Friday, May 30, 2014

Land Rights: Bagyeli Pymies Decry Dispossession

(NewsWatch Cameroon)--Evicted from their ancestral land and consigned to a resettlement camp, the Bagyeli Pygmies of Bissiang situated some 30km south of Kribi in the Ocean division of the South region of Cameroon are decrying mistreatment.
A typical Bagyeli home in the forest of Bissiang
They blame agro industrial giant HEVECAM which they claim has been illegally operating on their ancestral land for the past two years for their plight.
The forest they lived in before was given to a timber firm forcing them to migrate to their current site.
After 30 years in the Bissiang forest, the land was leased to rubber producer HEVECAM which began operations activities in 2012.
Access to the Bagyeli community has since become difficult because entrance has to be authorized by the concession holder.
The community mainly hunts unprotected animal species and harvests non timber forest products which they sell to neighbouring Bantu communities, says Albert, the community head.
Getting alternative sources of living is almost impossible, he adds.
Their lives, they say, are in danger as the forest phases out because the rubber production company is keeps felling trees.
On the sidelines of a recent land rights reporting training workshop in Kribi, organized by US-based Rights and Resources Institute (RRI) together with a coalition of its Cameroon partners, this reporter and some colleagues visited the Bagyeli community in their forest habitat.
Some Journalists from Cameroon, DRC, Mali and USA
attending a workshop on land rights reporting in Kribi
“We lived in the forest there, when the government handed the forest to a timber firm, we were forced to move into this area. The government again gave the land to HEVECAM and we were forced to move again but to where?”questions the community head.
The head of the Bagyelis of Bissiang lamented that they can’t earn any income as their activities have been disrupted with their settlement.
Ngo Bell Elise, HEVECAM Hygiene, Security and Environment official argued that HEVECAM does not own the land.
She said the land had been leased to the multinational for a given period which may be renewed or terminated at the end of the project period.
Ngo who had earlier denied reporters access into the concession said she was not authorized to state the specific number of hectares and the lease period in the agreement.
She explained that according to the agreement, the indigenous people had to be resettled.
A resettlement camp was thus chosen by a follow up committee of the of the terms of reference binding the indigenous people of Bissiang and HEVECAM. The follow up committee comprised representatives of the indigenous people, HEVECAM and the government of Cameroon, she said.
Though still in the forest, the Bagyelis think the resettlement camp does not suit their initial forest home.
In their environmental impact assessment, Ngo said HEVECAM pledged to protect the forest, provide social amenities to the indigenous people and “today we are building the resettlement camp, we will provide bore holes and farms and teach them how to practice agriculture” she said.
After threatening, Madam Ngo Elise explains to journalists what
HEVECAM has done to better lives of Bagyelis

Relationship with other communities

The closest community to the Bagyelis is the Bantus-another group of indigenous people. But the relationship between the Bagyelis and the Bantus has not been always cordial.
“Bantus force us to sell our hunted animals to them at very cheap rates whereas food they sell to us is very expensive.”
The head of the Bagyeli Pygmy community explained that it is common for Bantus to buy a big animal from a Bagyeli for just CFA 250 Frs but when a Bagyeli wants to buy ‘batong’ (a cassava derivative) they ask him to pay 1000Frs.
However, given that Bagyelis are few in Bissiang, they get married to Bantus. Agnes aka Mapouka, a Bagyeli mother of one says “we don’t marry within our community as were are all blood relations, our husbands are Bantus.”
Though a forest people, the Bagyelis know there are politicians from that area as well as the government. “We know the senator, but other people we don’t know.”

