No, I am not OKAY!

No, I am not OKAY!

Since our release on Friday, April 8th whenever somebody has asked me how I am, I have responded “fine, I am okay”.  However, after having a little time to think about it beyond that response meant to reassure those who are asking, I am definitely and most certainly not okay.  What happened in my country to me and other political actors, is not okay.

My arrest and that of eleven other political activists begins with the mere fact that we are amongst those who stand up daily to say NO!  Cameroon should not and cannot continue to be governed in a manner that is unjust and unfair to the majority of the people, denying them basic services such as water, electricity, healthcare, etc. while a handful live in extraordinary opulence.  Taking this stand, consistently and determinedly in Cameroon will eventually get you water-hosed, jailed or worse.

For this particular incident though, let us start the story at the beginning of 2016.  At the CPP, our political analysis was that this year would determine the prospects for political transition in Cameroon.  Our New Year video (Watch Here) called on Cameroonians to take a stand for their country in order to ensure a peaceful political transition in favor of the Cameroonian people. 

By February 2016, it became clear our analysis was correct.  The ruling CPDM party began putting out calls for the candidacy of 83-year old Paul Biya at the next presidential elections.  They then proceeded to calling for early elections and finally called for a modification to the constitution to make these early elections possible.

Every observer of the Cameroonian political scene knows this scenario.  The CPDM was setting us up to once again accept the manipulation of the constitution in order t9 maintain itself in power.  We had an inkling this was coming.  With our friends of the UPC, we set in motion the strategy we had been working on for over a year.  It was time to begin mass communication and mobilization to get Cameroonians to stand up for their rights and say NO to an umpteenth constitutional manipulation and to institutionalized electoral fraud. We began reaching out to other political parties and civil society organizations.  We began communicating to other Cameroonian activists of all types.  By the beginning of March, we had agreement to come together to launch an initiative.

Four political parties, CPP, MRC, UPC the Faithful and UNIVERS, decided to launch the “Stand Up for Cameroon” initiative.  We would be asking Cameroonians to do 3 things:

  1. Wear black every Friday to say:
    • YES – We want water, electricity, healthcare, roads, jobs and other basic services
    • NO – We refuse a clandestine change in our constitution to benefit the ruling party

          2. Pray for the future of Cameroon whatever your religion may be

    • Pray for a peaceful political transition
    • Pray for the safety of those who are standing up for justice and democracy
    • Pray that the regime in power should not destroy the peace that Cameroon has enjoyed for decades.

         3. Come out for massive public demonstrations.  Stand Up for Cameroon will provide further information on when and where.

On the 29th of March the four parties called a press conference to launch the initiative and inform the media about this campaign.  On the pretext that that press conference was not declared to administrative authorities, the following happened on the instruction of said administrative authorities:

  • Police sequestered party members and journalists inside the headquarters of the MRC where the press conference was to be held.
  • Police restricted the right to circulate freely of other party members who were arriving to attend the press conference.
  • Police water-hosed party leaders as they sat on the ground in peaceful protest
  • Police arrested 62 members of the four parties that had launched the initiative. 41 of them were CPP party members who had not attended the press conference or had anything to do with the confrontation with the police.  They were arrested 8 km away from the site where confrontation with the police had taken place.
  • These 62 persons were kept 9 hours in a police station, the majority of them sitting on the ground.  To this date no reason has been provided for their arrest and none has been provided for their release.

Police and Political Leaders sitting on the floor

I wish to mention here that as President of the Cameroon People’s Party for the last 5 years, I have held over 50 press conferences.  Never have we declared a press conference. Never have we declared an event that was taking place within our party headquarters. All of these to date had been held without interference from the administrative authorities. I wonder what got them so frightened about this particular press conference.

Since what was given to us as a reason for the brutality and arbitrary arrest we were subjected to on March 29th was that we had not declared the press conference, we decided to declare all the public meetings we intended to hold on April 8th to protest against the modification of our constitution.

We declared 6 meetings in the Wouri (Douala) and 4 in the Mfoundi (Yaoundé). Two sub-divisional offices in Yaounde and one in Douala actually refused to receive the declaration.  This is, of course illegal.  In the Wouri every single declaration received a public meeting ban from the sub-divisional officer, stating that these meetings were going to create “public disorder”. In the Mfoundi, Yaounde I banned the meeting, Yaounde IV did not deliver a receipt as required by law.

On April 6th, the Stand Up for Cameroon Initiative held a meeting and decided it was putting our party members in too much risk to go against the bans.  We decided to go out for information and education instead.  Our plan was to wear black and go out to distribute flyers in Yaounde and Douala to inform Cameroonians about the Fridays in Black campaign as well as the political stakes of the moment. No declaration is required by law for the distribution of flyers!

On the night of April 7th, we received a call from the Senior Divisional Officer of Yaounde, Mr. Tsila at 9:00 p.m. requesting to see the political parties that had declared public meetings.  CPP, Univers and MRC arrived at his office at 10:00 p.m.  He was there with the Sub-Divisional Officers of Yaoundé I and Yaoundé IV. They offered to lift the ban for the Yaoundé I meeting and deliver the receipt for the Yaoundé IV meeting.  The Senior Divisional Officer explained that what had occurred on March 29th was a disgrace to the image of Cameroon and they did not want a repeat performance.

