Cameroonian political activist and pan-Africanist, Mboua Massok ma Batalon ba Bilap bi Momoso, has been awarded the first-ever Felix Moumie prize, named after the Cameroonian nationalist leader who was assassinated in Geneva in 1960 by the French secret service.
The Dr. Felix Moumie prize was instituted by the Cameroonian pro-democracy organization, CODE (Collectif des Organisations Démocratiques et Patriotiques des Camerounais de la Diaspora), to “encourage individuals who contribute towards the construction of democratic values and human rights in Cameroon”.
According to Prof. Kapet de Bana, President of the award organizing committee and former comrade of Felix Moumie in the UPC, “the prize carries a powerful symbol which seeks to restitute Moumie’s memory and give Cameroonians the opportunity to appropriate his values of courage and audacity.”
In an acceptance letter recently made public by CODE, Mboua Massok expressed the hope that the Moumie Prize would serve as rallying symbol which would transcend artificial cleavages and the fake solidarities that stem from them. In his opinion, the award is not just a personal victory, but also a celebration of “the memory and work of our heroes and martyrs, of nationalism, patriotism and pan-Africanism”.
Mboua Massok in brief
Mboua Massok is unarguably one of the most colorful, controversial and emblematic figures to emerge on the Cameroonian political scene since 1990. Arrested at least a dozen times since the return of multiparty politics, Massok is best known as the father of the “Ghost Town Operation”; the civil disobedience campaign which brought the country’s economy to a standstill in 1991.
A former accountant with Cameroon Airlines, he first fell afoul with the Biya regime in 1985 after he publicly lashed out against corruption at CAMAIR during a corporate gala. He was arrested and transferred to Yaounde and then released shortly thereafter. He resigned from Camair upon his release.
After the legalization of multipartyism in December 1990, Mboua Massok Mass created a political party, the Programme social pour la liberté et la démocratie (PSLD). Allegedly kidnapped by the secret police after he made public his “villes mortes” concept, his disappearance was the catalyst for the first ghost town operation organized by the national coordination of opposition parties. Massok reappeared a month later at the Douala General hospital, disheveled, incoherent and in "poor mental state". The Biya regime claimed that he had "kidnapped himself" while opposition insisted that his disappearance and shaky mental state were all the handiwork of the dreaded secret police. Later at a press conference Mboua seemed even more confused and incoherent-- no sign of the brilliant strategist who had conceived civil disobedience campaign...
Mboua Massok would eventually bounce back to normalcy to become a prominent player within the National Coordination of Opposition Parties as it tried to force Biya’s hand on the issue of the sovereign national conference. However, by the end of 1991, he became disillusioned with party politics as the villes mortes petered out and the Biya regime regained the political initiative. He then turned his back party politics, preferring solitary but highly visible campaigns under the banner of his “moral rebellion” campaign, earning himself about a dozen trips to jail for his efforts – the most by any political leader in Cameroon since 1990. Some examples:
“On 3 June 1997, Mboua Massok, acting Secretary General of the Programme social pour la liberté et la démocratie (PSLD), Social Programme for Liberty and Democracy, was arrested and held in administrative detention on the orders of the préfet (Senior Divisional Officer) under the provisions of the legislation introduced in December 1990. He was held in New Bell prison in Douala for 15 days before being released” - Amnesty International
"The Government continued to harass and arrest a high-profile Douala political activist, Mboua Massok. On January 27 (2000), Douala police arrested Mboua Massok near the Douala University campus for his apparent support of the January 18 student strike. The gendarmes released him without charge or trial on March 16. On April 11, members of the Douala gendarmerie again detained Massok for several hours regarding a human rights essay he published" - US State Department Human Rights Report
In 2001, security forces detained Massok after he announced plans to walk on foot from Douala to Yaounde, à la Mahatma Ghandi, to protest against the holding of the Franco-African Heads of Stat summit in Yaounde which he considered a neo-colonial setup.
On January 29, 2006, Massok was again arrested 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 argued that his action was against “colonisation, acculturation, and alienation…" As he explained during his trial, the real issue was 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?” he asked.
The Felix Moumie prize comes to recognize an individual whose “lone ranger” methods of fighting for democracy, the rule of law and democracy in Cameroon have been very controversial, contested and even ridiculed in some quarters. To his credit, however, Massok, unlike many political personalities from the early 1990s, has been consistent and unwavering in his nationalist and Pan-Africanist political ideology, and has so far refrained from entering into compromising alliances with the status quo.
Special invitees to the November 3 award ceremony in Geneva will include prominent African historian, philosopher, Egyptologist and poet Prof. Theophile Obenga, Marthe Moumie, Dr. Moumie’s widow, and Franco-swiss journalist Frank Garbely, whose 2005 documentary on the Moumie assassination and the UPC armed insurrection, revived interest in the slain leader and shone the spotlight on French military atrocities in Cameroon in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Mboua Massok in his own words: Why I want to destroy the Leclerc monument