New Lifestyle, Brighter Future

With a new settlement camp under construction, the Bagyelis will have to adopt a new lifestyle when they finally settle.
The community head who looked edgy said their way of life is now very different.
Albert said they have lost their values but was optimistic that it would not continue when they finally settle on the resettlement camp.
“We will still be going to the forest for our customary activities before coming back to the camp when we finally settle here,” he said.
The Bagyelis have very little knowledge about land titles and land ownership.
“Our parents did not teach us anything about land titles, so we just own the land; women and men own land here,” says the village head.
HEVECAM has however promised to give them land ownership permits when construction of the resettlement camp is completed.
The land grab problem faced by the Bagyeli community is just one of many that local communities in Cameroon and around Africa face due to land leases to either agro industrials or forest exploitation companies.
In the Southwest region of Cameroon for example, the population of Nguti is still seething with rage after 73 hectares of their land was leased to American agro industrial company Herakles Farms through its Cameroon subsidiary, Seith Global Sustainable Oils Cameroon (SG SOC) Ltd.
Experts say the sufferings these indigenous communities go through is as a result of the weak land and forestry laws that fail to protect indigenous communities.
Resettlement camp of the Bagyelis, constructed by HEVECAM
Samuel Nguiffo, secretary general of the Centre for Environment and Development (CED) Cameroon thinks that “rather than giving away land and resources to companies to the detriment of their citizens, African governments -Cameroon included- must respect the rights of citizens and let them negotiate with investors on their own terms. And the companies themselves should be asking who owns the land they obtain on such good terms”.
Indigenous people who live and depend on the forest could in the nearer future enjoy their rights.
The government has announced that forestry reforms will be produced by the end of the year to replace the obsolete two-decade old forestry law currently in use.
The Minister of Forestry and wildlife, Ngole Philip Ngwesse announced during an international workshop recently in Buea that the new forest law will better preserve Cameroon’s rich forests and the communities that depend on them.
The Buea meeting that was organized by the Rights and Resources Institute, focused on forest tenure, governance, policy and regulation.
It is hoped that when the new law is eventually put in place, indigenous forest people will heave sighs of relief.

By Ndi Eugene Ndi, back from Bissiang

Monday, May 26, 2014

Cameroon Determined to Maintain EITI ‘Compliant Country’ Status

Clare Short and Ousmane Mey
(NewsWatch Cameroon)—The Minister of Finance, Alamine Ousmane Mey, chairman of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) Cameroon has reaffirmed the government’s determination to transparently manage revenues from extractive industries.
Since gaining the status of compliance, the country is determined to maintained its status and remain a reference in transparency in the extractive industries sector, stakeholders say.
According to Mr. Ousmane Mey, the ‘compliant country’ status makes Cameroon's business climate more attractive to foreign investors.
The chairman of the EITI committee in Cameroon was speaking in Yaounde at a ceremony to celebrate the EITI ‘compliant country’ status of Cameroon last May 23, 2014.
The country adhered into the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in 2005 and was designated ‘compliant country’ on October 17, 2013 during a board of Director’s meeting in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast.
The initiative seeks to encourage countries with rich natural resources to manage these resources in a transparent manner so the populations rip full benefits.
“Cameroon took some time to achieve compliance. This means, they were not reporting according to the principles agreed internationally. But I have been impressed by the quality……it’s an impressive achievement”, Hon. Clare Short, president of the Board of Directors of EITI said.
By attaining the compliant country status of the EITI, the Board Chair said has opened up the sector.
“All over the world this sector tends to be closed the revenue from the extractive industries is not clear, the contracts are not clear, who gets the licenses is not clear”, Hon. Short said.
“The purpose of compliance is to have that openness so that the citizens of the country can know how much comes in from the extractive sector, how the revenue is being spent and whether it is well managed”, Hon. Short added.
According to Ndi Richard Tantoh, member of the national committee of EITI Cameroon, it took the country long to become compliant because some of the sectors were not included in their reports.
“We entered into the initiative it was new. The initiative itself is evolving, so we were learning by doing. Secondly we started with the petroleum sector alone, the EITI felt that the petroleum sector alone did not permit us to trace revenue from the extractive sector in an exhaustive manner”, Mr. Tantoh said.
Some of the issues according to the Mr. Tantoh are that EITI Cameroon had not communicated enough to a point where the population could already feel they are part of the discussions around issues of the extractive sector.
“The population should be able to organise themselves, so that they can call on the government to be more accountable with those resources-because that is the responsibility of each patriotic Cameroonian; to make sure that government is working in the interest of its people”.
The celebration of the EITI ‘compliant country’ status was an opportunity for Cameroon to demonstrate the quality of the commitment of the highest authorities of the state as well as of all stakeholders in the implementation of the EITI.
Prior to the celebration, Hon. Clare Short was received in audience by Prime Minister Philemon Yang on behalf of the Head of State Paul Biya.
By Ndi Eugene Ndi in Yaounde

