The mystery of the eviction of poorest people
by the Cameroonian government
By Robinson TCHAPMEGNI
-PhD in private law and criminal sciences (Nantes University), Judge Cameroon, tutor of research (Nantes University) on fundamental rights.
Tel: +514 331 26 52; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
rbanisation issues are of a great actuality nowadays in Cameroon because of the public campaign populationÕs eviction, mostly the poorest, from their habitations, known as states properties.
To illustrate exactly this statement, the actual CameroonianÕs minister of land issues and the Yaoundˇ government delegate have recently ordered the destruction of about more than four hundred houses surrounding the Cameroonian presidentÕs palace. Those houses have been destroyed by mechanic engines hired for that purpose by the administrative and political authorities mentioned above. The powerless victims witnessed that destruction.
Recently also, chiefly in August 2008, a popular quarter (NTABA) of the political capital Yaoundˇ has been totally destroyed according the instructions of the same government delegates. Many other quarters of Yaoundˇ have experienced the same disaster, for example: Mokolo, Messa, Carriere. Thirteen other quarters are on the list of evictions.
This is sufficient to create a climate of panic among populations in general as much as these events intervene in a context of extreme poverty and the fact that government have not planned to relocate the victims of evictions. This is evident, this society is a tremendous one, a population totally febrile and desperate that commands urgent reflexion on the opportunity and the coherence of such a public action concerning eviction of the poorest.
Beyond the proper analyse of all the implications (political, social, economic and legal) of this public campaign of evictions, itÕs necessary to emphasize the astonishment of the observatory of the Cameroonian society because of the sudden waking up of the government concerning urbanisation issues forty years after the independence of the country.
The analyse will focus on the points above and tried to answer the following questions:
-Why Cameroonian authorities have suddenly decided to urbanise the political and economic capitals while forgetting the other regions of the country? What explains the absence of a national plan of urbanisation?
-Why the necessity of urbanisation of the Cameroon only appears forty years after the Independence Day?
-Why the Cameroonian government denies public discussions concerning his public campaign of eviction of poorest people?
-Why the civil society have eclipsed from this issue?
-Why the judiciary seems not to be concerned by these social and sad events?
-Why because of the Cameroonian governmentÕs decision, thousand citizens and families are homeless?
-Definitely, what is hidden behind the new Cameroonian urbanisation campaign and eviction of the poorest?
Evictions of poorest peoples in Yaoundˇ city depressed quarters were particularly inhuman (1), and manifestly inopportune (2). These two points will focus our attention in the next lines.
Cameroonians authorities often require engines for eviction. The thing is very simple, when the decision of eviction is taken; the administrative authority hires engines for destructions of houses. This is not new in this field because in some places in the world, they also use engines for this type of operation. But the particularity of the Cameroonian style is that the course of events looks like Hollywood movies where thousands of men, women, child and families assist to the destruction of their houses, properties and goods, without having the possibility to collect some of them.
Commenting these operations, a Cameroonian author wrote: Ņin fact, the idyllic board offered after the departure of engines is that of most people without shelter, living in the street, fighting every days with rain, sun, and taken behind them their kids, investing places like garbage, cemeteriesÉ. All over their wandering travel they cried their misery, asking for help and generosity and for the Cameroonian government to permit them to live in dignity. Law enforcement and urbanisation canÕt go against the human dignity, property right, and the right for a shelterÕÕ.
Truly, evictions operations turn usually as a great show describe by this author: Ņmore spectacular were the repetitious evictions operations in the marshland of Yaoundˇ police school where in total confusion, men and women were hurriedly packing their goods, placing them in a total disorder in the border of the road, while an army of prisoners reinforced by an engine ejecting corrugated iron roof and wallsÓ.
The scene of evictions in Cameroon, mostly poorest, is now common. Cameroonian authorities seem to have an evil pleasure to inflict sufferings, to mock at them, and to destroy lives and families.
