Lapiro de Mbanga

Lapiro de Mbanga

Lapiro de Mbanga was a Cameroonian musician and pro-democracy activist. In 2008, Lapiro composed a song, titled “Constipated Constitution," which was highly critical of Cameroonian president Paul Biya, who has ruled the country since 1982. The song became an anthem at opposition rallies and protests, and Lapiro was subsequently charged with “complicity in looting, destruction of property, arson, obstructing streets, degrading public or classified property, and forming illegal gatherings." Although the charges were widely condemned as politically motivated, Lapiro was convicted and imprisoned for three years. As a result of international pressure, he was released in 2011. Lapiro was granted political asylum in the U.S. He passed away in March 2014.

Lapiro was known for producing popular dance melodies and satirical lyrics highly critical of the regime of Cameroonian president Paul Biya. Mbanga’s earliest success was in 1986, with the release of his album "No Make Erreur." He became a symbol of peaceful resistance to the erosion of rule of law and democracy in Cameroon.

Lapiro was arrested in April, 2008, shortly after the release of his song, “Constipated Constitution." The song criticized President Biya for holding absolute power after an amendment to the country’s constitution passed that eliminated presidential term limits. During a wave of demonstrations and strikes that took place throughout Cameroon following the adoption of the amendment, Lapiro’s song became an anthem for protestors. The government subsequently arrested Lapiro and charged him with instigating unrest. He was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of U.S. $600,000.

Lapiro was held in Cameroon’s New Bell Prison, notorious for its harsh and inhumane conditions, such as lack of food and inadequate medical assistance for prisoners. As a result of the atrocious conditions, Lapiro contracted typhoid fever and was on the brink of death. The prison authorities refused to send him to the hospital; his wife smuggled in medication to save his life. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a legal opinion declaring Lapiro’s arrest and imprisonment arbitrary in violation of international law. He was finally released in 2011, but he and his family were the targets of ongoing threats and harassment. Along with his wife and children, Lapiro was granted asylum in the U.S. in 2012.

While in prison in 2009, Mbanga was awarded the Freedom to Create Prize.