• Name: Valsero
  • Discipline: Rapper
  • Country: Cameroon
  • Threat(s): Imprisonment, threats, censorship
  • When: 2019
  • Current Status: Released

Gaston Philippe Abe Abe, popularly known by the stage name “Valsero,” is a Cameroonian rapper, activist, and human rights defender who creates politically responsive music. He began his solo career in 2008, in the midst of a heated political climate in Cameroon after President Paul Biya, in office since 1982, dissolved presidential term limits. Valsero’s first solo album, Politiquement Instable, established him as a leading voice for young Cameroonians who opposed the regime’s authoritarian tactics. Although many TV and radio stations avoided playing the album in fear of retaliation, it became such a potent popular force that Valsero’s adoring fans started calling him “Général Valsero.” His lyrics call for greater accountability and transparency from the government and more democratic processes for the country. On January 26, 2019, he was arrested at a political demonstration and held without bail while awaiting trial for spurious charges that could have carried a punishment as grave as the death penalty. He was freed on October 5, 2019, following international outcry.

From the Artist:

“What made me dangerous and what makes many artists in their country dangerous is their capacity to mobilize people. If they manage to rally people around their discourse, if they manage to become a reference upon which people can lean, then they become like fuel.”

I started to think about society before singing about it. I was very engaged in deprived neighborhoods before I started making music. I left my house at a very early age and found myself on the streets. It was a place that taught me a lot about solidarity but also about people’s distress, poverty, life’s precariousness, societal desertion. Rap music was carrying all these voices, all these grievances. Especially American rap, which I found to be very politically committed. I told myself, if I can’t be a journalist, if I can’t be a professor or a great politician, I can be an artist who can carry these voices.

I started having problems when I moved on to denouncing people in my songs. Originally I was talking about social issues, and as long as you don’t point your finger at anybody—as long as you speak generally, saying there is trash everywhere, there are no schools, life in the poor neighborhoods is difficult, it’s rotten—as long as you only make observations, you stay safe. As volatile as these concepts might be, as soon as you move from stating things to denouncing them, then you become dangerous.

I began feeling it when show promoters started avoiding me. There is also this capacity for people to take personal initiative. A police commissioner can put you in jail for nothing, because he walked by and found that what you were saying was not “normal.” I think most artists who get arrested in Africa discover the existence of organizations that are able to help once they are already in prison. When I went to prison in 2019, I did not know about these organizations. My friends searched for solutions. We received a lot of psychological support, a little financial support. I think financial support is extremely important: Living in prison is very expensive, surviving in prison is very expensive, lawyers are very expensive.

Personally, I did not receive huge support from Cameroonian artists. Many justified my imprisonment. But there are artists who have put their art in the service of human rights protection, of liberty, of democracy. It is a small handful in each country. Today we are lucky enough to function as a network. I received a lot of support from these foreigners, be it Tiken Jah Fakoly, Khadja Nin, or my friend Bobi Wine, my buddy Didier Awadi.

From the very first threat, you need to alert the world, you need to attract attention, ring the alarm. Only the protection of the outside world, only the accompaniment of the outside world, only the fact that the world speaks, only global advocacy can put pressure on dictatorships.