Ernest Ouandié: People tell the story of his last days

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Ernest Ouandie, a few minutes before his execution in Bafoussam

On 15 January 1971, Ernest Ouandié, the leader of the UPC, was publicly executed in the capital of the Western region, Bafoussam, his natal province.

In reality, three people had been executed. Those 3 were: Gabriel Tabeu, aka “Wambo, the electricity“, Raphaël Fotsing, and Ernest Ouandié. The three were tied to a pole, facing a firing squad. The first two fell first. Ernest Ouandié, who had been accused of attempting to create a revolution, the organization of an armed bands, assassinations and other things, refused to be blindfolded. This led to a dispute between the authorities and him. Finally, they granted him his final wish, and as he was falling through the weight of the bullets, he shouted “Others will continue the struggle” staring death in the eye.

Up until the last minute, we did not think that the government was going to execute Ernest Ouandié and his comrades. People thought that they could be condemned for life. It was for us a big surprise. They made us get out of school to go watch the execution of the nationalists. In the crowd, we disapproved of what was going to happen, even kids like us. There was in reality, a strong current of sympathy for the rebels. That is why as soon as Ernest Ouandié and his companions were shot, it was as if I had been wounded in the depths of my heart.  The gust had wounded the head of a person who was at the parish of the evangelical church,”  says Wanko Tchonla, a trader in Bafoussam. On the day of the event, he was a student at the Saint Joseph school of the cathedral.  He still keeps in memory that sad day of 15 January 1971.” [“Jusqu’à la dernière minute, nous ne croyions pas que le gouvernement allait faire exécuter Ernest Ouandié et ses camarades. Les gens pensaient qu’on pouvait les condamner à vie. C’était pour nous une grande surprise. On nous a fait sortir de l’école pour voir l’exécution des nationalistes. Dans la foule, on désapprouvait ce qui allait se passer, même les enfants comme nous. Il y avait en réalité un fort courant de sympathie pour les rebelles. C’est pour cela que dès que l’on a tiré sur Ernest Ouandié et ses compagnons, c’est comme si j’avais reçu une blessure au fond de mon cœur. La rafale avait blessé la tête d’une personne qui se trouvait au niveau de la paroisse du plateau de l’église évangélique ”, raconte Wanko Tchonla, commerçant à Bafoussam. Au moment des faits, il est élève à l’école Saint Joseph de la cathédrale. Il garde en souvenir la triste journée du 15 janvier 1971.]

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Ernest Ouandie, on his way to his execution

It is no coincidence that the government of Ahmadou Ahidjo had decided to execute Ernest Ouandié in Bafoussam even though his conviction had been pronounced by the military court of Yaoundé. It is was important to create a collective psychosis in the minds. That is why people are always afraid to demonstrate for their rights. People are even afraid to join a political party by fear of being killed.” [“Ce n’est pas par simple hasard que le gouvernement d’Ahmadou Ahidjo avait décidé de faire exécuter Ernest Ouandié à Bafoussam alors que sa condamnation avait été prononcé par le tribunal militaire de Yaoundé. Il fallait créer une psychose collective dans les esprits. C’est pour cela que vous voyez que les gens ici ont peur de manifester pour revendiquer leurs droits. Les gens ont même peur de s’engager dans un parti politique parce qu’ils craignent d’être tués.”] Jean Michel Tékam, candidate for the Cameroonian Social Democratic Party (Parti social démocrate camerounais) in 1996.

Map of Cameroon from 1919 to 1960, including both Cameroons (French in Blue, and British in red)
Map of Cameroon from 1919 to 1960, including both Cameroons (French in Blue, and British in red) – Ouandie was fighting for One Cameroon and its freedom from colonial powers

Martin Kapnang, retired communal agent, remembers the staging around Ouandié’s execution. “ We knew that they had arrested the rebel chiefs. The administration had brought people, even from surrounding villages, to watch the execution of rebels. But the conditions under which their trial had unfolded always seemed very confusing. Because as soon as the arrest of Ernest Ouandié and others had been announced, we knew that they will be executed even if the greatest attorneys in the world intervened in their favor.” [“Nous savions que l’on avait arrêté les chefs maquisards. L’administration avait fait venir les gens même des villages environnants pour voir comment on devait tuer les maquisards. Mais les conditions dans lesquelles leur procès s’était déroulé semblaient toujours floues. Car dès que l’on avait annoncé l’arrestation de Ernest Ouandié et autres on savait qu’ils devaient être exécutés même si les plus grands avocats du monde intervenaient en leur faveur.”]

As soon as the first salvo is fired, he shouts: “Long live Cameroon” and then falls to the ground. A European officer detaches himself from the group of spectators, walks toward the dying man, puts his hand on his holster, leans forward and shoots…
[cited in Jean Ziegler, Les Rebelles: Contre l´Ordre du Monde: Mouvements Armes de Liberation Nationale du Tiers Monde, Published 1983, Editions du Seuil ]

Ernest Ouandié: A Cameroonian and African Hero and Martyr

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

15 January 1971 marks the day of the execution of a Cameroonian and African hero: Ernest Ouandié! Outspoken, and brilliant, Ernest Ouandié is considered by many in Cameroon as a national hero. However, he has never been celebrated the way a hero should. He was a martyr! Ouandié was the last leader of the Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC). The other renowned leaders of the UPC were Ruben Um NyobéFelix-Roland Moumié, Abel Kingué , and Castor Osendé Afana who, except Abel Kingué, were all assassinated by France or its puppets.  Like those three, Ernest Ouandié was also assassinated, and paid with his life for his passion for the freedom of Cameroon, and Africa, from colonialism.  So who was Ernest Ouandié?

