We should know: #FreeNadjo #FreeSolloh

Pondering…
Sonja Barend, the celebrated host of Dutch TV shows until 10 years ago, has written an honest memory of her youth, in which the search for her father and his Jewish identity is central. This father she never knew is one of the many Jewish men who disappeared during the second World War in the Netherlands. Her mother was the one to open the door for the policemen and answered yes on their question if her husband was in. They brought him to the Scheveningen prison in June 1942. He would stay in this prison for radicals and resisters of the German regime during 6 months, before being deported to the concentration camp Auschwitz where he died on an unknown day in 1943. Why this happened and how it happened – all not known. In her intimate reflections on her imagined father Sonja wonders about the people who then lived next to him and who should have known about these deportations, and on that moment that her mother said ‘Yes’. The main question in recent autobiographical literature memorizing WW II is: ‘should we have known?’. In a publication of 2012 Bart van der Boom raises the question if ‘ordinary’ Dutchmen in the war could have known. And if so, were they able to understand the severity, that was unimaginable. People lived their lives based on experienced history and this was simply too strange. The book led to fervent debates. The end of WW II is 72 years ago. The ‘not seeing’ has become a collective traumatic memory.

This part of Dutch history comes to my mind when reading the comments of the Chadian diaspora on the situation in Chad. We live in 2017 in a world full of communication technology, that allows us to see more than 72 years ago, but do we really see what is happening under authoritarian regimes, or maybe a better question: do we want to see?

iyina red

Symbol of the resistance movement Iyina in Chad as it appeared in whatsapp and messenger pictures

Arrests of young leaders
The arrests in Chad of youth leader Palmer Nadjo Kaina on 6 April and nine days later of Bertrand Solloh are not widely known to the world. These are just examples of many other arrests in Chad and elsewhere. Who notices these arrests? Why are they relatively silenced? Nadjo is leader of the youth movement Iyina (meaning ‘we are tired’ in local Arabic) and Solloh is responsible for Iyina’s communication and a member of ‘Tournons la page pour la démocratie en Afrique’ (Let’s turn the page for democracy in Africa). Both are civil society organisations that have become active (again) around the presidential elections of April 2016. The reasons for the arrests are vague. Nadjo, who was arrested two times already in 2015 and in 2016, has been accused of a possible disturbance of the public order by organizing a manifestation on the 10th of April, the day of the severely criticized elections in 2016. Iyina invited Chadians to remember this day and to wear the color red. Solloh was accused of participating in this organization. Other members of Iyina subsequently went in hiding or even left the country. For more than two weeks nobody knew where Nadjo and Solloh were. Even the Minister of Justice responded that he was not aware of the situation of these young people. Their lawyers had no access to them. Only on the 24th of April they reappeared in the capital city’s prison with the announcement of their possible judgment the day after. On the 27th they heard a requisitory of 5 years against them; the verdict will be on 4 May.

Were they detained in the prisons of the ANS, the secret police, or in the new prison Amsinéné in N’Djamena?  The conditions in these prisons are not well known. The last reports of Amnesty on these conditions date from 2012. A recent master’s thesis of the University of N’Djamena from 2016 reports about injustices. Isn’t it ironic that this happens when a new film on the prisons and actions of the DDS (former secret police) under the previous president of Chad, Hissein Habré, has just been released, and whose creator, the well-known Chadian cineast Mahamat Haroun Saleh, has been nominated Minister of Culture? Nadjo and Solloh are part of a new generation of political detainees in Chad.

(Not) knowing
News about the young men is not part of daily talk in N’Djamena. Those who open their mouth fear to be arrested. ‘They all left, I might be arrested’ is one of the comments of a friend and member of Iyina. Spreading fear is one of the results of the attitude of the government who also arrests, interrogates and sometimes then liberates, like the 60 youngsters who protested/manifested on the 10th of April acting in answer to the call of Iyina. These are brave actions ending in intimidation and I can imagine that it is difficult or even impossible to escape feelings of fear. As some Chadians claim: we are living the horrible times of the DDS again. Many people prefer to keep silent.

