Castor Osendé Afana: A Cameroonian National Hero

Castor Osende Afana
Castor Osende Afana

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.

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

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. Continue reading “Castor Osendé Afana: A Cameroonian National Hero”

How long shall they kill our prophets…?

Bob Marley
Bob Marley

How long shall they kill our prophets…?” as Bob Marley said, “… while we stand aside and look?”Sir Bob Marley said it all: How long shall we let these conquerors beat us down? bombard us? kill our prophets? What were Lumumba, Sankara, Cabral, Um Nyobé, Ouandié, Khadafi, Ben Barka, or Gbagbo’s sins? To love their country: to want to save their countries from western greed. What were we doing when they were all killed? Why on earth are we, Africans, just looking (and sometimes applauding) while some countries, Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, and now Mali are being bombed? Why and how long are we going to look while our prophets are being killed?

Le partage de l'Afrique a la Conference de Berlin de 1884
Le partage de l’Afrique a la Conference de Berlin de 1884

I just heard of Charles Blé Goudé being arrested. My heart is broken as I hear some Africans applaud… yes my heart is shattered when I hear people say “oh he deserved it.” Deserved what? Deserve being beaten to death because he stood up for his country while external forces were invading it? Deserve being humiliated because he dared walk out in the streets of Abidjan bare-handed to fight external forces, because he brought the youth together, because he woke Ivorians and Africans to their rights to respect, independence, and fairness? Yes… as Sir Marley said: “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery [slavery of the mind; slavery mentality: ignorant mentality]”… “Have no fear for atomic energy.” Some African head of states said when Côte d’Ivoire and Libya were being bombed ” It is better not to say anything; we will just agree with these westerners otherwise they will bomb us too!” now peaceful Mali is under attack; peaceful and desertic Mali is being bombed. Which other peaceful African country will be next? It is better to rise, save our prophets, and talk… than to drink the milk of cowardice, fear, treachery, and ignorance. Have no fear for atomic energy, just stand against injustice… that is way better than treachery or the cancer of betrayal as Amilcar Cabral called it.  Enjoy Sir Marley, and remember that the milk of cowardice never saved our ancestors, and will never save us; our ancestors thought that they were sparing themselves from harm, but 50, 100, 500 years later their children are still fighting the battles they should have fought in the first place.  History repeats itself… are we still going to stand aside while our prophets are being killed? are we going to fear atomic energy, and run as cowards? No matter how far we run, or how much we hide, they are coming for us… we might have seeming peace for 20 years, but our children will still have to fight our battles!

Mongo Beti, One of Africa’s Greatest Writers

Alexandre Biyidi Awala, a.k.a. Mongo Beti
Alexandre Biyidi Awala, a.k.a. Mongo Beti

Today I will be talking about a writer of the caliber of Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong’o, a writer often forgotten, a writer who fought with his writings for independence, a Cameroonian writer who wrote about Cameroon’s first freedom fighter Ruben Um Nyobé, and whose writings were banned… you have probably guessed it, I am talking about the great Mongo Beti.

Mongo Beti was born Alexandre Biyidi Awala, on 30 June 1932 in Akométan, near Mbalmayo, south of Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon.  From a young age, Mongo Beti was already exposed to the currents of independence and freedom that were shaking Cameroon, and was exposed to Um Nyobé.  He would eventually get expelled from the local missionary school at 14, for being outspoken. As he himself said “At the time, I was very shocked by the idea of confessing my sins to someone else.” He would eventually attend the Lycee Leclerc in Yaoundé, and then move to the Sorbonne in Paris, France, for further studies.

'The Poor Christ of Bomba' by Mongo Beti
‘The Poor Christ of Bomba’ by Mongo Beti

