Cameroon:Issa Tchiroma Learned to Speak English during his time in Prison

Communication minister ,Issa Tchiroma

After a few days in which his home was repeatedly searched and damaged, Tchiroma was arrested on 16 April 1984.
Issa Tchiroma Bakary is a famous Cameroonian politician who has served in the Biya Administration as Minister of Transport from 1992 to 1996 and has been Minister of Communication since 2009.

He is also the President of the Front for the National Salvation of Cameroon (Front pour le salut national du Cameroun, FSNC), a minor political party.

Tchiroma studied in France and became a materials and construction engineer. Working in Douala, Tchiroma was a Research Officer at the Cameroon Railways Authority (Regie des Chemins de Fer, Regifercam), the state railway company of Cameroon, until April 1984.

When soldiers attempted to overthrow President Paul Biya in a coup attempt on 6 April 1984, sparking days of fighting in Yaoundé, Tchiroma was in Douala.

According to Tchiroma, he was not involved in the coup attempt and the violence was as mysterious to him as it was to others at the time.

The coup attempt was ultimately defeated by Biya loyalists, and the government began rounding up individuals suspected of involvement. Tchiroma continued going to work at Regifercam, but he quickly came under suspicion of being involved in the coup attempt; he was a northerner, and northerners were considered to be primarily responsible for the coup attempt.

After a few days in which his home was repeatedly searched and damaged, Tchiroma was arrested on 16 April 1984. Described as “a very dangerous element”, he was taken to Yaoundé and initially imprisoned for three days in a small cell, three square meters in size, which had no toilet, light, or ventilation.





Other prisoners were removed from the cell, as Tchiroma was deemed so dangerous that he needed to be kept alone. Reflecting later on the ordeal, Tchiroma said that it was the worst memory of his life and that he would not wish the experience on his worst enemy.

He would be imprisoned until 1990 when he was finally released. While serving his term in prison, Tchiroma gained enormously because he used the period to study the English Language with the support of his wife who brought the literature to prison.

Tchiroma noted that English is widely spoken across the world and urges Cameroonians to strive to be truly bilingual.

Tchiroma, whose political party is almost a decade old, narrated that after being locked up on allegations of his involvement in the coup, it later turned out that he was innocent.


-Xavier Messè, “Issa Tchiroma Bakary : Je n’ai pas de rancune”, Mutations, 6 April 2009 (French).
-Kini Nsom and Nformi Sonde Kinsai, “I Studied English In Prison – Tchiroma”, The Post (Cameroon), 20 June 2008.
“Amnesty International Report, 1990”, Amnesty International, 1990

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