Brilliant economist, Castor Osendé Afana is considered a national hero in Cameroon, however he is not as well-known as Ruben Um Nyobé, or Felix-Roland Moumié, or even his alter ego on the western front of Cameroon, Ernest Ouandié. Like those three, he was also assassinated, and paid with his life for his passion for the freedom of Cameroon, and Africa from colonialism. So who was Castor Osendé Afana?
Well, Castor Osendé Afana was born in 1930 in Ngoksa near Sa’a, in the Centre Region of Cameroon. In 1948 he was admitted to the seminary at Mvolyé, in Yaoundé, where he became a strong friend of Albert Ndongmo, the future Bishop of Nkongsamba. He was excluded from the seminary in 1950 because of his critical and rebellious character. It is as a ‘candidat libre’ that he successfully passed the first part of the Baccalauréat. He then started in philosophy at the Lycée Leclerc where he headed student manifestations demonstrating against the poor food service there. He nonetheless went on to successfully pass the 2nd part of the baccalauréat in 1952.
Later, Osendé Afana obtained a full scholarship to study Economics in Toulouse, France. By 1956, he was a vice-president of the Black African Students Federation in France (Fédération des étudiants d’Afrique noire en France – FEANF), and was managing director of the FEANF organ L’Etudiant d’Afrique noire. As a UPC militant he ensured that the issues of Cameroon were well-covered in the magazine. In 1958, Osendé Afana was named General Treasurer of FEANF, as well as being responsible for the UPC in France.
After the French government dissolved the UPC by decree on 13 July 1955, most of the UPC leaders moved to Kumba in the British-administered Southern Cameroons to avoid being jailed by the colonial power. In July 1957, under pressure from the French, the British authorities in western Cameroon deported the leaders of the UPC to Khartoum, Sudan. They moved in turn to Cairo, Egypt, to Conakry, Guinea and finally to Accra, Ghana, where they were hosted by President Nkrumah. In 1958, after Ruben Um Nyobé’s death, Osendé Afana decided to abandon his thesis and rejoin the leadership of the UPC, proposing himself as a candidate for the new Secretary General. Nyobé’s successor, Félix-Roland Moumié, told him “There is no longer a Secretary General. There was one, he is dead, that is it.” However, Osendé Afana was designated UPC representative at the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Conference in Cairo in December 1957 – January 1958. After Cameroon’s independence in 1960, the UPC continued to fight the government of President Ahmadou Ahidjo whom they considered a puppet of the French colonial power.
Osendé Afana then completed his studies in Paris in September 1962 and traveled to Accra to join Ndeh Ntumazah and Abel Kingue. His PhD thesis was titled ‘L’Economie de l’Ouest africain : Perspectives de Développement’ (The West African economy: Perspective of Development, and was published at the Maspero editions in 1966). In 1963 Osendé Afana left Cairo, Egypt, where he had taken refuge. He traveled to Conakry, Guinea, and then to Accra, Ghana, where he met the core of the leadership in exile. Convinced of the necessity for a military and political force for the UPC, Osende Afana made plans to establish a military presence in the southeast corner of Cameroon, near the border with the Republic of Congo. He spent the following months in Brazzaville before secretly entering Cameroon with the intent of establishing a new maquis, a second front in the Moloundou region, a corner of Cameroon that borders the Republic of the Congo. In August 1963 there had been a popular revolution in Congo Brazzaville in which the neo-colonial regime of Fulbert Youlou was replaced by a government led by Alphonse Massemba-Débat. Massamba-Débat’s government was relatively friendly to the UPC rebels, opening the possibility of supply from Congo.
Details of his activity in the period that followed are sketchy, but Osendé Afana seems to have made several visits to the extremely poor Moloundou region, where he made contact with the local people, mostly Bakas people. On 1 September 1965, a small party of thirteen led by Afana with Fosso François as the military guide (Fosso François was a World War II veteran and general secretary of the JDC) entered Moloundou from Ouesso on the Congolese side, mainly aiming at educating the people rather than starting an uprising, but was forced to leave quickly.
On 5 October 1965, the neocolonial forces from Yaoundé launched a first aggression against the villages of Nguilili I, Ngoko and Epaka, where the populations were entirely supportive of the UPC. Between 20 October 1965 – 24 January 1966, Osende Afana and his people pulled back to Brazzaville. They analyzed the situation, and tried to see how to get more recruits among the populations. They also intensified their military training and political ideology. They returned to Cameroon on 24 January 1966, to continue their work of raising political awareness of the populations of Epaka. On the nights of 24-25 February 1966, the group was severely attacked by the neocolonial forces, and was forced to pull back once again. Some members of the group deserted.
A few months later Osendé Afana’s small group returned to Moloundou. By 5 March 1966 they had been detected and encircled by troops that were far more at home in the forest than they were. Osendé, a myopic intellectual, lost his two pairs of spectacles. Many in his group ran away in total disarray abandoning their equipment. Afana then decided to head back to Brazzaville to get new spectacles and also to revise his strategy in order to establish a new maquis in a region closer to his birthplace, Yaoundé. It is on its way back to Brazzaville, that the group was ambushed on 15 March 1966, 11 km from the Congolese border (so close!). Osendé Afana and his comrade Wamba Louis were killed and decapitated (Wamba Louis was also disemboweled). Afana’s head was later flown by helicopter to Yaoundé for President Ahmadou Ahidjo to ‘look into the eyes of the dead man.’ Comrade Fosso François, seriously wounded, managed to run away on that day, and later on 17 March, 1966, returned to the place of the attack where he buried what was left of his friends’ bodies. It is actually thanks to Fosso Francois’ testimony that we have an account of what happened on that fatal day, as the rest is still held by the Cameroonian government as ‘secret defense.’
Check out Dibussi Tande‘s site who talks about the last days of Afana, as well as some input from Ndeh Ntumazah, one of the leaders of UPC, and the creator of the One Kamerun. Don’t forget to check out Cameroon-info which has a good biography of this UPC leader. Above all, Castor Osendé Afana was Cameroon’s first economist, moved by the need for freedom and independence of his country. He loved his country, and made his eternal marks on the history of Cameroon.