Mongo Beti claimed that he entered writing through writing political tracts.  His first piece was a short story published by Alioune Diop in 1953 in Présence Africaine, “Sans haine et sans amour” (Without hatred or love). He first started writing under the pen name Eza Boto, by fear of retaliation from the French colonial regime. His first book “Ville Cruelle” or “Cruel City” published in 1954, was actually on the school program in all high schools of Cameroon for many years in the 80s to late 90s. His second novel “Le Pauvre Christ de Bomba” (“The Poor Christ of Bomba“) was published under the pseudonym Mongo Beti, to distance himself from his previous piece.  The name Mongo Beti means in Ewondo, ‘Son of the Beti people’.  This new novel created a scandal because of its satirical and biting description of the missionary and colonial world.  Under pressure from the religious hierarchy, the colonial administrator in Cameroon banned the novel in the colony.  This novel was followed by “Mission Terminée” in 1957 (winner of the Prix Sainte Beuve 1958), and Le Roi Miraculé, 1958.  All three books were translated into English and many other languages, which gave Beti a lasting international reputation. During this time, he also worked for the review Preuves, for which he reported from Africa, as well as a substitute teacher at the lycée of Rambouillet. He later on taught at the Lycee Pierre Corneille of Rouen until his retirement in 1994.

"Main basse sur le Cameroun..." de Mongo Beti
“Main basse sur le Cameroun…” de Mongo Beti

‘Wanted’ in the colony because of his sharp writings, and his connections to the UPC of Ruben Um Nyobé, Mongo Beti stayed in France. Ruben Um Nyobe’s murder by the colonial administration in 1958, truly shook Beti to his core; he fell silent and did not publish any book for the following decade. In 1971, he finally wrote “Main Basse sur le Cameroun, autopsie d’une décolonisation” (Cruel hand on Cameroon, autopsy of a decolonization) which was censored upon its publication by the French Ministry of the Interior Raymond Marcellin on the request, brought forward by Jacques Foccart, of the Cameroon government, represented in Paris by the ambassador Ferdinand OyonoThis essay perhaps sprang from frustration and rage at the collapse of the UPC rebellion and the public execution of its last leader, Ernest Ouandié, in 1970.  It was a devastating critique of the authoritarian regime of Cameroon, and asserted that Cameroon and other colonies remained under French control in all but name, and that the post-independence political elites had actively fostered this continued dependence.  The 1970s also saw two of his most passionately political novels, “Remember Ruben and “Perpetue et l’Habitude du Malheur,” both published in 1974.

In 1978 he and his wife, Odile Tobner, launched the bimonthly review Peuples Noirs. Peuples Africains (‘Black People. African People‘), which was published until 1991.  This review chronicled and denounced tirelessly the evils brought to Africa by neo-colonial regimes. During this period were published the novels La Ruine presque Cocasse d’un Polichinelle (1979), Les deux mères de Guillaume-Ismael Dzewatama (1983), La revanche de Guillaume Ismaël Dzewatama (1984), also Lettre ouverte aux Camerounais ou la deuxième mort de Ruben Um Nyobé (1984) and Dictionnaire de la Negritude (1989, with Odile Tobner). Frustrated by what he saw as the failure of post-independence governments to bring genuine freedom to Africa, Beti adopted a more radical perspective in these works.

'La France contre l'Afrique' de Mongo Beti
‘La France contre l’Afrique’ de Mongo Beti

Mongo Beti returned to Cameroon in 1991 after 32 years of exile.  In 1993 he published La France contre l’Afrique, Retour au Cameroun, a book chronicling his visits to his homeland.  After retiring from teaching in 1994, he returned to Cameroon permanently.  He opened the Librairie des Peuples noirs (Bookstore of the Black Peoples) in Yaoundé and organized agricultural activities in his village of Akométam.  However, his return did not leave the government silent: he was subjected to police aggression in January 1996 in the streets of Yaoundé, and was subsequently challenged at a demonstration in October 1997.  In response he published several novels: L’histoire du fou in 1994 then the two initial volumes Trop de Soleil tue l’Amour (1999) et Branle-bas en noir et blanc (2000), of a trilogy which would remain unfinished.  He was hospitalized in Yaoundé on October 1, 2001 for acute hepatic and kidney failure which remained untreated for lack of dialysis.  Transported to the hospital in Douala on October 6, he died there on October 8, 2001. Some critics noted the similarity of his death to that of his heroine Perpetua, who also died while awaiting treatment in one of the country’s overburdened hospitals.

