Villagers in Cameroon have filed a petition to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights protesting the alleged seizure of over 100,000 hectares of land by influential traditional leaders.
In the office of Cameroon's National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, a villager from South West of Cameroon is shouting at the top of his voice. He has come here to complain that chief of Bokwai village in South West Cameroon has seized and sold about 100,000 hectares of land that was ceded to them, a claim that the Chief Kaka Rudolph Mosoke disputes. "It is not true. We were given 11 hectares of land. We came out with about 190 plots and we gave it to families inside the whole village," said Chief Mosoke.
There was not enough land for everyone, Mosoke said, "We promised that when we have other lands we will give it to those who did not have." The land in question was formerly occupied by German colonial masters and then later by the British. After independence the government of Cameroon took it over and created an agro-enterprise called the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC). 40 years later, the CDC handed over the land to the traditional leaders to distribute to the people.
Land not for sale
But local residents believe that the chiefs, who were supposed to distribute the land to the villagers, have been selling it instead. "Administrative officials have taken that land from the people and are selling to individuals who are not indigenes of Fako Division," said Lyonga Marty, a local citizen. "Some administrative officials are grabbing and they are making enormous sums of money," she complained.
Bokwai villagers for whom the land was intended, have now forwarded the issue to Cameroon's Commission on Human Rights and Freedom. Christopher Tambe Tiku, who is an official with the commission in South West Cameroon says they will investigate the matter and recover the peoples land. "Land which is a subject of surrender from CDC can not be the subject of any sale. It is for people who have need for it but were never given the opportunity because the land had been sold," said Tambe Tiku and vowed to investigate the matter and recover the land. "The chiefs are mere trustees holding community land for the benefit of their respective subjects and therefore they have no such power to give or to sale land meant for the various communities," Tambe Tiku said.
Investigation in progress
Following pressure from the national human rights commission and the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in Banjul, the government of Cameroon has now set up a commission to probe the land seizure. Fritz Nassako, secretary general in Cameroon's ministry of state property, land tenure and survey, is also a traditional ruler in the area. "It is being investigated. We suspended all transactions on formerly surrendered land, but this suspension does not mean that we have stopped working," Nassako said. The struggle to recover the land continues with street demonstrations.