with a pinch of salt. For instance, I have irrefutable proof that my birthplace is, in fact, the tiny town of Atega. It is located about 60 kilometres south east of Yaoundé, and some 3 kilometres east of Mindassi, my grandfather’s village.
My mother often boasts that I produced my first piece of creative writing –a poem written in French- when I was aged 4. But I recall neither a single line, nor the theme of that poem, and I do not know whether this story is true. I do, however, remember that I decided to become a writer at the age of 8. I was no more than 14 when I had an article published in Cameroon Tribune, the most widely read Cameroonian newspaper. Aged 16, I won a creative writing competition organised by the French Institute with a play titled Notre Amour Triumphera (Our Love Will Win).
As Cameroon was shaken by economic crisis and socio-political unrest in the 1990s, I left my homeland at the age of 19 to settle in Spain with my mother, who was married to a Spanish citizen. I had to contend with many problems, including cultural shock, crude racism (because African migration to Spain was just starting in the 1990s, and Spanish people had lots of difficulties accepting it), and the linguistic barrier, as I could barely speak or understand Spanish. However, instead of giving up my dream to become a writer, I learnt Spanish, and soon mastered it well enough to continue writing in this new language. I had essays, research papers and a short story, ‘Carta a Clara’ (Letter to Clara) published by several local Spanish newspapers and magazines between 1998 and 2001.
In 2002, I left Spain to settle in the UK with my British partner. I had to overcome challenges similar to those that had confronted me in Spain, as English was neither my first, nor second, nor even third language. Furthermore, in addition to the need to learn English and adapt to a new country, I had to look after my son Anthony, born in 2002, and my daughter Priscielle, born in 2005. I also worked as consultant on African topics and interpreter for several UK, US and African institutions from 2002 to 2007; International Office Co-ordinator of the Centre for Democracy and Development between 2007 and 2010, and I am currently serving as Executive Director of the think tank African Peoples Advocacy (APA), which I founded in 2008.
At the risk of behaving like the proverbial pig praising its own fat, I dare say a less determined person than me would have given up writing. But I did not. My essay, ‘An Unfinished Business’, a critique of the re-colonisation of Africa proposed by Professor Niall Ferguson, was published by Brunel University’s EnterText in 2003. My book, WMD: The Weapons of My Disappointment, published in 2004, provides an analysis of Western wars from an African perspective. My essay ‘From Utopia to Dystopia: The Legacy of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in Liberia and Sierra Leone’ and my short story ‘The Murderous Archipelago’ were published by EnterText in 2006. My book, Cuentos africanos, was the first collection of stories by an African writer released by the Spanish publishers Laberinto in 2007.
My short story, ‘Letter to Clara’, was included in the anthology African Women Writing Resistance: Contemporary Voices published by the University of Wisconsin in 2010. I had many research papers, essays and short stories published between 2011 and 2012, including: ‘An Unsung African Marvel: The Case for Somaliland’s Recognition’, ‘The Demophile Deal for Africa: Blueprint for a New Western Policy towards Africa’, ‘The Democratic Nature of African Societies’, ‘Think Africa: The Case for an African-Led Think Tank’, ‘The Rain Flower’, and ‘The African Union and The Battle for Africa’s Soul in the 21st Century’. My latest creative writing projects include an historical African fiction series dubbed the “African Dr Who”, whose first book, Bala in the Mali Kingdom, was published in October 2012. In addition, I have published pieces and provided comments for APA’s blog and newsletter, and media including The New Londoner, The Observer, The Guardian, Vox Africa TV, Colourful Radio, Ben TV, Press TV, BBC Radio 4, and BBC World Service.
While I am aware that I still have a long way to go as a writer, I believe I have already achieved a lot. Do you think this is an objective assessment?
By Sylvie Aboa-Bradwell/ Chantal Aboa/ Susan Akono