The only sphere where it seems possible for Chadians to comment and denounce acts of the Chadian government is on social media. The blog forum Yadaari and Makaila-blog posted a few blogs about the situation. Sporadically Twitter refers to the situation in Chad: the hashtags #FreeNadjo and #FreeSollo, or #FreeSolloh were born in the tweets of Laurent Duarte, coordinator of the international movement ‘Tournons la Page’. But it is especially on Facebook that comments and actions are announced. These Facebook Posts are mostly from the hands of diaspora activists, who also organize manifestations in Paris and elsewhere. Screenshot_20170422-155902The content of their posts is not only about facts, but as well about the laxity of the Chadian population who they urge to take their destiny in their own hands. A regular commentator is the Strasbourg based journalist Tahirou Hissein Daga. Although the frustration of these Facebook users who find themselves outside the country and feel something needs to change is understandable, the question is if they are  justified? What would they do in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation? But also if you live your daily life, does one really see? They are probably not right in the accusation of people who live in difficult circumstances in Chad. Being inside and act is not easy and reminds me of the situation during World War II, with which I opened this blog post. But those who are outside, like the diaspora and hence the international actors, they can see!

We should know
It is only after a long silence that the international community picks up this news, though still sporadically. To find their announcements and articles one has to be interested in Chad. The action that has become somehow public was the request and short report of Amnesty International and some publications on RFI (French news agency). Recently there was a denouncement of these arrests and a call for liberation in a common call. Why is the world not more active in denouncing these human rights violations? Did we not learn from our WWII history? Must we wait, like then, for 72 years to analyze an authoritarian rule and its atrocities? This, while there is enough information to know that there is clearly a violation of human rights? In this case we cannot argue that we did not know, on the contrary: we should have known.

And Chad is just an example. It is part of a larger tendency of authoritarian rule in different countries in the world. Some cases are well known and widely discussed, others are relatively silenced as is the case for Chad.

It is important to alert the international community by revealing the facts, and also by recalling the collective memory of WW II; by realizing that similar things are now happening in the world; realizing that we might be able to play a role to diminish the misery of the people in Chad, to diminish the risk of traumatic collective memories. We live in a global world, the realities of Chad should also be ours.

Cattle feeding the armed groups in CAR

SONY DSC

For many nomadic Fulani refugees from the CAR cattle has become a memory painted on the wall of their shelter @Mirjam, 2012, Cameroon

Mi tampi, mi walaa, tampere, fuu welleke’
‘We are tired, we lost everything, exhausted, all has gone’; These are just a few words that the three Fulani, one man and two women, whom we met in Bangui last week, repeated in the exchange we had in a bar at a busy road. They refer to the difficulties they have been confronted with over the past decades. I had asked for a meeting with some Fulani who fled to Bangui. A Muslim student who followed my course in Bangui was willing to make this happen. We could not meet in PK5, the quarter of Bangui where the Muslims were uniting to hide for attacks of the anti-Balaka. These attacks are no longer taking place, everybody assures me, but when I propose to go there and meet the Fulani who are displaced and live in an empty school building in PK5 I am held for a complete lunatic, ‘What.. no, no, you cannot go there’. People are still afraid that something might happen, but also the anti-French sentiments seem to be deeply rooted and may lead to difficult situations for people like me, white.

16409722_1218965868222445_122616415_o

Meeting ‘displaced’ Fulani from PK5 at a bar at the road @Mirjam 201

Meeting Nomadic Fulani in Bangui
My wish to meet some Fulani was inspired by the many stories about their plight. Since 2012 we (with Adamu Amadou PhD student) are working with the Fulani refugees from CAR in Cameroon and in Chad (with ma-student Eli Doksala from Chad), and the flow of refugees and displacement of Fulani is still continuing. They have been the victim of many different armed groups, their cattle serving as a resource for these groups. Already in the 1990s children of nomads were kidnapped for ransom, later they were simply robbed of their cattle. This has now been going on for 20 years. The cattle of the Fulani seems to be  a resource as valuable as gold and diamonds. But the young Fulani men have also joined the armed groups and formed their own armed groups, apparently for their protection. The number of displaced and refugee Fulani is not known. The many we met in Cameroon and in Chad, also outside the official refugee camps, does however indicate that the situation is serious [see for instance HRW report].