After the recent eviction campaign, a local and renowned newspaper named Le Messager entitled: Yaoundˇ-Douala: evictions humiliates and dehumanized occupants.
In this order of view, while tacking in account the analyse based on the facts previously described, there is no doubt that the Cameroonian campaign of eviction of poorest people is particularly dehumanising, degrading and above all, morally unacceptable.
This position obliges to look forward the mobiles of these controversial and unpopular decisions.
The controversy is very high among the population on the opportunity of evictions of poorest in Yaoundˇ political capital. To highlight this controversy it seems to be judicious to let people speak, those who are for or against the policy of evictions in Cameroon.
a. The supporters of the policy of a systematic destruction on behalf of urbanisation of Cameroonian towns
The leader of this theory seems to be the actual Yaoundˇ delegate government who decided to realise some major projects in order to modernise the city of Yaoundˇ.
This manager thought of building Yaoundˇ like most of European capitals. In an interview giving on the 23rd July 2008 to the national newspaper Cameroon Tribune he said about his dream to modernise his city: Ņthose of our citizen living abroad appreciates and congratulates me for the great job done in Yaoundˇ. Definitely I donÕt know what people like. ItÕs true that the human being is strange; most of them are nihilist, supporters of nothingness. Any way, the head of state gave me a mission. He placed his seven-year term of office in the sign of great achievements. Then, I have to present to him my report concerning my achievements before 2010. The year 2010 is almost there. Yaoundˇ citizen most acknowledge that in 2009 I will accelerate the job started, they have to be ready for more sacrifice. I repeat that by 2009 it would be terrible because we have to succeed.
When you arrive in Paris, perhaps you donÕt know the story, sir Haussman, the founder of this beautiful city was attributed all names of birds. When he had to destroy a house, he did it. When you walk along streets of Paris, you can easily admire boulevard HaussmanÉAny way, what I am doing is for the Yaoundˇ city interest, not for meÓ.
The examination of this long and rich quotation reveals many things such as the deep motivations of destructions occurred in Yaoundˇ and ambitions of the author of this policy.
ItÕs clear that the Yaoundˇ government delegate is likely to rebuild the political capital, to make it look touristier like Paris. We notice it when in his quotation he magnifies the beauty of Paris, the achievements of sir Haussman, and further more, when he speaks about the pride of Cameroonians living abroad, which has an admiration of the great transformation of their beautiful city.
The idea of modernizing Yaoundˇ on the standard of occidental principal capitals (Paris, New-York, Tokyo, Montreal, London ...etc) is absolutely genius but hides cunning political ambitions. The author explained that the job have been giving to him by the head of state who placed his period of seven years government on the theme of great achievements and has to give an account to Cameroonians by the end of 2010. So, the Yaoundˇ government delegate is already thinking to present his own achievements report before this date. In fact it appears clearly that the demolitions occurred in Yaoundˇ capital is mostly a strategy to have the favour of the prince than an effective will to urbanise and modernises the capital.
The idea of a charm operation directed to foreign diplomatic offices based in Yaoundˇ has also been developed. People says Yaoundˇ administrative authorities wants to present to foreign diplomats a less dark image of the political and socio-economic situation offered daily in Cameroon.
In a forum of discussion among Cameroonian living abroad, a certain Mbombo (giving name) up lighted this idea in a quotation: Ņone thing is sure, Yaoundˇ have to be clean and to be make prettier, itÕs urgent, there is many populous quarters, unhealthy and dusty who gives stress to anyone arriving in Yaoundˇ. Worse, these quarters are located in the center of the town. People are everywhere, on pavements and even in the middle of the road, streets are dark of people and dusty.
Because of the good performance of the Cameroonian football team, every foreigner admires the country, but once he arrives, heÕs ashamed; it is like the poorest country in black Africa. All of my friends living abroad did not miss the occasion to make the remark, especially on the dirtiness.
