Cameroonian Journalist Continues Work in U.S., Provides News for “Abandoned” Areas of Cameroon
By Hillary Gyuras
Agnès Tailé, winner of the 2009 IWMF Courage in Journalism Award, continues to demonstrate courage, tenacity, and strength in her work.
When Agnès Tailé began her radio career in 2001, she simply enjoyed talking with different people. However, she slowly realized the political implications of her work and began to take it more seriously. In 2006, Tailé was repeatedly threatened and nearly beaten to death for refusing to stop criticizing the government on her radio show, "A Vous la Parole" (Have Your Say). After extensive physical therapy, Tailé returned to journalism and continued to cover dangerous and poverty-stricken areas of Cameroon and other African countries.
After winning the Courage Award in 2009, Agnès returned to her home country and to renewed threats of violence. The award, she asserts, had given her the motivation to keep working anyway. “It just means I have to keep going, to keep on working; there is no time to stop.”
In December 2009, Tailé finally decided it was necessary to leave Cameroon. With the legal support of IWMF Board of Directors Co-Chair Theodore Boutrous and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Agnès was able to obtain political asylum in the United States. While this was a hard decision for her to make, her family encouraged her to move. Agnès’ father especially pushed her. “He said I prefer to have you alive far away from here than to have to be buried next to you,” explains Tailé, “He knew I wasn’t going to give up journalism to do something else.” Even after her relocation to the U.S., Tailé’s career continued to flourish. In 2011, she launched a news website for Cameroonians, Le Septentrion. In order to reach those without internet access, Tailé now creates a weekly newspaper in addition to the website. Together, the website and paper provide a comprehensive overview of politics, the economy, education, health, arts, and culture and serve three regions of Cameroon, roughly 38% of the population, that have been essentially abandoned by other media sources.
Tailé believes that people in these regions must know what is going on in their country in order to effectively deal with issues relevant to their daily lives. “People need to know how this country is run,” she says. “If people don’t know, they don’t even know their own rights; they can’t fight for themselves.”
Tailé, though, believes the paper has yet another role to play in the country: to unite Cameroonians. Because Cameroon is so large and its different regions encompass hundreds of different ethnicities, Tailé feels the paper must educate Cameroonians about what is going on in disparate regions of the country and among people of different ethnic groups. She thinks that it has led to a greater understanding of the complex issues affecting Cameroon’s many regions. This project, though, has not come without great effort. Tailé has struggled to find journalists who are willing to work in remote areas of Cameroon. She has struggled, too, to find journalists who are not easily corrupted by bribery, low wages, and the constant threat of violence from the government and other wealthy actors. This threat, she says, actually makes journalists afraid to report the news correctly.
Tailé notes that one of the biggest challenges she faces is keeping her staff in Cameroon safe while consistently covering groundbreaking news stories. This is further complicated by the severe shortage of equipment and funding. Due to limited advertising in the country, Tailé struggles financially and is limited in the number of reporters she can send on investigative assignments.
Still, amidst financial constraints, a shortage of equipment, dangerous environments, and a 6 hour time difference, Tailé and her team manage to write, edit, and print a weekly paper that is distributed to an area of Cameroon that has no other access to news media. “I have to thank them…it is like a sacrifice what they are doing with me…I really have to thank all my colleagues.” In 2011, Tailé was accepted to the prestigious CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She admits that it was a very intense experience but feels that this opportunity has benefited her immensely and has honed her skills as a journalist. The program allowed her to look at topics from a variety of angles and has developed her investigative journalism skills. Though she knows she is still learning, she is happy to share her expanding knowledge with her colleagues and the journalists who write for her paper and website.
Tailé admits that journalists in Cameroon have their work cut out for them. While all journalists face threats, violence, jail time, and possibly death, women journalists face additional obstacles. “Most of the time men want to do everything, and they don’t want women to get involved in all of the topics.” Still, Tailé believes that both male and female journalists must work together to better their society.
Most of her time these days is consumed by running her website and newspaper, and although she has no immediate plans for new projects, she hopes that one day she will be able to afford to turn her weekly newspaper into a daily newspaper.
Tailé continues to be inspired, encouraged, and strengthened by her home country, and she remains dedicated to returning Cameroon back to its former state of prosperity. Today, people leave the country due to the lack of opportunities, the high cost of health care and basic necessities, and the repressive government. “I know the country can be better than what it is now…Cameroon once before was the greatest country in Africa, like a promise land…” says Tailé. Through her journalism and efforts to raise awareness in Cameroon, it is her dream to see it that way again.
Monday, July 30, 2012