The Fulani nomads in CAR
The Fulani in CAR have different origins and come from different countries. In the 1980s they moved with their cattle into CAR where there was space and grasslands, and a need for meat. They settled and now the second generation of these newcomers already has families and the third generation of Fulani nomads is residing in CAR, where they are known as Mbororo. The name Mbororo is in fact a derogatory term, it is the name of their cattle, the so-called Mbororo are many different lineages, Ali Jam, Uda-en, Wodaabe, and so on. The 1980s and first half of 1990s was a period when they were welcomed. The spaces of cattle and agriculture were well separated and the symbiotic relationship between herders and farmers was not just a dream.

SONY DSC

Amadou in conversation with a Fulani chief in Bangui @MIrjam 2012

However, from the mid-1990s political struggles were translated in unrest in the countryside. This was intensified when in 2003 Patasé was toppled by Bozizé (with help of the French and the Chadians and the chaos in the country was only increasing. With the absence of the state any measure to enforce the guidance of farmer-herder contracts disappeared completely. The Fulani were increasingly considered an exploitable source of wealth. In the interviews Adamou held in the camps in Cameroon and the one interview we held with a Fulani leader in Bangui (December 2012) the expression of powerlessness, of not being heard and being victimized was dominant.

Fulani resistance
As there was no protection offered to the Fulani, resistance and rebellion could only be expected. Armed self-defence groups turned into bandits (Saibou Issa: les coupeurs de route: histoire du banditisme rural et transfrontalier dans le basin du lac tchad (Paris, Karthala 2010)). Baaba Ladde was the first warlord who organised a movement of Fulani and got indeed publicity for the cause. He had his base in Northwest CAR at the Chadian border. Baaba Ladde, a Chadian, directed his actions and discourse against the

SONY DSC

Fulani (wodaabe) with her (sedentary) friend in a village between Bangui and Garoua Boulai @Mirjam, 2012

Chadian State, Idriss Déby. In fact he started his rebellion in 1998, but moved to CAR in 2008. After reconciliation talks he became a member of the Chadian government and later deserted again; then again became a civil servant in a Chadian sous prefecture. In 2014 he returned to CAR, where he was arrested in Bangui in November. He was sent to Chad in January 2015 and is currently in prison. Part of the armed forces of Baaba Ladde joined the Seleka, namely the group headed by Ali Darass, an old friend of Baaba Ladde. He ‘settled’ in central CAR and created the Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique.

Ali Darass
Ali Darass is said to be from Niger, and ‘uses’ the story of the Fulani crisis for the justification of his movement. His territory is expanding. It is alleged that he is an ally of the government and therefore not stopped; one of the rumours around this is that the president whose name is derived from a Fulani name (Faustin-Archange Touadéra), supports the Fulani and UPC. The other story is that as the UPC is not against government measures to control the conflict like the DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration). He is openly willing to support these.

And very recently a new group presenting themselves as defenders of the rights of the Fulani was born: 3R (Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation), that is said to have attacked villages and people, creating a bloodbath in November 2016 in the region North-East, the region where Baaba Ladde also had his fiefdom. This group 3R is accused of serious atrocities. However, their leader Sidiki is invited around negotiation tables and tells a different story. He denies all atrocities supposedly committed by his men.

 ‘les peuls negocient et ont de bonne comportement autour de la table’

(…) said a UNICEF employee when we were discussing the very difficult situation in CAR at the head office in Bangui (27 January 2017). Do the Fulani have a reason to resist/rebel? Also in the stories of our research in Bria, Bambari and Paoua the Fulani are very present both as rebels/resistance fighters and as victims. They have become a new military force in CAR, and are expanding their territory very fast. The seeds sown by Baaba Ladde seem to have taken a new direction in their growth over the past few months.

The Fulani nomads are filling the ranks of their generals, of 3R and Ali Darass, out of anger that their cattle is feeding other armed groups that are fighting in the CAR; this vicious circle can only be broken if the government will take control over the areas again. But that is still a dream for CAR, despite the presence of international forces mission MINUSCA .And until a solution is found the Fulani nomads will also continue to be part of the flows of refugees and displaced people who have no home but an empty school in Bangui.

Cameroon Alert!

fb_img_1481528664330

Text from a Facebook post 23 June 2016: Common lawyers rubbish new penal code Bill: A penal code that says ministers cannot be arrested or tried (immunity). A penal code that says any judge who tries  a minister and sentences him will be sent to jail. Wonders!!

