A Statement Issued by Blessed Efilo wa Ngoe, National President of the Bafaka Students’ Union (BAF.S.U) to the Students and People of Bafaka Balue on the 14th and 20th of July, 2015
My fellow people of goodwill, dear children of Bafaka, I stand before you today to talk about an issue that is very close to my heart. My words, reaching you this moment, are parceled with so much sorrow in my heart so that what I feel right now is far beyond that which I felt when I lost my beloved parents to death. I feel at this moment that an entire people are about to be snuffed out and there is just no one to speak for them.
I do not intend to be misunderstood or misquoted but I must tell you that we stand the risk of extinction in the years ahead if nothing is done to save us. The government of Cameroon has coerced our elders to sign a deal that would snatch our lands just five hundred meters away from our settlements and beyond. Several of our villages have been affected by this conspiracy together with their women, children and the unborn. It is true that constitutionally, governments should control all unoccupied lands, yet I need to bring this to your notice that the United Nations itself honours the rights of indigenous peoples, whom I believe we are. We are such indigenous people for before the Cameroonian commonwealth was born, our ancestors had occupied these lands for centuries, leaving behind a way of life that we have hardly been totally severed from despite the many cultural programs that have been issued to transform us.
The idea to expropriate the land our fathers lived and died in is an alarming conspiracy geared towards keeping our generation and those to come in perpetual misery and alienation. The government of Cameroon has strong-armed an uninformed number of regents to concede to a mere oral deal that would snatch our lands just five hundred meters away from our settlements and beyond. In all, reports say some 30.000 hectares of land have been affected by this scheme which deprives us together with our women, children and the unborn, the liberties to exercise full traditional (including spiritual), cultural, economic and social rights over our lands. According to some Lower Balue people, the communities so affected were not duly informed about the expropriation. The regents who supposedly witnessed the concession of this deal do not seem to understand any bit of what they have done. For example, the regents do not have any papers in their keeping showing that a Presidential Decree or Ministerial Order was passed to seize such lands for conservation purposes. As a matter of fact, our people are ignorant of the exact number of hectares planned to be expropriated. The ‘informal’ transaction between the Assistant Divisional and District Officers of Mundemba and Ekondo Titi respectively (who came to establish the so-called deal) and the regents names only about 4.000 hectares to be expropriated. However, there is a sharp contrast between this figure and the area of land covered by the seven villages envisaged for the expropriation. It is important that I bring to your notice the fact that the population of only some of our affected villages stood at the following figures in 1987:
- Bafaka Balue 3113
- Bekatako 174
- Bisoro 477
- Kita 245
- Masore 238
- Ngolo Metoko 248
These are figures taken over 28 years ago and if our demographic charts do not lie, we will expect that the numbers above have surely increased at least by 50%. There is therefore no gainsaying that our estimations that the community’s present population should amount to over 10.000 people are near right, if not correct.
The fact that governments control unoccupied lands is not enough reason for them to send agents that would deprive us even of our occupied lands.
Think of it and stand up for yourselves; a helpless people that you are: where do you think we will be in the next five to ten years when the government of Cameroon would demand full control of such lands as they have now ceased? Our very wealth, whether seen or unseen, now lies on government soil; our mother’s farms which feed and educate us have all been taken by the unyielding grip of our government. Yet I tell you that when this wealth is harnessed, like it has always been done, no royalties will come in the form of development to compensate even for the mere fact that we have been in possession of this land even before the birth of our constitution. Let me draw your attention to some events in our land that have shown that our acceptance to remain in a commonwealth with a government which has only benefitted from us and never helped us has landed us in the abject conditions that we find ourselves today.
The Ndian Division has witnessed numerous land expropriation deals beginning with colonial regimes which claimed vast lands to establish the Pamol Plantations now controlled by the government of the Republic of Cameroon. In 1985, a vast portion of land in the same division was sacrificed for the conservation of biodiversity as the Korup National Park. The Park, inaugurated by Charles, the Prince of Wales, today serves as a shrine of some of the oldest species in the world, inviting a huge number of tourists every year. In very recent years, a considerable portion of the same division was taken away and leased out to Heracles Farms for a palm plantation to be established. Today as if not enough, the same government of Cameroon has, through its divisional representatives, decided to deprive the people of Ndian of our natural heritage by issuing a program that divests us from effectively using our lands.
You were made to believe that the government had envisaged some development projects to be carried out for you. However, when your fellow villagers proposed that we be allowed to show the officials the area we prefer the government to develop, the officials compelled us to accept their own terms by appealing to force and by exploiting our ignorance of some portions of the law. For example, one of you testifies that you were told that it is unlawful for indigenes to decide for government about where it prefers to develop. We were also made to believe that opposing such government
ownership of our lands could invite heavy, coercive sanctions against us.
Consequently, we have been left with just five hundred meters of land from the outermost buildings in our villages while the rest of our lands have gone to the government as reserved lands. I must emphasise that 30.000 hectares of land are a scandalous amount to be expropriated by the government. This is not a thing to whisk off just like that, especially as these lands connect us with our past and future.
The question the community puts forth is what happens to the people whose farmlands exist in these expropriated lands? What happens to future generations which will certainly need these lands as assets left to them by an ageless ancestry? How will we negotiate this expropriation with our age-old spiritual connection to the lands now seized? How will we access those very sacred sites such as the graves of our forebears when the government takes full occupation of our original sites not far away from our present settlements?
