It seems strange that I should have to travel thousands of miles to Washington, D.C. to get clarity on the fate of my land and community in Cameroon. But Herakles Farms, the American company threatening to destroy an area of rainforest where roughly 14,000 people currently live, myself included, is based here in the U.S.
It's my first time in the States, and while traveling around to discuss the threats facing my community and our forest, I'm struck by how easy this is thanks to the city's extensive public transport network. Back home in Mundemba I cover large distances on bad roads, in bad weather using a fairly basic motorcycle, to give voice to the villagers and farmers who have had little say in what will be done with their land.
I and many others have been resolute in peacefully opposing Herakles Farms' plans in Cameroon. The company wants to clear our rainforest to make way for a palm oil plantation. Since speaking out, we've been subjected to many acts of intimidation including threats, arrests, ambush and beatings. Most recently, some villagers including myself attempted to demonstrate against this project in the town of Mundemba, close to the proposed plantation area. We were arrested without charge and left in cells to contemplate our 'crimes'. We contemplated for two days; in the dark, forced to defecate into cups in front of each other because there was no toilet. Yet our only 'crime' was nothing more than organizing a peaceful demonstration about people's land being taken without their consent.
I feel it's important to mention that I have no personal issue with either Herakles Farms or companies that want to do business in Cameroon. However we will continue to speak out against what can only be considered land grabbing, because the proposed location of this palm oil project is in the midst of a rainforest that sustains my local community and our unique wildlife.
It is being pushed ahead because it will bring much needed development projects to the local population. Yet there is little real evidence they have any answers to the damage that will be done to the environment or how the eighty villages in the area will benefit. The jobs that Herakles promises won't be passed down from one generation to the next. Instead, as farmers on our own land, we are able to feed our families, and pass on these skills to our children so they in turn can feed themselves from the land.
As an African, we are used to hearing promises of prosperity from abroad but in reality the relationship is very much the other way around. If allowed to proceed, this palm oil plantation will set a terrible precedent for overseas investments in Africa. Our forests should not be sold off to the highest bidder. I want to see development for my country and its people -- but I want this to be fairly negotiated, and respectful of both Cameroonians and our forests.
Here in the U.S. people have the right to protest and question the decisions that are supposedly made in their best interests. In many parts of Africa, people don't always have that luxury. I have made a lot of personal sacrifices but I will work tirelessly until Herakles Farms' project is stopped. If this means coming to Washington, D.C. in the winter, in a t-shirt and sandals, for our voice to be heard then so be it.
Find out more about the campaign to stop Herakles Farms' palm oil plantation in Cameroon here.