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Africademics ‘Life Stories’: Jeanne Rosine Abomo

By Carolina Nvé Díaz San Francisco

“I am blessed to study my doctorate in Cameroon. My country is a reference of transatlantic and African studies.”

Jeanne Rosine Abomo

Jeanne Rosine Abomo is a Cameroonian pedagogue, philologist, and holder of the Diploma of Teachers of Secondary Education (first and second grades) obtained at the School of Teachers of Yaoundé (Cameroon). Since 2014, she has been teaching Spanish philology in secondary schools in Cameroon. She holds a master’s degree in Hispanic Literature and didactic. Currently, she is a PhD candidate in afro-Hispanic literature at the University of Maroua. The interview was conducted by Carolina Nvé Díaz San Francisco. The views expressed are those of the author.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Tell us a little about yourself and about your academic work.

I am Jeanne Rosine Abomo, a Cameroonian from the Bantu group FangBeti. I am a pedagogue and teacher of Spanish as a Foreign Language in secondary education in my country. I am a woman rooted in her culture and a defender of the identities of subaltern peoples—peoples that have suffered cultural terrorism led by alien peoples. This ideology had an impact on the choice of my field of research.

Since 2016, I am working on the process of dignifying Black people from the perspective of the imaginary African and African descent. These imaginaries are supported by literature and cinema. Indeed, I share the vision of the African feminist Shirley Campbell Barr for whom the fifth (and I include the seventh) arts “[have been called] not only to demonstrate the great historical absences, but also the blurred and battered presences of Africans and Africans around the world.”

Literature and cinema are one of the highest expressions of Black imaginations. Within the framework of my doctorate, I am training as a literary and film critic. I investigate the visibility of Africans and their descendants in literary and cinematographic narratives.

What does it mean for you to study a PhD in Cameroon?

As indicated in the previous question, my field of research has to do with Black imaginary (African and Afro-descendant) in literature and cinema. One of these imaginaries that unites literature and cinema is Afrofuturism. Studying a doctorate in Cameroon, a former French and British colony, and on the subject of rebuilding the memory (s) and identity of Black people is both a challenge and personal pride.

Since my childhood, the Africa I learned about at school was a continent without history, land of lamentations, a metaphor for the pain and underdevelopment. By the end of high school, the subject shaped by the elementary and high school curricula was Afro-pessimistic. I remember those classes in primary and secondary school that presented the Europe of inventions and “discoveries,” the continent of the Conquistadores who fought to honor the Motherland, home of the scientific and technical progress with a history of superheroes and the cradle of the intellect. 

When it was time to study the chapters devoted to the subject of Africa, my ordeal began. I learned that the history of my people was initiated by the European presence. They taught me that my ancestors wrote to the English for their colonization. Later, the contents of the classes revolved around the failures of the African armies during the European conquest, the subjugation of the continent and the racial segregation in South Africa. By the end of the secondary school, this invisibilitation of the greatness of Africa caused in me a revolt.

I started writing short stories (unpublished) to express injustice. Growing up in academia, I connected to postcolonial and subaltern studies. By reading Gayatri C. Spivak, Homi K. Bahbha, Edward Said, and Achille Mbembe, I began to build my discourse on Africa and colonized peoples. With Fanon, I regained my self-esteem and became Afro-optimistic. With my decolonized mind, I investigated the actors behind Africa’s backwardness and the inferiorization of black people in the world. Later, I became interested in the reconstruction of new African and Afro-descendant identities.

Today, I am interested in the African awakening so much dreamed of by the fathers of Pan-Africanism. I am blessed to study my PhD in Cameroon. My country is a reference of transatlantic and African studies in sub-Saharan Africa. At Universities, there are countless specialists in African history and literature, Egyptology, cultural anthropology and sociology, philosophy, and theory of postcolonial thought. Since the early years of “Independence,” protest and resistance characterize Cameroonian politicians and intellectuals. Literary essays denounce and reject the colonial system, its abuses, and legacy. This desire for emancipation and dignity nourishes African thought. In Cameroon, I have the necessary sources to produce a thesis that complements the discourse of the African awakening.

Based on your experience so far, what are the benefits of your doctoral work in Cameroon?

Working on Africa is very beneficial in the context of Cameroon. I participate in the decolonization of minds in a postcolonial context. Indeed, the primary and secondary school’s curriculum mainly contain the history of the winners. The choice to do research in transatlantic studies has been a personal therapy. As I finished my high school, I noticed my inability to talk about the greatness of Africa. That is the reason why, from the early years of college, I was interested to postcolonial studies. 

When I finished my training as a high school teacher in my country, I changed my pessimism into optimism. Today, I define myself as an Afro-optimist. My experience is beneficial for all the students enrolled at our universities in Cameroon and Africa. The school should train Africans to be proud of their history. The school’s curriculum do not need to stop at the failures of the continent, the enslavement of blacks and European colonization. The main goal of teaching Africa at schools should be the formation of resilient and Afro-optimistic subjects.