Gradually we’re starting to get more information from West Cameroon, where a strike by lawyers has been evolving into a general strike among teachers and finally protestsscreenshot_20161212-085944 in several towns in this part of Cameroon that were met with violence by the State. Today, 12 December: A call is being made on the internet for declaring a Ghost Town in Southern Cameroon (see Facebook post); what will be the response? The essence of the argument in the protest is the imposition of the Francophone laws, teaching etc. on the Anglophones, a discourse that stands for so much more.

Common Lawyers strike
It started with the strike of the Anglophone Common Lawyers. I witnessed through the eyes of a former student from Leiden the long process leading up to the strike: the first steps were made this summer. It went from a peaceful protest to a harsh and violent encounter between the lawyers and the government. On Thursday 10 November 2016, several lawyers in Buea were beaten, and their wigs and gowns seized.

From a Facebook Post summarizing the process, beginning December:

Hello Prof. Mirjam! The Common Law Lawyers of Anglophone extraction have been on strike across the entire Common law jurisdictions of the North West and South West regions. This is on account of the systemic extinction of the Common Law principles by officials of ‘La République’. Prior to this strike action we had tabled a series of demands to the head of state. It is a shame that instead of responding to our demands, the government turned a deaf ear and instead employs its traditional policy of divide and rule as a means of frustrating our cause.
Consequently, we have resorted to remain resolute, determined and steadfast to our cause. We are henceforth synergizing with other unions to advance the cause.

Cameroon on fire?
Are the protests that we are witnessing today an outcry over years of neglect and oppression? And will they finally lead to change in Cameroon? For long, journalists and academics have been wondering why there was not more protest in Cameroon. I asked this question several times to my Cameroonian friends whose answers would vary; from ‘we do not like conflict’ to ‘oppression is too harsh’. Are today’s protests a turn in Cameroonian history? Will the Anglophone grievances be picked up by the Francophones who suffer similar marginality, who are also neglected by the state and have a ruler whose family has been bathing in wealth for the past 34 years? The splitting of the country in Francophone and Anglophone parts at independence (1961) has ever since served as a language to formulate anger and to search for justice.

fb_img_1481529745726

@From the blog post of Vera Bakker

I cite from a friend’s detailed report to me (in the week of 12 December). He was writing this in a cybercafé while the protests were ongoing on 30 November 2016:

But the unique aspect of the union of French speaking and English speaking Cameroonians is that it was not one through a formal union treaty. It was an informal arrangement between the peoples of the Cameroons who only share the commonality of German colonization from 1884 to 1916 who decided to cohabitate from October 1961. That is why the union has been described as a ‘Tontine Union’ in reference to the commonly found informal associations which function on the basis of unwritten agreements.

We preach no violence. At least not before peaceful options have been exhausted! But it was high time we got Yaoundé to understand that we have inalienable rights. It was high time we got Yaoundé  to understand that we are all children of God, made in his own image and lines. That we have been recognized by the international community as a people; and so we stand side by side with them as two peoples equal in status. That, flowing from that, we shall never again glorify the status of second class citizens.

