Magazine article American Libraries

Librarian at Risk: After Exposing Embezzlers in Cameroon, Innocent Afuh Awasom Seeks Refuge at the University of Minnesota

Magazine article American Libraries

Librarian at Risk: After Exposing Embezzlers in Cameroon, Innocent Afuh Awasom Seeks Refuge at the University of Minnesota

Article excerpt

Before he left Cameroon, Innocent Afuh Awasom was a respected deputy university librarian and head of the research library at the University of Ngaoundere in northern Cameroon. Today, he is working part-time in the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus libraries and seeking political asylum. How he came to be a refugee is a compelling story that is worth sharing with librarians everywhere.

Awasom was born in Mankon-Bamenda in the North West Province of what was then called the Federal Republic of Cameroon. He attended a bilingual school, completing certificates in both English and French. Awasom earned both a bachelor's degree in science and a master's degree in zoology from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He completed work on his master's degree in information science in 1995 at the Africa Regional Center for Information Science in Ibadan, thanks to a scholarship from the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa, Canada.

Nigeria played a crucial part in shaping his perspectives on life and service through his involvement in student politics and activism. As a student leader, Awasom played a role in keeping others informed on political and social issues and, together with other Cameroonian students, organized and staged protests in Ibadan after the controversial multiparty presidential elections in Cameroon in 1992.

In 1996, Awasom began an appointment both as an administrator and as a lecturer in information science and environmental science. He has published widely and received several awards, including a Diversity Leadership Development Award (2004), a David R. Bender Fund for International Development grant (2002), and Global African Fellowship (2000), all from the Special Libraries Association (SLA); and a Bart Nwafor Fellowship (1999) to the University of Nairobi, Kenya, from the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.

Awasom founded the Association des Professionnels de l'Information Documentaire in Ngaoundere to fill the void created by the inactivity of Cameroon's National Library Association.

Cameroon, a presidential republic in West Africa formed by the union of former French and British colonies in 1961, was listed as one of the 10 most corrupt governments in the world in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index 2003 (www.transparency.org/cpi/2003/cpi2003.en.html). President Paul Biya, representing the ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement, was reelected in October to a second seven-year term. A Sorbonne-trained lawyer, Biya has been in power for 22 years, first as prime minister, then president.

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Intimidation in Cameroon

Awasom describes his professional life at the University of Ngaoundere as a series of thwarted efforts to improve library services and education at the university and within the local community. He fought constantly against corruption and pressure to control access to information.

During his tenure at the university, the library budget was seldom used to purchase books or to train employees. Each year, officials in charge of the library's budget would report that books had been ordered; however, the only materials that arrived and were added to the library were gifts from foreign donors. When Awasom notified higher authorities about the fraud, he was ignored. In 2002, a book contractor visited the library after receiving a tip that Ngaoundere's library had not used its acquisitions funds. When Awasom showed the contractor unfulfilled book orders, the contractor raised questions with the university, resulting in the firing or transfer of some senior officials for embezzlement.

Awasom developed a training program in order to improve the way public school teachers manage their school libraries and serve their students. The initiative was quashed because authorities feared that the teachers would publicize the fact that student fees designated for library books were being stolen. …

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