I study the imaginary blacks and Afro-descendants displayed right at the center. Official history has positioned us on the periphery. Today, there is an imperative to rewrite our history to position ourselves in the world. Leaving the periphery for the plurality of our voices requires a two-dimensional exercise: resuscitating the authentic past of the continent and looking to the future with optimism. This exercise is the foundation of Afrofuturism. In imitation of the Akan bird, Sankofa, our past should inspire us to build our future. For this reason, taking up the word through the arts implies a break with victimization. 

What could you say about the challenges for women in pursuing a PhD in Cameroon?

Doing a doctorate in Africa and being a woman involve countless challenges. First, Africa does not benefit from the intellectual prestige of European, North American and Asian Universities. Doing a PhD in Africa is a metaphor for breaking up with stereotypes. With the advancement of technology and access to virtual libraries, it is possible to pursue a PhD in Africa with all the competence. Academic migration is no longer necessary to hold a PhD. Furthermore, African universities, with their openness to the world, have adopted the system of co-directorships. Africa, in the present century, breaks up with the stereotype of scientific backwardness, and it serves as a mentor to Western universities.

To do a PhD as a woman in Africa and Cameroon is a double challenge. It is both a symbol of the emancipation of women and the diversification of teaching in higher education.

The modification of African society with colonization and its institutions silenced the role of African women. The counselor, the warrior, the ideologist of pre-colonial Africa became a housewife. The promotion of the schooling of women in the continent has become the main struggle of international associations and organizations from the first years of African independence until today. Since then, a schooled woman is the facet of female emancipation in the continent. However, the macho imaginary admits the training of women to the degree level (level at which they can get a job to share household expenses with their partners). 

Other academic levels that go beyond undergraduate programs, initiate stereotypes. In my country, the holders of the master’s or doctoral candidate receive nicknames. They are “les longs crayons,” the women who cannot give birth or maintain a home and “the loud ones.” Carrying out a doctorate in Cameroon and being a woman means deconstructing the macho imaginaries constructed by society and facing the social gaze.

In African universities, male teaching force prevails. Doing a doctorate, in this context, is a gamble for me. In my generation, we must be examples of female leadership in universities. Women can also teach at universities just like men. I reduce the challenge of this century to this personal motto: “more women in the amphitheater.” There is the urgency to place plurality of genders within the teaching force of African universities. A woman doing a PhD in Africa breaks up with the chains and the machismo’s hopes based on male children. Education positions African women in society. Educated women are multifunctional. They are at the same time mothers, housewives, workers, and researchers.

The position of many women in the academia, as you mention, it is admirable. Do you find yourself supported by your university, professors, colleagues, and mentors?

In the framework of the doctorate, I receive a lot of support. I thank all my teachers in the foreign languages ​​department of the Higher Normal School of Yaoundé. In this school, I made my first contact with research. Everyone encouraged me to continue researching after my training as a pedagogue and teacher. With my change of university and my enrollment in my master’s program, I found my mentor and director.

It is the occasion, for me, to thank Professor Georges Moukouti. He is the figure of promoting female leadership in academia. In the existing fifteen PhD candidatures that he directs, ten are women. I have been working with him for about three years and this experience has been praiseworthy. Participation in international colloquia and the publication of scientific articles are part of the demands for all students. At the University of Maroua, as in the others in the country, the training of women up to the doctorate level is promoted. There is no discrimination or machismo. Our teachers and our classmates respect us. We collaborate mutually in collective publications.

Do you have any ideas or advice you want to share for women who are thinking of pursuing a PhD?

I recommend three attitudes to women who are thinking of pursuing a PhD: work, scientific rigor, and ethics.

Challenging the patriarchy of the African academic world requires a love for a job well done. The only thing that arouses respect and admiration from women researchers is their scientific production. For every woman who wants to pursue a PhD, academic excellence is the first weapon.

Scientific rigor reinforces respect for the intelligentsia. It is the element that measures the relevance of the academic production of researchers. This second criterion must be a custom for every woman who plans to do a doctorate. A researcher who emphasizes scientific rigor escapes the traps of the objectification of women in research circles. Scientific rigor is a weapon against favoritism, sexual harassment and imposes respect.

Ethics is the last criterion that I recommend to researchers. Reinforce respect for female researchers.

Thank you so much for your time, and we wish you the best in your endeavors!

Carolina Nvé Diaz San Francisco is a Hispanoguinean medical anthropologist based in Boston (USA) at the Disparities Research Unit (Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School). She is also a member of Massachusetts of Women of Color Coalition (MAWOCC), and a PhD candidate in anthropology, currently working on mental health care cultures in Equatorial Guinea.