Deep roots
Walter Nkwi, University Professor in Buea,  shared his analysis with me per e-mail (12 December 2016):
‘(…) Of course the problem of Bamenda [the anglophone capital of the North West Region, MdB] cannot be explained in a single email. It has deep historical roots and cannot be separated from the political upheavals of the 1990s. Over the years, the city has been abandoned by the ruling government to the extent that there is virtually no road.fb_img_1481529808525
This time around the story started with the lawyers who insisted that the government should translate the OHADA Law, which is a business law for the whole of French Africa. Interestingly this law has been there since 1999 or so. Apart from the translation the lawyers also demanded that the government should withdraw all the Francophone magistrates, who cannot pass and write judgment in English, from the Anglophone courts. This was also because the government had been insensitive to the fact that while the Francophones are trained in civil law the Anglophones were trained in common law. After a persistent plea to the government and the government stubbornness to listen to their plight they now called a strike.
In the midst of the strike, Anglophone teachers of secondary and higher education called a strike, firstly, in solidarity with the lawyers and also because the francophone had adulterated the English education; University of Buea [the capital of the anglophone South West Region, MdB] and Bamenda joined and all now are asking for a federal system of government while others are asking for complete secession with the francophone government. An attempt to diffuse this problem by the Prime Minister in Bamenda failed. This led to a rally in Buea to preach national unity by the CPDM [main political party, of president Paul Biya, MdB] stakeholders. This was happening just after Frundi [opposition leader, central in the riots in the 1990s] had visited Buea to attend the students who had gone on rampage on 28 November demanding for their bonuses, also known as the Presidential excellent award. Their names were omitted at the level of the Ministry of Higher Education and the university authorities were still in the process of getting the problem resolved. However, in Buea the rally “went well” but the attendance was very timid.
The CPDM delegation left for Bamenda where they met stiff resistance from the population, mostly the youths who put up barricades, blocking all the entrances into the city. The military replied with grenades and life bullets and in the confusion some youths were killed. The other youths resorted to burning down the electric and telephone poles as well as the police station at the Meta quarters and military cars. CPDM vote holders were even taken hostage at Ayaba hotel, one of the big hotels in Bamenda.
Bamenda, Buea and Cameroon at large are very tense. Anything can start at any time. The personnel of the University of Buea has been on strike for one month now and nothing is moving. Administrators have abandoned their offices and once in a while the police, in full combat gear, comes round. Nobody can say what will happen next. Like during the French revolution of 1789.  All the ingredients for a great outburst in Cameroon are present. There is an inefficient and corrupt government; a dismembered civil society; a very high level of unemployment; an efficient military; popular masses suffering from the main base of the state; a lousy 300 parties democracy; inadequate health facilities; inadequate portable water; very poor road infrastructure etc. All need a single spark to set everything alight. The conflagration can come at any time.

I have told you in trust my mind.’

Walter permitted me to publish this text that hardly contains his anger but is also an analysis that needs to reach the eyes of the readers.

fb_img_1481529755769

Chad: not yet a breeding ground for ‘Voices’

In the GuéraThere are various reasons why Chadian society is such a difficult place for Voices, not even only Counter Voices, but simply Voices: the Voices that should be heard but are most of the time hidden or obscured by regimes of power. La peur is still reigning after all these years. And so it seems this peur (fear) is keeping voices down.

Mirjam and Hamid.

Mirjam and Hamid.

Spokesman for his people
Hamid is a delegate for his region – the Guéra – in the Chadian parliament. He is one of the leaders of a small political party that gained many votes in the last elections. They signed a coalition with the leading party MPS for a period of at least four years. That was the start of the political adventure for Hamid. A local development worker and business man who was selected as chef de canton of his region now became spokesman for his people at the national level. He takes this task very seriously. He realizes that in order to make a difference, his task is to organize his population, rather than plainly being part of the government. Let’s not forget that this population is yet kept in poverty, preoccupied with drinking cheap beer, does not receive very good education, and has limited access to health services. The villages and towns in the inland of Chad don’t have enough water facilities, land is a highly contested resource and increasingly leading to conflict between communities. The telephony masts that appeared in the landscape from 2006 suggest a connected reality, but experiences show that this is still a false hope. Internet connections hardly exist and the telephone network has many problems. When we worked in the Guéra in 2002-2003, an old catholic brother explained to us that this part of Chad was really still living in the Stone Age. But things are slowly changing.

IMG_3175Small projects in the villages
One of the changes might be the product of the ideas and practices of Hamid. He tries to listen to the people, and as parliament only assembles relatively rarely, he has enough time to go out to the villages, to handle people’s worries and the conflicts they have with the state, etc. He uses part of his (high) salary to pay for small projects in the villages. These actions help to develop the image of Hamid as an organizer and a leader for the people in the Guéra. That is, of course, also how he wants to portray himself. He would like all this to become a Movement for social change, for the development of his region, starting with people’s own small practices to improve their lives. What hampers his work is ‘la peur’, the fear within many people. What is this fear based on?

