Matoh Detainee Protest

Yesterday there was a protest in front of the High Court Building in Kumba. This is opposite our office building. It began around 11 am and ended around 4:30 pm. There were about 1000 people in attendance. The peaceful protest was over a land dispute in Matoh, a village on the outskirts of Kumba. The people of Matoh wanted to build a market in the center of their village. They had a land surveyor come and town meeting to discuss where the best place for this market would be. They decided on a plot and proceeded to talk to the land owner about leaving. The land owner was upset and he and his son proceeded to put four of the village leaders in prison. According to our sources the four leaders are widely identified as “Big Woman”, “Youth President”, “Big Man/Sangamoga”, and one councilor.

The village became outraged that these four individuals had been taken in to custody. Yesterday the four detainees were to be transported from Kumba High Court to a prison facility, where they would await trial. But the Matoh villagers had other plans. They organized a peaceful protest in front of the High Court, where they intended to block the only gate so that the transportation vehicle could not pass. They organized over 1000 people to come and block the gate. The protest included: dancing, drumming, chanting, and many individuals were wearing palm leaves to symbolize the peaceful nature of the protest. Despite the efforts of the people the emergency relief officers, from Buea, were called in and wearing full riot gear. They arrived around 2 pm. They immediately started to push open the gate and then proceeded to beat a number of peaceful protesters with their batons. I personally saw a middle aged woman and an elderly man being beaten to the ground and against the wall respectively. At this point the crowd ran across the street and in to near by buildings for safety. Then the police began to fire gun shots in to the air. The villagers, primarily the boys aged 17 to about 30, began to throw dirty clogs and rocks at the walls of the High Court building, where the officers had taken cover and were firing their shots. The gun fire stopped after about ten to fifteen minuets and about half the crowd came back up to the gate. It was announced around 3pm that the four prisoners would be released. This excited the crowd and many people began to dance and sing in unison. The villagers stayed at the gate until after 4pm, which is when the Kumba authorities finally released the detainees.

This started out as a peaceful protest, which turned in to a bloody beating caused by the Cameroon authorities, but ended in the release of the illegally detained individuals. While the violence was upsetting and unnecessary the protest was seen as a success by those involved because they received the outcome they intended. It was Elie Wiesel that said “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” And yesterday the people of Matoh proved the power of protest and that when they felt powerless they fought and won.

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