Ruben Um Nyobé: Fighting for the independence of Cameroon

Ruben Um Nyobé
Ruben Um Nyobé

With presidential elections taking place this Sunday October 9th in Cameroon, with its plethora of opposition candidates, and no real organization, I thought that a trip down memory lane to the time of the 1940s-1960s when there was a real opposition in Cameroon will be very appropriate. I would like to talk about one of Cameroon’s greatest opposition fighters and freedom fighters: Ruben Um Nyobé, the real father of Cameroon’s independence.

Ruben Um Nyobé was a Cameroonian freedom fighter, and an anti-imperialist leader. Born in Song Mpeck in 1913, Um Nyobé was a stellar student raised in a modest family of farmers.  Initiated to the culture of the Bassa by his father who was well-versed, Um noticed early all the crimes committed by the colonial administration on the indigenous people, crimes such as indentured servitude, forced labor, dehumanization, spanking, beating etc…  This made him later write: “la colonisation, c’est l’esclavage ; c’est l’asservissement des peuples par un groupe d’individus dont le rôle consiste à exploiter les richesses et les hommes des peuples asservis“( “Colonization is slavery; it is an enslavement of the populations by a group of individuals whose role is to exploit the riches and the men of the enslaved populations.”)

Flag of the UPC
Flag of the UPC

On April 10th, 1948, the Union des Populations du Cameroon (Cameroon People’s Union or UPC) was founded and was first led by Leornard Bouli, and later Um Nyobé  was elected general secretary. The main goal of the party was the independence and reunification of both (British and French) Cameroons.  Its symbols were a red flag with a black crab on it: red for the blood of patriots who lost their lives, the crab as a reference to the reunification of Kamerun, and black to symbolize the color of the Black continent, Africa, the cradle of humanity.

The party was at first the Cameroonian branch of the RDA, of which Um Nyobé became one of its vice presidents in 1949.  However, the RDA of Houphouet-Boigny choose to cooperate with the French colonial administration, while UPC of Um Nyobé  refused to join in this treason and choose to continue the fight for the immediate recognition of the nation of Cameroon (independence), and its reunification.  Um Nyobé, the leader of UPC, was particularly charismatic, courageous, and a very good orator.  For the Cameroonian intellectual youth of those days, he was without any doubt the leader which embodies Cameroonian patriotism, and for the masses,  he was the hero who will bring a new dawn.  His aura was such that his name travelled into the country in rural areas.  He was affectuously known as “Mpodol” or “celui qui porte la voix ou qui défend la cause“, “the one who carries the demands.” He was particularly active, wrote political articles, held  meetings where as much as tens of thousands could be seen, met the masses, and moved across the country.

Ruben Um Nyobé with his family
Ruben Um Nyobé with his family

As the charismatic leader of the UPC, Ruben Um Nyobé (1913-1958), defended three times (1952, 1953, and 1954) the cause of Cameroon at the United Nations tribune in New York.  On 22 April 1955, the UPC published the “Proclamation commune(Common proclamation), which was considered as a unilateral declaration of independence and a provocation by the French authorities.  On 19 May, Um Nyobé went underground and on 22 May, the French gendarmes dispersed UPC meetings and the party announced it would no longer recognize French authority. Following violent riots, the UPC and its branches were banned by the French authorities on 13 July 1955.  Since the UPC was then the main political party in Cameroon, the French authorities decided to support other, less provocative parties, to try to divide-and-conquer. In December 1956, the UPC which was banned from participating in the general elections, set up an armed branch called the “Comité National d’Organisation” (Organization National Committe or CNO) and started an armed struggle. A pacification campaign was performed by the French army which was actually a genocide perpetrated on the people of Cameroon, and culminated with the assassination of Um Nyobé on 13 September 1958.  He was murdered by the French army, near his natal village of Boumnyebel, in the department of Nyong-et-Kéllé in the maquis Bassa. Um Nyobé ‘s death set in motion events that totally decapitated the UPC (even to this date) as the strongest opposition party of Cameroon.  In essence, his murder allowed the French to set a neo-colonial state in Cameroon, which today still lives as a puppet state serving Western interests.  At the time, however, his fierce fight forced the French colonial power to abuse of its powers, commit a genocide (still not well-documented almost 50 years later) in the Western highlands, and Bassa maquis, and finally forcing them to award independence to Cameroon.

Ernest Ouandié, Marthe Moumié, and Abel Kingue in Geneva after Felix Moumié's death
L-R: Ernest Ouandié, Marthe Moumié, and Abel Kingue in Geneva after Felix Moumié's death

The independence of Cameroon, under complete French control, was proclaimed on 01 January 1960 and some leaders of the “legal UPC” rallied President Ahidjo.  However, others in the UPC continued with the struggle within the country and abroad.  Félix Moumié, Um Nyobé ’s successor, was poisoned with thallium on 3 November 1960 in Geneva by a French secret agent (William Bechtel).  Abel Kingue died in Algeria in 1964, while Osende Afana was arrested and decapitated in 1966. A post-colonial struggle by UPC rebels opposing the new Cameroon army (trained and armed by France) continued until August 1970 when the last battalion of the UPC, commanded by Ernest Ouandié, was arrested.  Ouandié was sentenced to death and was shot by a death squad in a market on 15 January 1971, in Bafoussam.  The civil war, resulting in the destruction of villages and use of napalm is estimated to have resulted in at least 30,000 to 500,000 deaths.  It has been conveniently removed from official history, both in Cameroon and in France.

In his book, Richard A. Joseph says: He [Ruben Um Nyobé ] was undoubtedly one of the most brilliant political thinkers and organizers to emerge after the Second World War in Africa. Had he survived to lead his country to independence, he would most certainly be ranked today on the same level as Julius Nyerere, and the late Kwame Nkrumah and Patrice Lumumba.” 

Remember Ruben de Mongo Béti
'Remember Ruben' by Mongo Béti

Check out the website where there is a good biography on Ruben Um Nyobe’s life. Don’t forget to check out the website of Dibussi Tande. The great Cameroonian writer Mongo Béti wrote the book Main basse sur le Cameroun, autopsie d’une décolonisation (about the Cameroonian resistance led by the UPC) which was banned in France in the 70s, which led to him to write Remember Ruben in honor of Ruben’s memory.  As leader of the UPC, Um Nyobé  made several trips to the United Nations headquarters in New York where he spoke in favor of an independent Cameroon. I leave you here with the rare footage, the only footage of Um Nyobé speaking at the UN tribune.  This is the only audio and visual record of Um Nyobé  found to date. Enjoy hearing Mpodol speak!!!  It is a real treasure!!!

20 thoughts on “Ruben Um Nyobé: Fighting for the independence of Cameroon

  1. Pingback: Remember Ruben: A Rare Video Biography of Ruben Um Nyobe « African Heritage

  2. Montre Breitling

    Been reading your site for a bit now and must say; great writing. Usually I don�t get through an entire writeup but you have wellwritten and informative points. Looking forward to more from you.


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  6. great Blog, great article. i just discover you blog some min ago, when watching the video of UM NYOBE on youtube. well done we need to keep our heritage since that the structure made for don’t do a thing.


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  12. Christa

    Wonderful blog! I found it while surfing around on Yahoo News.

    Do you have any tips on how to get listed in Yahoo News?

    I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Many thanks


  13. Pingback: Das Kamerun, Le Cameroun, The Cameroon: tres formas de dominación colonial | Por mil millones de africanos

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