Tsimi Evouna is doing a great job, we encourage him. Let the other ministers does the same thing in their jobs. With the eternal rumours of changes in government, none of the ministers would like to shake the small finger, Cameroonians just work when there is an interest. I will never forget humiliating remarks that somebody make me: in certain quarters of Yaoundˇ, people are like earthworms, they are red of dust and muddyÓ.
This quotation is interesting in the sense that it defends the necessity to redraft the political capital of Cameroon that he describes as a dirty city that gives nightmares to all. The quotation is further interesting because carrying some truth.
The first one is the notice that Cameroonian administrative authorities are more preoccupied to give a good impression to foreigners and visitors than to please populations, by offering them a high quality services that they deserve.
The second truth is that, in all steps of the Cameroonian administration, there is a fear to take an initiative that could not be appreciated by the higher hierarchy of the state. The direct consequence is the fact of loosing a prestigious administrative function. Thus, the obsession idea of a ministerial change denounce by the named Mbombo.
ItÕs therefore easy to conclude in this step of development, that the deep motivations of the Yaoundˇ government delegate to destroy houses of poorest people are severely critical, also because this higher authority ignored social preoccupations in his self said urbanisation program for the political capital Yaoundˇ.
The holders of this thesis deplore the absence of a social program all over the process of eviction of poorest. A Cameroonian member of a forum of discussion from abroad argued that: ŅitÕs good to destroy all poor quarters, but have somebody thought once to relocate victims? If itÕs the case, then the Yaoundˇ urban council will also do the exercise of helping one another within citizen. We are all Cameroonians, the country is hotÓ.
In fact, this speaker would have likely invited the Yaoundˇ municipal authorities to relocate evicted people. When he says the country is hot, he simply testifies on the sufferings and bad feelings of evicted families.
In the same discussion, another speaker said: ŅitÕs salutary to clear roads and to clean up the town of Yaoundˇ; but could it also be salutary to interest firstly to investment, evictions and renovation before thinking of the social consequences?
WasnÕt it judicious to plan a provisoire relocation of poorest people living in dirty quarters before destroying? If people had choice they canÕt stay in dirty quarters. I really appreciate the job done by the Yaoundˇ government delegate, but he had to work together hand to hand with social welfare services, the ministry of housing, Sic, Crˇdit foncier, MaeturÓ.
This interested and wised point of view uplifted contradictions in the Cameroonian government action during eviction operations. The Yaoundˇ government chooses to act alone, typically on a one man show, just like when he declared during a meeting organised with evicted people of the Briqueterie quarter on the 28th august 2008: ŅIÕm not the social welfare minister. IÕm just doing my job which consists on developing the town; let the others do their own jobÓ.
The contradiction on the governmental action is very clear and appears on the words of the communicator in chief of the Cameroonian ministry of land issues when he says about these evictions: ŅIf the ministry of land issues was present during destructions of illegal houses near the presidential palace, itÕs just because the state private domain was concern in this case. ItÕs not for us to treat social mattersÓ.
On behalf of the Cameroonian social welfare ministry, they argued that they have not been associated to take part on eviction operations.
There is therefore a total imbroglio in governmental policy of eviction of poorest. This analyse is obviously the same developed by the named Shanda Tomne, a Cameroonian borne member of the civil society, during an interview giving on these sad events. He said: Ņif we can praise the rigor and determination of Gilbert Tsimi Evouna, we also had to notice that it would be mistaken to believe that the government delegate can create a managerial island in an ocean of unprediction and passivityÉ.They canÕt destroy houses without thinking how to compensate victims; they canÕt destroy a market without finding to replace it by a more modernised one as itÕs the will of the government delegate. The task of the delegate is not measure on the degree of repression, but also according with his capacity to propose schools, hospitals, sports halls, gymnasiums and convivial spaces to citizen. The question is also to ask if we can conceive all these synergies if Tsimi Evouna works alone, without concerting with minister of social welfare and more other ministriesÓ.
