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Douala Manga Bell: African king who stood up against Germans

Henri Fotso
May 12, 2021

Born a prince and educated in Germany, King Rudolf Douala Manga Bell was passionate about German culture. When German colonists shortchanged his people, he protested. In the end, he was hanged for his act of resistance.

A portrait drawing of Rudolf Douala Manga Bell
Rudolf Douala Manga Bell became disenchanted with colonial rule

Douala Manga Bell: African king who stood up against Germans

Who was Rudolf Douala Manga Bell? 

Rudolf Douala Manga Bell (also spelled Duala) was born in 1873 in Douala. He was the grandson of King Ndumbe Lobe Bell — also named King Bell — who signed a so-called Treaty of Protection with the German Empire in 1884. 

Rudolf Douala Manga Bell went to study in Germany before returning to what was then called Kamerun to help his father govern the Kingdom of Douala. He succeeded him on September 2, 1908. 

Douala Manga Bell: A German adept resisting

Why did Rudolf Douala Manga Bell disagree with Colonial Germany? 

Having gained some insight into German law — according to some sources, he studied law at the University of Bonn — King Douala Manga had the opportunity to work for the colonial administration while reigning over his country. But he soon became disenchanted with German rule. He found the colonialists were not abiding by their own rules. After two years of reign, the king was appointed by his Douala fellows to fight against the German colonists' expropriation of their land, which, King Douala Manga pointed out, was a breach of the treaty signed by his grandfather. 

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In Douala, there was a borough for Europeans and another one for Black people at that time. The Germans wanted to keep the natives away from Plateau Joss (currently Bonanjo, the Douala administrative district) because they accused them of spreading malaria. 

How did Rudolf Douala Manga Bell lead his fight? 

Rudolf Douala Manga Bell shifted his fight to the hinterland, where he called for a rebellion. He established a sprawling network and managed to have allies inside the territory of Kamerun. His fight also found an echo in the Social Democrats of the Reichstag (German parliament), who understood the cause of self-determination of a people. 

Because he had studied in German schools and universities, he first tried to use the legal tools he had learned there. When he realized all these strategies were not working, he decided to turn to popular demonstrations in Douala.

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How did Rudolf Douala Manga Bell die? 

Germans wanted to subdue all rebellion when World War I broke out in 1914. The German administration prosecuted Rudolf Douala Manga Bell, and he was arrested on August 7, 1914, and sentenced to death for high treason. 

That night, he received permission from Colonel Zimmermann to get his chains removed to say goodbye to his queen and princes. Rudolf Douala Manga Bell could have fled, but he decided to come back the next day to face death. On August 8, the king of Douala was hanged. 

His last words were: "You are hanging innocent blood. You are killing me for nothing. The consequences will be much greater." 

How do Cameroonians remember Rudolf Douala Manga Bell?

He is remembered as a martyr and hero who stood up against German colonial masters. Some historians suggest that Douala Manga's rebellion is what gave birth to Cameroon's independence.

Scientific advice on this article was provided by historians Professor Doulaye Konaté, Professor Lily Mafela, and Professor Christopher Ogbogbo. African Roots is supported by the Gerda Henkel Foundation.