By Dibussi Tande
"Does General Leclerc, a French soldier, deserve to be honored at the Bonanjo [Douala] independence square of all places, at the expense of Cameroonian martyrs such as Douala Manga Bell and Ngosso Din?”
Mboua Massok ma Batalong after defacing the Leclerc Monument.
Colonial Relic: General Philippe Leclerc's Monument in Bonanjo, Douala
In November 5, 1891, a German expeditionary force, led by Karl Freiher Gravenreuth and Lieutenant Von Stetten, was dispatched to Buea to crush the Bakweri resistance to the German colonial machine. In the epic battle that ensued , the Bakweri, led by Chief Kuv’a Likenye, killed Karl Gravenreuth, repulsed the German attack, and chased the German-led forces across the Fako mountain as they fled back to Victoria. It would take another four years for the German war machine to defeat the Bakweri..
In his analysis of the impact of Kuv'a Likenye’s victory over the Germans, Edwin Ardener writes that:
Kuva’s case is of more than local interest. This remote and ideologically merely intuitive tribesman held up the march of events, by an unexpected veto on the foreign economic exploitation of the mountain. The veto only ended with his death. During its existence, it revealed serious weaknesses in German Colonial administrative and military practice… the resistance of the mountain people provided one of the important shocks of the early colonial system in Kamerun. As a resistance movement, it was before its time…Kuva must receive credit for diverting the curse of Gravenreuth and his slave-troops upon the colonial masters themselves.
Kuv'a Likenye died shortly after the Bakweri defeat of 1895, and was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in Buea. On the other hand, Karl Freiher Gravenreuth, whose forces had been humiliated during the 1891 battle, was buried with honors and a monument built in his honor in Douala. That monument still stands to this day… But no one can pinpoint exactly where Kuva Likenye is buried…
Defacing General Leclerc
Kuva’s story is being retold today because it goes to the heart of a “nationalist” trial currently going on in Douala. It is the trial of the Father of the Ghost Town Operations, Mboua Massok ma Batalong. His crime? On January 29, 2006, Massok, the self-styled leader of the “moral rebellion” against the Biya regime, was arrested in Douala for defacing the monument of General Leclerc, located at Douala's Independence Square. Massok wrote the words, "to be destroyed, our martyrs first, 180 days” on the commemorative wall behind Leclerc’s statue. Mboua Massok proudly accepted his crime in open court.
Massok’s defense, as reported by Mutations is simple: The trial is not about his person but about “colonisation, acculturation, and alienation…". According to Massok, the real issue here is not about defaced public property, but about Cameroonian national identity, and the imperative to Cameroonize public spaces such as streets, public, buildings and monuments: “Does General Leclerc, a French soldier, deserve to be honored at the Bonajo [Douala] independence square of all places, at the expense of Cameroonian martyrs such as Douala Manga Bell and Ngosso Din?” Billion dollar question…
And, going back to our original story, does Gravenreuth, A German who not only fought the Bakweri but also brutally crushed a revolt of the Abo people (Douala) in February 1891, deserve a monument in Douala, when there is not a single street in Buea honoring Kuv'a Likenye, or even a plaque commemorating the German-Bakweri wars?
In an article on how national identity is invented, Anne-Marie Thiesse lists a number of ”symbolic and material items” that “any real nation needs to possess”. These include,
a history establishing its continuity through the ages, a set of heroes embodying its national values, a language, cultural monuments, folklore, historic sites, distinctive geographical features, a specific mentality and a number of picturesque labels such as costume, national dishes or an animal emblem.
It is easy to see why Cameroon has been confronted with the problem of nationhood (be it linguistic or ethnic) since independence. For decades, successive Cameroonian regimes imposed a watered-down version of the country’s history on citizens, and virtually banned any public reference to Cameroonian nationalist figures; there are virtually no public spaces in their honor, and to this day, they barely get a footnote in Cameroonian history books. Instead, the most important public spaces in Cameroon are a tribute to colonial and neo-colonial colonial actors; the Leclerc monument, Avenue Charles de Gaulle, Avenue Giscard d’estaing, etc., etc.
The result? A deracinated people who have little or no pride in their heroes and martyrs, or in their indigenous cultures, which have instead become sources of discord and division. The colonialism of the mind continues…
”Emancipate yourself from mental slavery,
None but ourselves can free our minds
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look? Ooh!
Mboua Massok’s moral rebellion is therefore a timely one aimed at stemming the tide of cultural alienation and historical ignorance. As African nationalist, Marcus Garvey once wrote:
The time has come for the Blackman to forget and cast behind him his hero worship and adoration of other races, and to start out immediately to create and emulate heroes of his own. We must canonize our own martyrs and elevate to positions of fame and honor Black men and women who have made their distinct contributions to our racial history.
Africa has produced countless numbers of men and women, in war and in peace, whose lustre and bravery outshines that of any other people. Then why not see good and perfection in ourselves? We must inspire a literature and promulgate a doctrine of our own without any apologies to the powers that be. The right is the Blackman's and Africa's. Let contrary sentiments and cross opinions go to the winds. Oppositions to Race Independence is the weapon of the enemy to defeat the hopes of an unfortunate people.
From this perspective, the Mboua Massok trial (actually, it should be the General Leclerc trial) is arguably the most important trial of the year. Too bad that the Cameroonian press and the public are too distracted by stories of sex and financial impropriety in high places to pay any attention …
Click here to read a full account of Kuva Likenye and Bakweri resistance to German colonialism.