Monday, 9 May 2016

PROUD MBORORO REBEL FLOWER FROM CAMEROON



I was privileged to be a co-mentor (with my Taino sister Tai Pellicier - fellow alumni graduate) for 1st year & 2nd year students, on the Project Access 12th Annual Global Capacity-building Training Workshop for Indigenous Peoples, New York, May 4-6 2016......in conjunction with the 15th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, May 9-20th 2016.

Aminatu Samira is a proud Mbororo 'Rebel' flower from Cameroon...not a rebel in any violent interpretation of the word - but rather in the context of her refusing to be married-off against her wishes and her DETERMINATION to further her education instead..and 'flower' because she is small and pretty - just like a flower.

There are 200 ethnic groups in Cameroon where the National population is 22.25 million (2013 census), the Mbororo People number 1.5 Million - and inhabit 8 of Cameroon's 10 administrative regions.

The Mbororo are Pastoralists, so they HAVE to move periodically to find grazing lands for their cattle, and this often means crossing the border and spending a few months in the neighboring country of Chad.....and THIS has long been illegally used as an excuse to withhold recognition of them as an 'Indigenous People of Cameroon'.....it ALSO is of great further hindrance to the Mbororo and all other Pastoralist Peoples in Cameroon to live in a reality where the Government (most Ministers) and dominant society - are comprised of people from Farming Tribes.....and who ALSO covet the grazing lands of the Pastoralists!

The Farmers dominate the security forces as well as the rest of educated society, so a common scenario is this one:

Farmer Tribe official (sometimes a Police Officer himself) threatens a Pastoralist with imprisonment using some bogus charge (which could be 'You are grazing your animals illegally on my land and I can make you get 5 years in jail for this!") that the uneducated Pastoralist fears to be true (but is not educated enough to know that it is just a set-up), the Farmer tribe official demands a heavy bribe to be paid in the form of the Pastoralist's Cattle (his only real wealth)...so the poor frightened Pastoralists pays for his 'freedom' with many of his animals, thus leaving the Farmer richer - and the Pastoralist poorer.......it is an exploitative scenario that manifests daily all over Cameroon and is virtually never investigated.....because there exists discrimination of the Pastoralists by the Farmers - so they honestly could not possibly care any less about what happens to a Pastoralist....why should they? They don't even see the Pastoralists as 'real citizens' anyway.

 The foundation of discrimination in Cameroon can be identified in the ongoing REFUSAL of the Government of Cameroon to allow land titles for indigenous peoples, they have no demarcated lands of their own, so they are treated like illegal transient/immigrant squatters - in the case of Pastoralists. If you are wealthy private citizen you can have title to as much land as you want to buy, but for the people who were living on these lands before any Political Nation State called 'Cameroon' ever existed - no 'right to lands' in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples  (UNDRIP) - or even a right NOT to be subjected to official policies of discrimination  that the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of  Racial Discrimination (ICERD) itemizes - exists in Cameroon....even though the government of Cameroon signed  BOTH of these instruments (Cameroon ratified the ICERD on 24th June 1971, and the UNDRIP on 13th December 2007).

In case you were wondering how a Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination could possibly apply to a mono-ethnic scenario like this - read what the official definition from the Convention says:

 Article 1
1. In this Convention, the term "racial discrimination" shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.     

We all like to flout 'Post-Independence' Laws as being 'superior' in all cases to Colonial Era laws, but in one case the Post-Independence laws of Cameroon that concern Pastoralists are actually WORSE for them as they do not recognize them as 'real' or 'equal citizens' of Cameroon.

However, let us re-focus of our Rebel Flower Aminatu......normally girls among her people are married off at the age of 14 or 15 to older men in their 40's...and since her people are Muslims today - they must share their husband (that they did not choose for themselves - but were 'accepted' for them by their parents against/despite the girls will)...but education saved her from this unhappy arrangement....you see, Aminatu did so well in Primary school she received a scholarship to further her education, and the condition was that she would NOT be forced into marriage but be allowed to continue her studies.....and Aminatu was ADAMANT to her parents that she wanted to learn - NOT to be 'one of the wives' of some man she did not know...so her parents relented.