Friday, May 23, 2014

National Day: SDF Reeked of Immature Political Antics in Nkambe

(NewsWatch Cameroon)--The ruling Cameroon Peoples’ Democratic Movement (CPDM) and frontline opposition party the Social Democratic Front (SDF) clashed in Nkambe on May 20 over which party was to conclude the National Day parade there. The CPDM now runs the municipality which the SDF had steered since the return to multiparty politics in the early 90s.
The conflict peeled off scars of an October 1, 2013 upheaval between the rivals following the twin elections the month before. It is tradition in Nkambe it is understood for the party that runs the municipality to march last.
A local National Day march past committee with representatives from all political parties in the zone had agreed as in previous years that the party in control of the municipality will end the march past of political parties. The Senior Divisional Officer for Donga Mantung , Ngone Ndode Messappe Bernard also gave his nod to the agreement. The five political parties in area had to march in the following order; SDF, UNDP, UPC, FSNC, and CPDM, the SDO ordered.
But the SDF vehemently refused to commence the parade they have concluded for almost the last two decades halting the commemoration for about an hour.
SDF supporters insisted that by asking them to begin the march past, the SDO was colluding with the CPDM so that people who had already paraded could be talked into swelling the latter’s ranks.
The MP for Nkambe, Hon. Awudu Mbaya pleaded with the SDF militants headed by the party’s District Secretary to respect the march past order established by the committee. But they stood their ground once Mbaya returned to the grandstand.
The altercation between the CPDM and the SDF was followed by Issa Tchiroma’s FSNC’s march not in their official place; the latter’s first in that part of the country.
Yet getting a second political party to follow suit proved tough the SDF and the CPDM insisted on occupying the last position.
CPDM supporter Tamfu Jude called the SDF’s action a trick to foil his party’s demonstration of its political clout.
Stunned, the interim Section President of the CPDM for Donga Mantung I-Nkambe, Ngala Gerard described the situation as unfortunate and cautioned his militants to march before the SDF for peace to reign.
“You know I have always advocated against violent politics and politicians, for peace to reign, I asked my militants to march peacefully and happily too; irrespective of whether they are in the first or last position”, Ngala told this reporter.
The SDO for Donga Mantung ordered that security officers stop all other political parties from parading after the CPDM after the dispute persisted.
After a 58-minute parade by the CPDM which observers termed a show of political strength, security personnel stepped in to stop the march past as instructed. This resulted in another ‘war’ between the security forces and SDF supporters. Hon. Awudu then decided to lead the SDF in its march past. The MP was granted permission to do so but not with all the SDF’s militants. Some students from Christ the King Teachers’ Training College (CKTTC) Nkambe and bike riders suspected to have been recruited to march for the SDF were barred from doing so.
Political pundits have described the latest clash between the two political parties in Nkambe as a show of political immaturity, while condemning the action of the leading opposition party which claims it is a crusader for improved democracy.
Observers have since been questioning why the SDF’s representative in the local National Day parade committee reneged on an agreement he had endorsed.
By refusing to respect the SDO’s edict, the SDF showed gross disrespect for itself and the authorities, observers say.
Some blamed the MP for earlier asking the SDF militants to respect the march past edict and later leading the march in disobedience to the Head of State’s representative in Donga Mantung.
Some analysts say in arguing that the CPDM was planning to cause people to parade more than once only revealed what the SDF could have been doing when for the nearly two decades that it concluded National Day march pasts in Nkambe.
By Abanda Marcel in Nkambe and Ndi Eugene Ndi in Yaounde

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Who should regulate the press in Cameroon?