'Trop de Soleil tue l'Amour' by Mongo Beti
‘Trop de Soleil tue l’Amour’ by Mongo Beti

As I write about him today, I feel very sad that we, in Cameroon, don’t honor our heroes.  No one can even fathom the depth of Mongo Beti’s work.  It is immense, and his service to Cameroon’s history is beyond our imagination.  At a time when everybody was scared of the regime (and rightly so, after the ‘maquis‘ years), he dared to write.  From afar, yes, one might say from the safety of France and not Cameroon, he continued his mission of informing, and enlightening us.  How many contributed like Mongo Beti to our knowledge of Ruben Um Nyobé?  I am sure Mongo Beti’s book “Main basse …” is one of the rare written accounts of Ernest Ouandié.  The African writer, Boubacar Boris Diop wrote: “Sans jamais se courber devant personne, il [Mongo Beti] a réussi à faire d’un simple pseudonyme un cri de ralliement. Sa vie durant, il a haï l’hypocrisie, le vain folklore et les faux-fuyants. Il est resté fidèle, jusqu’au martyre, à sa passion de la liberté.” (Without ever bending to nobody, he [Mongo Beti]  succeeded in turning a pseudonym into a rallying cry.  Throughout his life, he hated hypocrisy, vain folklore, and subterfuge. He remained faithful, up to martyrdom, to his passion for freedom.)   Your work, O Mongo, is a true treasure in the archives of Cameroon.  Peace be with you Mongo, you are not just a son of the Beti, but rather a son of Cameroon… Peace to you Mongo Cameroon.

Abel Kingué, Short but rising Tall for the Independence of Cameroon

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

Today, I will be talking about an almost forgotten leader of the UPC (Union des Populations du Cameroun), its vice president, Abel Kingué.  Who was Abel Kingué?

Well, Abel Kingué was born Abel Kegne, in Fokoue near Bamendou (in the Menoua department) in 1924, into a polygamous household.  Soon, he would live his home and move to the city of Dschang where he worked as a tennis ball boy for a while before getting spotted and given a chance to attend school.  After school in Dschang, Bafang, and Nkongsamba, he went on to attend the Nursing school of Ayos.  In 1947, he moved to Douala, and work in a big commercial center.

In April of 1950, Abel entered the direction of the UPC directly after its first congress in Dschang.  He entered the spotlight when, despite his short height, he publicly denounced the political embezzlement of prince Ndoumbe Douala Manga Bell.  Not only was Abel Kingué a great orator, but he also showed great firmness, great organization skills, great work ethics, and kindness.

Flag of the UPC
Flag of the UPC

He was re-elected vice president of the UPC during its 2nd congress in Eséka, in September 1952.  He was also chief editor of the ‘Voix du Kamerun‘ (Voice of Kamerun), UPC’s main organ of expression.  In december 1953, he went to the United Nations, to represent the JDC (Jeunesse Démocratique Camerounaise – Cameroonian Democratic Youth) of which he was a founding member.  On his return, while touring the country to share his report with others, he was attacked in Mbouroukou, near Melong, and was seriously injured and left for dead.

The crackdown on the UPC movement intensified dramatically in 1954 with the arrival of the new French High Commissioner, Roland Pré. Roland Pré said in one of his interviews about his crackdown on the UPC that he implemented techniques he had learnt in nazi concentration camps to crush UPC’s leaders in Cameroon… One just shivers while imagining the brutality and atrocity that our courageous independence fighters had to face.  On April 14th 1954, Kingué ran for elections into the ATCAM (Assemblée territoriale du Cameroun – Territorial Assembly of Cameroon), and despite his huge popularity, will be declared a loser by the colonial administration. Click here to Continue reading “Abel Kingué, Short but rising Tall for the Independence of Cameroon”

Remember Ruben: A Rare Video Biography of Ruben Um Nyobé

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

After my article on one of Africa’s greatest freedom fighter, the Cameroonian leader, Ruben Um Nyobé, I thought that this small rare video with pictures of Um Nyobé would be very fit to add to our knowledge.  Ruben Um Nyobé with the UPC in 1948 were the first in Africa to ask for the independence of their country, Cameroon.  He was murdered by the French colonial administration, and his story was totally buried for many years: it was as if he had had no impact on the lives of Cameroonians, and Africans as a whole.  It is just amazing to realize that, 50 years later, he had spoken at the United Nations tribune three times for the independence and reunification of Cameroon in 1952, 1953, and 1954.  It is amazing to think that in Cameroon, there was someone of the caliber of N’Krumah, Lumumba, and Nyerere… Yes… Ruben Um Nyobé’s place should be at the Pantheon (if it existed) of African legends.  Enjoy!!!

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 Grioo.com 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!!!