The governmental contradictions have also been the main subject of discussions between Cameroonians living abroad. Thierry Amougou, a Cameroonian citizen who works as a researcher in Louvain (Belgium) catholic university denied these accusations directed on government action, by supporting the destructions occurred in Yaoundˇ. His opponent argued that: Ņno one can be against the actual presentation of our political capital, which resembles more as a big market than another thing, before the work of renovation was doneÉ ItÕs an evidence dear sir Amougou. But, is it to difficult in the year 2008 to understand that the embellishing or the renovation of a political capital doesnÕt have to be followed by an inhuman, arbitrary and anarchist eviction of populations??? Because youÕre living in Belgium, then observe demolition and urban renovation proceedings in Brussels, and you will understand why the Yaoundˇ delegate government Tsimi Evouna, even though heÕs entitled the most renowned builder of Yaoundˇ city, works mostly like a municipal autocrat than an elected mayor who is worried of the well being of the citizen. ThatÕs all the difference Because in Bucharest also during the reign of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, the municipal genius has the noble ambition, I quote, to give a better and bright face to the Rumanian political capital, in order to make it no more resemble like a huge marketÉ the continuation of the story, we now know more about. I thank youÓ.
In final analysis and in regards of the scale of the controversy, there is no doubt on the interest of our issue, the prickly and particularly sensitive character of eviction of poorest people canÕt let some one denied that administrative measures can cause a higher attempt to fundamental rights and liberties.
The Cameroonian campaign of eviction of poorest people highlighted the state of consideration on respect of human fundamental rights by Cameroonian political and administrative authorities. These fundamental rights are written in capital letters in the constitution, but put aside in the practice. The gap between their formulation and their effective application is simply unbelievable and unacceptable.
In two major points, the reflection will resume the situation of fundamental rights of poor evicted people (1), and a call (invitation) will be address to Cameroonian authorities to guarantee the respect of fundamental human rights for all, even for poorest (2).
1. The contempt of the rights of poorest
The story of the course of eviction operations concerning poorest people in Cameroon is beyond the human drama of men women and children, an unbelievable story of disdain human rights that is actually taken place in Cameroon. Tree short examples will surely comfort this argument: the lack of access on land property rights for poorest (a), the lack of jurisdictional control on arbitrary decisions of evictions (b), the muzzling of expression and liberty of though (c).
a. The refusal of the private property for poorest
ItÕs surely a good idea to precise that evicted people are mostly poorest, and that, they are in fact exclude from the land property right.
ItÕs clearly written in all Cameroonian legal instruments that every one without distinction have the legal right to obtain a property. But in practice the state owns nearly 70% of all lands of the country which he classified in the national domain on which he proclaim himself the lone guardian. We remember that customary communities are also claiming the guard or the control of these customary lands. The richest citizens always obtain land titles on the other 30 % of land, but after endless proceedings, administrative harassment, corruption practices erected as a rule to have access on land property.
The poorest are therefore put aside, not much qualified to acquire land properties, because of the mismanagement of administrative authorities and where the state proceeded to an unequal repartition of lands.
This situation can explain more others, for example the fact for some family hood to install themselves in swampy lands, accidents sites, or stateÕs domains. ItÕs often a matter for survival for the majority of poor families that command such occupation. Public authorities qualify them as delinquents. In his thesis, Aloys Mpessa describe the game of hide and sea or the one of cat and mouse that regularly plays communal authorities with illegal occupants of public domains. When expelled, they immediately come back on the same place.
In a first look, this situation can be quickly analysed like a lack of public spirit or rebellion against laws and regulations of the country. But, properly, when you push further the reflection, you easily realise that the problem resides on the poor organisation of land property access by governmental structures. The issue of eviction of poorest permits to relaunch the debate on the access of land property for all in Cameroon, but not to revive or to open a new escalation of political violence orchestrate by public authorities convinced on the necessity to intensify repression on poorest while ignoring the necessity to promote social justice, finally in a context where the judiciary chose to eclipse it self.
b. The lack of jurisdictional appeal against arbitrary decisions of eviction of poorest
ItÕs here also the place to precise that this affirmation is true in fact but not legally because rules and regulations sayÕs all are equal before the law.