The Fear
To understand ‘la peur’ we have to understand Chadian history. A history that lies hidden mostly in the heads of the people, because there are hardly any archives to testify of what has happened. The archives were destructed during the numerous periods of turmoil that have ravaged Chad. Those archives that have survived destruction are in France, not very accessible for Chadian historians. So we have to listen to people’s stories that disclose the histories that the Chadian Stateand the international community rather do not hear. In these stories, we hear that French colonial politics did not ask but order, did not invite but force people to work on the road, to replace a village. People remember those days as being enslaved, tortured and almost beaten to death if one did not work hard enough. Every Chadian person has to live with this memory.

François Tombalbaye in 1959.

François Tombalbaye in 1959.

Violence, oppression, mistrust
Then there was the time of Tombalbaye, the first president of Chad, who installed a regime of oppression and elimination of opponents to his regime. He exacerbated taxes which led to various peasant uprisings. The uprisings in the Guéra in 1965 have been branded as the beginning of civil war in Chad. Towards the end of his regime Tombalbaye installed the politics of ‘Africanisation’ which turned into another form of severe repression. He was killed in 1975. After Tombalbaye, politics in Chad continued to be violent and oppressive under successive presidents and rebel leaders, of whom Hissène Habré (in power from 1982 to1990) is now well-known internationally as his case is proposed for international justice. Inevitably, the Chadian population wears the marks of those periods that were worsened by ecological catastrophes such as the droughts of the 1970s and 1980s.

Hissene Habré (portrait by Rama,  Wikimedia Commons).

Hissene Habré (portrait by Rama, Wikimedia Commons).

Who is eavesdropping on whom?
During the Habré dictatorial regime, internal control was frightening – who was eavesdropping on whom was utterly fluid. It is alleged that during the regime of Habré, at least 40,000 people were killed. The population of the Guéra was first part of his ‘revolution’, fighting for his cause, but later in his paranaoia of power he turned them into his ennemies and explicit target. Many people from the Guéra were killed during this period. Habré’s regime did not end in the chaotic violence we observe in CAR and Congo today, but instead was a well-organized machinery. Probably less ugly, but very efficient violence combined with severe oppression and the creation of deep mistrust has left deep scars in Chadian society. Many of the people who were part of that violence machine are still in office today. The international legal proceedings against Hissène Habré are significant, but they will not help to solve the deep cicatrices that are still so present, nor help create today’s ‘société tchadienne’, which is still dominated by la peur.

Hope and democratisation
In 1990 Idriss Déby took over, staging a coup d’État. He installed a new political regime in which democratization and decentralization initially were key concepts. However, it did not end oppression and violence, nor did it lead to a real participation of the population in politics. The wave of ‘modernisation’ imposed on Chadian society induced by oil money, informed a new discourse on Chad as ‘la vitrine d’Afrique’, and recently the announcement of N’djaména becoming the e-hub of Africa. These are however facades that do not help to solve the problems of a traumatized population living in poverty, anno 2014.
Despite the population’s abundant mental health problems, psychologists and psychiatrists are scarce in Chad. As is all good health service, it seems. This was again made utterly clear to me while visiting a newly built (with oil money) maternity hospital, where children were lying in the room for the nurses because there was no place in the treating rooms. This is the season malaria prevails, so many children were admitted… The personnel can only act to save these children’s lives and that they have no time to reflect on the deeper causes of this merde, is indeed so logical.

Hamid on his way to the villages.

Hamid on his way to the villages.

Breeding ground for Voices
Hardly anybody escapes this untold logic of Chadian society. Some escape better than others. And of course there is hope in the counter voices, like those of Croquemort, Salma, and Hamid. They are the few ‘Voices’ that can be heard, if we want to listen. Hamid shares that he does not know if his idea to create a movement for development, a breeding ground for ‘The voices from the Guéra’, will succeed. And then it also becomes clear how the ‘peur’ is within him as well. He constantly tries to avoid it, but it is present in all his acts: his voice is low, his eyes are constantly around, and although he is not afraid to raise his voice in parliament, he knows it is still a very long way and not without risks.

Fear does not allow free coalitions, nor does it allow free expression. That is probably why the (international) legal proceedings against Habré are hardly known among a large part of the Chadian population. The information still has to be passed on to the people. And what if no measures are taken against those who were part of the regime of Habré and still have their jobs, their positions in the villages? Will their violence ever be judged? Will there be gacaca (community justice) courts in Chad one day? Hamid hopes so, but he does not really believe it.