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Ernest Ouandie, during an interview, talking about the assassination of Felix Moumie in 1961

Ernest Ouandié was born in 1924 in Badoumla, Bana district in the Haut-Nkam region of the Western province of Cameroon . He attended public school in Bafoussam, and then l’Ecole Primaire Supérieure de Yaoundé where he obtained a Diplôme des Moniteurs Indigènes (DMI) in November 1943 and began work as a teacher. In 1944 he joined the Union of Confederate Trade-Unions of Cameroon, affiliated with the French General Confederation of Labour (CGT). From 1944 to 1948, Ernest Ouandié taught in Edéa. On 7 October 1948, he was posted to Dschang. A month later, he was posted to Douala as director of the New-Bell Bamiléké public school.

Flag of the UPC
Flag of the UPC

In 1948 Ouandié became a member of the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (Union des Populations du Cameroun – UPC), and 4 years later, was elected vice-president of the UPC. In September 1953 he was assigned to Doumé and Yoko in Mbam-et-Kim. In December 1954 he was posted to Batouri, then Bertoua. Finally, in January 1955 he was assigned to Douala again. He attended the World Congress of Democratic Youth in China in December 1954, and also traveled to Paris and Moscow.

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Les leaders de l’UPC: Ruben Um Nyobe, Felix Moumie, et Ernest Ouandie

In April and May 1955 the UPC held a series of militant meetings, circulated pamphlets and organised strikes. On 20 June 1955 the UPC leader, Ruben Um Nyobé, was sentenced in absentia to six months in prison and a large fine. On 13 July 1955 the French government dissolved the UPC by decree. Most of the UPC leaders moved to Kumba in the British-administered Southern Cameroons to avoid being jailed by the colonial power. Armed revolution broke out in Cameroon. The UPC nationalist rebels conducted a fierce struggle against the French, who fought back equally ruthlessly. The insurgents were forced to take refuge in the swamps and forests. Ruben Um Nyobé was cornered in the Sanaga-Maritime area and killed on 13 September 1958.

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Ahmadou Ahidjo, first president of Cameroon

Ouandié had taken refuge in Kumba in 1956. In July 1957, under pressure from the French, the British authorities in western Cameroon deported Ernest Ouandié and other leaders of the UPC to Khartoum, Sudan. Ouandié then moved in turn to Cairo, Egypt, to Conakry, Guinea and finally to Accra, Ghana. After Cameroon gained independence in 1960, UPC rebels who had been fighting the French colonial government continued to fight the government of President Ahmadou Ahidjo, whom they considered to be a puppet of the French. Ahidjo had asked the French to lend troops to keep peace during and after the transition to democracy. What followed is a campaign of pacification of the Bamiléké territory, and some regions in the Centre and Littoral provinces; this is one of the greatest genocides committed by France, with the death toll in the hundreds of thousands (French President Acknowledges French Genocide in Cameroon)!

Ernest Ouandié, Marthe Moumié, and Abel Kingue in Geneva after Felix Moumié's death
Ernest Ouandié, Marthe Moumié, and Abel Kingue in Geneva after Felix Moumié’s death

In 1960 Ouandié, Félix-Roland Moumié, Abel Kingué and other UPC leaders were exiled, isolated and desperate. Moumié was poisoned by French agents using thallium on 13 October 1960 and died on 4 November 1960, leaving Ouandié as head of the UPC. On 1 May 1961 the military tribunal in Yaoundé condemned Ouandié and Abel Kingué (in absentia) to deportation. That year, Ouandié secretly returned from Accra to Cameroon to work towards the overthrow of the Ahidjo regime. The Southern Cameroons (now the Southwest and Northwest regions) gained independence from the British and joined a loose federation with East Cameroon on 1 October 1961. Abel Kingué died in Cairo on 16 June 1964, leaving Ouandié the last member of the original leadership. President Ahidjo then declared Ouandié public enemy number one.

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 the market on 15 January 1971, in Bafoussam.  That day was a historic day in Bafoussam, as the populations were forced to witness the execution of their leader: my mother witnessed the event, she was just a child. 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 (French President Acknowledges French Genocide in Cameroon).

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Ernest Ouandie, on the day of his execution

On that fateful day, 15 January 1971, three people were executed in Bafoussam, the capital of the Western region. The three were Gabriel Tabeu, alias “Wambo, the electricity“, Raphael Fotsing (condemned to capital punishment 10 days prior, by a military tribunal) and Ernest Ouandié. The three were tied to a pole, facing a firing squad. The first two fell first. Ernest Ouandié, who had been accused of attempting to create a revolution, the organization of armed bands, assassinations and other things, refused to be blindfolded. This led to a dispute between the authorities and him. Finally, they granted him his final wish, and as he was falling through the weight of the bullets, he shouted “Others will continue the struggle” staring death in the eye.

Check out the website Grioo.com where there is a good biography on Ernest Ouandie’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 Um Nyobé’s memory, in which he describes the firing squad to Ouandié’s execution.

 

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!!!