ThereÕs no official statistics concerning evictions in Cameroon, but in human memory I did not remember a situation in the political history of Cameroon where an appeal was made against an administrative decision of eviction. The problem is not that evictions do not exist or, the fact that victims are not aware of the existence of legal means and ways to overcome such decisions. But, the sad reality is that the Cameroonian government is very powerful, decentralised administrative authorities are commonly called chiefs of lands, in a country still dominated by customs and where the chief reign without shearing his powers. In this environment, evicted poor victims have no defence, and are abandoned by the civil society which is feverish, demodulated and regularly intimidated by a Cameroonians strong regime. The question of affectivity of a jurisdictional control for decisions concerning evictions against poorest is still problematical in Cameroon, in an environment where the administrative justice and the judiciary are ŅbrethrenÓ of deciding administrative authorities.
In this order of ideas, the games are made before; it seems to lack objectivity in the Cameroonian judicial system of protection of rights of evicted people. The most difficult to understand is that if poorest are authorised to cry their miseries, they seem not to be authorised to cry loudly, as to alert international opinion.
c. The muzzle of the liberty of expression
Cameroonian Medias have not spoken enough concerning the campaign of eviction of poorest. A few number of independents newspapers consecrated brief analysis on this issue. Pro-governmental Medias gave the speech to the oppressor but not to their victims.
The worst is that Yaoundˇ administrative authorities forbid a debate organised by a local N.G.O who decided to lean on the issue of eviction of poorest, related with the issue of sustainable development.
ItÕs true to argue that today in Cameroon, none intellectual or scientific discussion has taken place concerning the controversial issue of land evictions. Even the civil society is spectacularly silent.
The observation is therefore, the abandon the rights of evicted people in the only hands of the Cameroonian government, who looks like a typical predator of individual liberties.
2. The supplication for the effectiveness of rights of poorest evicted people
The issue of effectivity of fundamental rights is in the heart of the stake of the democratization of states, mostly Africans, victims of poverty.
Evicted people also merit an equal dignity in the sense that their fundamental rights i.e the right of accommodation (a) has to be implemented.
However, the implementation of this fundamental right for poorest have to come within a huge framework of a socio-political reform tending to put an end to the marginalization of poor by the law (b).
a. The urgent necessity to legislate on the right of accommodation
The right of accommodation is a fundamental human right. This assertion is juridical correct in the sense that this right is insert in international instruments related to the protection of human rights, ratified by the state of Cameroon. This analyse is also judicious, in the sense that this right have been enunciate in the constitutional law of the country who places the right of accommodation on the top of the hierarchy of juridical norms. But here also, the problem remains and is the same in many other domains; it can be resuming by this short formula: very beautiful text not applied.
That is to say, in Cameroonian law, the right of accommodation as many other fundamental rights stand on the stage of a simple enunciation, a philosophical or political principle, without a juridical repercussion.
The stake is therefore to transfer the right of accommodation from a simple enunciation to the standard of a juridical principle with effective powers of restriction.
Many occidental countries such as France cross the step. The last named country recently adopted the DALO law, in order to overcome the housing shortage in France, but also, to stow French legislation on accommodation with principles contained in the European social charter.
All African states, Cameroon in the first place, are invited to follow this international move, and to not remain permanently on the last rang, behind the civilization, and precisely, on the bench of accused people of the international community.
b. The urgency necessity to think and to put in place a program of demarginalization of poorest by law
The issue of evictions of poorest in Cameroon highlighted the phenomenon of marginalization of poorest by law. This category of person find themselves more plunge in the depth of social and economic misery because the Cameroonian land law and public estate offer them no chance to have access to land property. Rules related to the organisation of the judiciary and those concerning the administrative justice are helpless because of tied links between the judiciary and the government, the first one influences the second.
