GaÃ«lle Le Roy et ValÃ©rie Osouf Cameroun. Autopsie dâune IndÃ©pendance. France 5, 2008.
Early this week, the French TV network, France 5, broadcast a fascinating documentary on Franceâs macabre role in the violent decolonization of the French Cameroons. Using archival footage, most of which is being made public for the first time, the documentary shows how the French crushed the UPC armed insurgency. More extensive than Frank Garbely's equally compelling documentary on the assassination of Felix Moumie, autopsie covers the period from the 1944 Brazzaville conference to the 1971 execution of Ernest Ouandie, the last historic leader of the UPC.
The documentary includes revealing interviews with some of key actors from that period such as the infamous Governor of Cameroun, Pierre Messmer, who died last year. Defiant to the end, Messmer, insists that the UPC was a terrorist organization and its leader, Ruben Um Nyobe, an outlaw who deserved to die. The filmmakers also achieve the improbable feat of finally getting General Pierre Semengue to talk about his role in crushing of the UPC insurgency.
Other interviewees include veteran UPC members such as Abel Eyinga whom Ahidjo condemned to death in absentia in the 1970s, Woungly Massaga aka Commandant Kissamba, who led the ill-fated UPC âEastern Frontâ rebellion in the late 1960s, and the widows of Um Nyobe and Felix Moumie.
Another highlight of the documentary is an excerpt of the only existing audio recording of Ruben UM Nyobe addressing the UN General Assembly in 1952.
The documentary by GaÃ«lle Le Roy and ValÃ©rie Osouf is indeed a âmanifesto against amensiaâ as Le Jour described it. However, because it is only 52 minutes long, it glosses over some key events and issues from the period in question. But as the authors have rightly pointed out, most of the information about the "pacification" of Cameroon by the French Expeditionary Force is still classified in France, so researchers are severely limited.
In my 2006 series on the decolonization of the French Cameroons titled "France's Dirty warâ which appeared on this blog (See The Decolonization papers) I had stated that:
"Far from the glare of the international community which was distracted at the time by the liberation war in Algeria, literarily given a free pass by Western governments obsessed with the âRed Menaceâ on Africa; and egged on by a Western media which saw terrorism in every UPC declaration and action, France unleashed a bloody reign of terror in the French Cameroons from 1956 to 1964 which many have not hesitated to label genocide.
Between 1956 and 1964, the French army led by âFrenchmen with European and Indo-China honoursâ (The Daily Gleaner, Monday, July 31, 1961), sought to âpacifyâ rebellious UPC strongholds (first the Sanaga Maritime region in the South, then the Mungo and Bamileke regions in the West). According to The Daily Gleaner, the French used âtough some say brutal methodsâ to deal with the UPC rebellion. Today, available evidence shows that these methods were so brutal that they amounted to war crimes in many cases."
Autopsie dâune indÃ©pendance is the perfect postscript to the 2006 series as it gives provides audio-visual evidence of the so-called âtough some say brutal methodsâ of the French army in Cameroun.