The Stand Up for Cameroon Initiative informed him that it was impossible for us at midnight to start reconvening meetings.  We told him we would hold no public meetings.  We also informed him that we would be out doing our normal job as political parties, distributing flyers to inform and educate Cameroonians. He said he saw no problem with this and we parted company at 1:00 a.m.

CPP militants in Police Car

On April 8th the distribution of flyers went on in Douala as planned.  In Yaoundé, the following happened:

  • Ten party members from CPP and MRC were eating breakfast as they waited for party leaders to arrive to go out for distribution of flyers. They were of course, all wearing black.
  • At about 9:00 a.m. they were arrested while eating breakfast.  No one had distributed a single flyer!
  • They called me and Bergeline Domou, Deputy Secretary General of the CPP to inform us.
  • We followed them to the police station of GMI Tsinga to find out why they had been arrested.
  • At about 10:00 a.m. we arrived at GMI Tsinga and both Bergeline and myself were immediately arrested on arrival.  We naturally resisted trying to explain we had come to inquire about our colleagues.  We were pushed and shoved and arrested.
  • At 11:20 The Regional Director for the Center Commissioner Fossoua arrived in person and directed that we be transferred to the Regional Directorate of the Judicial Police (DRPJ in French).
  • On arrival at the DRPJ, we were received by Commissioner Evina.  He informed us that we were charged with “rebellion, inciting insurrection and inciting revolt”.  He told us these crimes were punishable with sentences of 10 to 20 years.  He also informed us we were going to all be detained for 48 hours.
  • We breathed a collective sigh.  To our questions of why who had ordered our arrest and why Bergeline and I who had not been on the field were arrested, he responded “we are here to do the inquiry”.  Save all your statements for inquiry.
  • We informed him all of us would be waiting for legal assistance before giving statements.
  • At about 1:00 p.m., Commissioner Evina came and told me he had a more comfortable space for me to wait.  He asked me to move from the very rickety chair I was sitting on to an office in which there was a couch. It was the office of Deputy Principal Commissioner Messina.
  • A few minutes later a young man was brought in by a police officer and asked to sit on a chair opposite me. He had a camera around his neck.  I wondered what this poor photographer had done to be arrested as well. Commissioner Messina was sitting at her desk, but said nothing to him.
  • A few minutes later, the young man lifted his camera and attempted to take my picture. In seconds I leapt from the couch and grabbed at his camera, yelling and asking what the hell they thought they were doing.  Commissioner looked at the floor.  The young man trembling walked out.
  • This was my first indicator that outside pressure was mounting.  Clearly someone powerful had asked whether I was all right.  Hence the move to a spacious office and more “comfortable” seat.  (As an aside, the couch had mites and I have horrible bites from them).
  • At about 3:00 p.m. my lawyer, Maitre Meli arrived.  I asked him to make the rounds and make sure everyone was OK.  He did so, came back and we could begin taking my statement.
  • First interruption came as he asked for three things: the reasons for arrest, the plaintiff and the warrant for arrest.  The 1st had been cited, the last two did not exist.
  • Commissioner Evina himself came in to interview me. He cited the plaintiff as the State, but said he had no warrant for arrest and the lawyer should obtain it from GMI Tsinga.  Despite this illegality, we decided to let him proceed with the interview.
  • I will spare you the ridiculousness of the questions about how asking Cameroonians to wear black on Fridays is tantamount to “facilitating the gathering of insurgents”! Or the simple one “why are you wearing dark clothes?”
  • At about 5:00 p.m. my statement has been taken and Mtr. Meli and I were rereading it.  All of a sudden Regional Director Fossoua was again on the premises.  With the same energy and rudeness that he had asked we be arrested in the morning, he was now ordering Commissioner Evina to release us immediately. 
  • Before release however, we were taken to the basement and a police file opened on us.  Each of us was photographed, fingerprinted and the police guessed the weight of each person as they have no scale!
  • We then were rushed into separate police cars whose drivers were directed to take us to our respective homes or whatever destination we desired.
  • All of a sudden we were VIPs.

It is when we were released that we realized the level of mobilization that had gone on outside.

  • National media had begun carrying the story since noon.
  • International media had picked it up by afternoon.
  • Journalists came down to the police station
  • Over 50 people had begun gathering around the police station as the heard on radio and more were on the way
  • The internet was wild with thousands of demands for our release
  • Online petitions had been started.
  • At least 3 governments round the world had been set into motion and brought diplomatic pressure to bear.
  • Through our various networks thousands of Cameroonians and friends of Cameroon were at work informing the world
  • WOMEN from every network we belong to were calling their governments, calling media, blasting the internet!

A huge thank you to our biological families, our political families, media both national and international, amazing friends and the powerful, powerful networks that went into motion.  You were the factor that ensured our safety and our release. 

We won this battle, but ultimate victory for justice, democracy and freedom in Cameroon is still ahead so, more than ever:

  1. Wear Black Every Friday.  You do not have to attend meetings or marches yet.  Just wear black and go about your business.
  2. Inform and educate Cameroonians wherever you are.
    • The freedom to express your political opinion is a basic human right.  No one can take it away from us.
    • It is inconceivable that while the CPDM is blocking roads and creating traffic jams to hold its rallies, other political parties are not free to hold a press conference or distribute flyers.  We cannot and will not accept this.
    • No people on the face of this earth has obtained liberty, democracy, justice without acting.  We must ACT to build the Cameroon we want.