Today, I would like to talk about one of the heroes of Cameroonian history, Rudolf Douala Manga Bell, who stood against the Germans in the 1910s in Kamerun. His courage, and strong determination earned him the right of martyr and hero in the history of the Douala (or Duala) people, and thus of Cameroon.
Rudolf Douala Manga Bell was born in 1872, and studied in Cameroontown (modern-day Douala). He was the first son of King Manga Ndumbe Bell, of the Douala people. After completing his primary education and part of his secondary school in Cameroon, he went to study at the Lycée of Aalen in Bonn (Germany) finishing secondary school. He later went on to study law at the university there.
Manga Bell married Emily Engome Dayas, the daughter of an English trader and a Douala woman after his return home in 1896. He also became a civil servant. On 2 September 1908, he succeeded to his father as Paramount Chief (Chef Supérieur) of the Bell dynasty (founded since 1792) which encompassed the Bonamandone, Bonapriso, Bonadoumbe, all owners and inhabitants of the Plateau Joss in Douala. In those days, Douala was composed of several tribes: Bakole, Bakweri, Bamboko, Isubu (or Isuwu), Limba (or Malimba), Mungo, and Wovea. Among those chiefs, some of them including the famous King Akwa, signed a Germano-Douala treaty on 2 July 1884, which placed Cameroon under German protection. Cameroontown thus became Kamerunstadt.
In 1910, the German governor of Cameroon, Theodor Seitz, approved an urbanization project for the city of Douala (Kamerunstadt had been renamed Douala) set to turn it into one of the largest ports of Africa. The project outlined a plan to relocate the Douala people inland from the Wouri river to allow European-only settlement of the area. Neighborhoods such as Neu Bell, Neu Akwa, and Neu Deido were to be created for the indigenous people; these new allotments were going to be separated from the ‘European city’ by a barrier 1km wide (early version of apartheid!). The expropriations affected most of the Douala clans, who were angered and formed a united front behind Manga Bell. Rudolf Douala immediately refused, and told the Germans that the treaty signed in 1884 did not stipulate the removal/expulsion of the locals from their lands, and that this separation constituted a form of apartheid. Manga Bell then enlisted the help of Hellmut von Gerlach, a German journalist. Gerlach managed to secure a suspension order from the Reichstag Budget Commission in March, but the order was overturned when Colonial Secretary Wilhelm Solf convinced elements of the press, businessmen in the colony, politicians, and other groups to finally rally behind the expropriation. Manga Bell and the Douala requested permission to send envoys to Germany to plead their case, but the authorities denied them. In secret, Manga Bell sent Adolf Ngoso Din to Germany to hire a lawyer for the Douala and pursue the matter in court.
Manga Bell then turned to other European governments and to leaders of other African ethnic groups for support. His envoys to other Cameroonian leaders reached Bali, Balong, Dschang, Foumban, Ngaoundéré, Yabassi, and Yaoundé. Charles Atangana (Karl Atangana), leader of the Ewondo and Bane peoples, kept Manga Bell’s plan secret but urged the Douala leader to reconsider. In Bulu lands on the other hand, Martin-Paul Samba agreed to contact the French for military support if Manga Bell petitioned the British. However, there is no evidence that Manga Bell ever did so. In Foumban, Ibrahim Njoya, sultan of the Bamum people, rejected the plan and informed the Basel Mission on 27 April 1914 that Manga Bell was planning a pan-Kamerun rebellion. The missionaries alerted the Germans.
Noticing the German lack of respect of the signed law, who started removing locals from their lands, Bell allied with other chiefs of Cameroon to counter the colonial plans. During the mutiny, the Germans arrested the Douala leader and Ngoso Din on 10 May 1914 accusing him of high treason. Their trial was held on 7 August 1914. World War I had just begun, and an attack by the Allied West Africa Campaign in Kamerun was imminent; accordingly, the trial was rushed. On 8 August 1914, Rudolf Douala Manga Bell and Ngoso Din were hanged.
Let us all celebrate Rudolph Douala Manga Bell, the Tét’èkombo (the king of kings in Douala), the first, the uniter of Cameroon (already reaching out to other kings), and one of Cameroon’s biggest resistant. Enjoy this old rendition by Charles Ewandje (probably recorded in the 70′s) of Tet’Ekombo an ode to resistance and to the land. The song was written in 1929 in memory of Rudolf Douala Manga Bell.