Issa Nyaphaga, an artist from Cameroon, spoke last week of his experiences growing up in Cameroon and of his harassment and imprisonment by government officials because of his work.
Speaking at the second of the Jersey City Rotary’s two meetings on Thursday evening, Mr. Nyaphaga said that as a boy, he would walk four miles a day, four days a week, in order to attend school, and that he would walk 25 miles on weekends in order to visit his uncle. He was, he said, among the first members of his family to obtain an education.
Living in a Muslim household, in the city of Douala, the nation’s largest city, he said, his father forbade him to draw the cartoons he liked to draw, declaring that drawing images of people was an offense against God. As a result, he said, when he was seven-years old, his mother took him to her native village.
A member of the Tikar tribe, he said, “we are a rain forest people and also farmers.” His native village, Mr. Nyaphaga said, is a very small community, imbued with what he said is “tradition”, whose main structures are two churches, a mosque, but no jail and no police. The main industry in his community, he added, is farming.
After several years living in that village, Mr. Nyaphaga said, his father asked that he return to Douala in order to continue his education. In an interview in June, 2015, with an online magazine Sampsonia Way Mr. Nyaphaga said of his father’s request: “He knew the importance of education, even though he was against visual art” adding that he draws “to make people happy.”

In the 1990’s, he said, he participated in the production of a newspaper that reported news in the form of cartoons, Mr. Nyaphaga said, because most people in his locality could not read. The newspaper, he said, would reach five-million readers. The Government, however, Mr. Nyaphaga said, routinely repressed the viewpoints of people who opposed its stance on any given issue, a repression which resulted in at least one occasion, he said, in his imprisonment.

Because of government repression and the fear that he might be imprisoned again, Mr. Nyaphaga said, supporters arranged for him to travel to France where for a time he lived in depression due to a drastically different culture, not to mention climate.
With knowledge of his work spreading beyond Cameroon, Mr. Nyaphaga said, he was invited in 2001 to speak at a United Nations-sponsored meeting in Geneva.
Invited by freeDimensional, a group which describes its mission as advancing “social justice by hosting activists in art spaces and using cultural resources to strengthen their work” Mr. Nyaphaga settled in New York. He “loves” the dynamism of America, Mr. Nyaphaga said, where “something is always happening.” With the United States having provided him with a residency permit, Mr. Nyaphaga said, he now lives in Santé Fe, New Mexico.
While a resident of the United States, Mr. Nyaphaga said, he continues to work on behalf of the people of his native country, in an effort to provide them with a better quality of life and to assure them access to diverse points of view.To that end, he said, he is working on the creation of a community-based radio station - Radio Taboo - which Mr. Nyaphaga said, he hopes will reach 1-million people. The radio, he added, would need to be powered by solar energy, for which he is now engaged in a fundraising effort. In explaining his effort to establish the radio, Mr. Nyaphaga said: “education is power” declaring that power comes not only through “guns and money” but also through education. He also worked on a water project, Mr. Nyaphaga said, a project that originated in France, and which he said, serves 20,000 people.
The water project evolved through the efforts of Mr. Nyaphaga’s Hope International for Tikar People (HITIP), Rotary District 1510 in France and District 9150 in Cameroon, and more specifically the Rotary clubs of Le Mans Bérengères in France and Douala Bésséké in Cameroon. On its website,, Mr. Nyaphaga explains that in the rainy season of the Tikar area of Cameroon, water is plentiful for 10 villages in that area, but in the dry season: “the struggle for water becomes a source of social conflict between villagers.” While HITIP had resources to provide clean water for one village, he writes, the nine other villages in that area would remain without clean water, leading to fears of conflict. With the collaboration of the two Rotary districts, funding was obtained allowing for the creation of a water system that would serve all 10 villages.
In recognition of their effort to provide water to the region, while at the same time, avoiding conflict between the several villages in the Tikar area, in December, 2012 Rotary International conferred its Rotary’s Global Peace Award to Dominique Boisnard, then the President of the Rotary Club of Le Mans Bérengères, with RI President Sakuji Tanaka presenting the award to him at Rotary’s annual Global Peace Forum, which that year was held in Berlin.