The consequence resulting is the fact that the rights of poorest are less protected by the justice, especially when administration is accused.
Therefore the Cameroonian government doesnÕt have the choice to modify his law concerning conditions to obtain land titles. The policy of generalization of land property has to be translated in acts by series of reform of procedures and structures in charge of land registration. The reform of cadastral register must also be planned in order to realise a fragmentation of lands in the whole territory. This operation has to facilitate and open the way to a real policy of generalization of land property in Cameroon. With the new computer systems, the cadastral office could in a short period of time, redefine the exact map of the land property in Cameroon, in order to actualised it more easily. The reform of the Cameroonian justice has also to be planed and realised in order to guarantee his independence towards the government. The popularisation of knowledge on land property and human rights have to be encouraged, stimulated, intensified and boosted. It will also be better to institute more democratisation in land administration, and to let people speak notably victims of evictions and social exclusion.
The liberty of expression and thought have also to be encourage, the civil society merits more attention and respect from the government, and therefore, a solid protection in order escape from sideslip generally observe in counties dominated by a strong government.
In final analysis, the reflection on the problematic of evictions in Cameroon reveals the necessity to urbanised Cameroonian town. But this assertion is taken as a pretext for administrative and political authorities to regild their image tarnish by all types of scandals they orchestrate, like the recent one implicating poor people and families evicted from their houses.
The political violence we encounter today in Cameroon manifested by a more intensive repression against people suspected of infringement of the law related to private and public estate seems not to be the proper way, the one of wisdom. In the other hand, it seems to be judicious to encourage Cameroonians authorities to open talks, in order to prepare a further and deep reform of the state administrative apparatus and its running, but not to please in semblance reforms on the type trompe lÕoeil intended to charm foreign countries and international organizations based in Yaoundˇ, than to operate true changes needed both by the Cameroonian population as a whole, local and international, opinion who are very pessimist and critical, concerning the issue of development in sub-Saharan African countries.
-Decree No 2005/481 of 16th December 2005 establishing conditions for obtaining land certificates;
- Ordinance No 74-1 of 6th July 1974 establishing rules governing land tenure;
- Ordinance No 74-2 of 6th July 1974 establishing rules governing State lands;
- Ordinance No 74-1 of 6th July 1974 concerning the procedure governing expropriation for a public purpose and the terms and conditions of compensation.
11. Some few international laws related to the land tenure issue
- 1966 international pact on social and economic rights
(Article 11 on the right of shelter)
- 1993 /77 Resolution on forced expulsions;
- European social charter
- 1981 African charter on people and human rights.
1. The aim of this paper is to show how some Cameroonian politicians use the concept of urbanisation to deny fundamental rights of property and the one of having a shelter, in order to perpetrate political violence, just to achieve their political and selfish goals.
2. Robinson Tchapmegni approached the issue land evictions in Cameroon in his Nantes University PhD thesis in pages 315 to 324.
 Source: Cameroon-info.net (web), consulted on the 23 September 2008.
 Source: Cameroon-info.net (web), consulted on the 23 September 2008.
 Source: Camer.be, published on the 9th august 2008 on Cameroon-info.net web site, consulted on the 11th September 2008.
 Destructions took place on the 27 June 2008. A newspaper wrote at this effect: Cameroon: the neighbours of Paul Biya are on the street. The conditions of expulsions organised by the state provoke deep polemics
 Source: Cameroon-info.net (internet), consulted on the 11th September 2008.
 Aloys Mpessa, Essay on the notion of states properties regime in Cameroon, PhD thesis, Paris I University- Pantheon Sorbonne, 29 June 1998.
 It was precisely the Stanislas Melone foundation, the name of a late a renowned Cameroonian jurist and professor. For this purpose, read the Cameroonian newspaper Mutations, 11th September 2008 publication.
 This law is issued from the French law 2007-290 of the 5th march 2007 that instituteÕs the opposable right of shelter and further measures in favour of social cohesion.