In spite of our non-disputable status as traditional and aboriginal owners of these lands, the government of the Republic of Cameroon has time and again employed certain exploitative mechanisms, mostly done without our consent, on the land of our fathers. In 1996, without any official notice from the government, and in spite of Article 30 (1) of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, our villages (Bafaka, Nalende, Kumbe and Ekwe) were invaded by a group of unsolicited Frenchmen clad in military attire. They came in armoured helicopters and jeeps as if we were a war-torn people and were heavily guarded by several battalions of the Cameroonian army and special police force – the gendarmerie. The invasion was a terrible incident, for some of us were witnesses and victims of many traumatic experiences that these people came with.
Our women were molested, used and abandoned with children brought into this world by means of such unholy unions; our community was stripped of its traditional and cultural ethic and our girls were transformed into sex workers by the military horde that invaded us. Our brothers and sisters, some children, were sacrificed to the brutality of both the Europeans and the black soldiers who were sent to guard them. For ten long years the people of our community witnessed Franco-Cameroonian colonialism at the dawn of our very 21st century. Men and women were restricted to access formerly owned properties and our pre-existing establishments were seized or transferred from their originally preferred locations. In the guise of sanitation, the Frenchmen ordered that all our livestock, namely, sheep and pigs be slaughtered and up to this day in spite, of the resistance put up, we can hardly find these animals in our villages. In Bafaka for example, the people had to seek other ways of getting water to drink since the French had overtaken their main Nebongo water point.
In our ignorance and because we had never been given such access to the understanding of these things, no questions were openly raised, although people murmured within themselves, to question the French and Cameroonian invasion of our community. No one has ever had the civility of at least respecting our rights to know by issuing a public, official statement in explanation of what happened especially in Bafaka, the miniature Franco-Cameroonian capital between 1996 and 2006 in Ndian.
In 1997, a group of Malaysian timber exploiters invaded our forests with heavy duty forest fighters and bulldozers to rape and plunder it for timber. They claimed to have been sent by the government of the Republic of Cameroon, although it is shocking to know that the French and the Malaysians (all claiming to have been sent by the same Cameroonian government) clashed in Bafaka. One keeps wondering which of them came as genuine representatives (of a government that would occupy without information) or as a thief. We had to take the bull by the horns for those Malaysians to track us the footpath of a road that we sang songs for. It is important to know that the mass rape of our forest by the Malaysians and all that they got from it destroyed so much of our ecosystems while it filled up the pockets of Yaounde men and women. Nothing was ever given back to the people, neither were we even given the simple courtesy to be informed of what was happening or what had happened with our trees, some of which we considered sacred and, perhaps, to our subsoil resources.
The result of their action is testified in the hundreds of tree logs that we find in the Bafaka-Bekatako-Nalende forests rotting away and leaving many a forest creature homeless and hungry and many a human being sick and dying because of lack of medicines. If the government ever wanted to conserve these lands, as it now purports, it would not have sent in rogues to steal timber from our lands behind our backs more than eighteen years ago.
Now let us reveal what we think is the secret behind this expropriation which some of our people have tagged as a move towards development. The discovery of oil potentials in Kita and Nalende, the possibility of Bafaka, Bisoro and Nalende possessing large amounts of gold and other subsoil minerals and the probable pressure from outside influence on the government of Cameroon has prompted this harmful negotiation. The Balue land in particular and Ndian Division in general have become the farmland of a few Cameroonian executives who connive with foreign companies and some of our elites to sell our lands at cheap prices and leave the indigenous masses to continue wallowing in poverty, abjection and false hope. Since the discovery and exploitation of crude oil in our land (1977) and a host of several other resources, our people have been treated as though we have been cursed by our own blessing.
Our geographical condition in the Rumpi Mountains does not allow us to farm on the hills. We have to go downhill to establish the farms on which we depend. None of these farms exist within five hundred meters from our respective village outskirts. We depend entirely on the resources provided by the forests; its fauna and flora serve as economic and spiritual presences to our people. We do not only harness the njangsang, ‘country onion’ or ngakanga, bush pepper, bush mangoes, and many other spices for our economic sustenance, we also have a particular connection with other elements of these forests, animals, plants and insects alike which all constitute aspects of our existential reality and connection to the past.
It is therefore the people’s submission that they cannot be severed from their indigenous territories for any reason without valid concessions and agreements reached at with any institution or body for whatever reason. We cannot continue to listen to bottle-neck elites and so-called representatives who fool themselves and of course you and me to believe in their love for our community. Most of those who work in the ministries and at parliament have betrayed the people several times to prosper their personal bank accounts. Our appeal is to the Cameroonian government to rethink its decision and to the international community to help us in negotiating this for our survival.
- All articles and related pronouncements of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- All articles and related pronouncements of the Charter of the United Nations
- All articles and related pronouncements of the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights
- All articles and related pronouncements of the Charter of the African Union
- All articles and related pronouncements of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights
- All articles and related pronouncements of the Constitution of the Republic of Cameroon
- All Sections, ordinances, decrees and related pronouncements on Land Tenure and State Lands in the Republic of Cameroon.