Douala, Cameroon The highlight of the first day of Organizers’ Forum and ACORN International meetings in Doula was a visit to the Bependa neighborhood where we met with an organization of the evicted. Their story was wrenching.
In 1986, thirty years ago, 908 families were evicted along the roadway near where we were meeting. The state owned utility wanted to expand their right away along the roadway for more power line construction. They exercised eminent domain. They signed an agreement on an assessment of 1.7 billion Cameroonian francs. They were then evicted. Thirty years have passed, and they have not received a single franc for either their property or the promised relocation payments.
What was the law then?
We were told the law at the time allowed eminent domain of course but required that the payments be made before the evictions were implemented.
The government was difficult to challenge at that time. It was not until 1996, ten years later as we had heard in the morning from a policy researcher based in the capital, Yaoundé, that the government under pressure from France along with the World Bank and IMF, reportedly required some concessions be made in the freedom of association and the freedom of expression in this far from democratic country.
In 2014, the leadership of the evicted organization told our delegation they began to reorganize an association once again. They had a list of the 908, but had only been able to successfully contact and enlist 158 or so in the organization now. Many had died. Many were whereabouts unknown. Some relatives had risen to be lawyers and even judges, but surprised them by rebuffing their efforts for their families. Before they had been thwarted when they were unable to get the government to legally register their association, thereby allowing the government to refuse to hear their pleas for restitution. This time they were allowed to charter. They had been to Yaoundé several times to demonstrate and meet with various ministers of the government about their situation. They had collected promises, but little else despite their protests.
They were now being asked to provide their own assessment – independent of the relocation costs – of the value of their homes and land after thirty years. Not surprisingly they lacked the resources to pay for such an evaluation. Anecdotally, they knew of some lands in the area that has increased twelve times in value over that period, which could push their assessment towards 20 billion Cameroonian francs, if they were able to make it happen.
We asked if there situation was unique?
They told us there were twelve other evicted groups. In fact, we are meeting with a forum that five have come together to form in order to push for the compensation they are owed.
They wanted some story of hope. We discussed the Wilbur Mills Freeway fight ACORN had led more than 40 years ago, and continued to fight even now.
Keep in mind that 1.7 billion Cameroonian francs would equal $2,891,485. Not a huge sum even then and less than $3000 per family approximately. Now it might be more than $30 million to settle, but a debt is a debt and to your citizens, it should be an obligation.
We asked if they had any legal recourse. We could not get a clear answer. There seemed to be no agreement on the rule of law.