By Lyombe Eko* (Iowa City, Iowa, 2008).
Life is series of stock-takings. No matter our lot, we all sit back once in a while, relax and indulge in the bitter-sweet activity of chewing the cud, so to speak. For me, personal stock-taking helps me to get my spiritual, political, social and cultural bearings. It gives me the pleasure of looking back at the path I have trodden, an opportunity to take stock of my present circumstances and decide the paths to follow next.
Humphrey Mosenge, greeting Ahmadou Ahidjo, Cameroon's first President, during a match between the Southwest province and Littoral in the 1970s.
I recently passed a major milestone in my life: attainment of tenure or a lifetime appointment as an academic at one of America’s finest universities, the University of Iowa. This is an excellent time to take-stock. As an African who was born in Buea (Gbea), Cameroon, I grew up in a communitarian environment where many friends and relatives encouraged me and supported me over the years. However, one person who is neither a family member nor a friend of mine, inspired me and gave me the drive to overcome obstacles that I was to face in life. This person is Humphrey Mosenge, mid-field player for Prisons Social Club of Buea in the 1970s and early 1980s.
You see, in the 1970s and 1980s–that would be ancient history to the younger generation–I was a bare-footed primary school boy in Szopho Mokongo (Great Soppo). My friends and classmates were from villages like Szopho Wonganga (the Szopho of the healers), Szopho Likoko, Wophilla, Woteke and Wonduma. A few others were “strangers” from Kumba, Mamfe, “Bamenda” or even Nigeria. With brains in our heads, hunger in our growling bellies, excitement in our hearts, wounds and scrapes on our legs and bare feet, and nothing in our pockets, we would head to Buea Government Stadium every Sunday afternoon to watch our heroes and role models play football. Their names–Mosenge, Njuma, Ewunkem, Nango, Njo-Njo, Monkam, Ndefi, Edimo, goalkeeper Atangana (later to be replaced by J.A. Bell) and others–were music to our ears. Being penniless did not deter us. We always found a way through the porous, makeshift aluminum perimeter fencing of the Buea Government Stadium.
Humphrey Mosenge with the famous Prisons Social Club in 1972.
Humphrey Mosenge, a lanky player with a lean and hungry look, was our favorite star. His fearlessness, persistence, perseverance, drive and never—say–die attitude on the field inspired us. The man did not become my role model for nothing. He earned our admiration when he neutralized the legendary football player from East Cameroon, Mbappé Léppé before our very eyes at the Buea Government Stadium.
You see, Mbappé Léppé was a player for Oryx Douala, the leading team in Cameroon at that time. He was a legendary figure in his time, a hero to millions of Cameroonians. The man’s legend travelled ahead of him and spread from mouth to mouth in social gatherings watered by ample palm wine or corn beer (kwacha). In fact, Mbappé Léppé was believed to have a dangerous, un-stoppable left-footed shot. Legend had it that his shot had killed a goalkeeper in some far-away West African country, Ghana or Guinea-Conakry. According to the story–and it was never verified– the goalkeeper had caught Mbappé Léppé thundering-left foot shot, but the velocity and force of the ball had knocked him unconsciousness into the net. All attempts to revive him were fruitless. The poor man was said to have been pronounced dead on the spot, with the ball clasped tightly in his arms.
Legend also had it that Mbappé Léppé’s shot had twisted a goal post in Ivory Coast or Nigeria or some other far-away West Africa country. The final story was that the African Football Confederation (CAF) had “bought” Mbappé Léppé’s left leg. According to popular opinion, CAF had paid the Cameroon government a hefty sum of money to prevent Mbappé Léppé from ever unleashing his dangerous left kick in any African stadium. Other rumors claimed that President Amadou Ahidjo had insured Mbappé Léppé’s left leg for millions of Francs.
Prisons Buea got into the First Division and before too long, the Buea Boys were scheduled to play against Oryx Douala in Buea. Our hearts were in our mouths when we arrived the jam-packed stadium. The game is still fresh in my mind, more than 30 years later. When the players took to the field and started warming up, all eyes were on the legendary, figure, Mbappé Léppé. He was a giant of a man who walked with a slight limp because he was bandy-legged and his left leg was curved at the knee! His team mates included Tokoto Rudolf, the Oryx goal keeper, a huge, intimidating, gorilla of a man who dominated his goal area like a man possessed, and Tokoto Jean Pierre, one of Cameroon’s first professional players who was similar in complexion to Humphrey Mosenge.
When the game got underway, our hero, Humphrey Mosenge fearlessly and competently neutralized Mbappé Léppé. The few left-footed shots the aging star was able to kick on goal were easily stopped by the Prisons goalkeeper, Atangana. The game ended in a 1-1 tie. We could not believe our eyes. The story of David and Goliath had just been enacted on the field before our very eyes. Humphrey Mosenge was a giant killer. The slender young man had not let the legend and the physique of Mbappé Léppé intimidate him.
Psychologically, this did wonders for me. We the post-reunification generation were living under the double domination of Foncha, Muna and their condescending, over-bearing, and insulting kin-folk from “Bamenda.” Before long the result of Foncha and Muna’s campaign for reunification made itself felt. Gendarmes from East Cameroon descended on Fako and treated us the natives with the utmost brutality and contempt. The Gendarmes, most of whom spoke only “Mbanga French” (a mixture of grammatically incorrect French, Bamileke and Douala) told us that Pidgin and English would soon be banned in Cameroon so we better start learning French. The proper answer to anything a Gendarme said was “Oui chef” or “Oui patron.” Anything else was grounds for arrest, detention or beatings.
Humphrey Mosenge (third from right) in a game between the Indomitable Lions and a visiting Chinese selection.
It is within this context that the Prisons versus Oryx game should be seen. When the game was over, my friends and I mobbed the players. When I shook Mosenge’s hand, I looked into his eyes. He had that lean and hungry look, but his eyes had a far-away look that seemed to say, “other battles lie ahead.” The man had already moved on. I was “walking on air” when I went home that night. Over the next few years, we saw Mosenge in action against the luminaries of Cameroon football–the giant Tchebo of Aigle de Nkongsamba, Ndongo, Ndoga, and Manga Onguene of Canon Yaounde, Bekombo of Caiman Douala, Roger Milla, and even Nkono of Éclair Douala (before he became a legendary goalkeeper). Mosenge and his Prisons teammates gave the best Cameroonian football teams a run for their money!
Humphrey Mosenge was my role model. I told myself that every time I had an obstacle, I would not give up. I would face it and overcome it, like I saw Humphrey Mosenge face and neutralize the legendary Mbappé Léppé at the Buea Government Stadium.
*Lyombe Eko, PhD
Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
Co-Director, African Studies Program
University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa 52242