It took over 70 years for a French President to finally admit the genocide perpetrated in Cameroon by France between 1950 and 1970, a genocide which claimed over 400,000 lives, and displaced countless others. In his visit to Cameroon last Friday, French president François Hollande acknowledged that French forces had tried to quash colonial separatists in the 1950s and said he was ready to open up the history books. He said, “I recognize that there have been extremely traumatic and even tragic episodes.” Should we jubilate?
I say NO. It is true that this is somewhat a step forward: recognition of wrong done. However, I call it arrogance to wake up one day, and finally say, “Oh, yes, I killed your fathers, mothers, brothers, or sisters, … I showered many of your cities with Napalm, … I decapitated so many of your freedom fighters and hung their heads in the villages’ square, … I killed Ruben Um Nyobé, Felix-Roland Moumié, Castor Osende Afana, Ernest Ouandié, and so many others, … I forced some of you into exile, … and I displaced countless others inside and outside your borders.” And so what? Should we clap for you? where is the apology? Didn’t you think we knew you did that? Where is the reparation?
During the Maquis years, many lost a loved one; is there a reparation for that loved one? that father who never saw his children grow up? that mother who never saw her son again? What about those who kept waiting, and waiting, hoping that after so many years the loved ones would come back home?… What about the pain of that young girl walking to school who had to watch the decapitation of ‘maquisards’ on the public place: she was scarred for life! What about those entire villages burnt with napalm? And those who were displaced internally from French Cameroon to British Cameroon, running for their dear lives and leaving behind their lands? What about Ruben Um Nyobé and his family? Felix-Roland Moumié, and his widow who suffered years of imprisonment in the harshest places? and Ernest Ouandié… and all the children who had to watch in horror as he took his last breath under the firing squad’s shots? What about the remaining population whose history was erased from textbooks, those who now have a gap in their past?
And to stand up there, and say “yes I recognize that we killed you”… it’s like Hitler waking up today, and telling Holocaust survivors and their descendants, “I killed you, jailed your parents, forced you into exile, brought fear into your souls, and decimated every part of you… what can you do?” It is simply arrogant! It is just too easy. Until there is a clear “I am sorry”, until there is a clear “here is what we will do to correct the wrong”, until there is a clear “arrest of all perpetrators”, until there is a clear “story in the history textbooks, opening of all the classified documents”…. until there is a clear “respect for those killed,” until then, there will be no respect for arrogant presidents of the hexagon in our dictionaries!
In 2013, the British government apologized for the massacre of the Mau-Mau in Kenya. We are waiting for France’s apologies for the Cameroonian genocide, and while we are at it, we will also expect France’s apologies for the Algerian and Malagasy massacres too.