Charly Ndi Chia--Archives
(NewsWatch Cameroon)--In Cameroon, most media owners consider the regulation by the National Communication Council (NCC) as censorship. Most of them liken the watchdog to a remote controlled government drone aimed at decimating freedom of the press.
Some media owners in Cameroon have argued that the press can only be regulated by pressmen and not a statutory regulatory organ whose members are appointed by the head of state.
On the sidelines of a conference of Presidents of Francophone media regulators from Central and West Africa in Yaounde from May 12 to 13 under the theme “the harmonization of complaint handling procedures and regulation of Central African Media Regulators”, NCC member Charly Ndi Chia stated his case against clamours for self-regulation by his colleagues.
“At one time all of us of the media, the so-called ‘big publishers’ we were in the trentches fighting to regulate the media in our own way ; fighting bad press, poor journalism,” Mr Ndi Chia said.
The NCC member who is also a co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of the country’s leading English language newspaper, The Post, revealed that the publishers retreated when the Council was given sharper teeth to bite.
These ‘big publishers’ Mr Ndi Chia said further participated in their installation as NCC members.
“We were very happy about it but when we started working, they were the first to cry like babies. I don’t know why they want free license. They disgrace themselves by going on the air, by writing in the papers that the NCC is a government contraption.”
“If it is a contraption, why did you come taking our biographies/biodata, writing and congratulating us?”
 Comparing the journalism profession to a football match, the Editor-in-chief of The Post said “… do you think that you can go to play football and instead of playing football, you start playing rugby, kicking people and the referee allows you? There is always a referee in every match, if not it will be an all comers game in which somewhere along the line somebody will pick the ball with the hand and score and say I have scored since the ball has kissed the net.”
He described the demand for self-regulation by the journalists as strange and stupid.  The veteran journalist said those who are demanding the model today are the same individuals who have compromised the very ethics of the media.
“How many of them like Cesar’s wife can come out in public and say they are clean and that they can go to equity?”
 Many of them, according to Mr. Ndi Chia, are not even members of guilds where self-regulation can be upheld, he argued.
“They are bedroom critics, if they want auto regulation, let them come out. You call a meeting they don’t come. But if there is a meeting where there is going to be soya and where the minister will be handing over brown envelops, you find them coming and sitting on front views and saying that they are big journalists and they are publishers.”
On the appointment of members of the media watchdog by the president of the republic, he said: “I have always said that good journalists should be undertakers of journalism, why not come out. If you don’t want the NCC for example, what did you do when it was not there?”
You stayed in your office, you played hide and seek with the same regime, the same government, took money from them, the government comes out, puts an apple of discord.”
“But if you do your work and do it honestly, professionally and ethically, the NCC will have no business with you.” Mr. Ndi Chia concluded.
By Ndi Eugene Ndi in Yaounde

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Kidnapped Nigerian Students are Not in Cameroon- Gov’t Says

(NewsWatch Cameroon)--The Cameroon government has dismissed as unfounded, allegations that part of the 234 abducted female students of the Government Girls Secondary School recently in the North-East of the country would have been transferred to Cameroon, to be forced into marriage to members of the Islamist sect, “Boko Haram”.
Issa Tchiroma Bakary-Communication Minister

At a plenary at the Nigerian Senate on April 29, 2014, while debating on a motion by Senate Leader, Victor Noma-Egba, and 108 others on the abduction of the school girls, senators accused neighboring countries of Cameroon, Niger and Chad of aiding and abetting the current insurgency in Nigeria.
Cameroon’s Communication Minister and government’s official spokesperson, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, in a press declaration in Yaoounde on Monday May 5, 2014 reiterated that Cameroon will never ever serve as support base for destabilization activities towards other countries.
“On the contrary, our country suffers because of the ongoing instable security situation in neighboring countries”, the Minister said. “Cameroon is subject to attacks perpetrated from neighboring countries and by nationals of those countries”.
Minister Tchiroma reiterated the Cameroon government’s willingness to cooperate in good faith with governments of neighboring countries to fight against trans-border criminality in the respect of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of each country.
He reassured Cameroonians that the president of the republic has given firm instructions and has urged to take all necessary measures for Cameroon to remain a peaceful and stable country.
“Our defense and security forces are working hard and watching out, so that Cameroonians and those living in the country can quietly go on with their daily business”.

Internal attacks

In the same declaration, the communication minister revealed that the 18 people taken hostage by unknown individuals on the night of May 1 to 2, 2014 in the locality of Yokofiré of the border town of Garoua Boulai in the East region, border with the Central African Republic have been freed.
“The 18 hostages were freed in two stages; first, two of them were freed on May 3 and the remaining 16 were freed on May 4”, the Minister revealed.
In another attack, the Minister said suspected members of the Islamist sect; Boko Haram attacked the Gendarmerie brigade of Kousseri in the Far North Region in the night of May 4-5, 2014.
The attack according to the Communication Minister was aimed at freeing a suspect of the sect arrested on May 3, 2014 by elements of the Cameroon defense forces during a control in the locality of Zigue, near Kousseri.
During the attack by about 30 yet to be identified men, two deaths were recorded ; a senior warrant officer of the gendarmerie on duty-Dapsia Denis and the suspect ; Ibrahim Bouba of Cameroonian nationality, while three other detainees at the same brigade were wounded.
However, the government official spokesman said Cameroon defense forces have been alerted and are now raking the surface in Kousseri and its neighborhood.
By Ndi Eugene Ndi in Yaounde