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Cameroon’s Mbororo fight against decades of abuse

July 15, 2005

By Tansa Musa

BAMENDA, Cameroon (Reuters) – Sanda Nyana lies on a
hospital bed in northwest Cameroon and in a faint broken voice
tells how he lost his leg.

He says a policeman shot him three times as he watched a
film at a video club last December. The officer thought Nyana,
a member of the Mbororo tribe, had committed a robbery.

The policeman locked the wounded 26-year-old in a cell for
several days without medical attention. His leg became
infected. Finally the police called his parents but it was too
late to save Nyana’s leg and it was amputated.

Nyana’s story is a brutal example of abuse suffered by his
semi-nomadic cattle-rearing Mbororo tribe which has faced
discrimination since arriving in Cameroon in the early 1900s.

Isolated in small remote communities, often despised by
locals as illegal immigrants or land-grabbing invaders and
frequently illiterate, Cameroon’s 1.5 million Mbororos say they
have been virtually ignored by state authorities.

“We have no doubt that (Nyana) was treated this way because
he is a Mbororo man,” said Aliou Sali, a Mbororo rights
activist visiting him in the Banso Baptist Hospital in Kimbo,
some 120 km (75 miles) from Bamenda.

Things are slowly changing however, thanks to the work of
activists like Sali. He is a member of the Mbororo Social and
Cultural Development Organization, or Mboscuda, which was set
up in 1992 in North-West province.

“We, the Mbororo, have been left behind for too long,” said
Musa Usman Ndamba, the founding president of Mboscuda. “Our
vision was and still remains to empower the Mbororo people to
achieve sustainable and equitable development on their terms.”

CATTLE, KIDNAPPINGS AND CHANGE

The group helps Mbororo who want to challenge cases of
discrimination or abuse. It works with British-based charity
Village AiD to provide Mbororo with legal representation if
needed.

“Endemic corruption within Cameroon society has made the
Mbororo easy prey because of their visible cattle wealth, poor
coping strategies and readiness to ‘pay up’ in the face of
victimisation,” said Nuhu Salihu of Village AiD.

In 2003, Mboscuda hired six paralegal workers and a lawyer.
In two years, the team has dealt with at least 30 successful
litigations out of 35 cases of extortion and rights abuses.

“The paralegals have come to save the Mbororo community out
of hell fire. Law enforcement officers used to chase us and
extort hundreds of thousands from us for no reason,” said
Alhaji Wajiri Ineh, a Mbororo man living in Nwa in the
North-West.

“When the paralegals came, we doubted they could reverse
the situation. But they are doing a wonderful job of educating
our hitherto ignorant people,” he said.

Around 120,000 to 130,000 Mbororo live on the Bamenda
plateau grasslands. Central to their lifestyle are their cows
– a family’s standing is determined by the size of its herd.

The animals provide meat and milk and are prized as gifts
among the Mbororo, a branch of the Fulani, one of West Africa’s
largest ethnic groups. But this wealth also attracts predators.

In April, thousands of Mbororo fled their homes around
Cameroon’s border with Central African Republic after a spate
of kidnappings by marauding former soldiers from next door.

The raiders, who took part in a 2003 coup in Central
African Republic, mainly kidnap women and children and take
them back across the frontier before demanding a ransom for
their release, sometimes as much as 1 million CFA francs
($1,970).

The Mbororo’s nomadic lifestyle also frequently brings them
into conflict with settled farmers in Cameroon, especially
since rapid population growth has increased demand for
farmland.

GIRL POWER

For years, the Mbororo just put up with abuse. Their
Pulaaki code of conduct — which preaches silence and dignity
in the face of adversity — discouraged them from speaking out.

Mboscuda has started breaking this silence by using
meetings, cultural exhibitions and horse-riding competitions –
an important part of Mbororo life — to raise awareness.

Another focus of Mboscuda’s action has been to push
education for girls by providing financial aid. Illiteracy
rates among the Mbororo are estimated at more than 80 percent.

Ramatu Sali is part of the new wave. She went to the
national Cooperative College in Bamenda to learn about credit
management and accountancy and finished top of her 2002 class.

“The situation of the Mbororo women is changing. Though not
fast enough, it’s changing gradually,” she said.

“They are no longer limited to milking the cow and selling
the milk. They engage in other productive activities,” said
Sali. “For example, I have my own bank account and don’t need
permission from my husband to withdraw money.”

Cameroon’s government says it has a wide range of health,
education and civil rights plans aimed at helping the Mbororo
but that an economic crisis has hamstrung implementation.

Samuel Orock, sub director at the Ministry of Social
Affairs said helping the Mbororo was a government priority but
that the cattle-rearers also had to change themselves.

“The nature of their main activity as nomads and their
dispersed settlement renders the process of doing anything for
them as a people difficult and costly,” he said, adding that
the government encouraged the Mbororos to settle down.




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