Jean-Marc Éla was born in Ebolowa in 1936, in the South of Cameroon, and ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1964. He earned a doctorate in theology from the University of Strasbourg (France) and another doctorate in sociology from the Sorbonne in Paris. He worked among the Kirdis of northern Cameroon between 1971 and 1985. This period was significant in his realization that Christian theology must address the continuous pauperization of the common people by a ruthless and greedy ruling elite and their international collaborators. It was in the process of making the voice of the voiceless heard that he came into conflict with the Cameroonian ruling authorities. First, after the 1984 bloody but unsuccessful coup d’états in Cameroon, his name was found on a list of those who were to be eliminated as “bothersome” people by the Biya regime. Another dreadful point came in 1995 when the Cameroonian Roman Catholic priest, Father Engelbert Mveng (a fellow priest and partner with Éla in the struggle against autocracy and oppression in Cameroon) was found strangled in his home. Fearing for his life, Éla fled to Canada where he maintained residency until his passing in December 2008. Éla taught sociology at the University of Yaounde, Cameroon, and during his exile, he taught in universities such as the University of Quebec at Montréal (Canada) and Boston University (USA). His work among the Kirdis and around the world has led some to refer to him as “missionary of the world.”  Thus it is that Éla’s name is intimately connected not only to African Christian theology but also to the missionary call of the churches of Africa. Éla’s theology was seen as an African expression of Liberation Theology. His most known works were were Cri de l’homme Africain (translated in English as African Cry), De l’assistance à la libération: Les tâches actuelles de l’Eglise en milieu africain (translated in English as From Charity to Liberation), and Ma foi d’Africain (translated in English as My Faith as an African). Éla died in exile in Canada in 2008.
David T. Ngong
Valentin Dedji, Reconstruction and Renewal in African Christian Theology (Nairobi, Kenya: Acton Press, 2003), 224.
Jean-François Channon, Obsèque: Jean-Marc Ela repose pour l’éternité à Abang Le Messager, accessed on Cameroon-info.net. Accessed on June 20, 2009.
Dedji, Reconstruction and Renewal, 249-250
The biography was excerpted and adapted, with permission, by Tyler Lenocker, visiting researcher at the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at Boston University, from David T. Ngong, “The Theologian as Missionary: The Legacy of Jean-Marc Éla,” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 136 (2010): 4-19. See Journal of Theology for Southern Africa*.