Fossi Jacob: A Cameroonian Hero and France’s Genocide in Cameroon

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Chutes de la Metche (Metche Waterfalls)

I have to talk about Fossi Jacob, the Chutes de la Métché (The Metché Waterfalls), and the Bamiléké genocide perpetrated by France in Cameroon (French President Acknowledges French Genocide in Cameroon). Fossi Jacob is a hero, and should be celebrated throughout Cameroon. A monument should be erected at the Chutes de la Metché to celebrate his memory and those of countless others who lost their lives there, just outside Bafoussam on the way to Mbouda, in the Western province of Cameroon.

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The top of the Chutes de la Metche

When I visited the Chutes de la Metché, I finally understood the magnitude of the entire thing. Picture this: you are forcefully pushed from a 20 m tall waterfalls, with giant sharp-edged volcanic boulders at its bottom; there is no way anybody thrown down those waterfalls can come out alive; either you die from the fall, or your head hits one of those giants sharp boulders. This is what French officials did to so-called ‘rebels’ between 1950 and 1970 in Cameroon; in reality, most of these ‘rebels’ were simple peasants. During my visit, I was speechless! It was like visiting Gorée island, or Elmina Castle, it felt so sinister, yet so beautiful! Sinister, because it was as if I could feel the souls of all those who had been pushed there. It was as if I could hear their screams, feel their pain! Beautiful because the paths were covered with salt and palm oil, and you could tell that this was a place of pilgrimage, a place where people came to commune with their ancestors, who disappeared there, without sepulchers.

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Chutes de la Metche, view from the top

Why should we celebrate Fossi Jacob? Jacob Fossi had been imprisoned like countless others in the prison of Bafoussam during the dark days of Cameroon; he was a member of the UPC. Every night, the French officers would fill trucks with ‘rebels’ (from accounts, at least 350 every night), and drive them to the edge of the Chutes de la Metché, where, with a gun in hand, they would push the ‘rebels’ one by one down the waterfalls. Those who did not die from the falls were shot!

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Chutes de la Metche, at the bottom

On that fateful day of 12 September 1959, when it was Jacob Fossi‘s turn (he was second to last), he called for the French official and told him to get close and that he would tell him where all the other ‘rebels’ were hiding. He promised to tell him everything. When the French official came close, Fossi Jacob held onto him, and jumped with him into the waterfalls. They were killed instantly. This caused the French colonial government to stop taking people to the Chutes de la Metché to be killed. The story of Fossi Jacob is known because on that fateful day, Fo Sokoudjou, the actual King of Bamendjou, who was going to be the last one to be pushed down the fall was not pushed in because of Fossi’s courageous act. Lucky one! Imagine the many lives saved because of one man’s selfless act!

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Salt and palm oil offerings to commemorate the ancestors at the Chutes de la Metche waterfalls

Today, the Chutes de la Metché has become a place of pilgrimage for countless people, particularly Bamiléké people. During that dark era of the history of Cameroon, many lost their sons, husbands, fathers, relatives, and this is the only place where they can come and pray to their ancestors. Salt and palm oil strew the path as people come to make offerings to commemorate their long-gone loved ones. A monument should be erected there to celebrate the courage of Fossi Jacob who, thanks to his actions, stopped the horrendous actions of the French colonial government in those waterfalls. The Chutes de la Metché should be a place of pilgrimage for all Cameroonians, and beyond!

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French President Acknowledges French Genocide in Cameroon

Francois Hollande, President of France
Francois Hollande, President of France
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French flag

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?

Ruben Um Nyobé
Ruben Um Nyobé

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?

Decapitated Heads during the genocide in Cameroon
Maquisards’ heads during the genocide in Cameroon

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?

UPC Leaders (L. to R.) front row: Castor Osende Afana, Abel Kingué, Ruben Um Nyobé, Felix Moumié, and Ernest Ouandié
UPC Leaders (L. to R.) front row: Castor Osende Afana, Abel Kingué, Ruben Um Nyobé, Felix Moumié, and Ernest Ouandié

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.