Her education was not devoid of discrimination though, whenever she did make a mistake in class the teachers and majority of other students (who were all from farming tribes) would hurl what are considered ethnic slurs in her country, such as calling her a 'Milk Seller'....because selling Milk is the traditional source of income for Mbororo women, and similarly the Mbororo boys were called 'Shepherd'...because herding cattle is the main traditional occupation of Mbororo men.
These might seem like trivial epiphets to you and I who do not live in Cameroon, but they are the same as calling a white student from a rural area of North America a 'Hill Billy', or a Native American from the Great Plains a 'Prairie Nigger', or a black south African a 'Kaffir'...these are words said in malice - not in jest....they are meant to confer a sense of 'You do not belong here' in the minds of the intended victims.

Unfortunately, most Mbororo girls are only supported to complete a Primary Education, but are then discouraged from going any further and pressured to drop out of school and become someone's wife....only sons are encouraged to further their studies.
Religion plays a role in this Academic gender disparity as well, because for some strange reason the (mostly Christian) schools in Cameron require their girl students to cut their hair....and since long hair is sacred to the Mbororo, many parents prefer to simply terminate their education rather than be humiliated in this way....for like most Amerindian Tribes - long hair is not just a fashion accessory or matter of personal 'style' like it is for non-indigenous peoples.
Another sticking point is the official school dresses being knee-length, but Mbororo girls (as Muslims) are expected to dress more modest and cover to their ankles etc.
Aminatu graduated, but could not attend her own prom because of the religious dress issue.

* According to Article 8 (among others) of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which the Government of Cameroon ratified - it is a violation of Mbororo rights for these schools to force their girls to cut their hair or dress in a manner the tribe deems immodest:

 Article 8 1. Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture. 2. States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for: (a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities; (b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources; (c) Any form of forced population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights; (d) Any form of forced assimilation or integration; (e) Any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them.

 One might wonder how the government of Cameroon could LOOK so progressive by publicly ratifying these International instruments - and yet be so duplicitous at home out of the spotlight of the International media...but truth is - 99% of the countries of the world do the exact same thing....they ALL signed the UNDRIP in the UN General Assembly on 13th December 2007 and received the accolades of the world....but virtually NONE have actually incorporated the UNDRIP into their own constitutions....the Political Nation States of the World are ALL about show - and very little about substance where it really matters...I award them the Nobel Prize for 'Cosmetic Solutions'.

Here is an example of a statement made by a SENIOR Cameroon Government official - when questioned about the disparity between what they said to the UN REDD vs what they are DOING in Cameroon (the Directors of UN REDD should take serious note of this and follow up by asking all the National Indigenous Organizations if the Government has recognized Indigenous Rights in Cameroon):

""Look we just told them we recognized that we have indigenous peoples in Cameroon, because we want to get the money for their UNREDD project, but we don't really consider you as indigenous peoples"

Aminatu has done 5 years of voluntary service thus far in her available time, but now she would like to begin working in the private sector, and she would like her life to contribute to the achievement of equal rights, and land titles to her Mbororo People.

This is what brought Aminatu to New York as an eager participant in the Tribal Link Project Access Training, and she has been greatly impressed with the high caliber of teachers (such as Andrea Carmen of the International Indian Treaty Council IITC), the clarity of the presentations, and the interactive format with which the training was conducted.
High praise was given to the creator & Director of the Tribal Link Foundation for making this unique learning experience for so many of the worlds indigenous peoples possible for the past 12 years.

Nothing in her life has been allowed to become a stumbling block in her life - but instead just another stepping stone...and she has now obtained a Masters Degree in International Law!
The Rebel Flower of the Mbororo continues to bloom !

Damon Gerard Corrie
Alumni/Mentor
Project Access 12th Annual Global Capacity-Building Training Workshop for Indigenous Peoples, New York, May 4-6 2016.

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