Pius Njawé (Le Messager)
Pius Njawé (Le Messager)

Remembering Pius: The devastation of his death

It’s 7:50 a.m. I’m up early—lots of work to finish today. I check my e-mail. There’s a message from CPJ’s Lauren Wolfe, who I don’t know. The opening line reads: “I’m not sure if you heard that Pius Njawé was killed in a car crash yesterday in Virginia. Anne Nelson told us you worked closely with him when he was chosen for the IPFA in 1991.”

I squint at the screen as if my eyes had deceived me. No, I’m, reading it right. Pius died in a car crash. He was 53.

Flash back to three years ago when I was driving through Cameroon on an assignment for the Rainforest Foundation. The main cross-country highway was lined every few miles with signs that read something like “Driving can kill, slow down.” I asked my co-passengers about the signs. “Oh, have you heard of Pius Njawe? His wife was killed in a car accident and he set up an organization called Justice and rallied the government to get these signs put up.” Yes, I had heard of Pius, the president of the Free Media Group, which publishes Cameroon’s leading independent daily Le Messager. I wrote to him to send my (very belated) condolences and to congratulate him on his action. 

I’m back to my e-mail screen. I try to find my e-mail to him and his response. I can’t. My mind wanders. I am disgusted. His death is just too ironically devastating for words.

I re-focus. I re-read Lauren’s e-mail. I take a deep breath. I repeat Pius’s name in my head. I run downstairs. I have to find that book. Damn, I can’t find it! I’m ashamed then frantic. I know I have it here somewhere. It has traveled three continents. It’s a talisman of sorts. Flashback. It’s 1993. I am leaving CPJ. I write to all my contacts and announce my departure. A few weeks later I receive a package at my home. It’s from Pius. It’s a book called Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness). On the opening page, he thanks me for all the work I did on his behalf. For my compassion. He says he admires the independent, strong women that I am. 

Did I ever thank Pius and tell him how much receiving that book and his words meant to me?

Bonjour Tristesse!  

Kim Brice worked at CPJ from 1988 to 1993. She is a freelance consultant working on media freedom and other political and social rights issues.