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01.08.2008

Cameroon, Autopsy Of An Independance. answers on this taboo story during the colonial age 













Valerie Osouf, also author and film-maker of the ocumentary "Cameroon, Autopsy Of An Independance", answers on this taboo story during the colonial age...

A lot of relevance and involvement in her answers...


1/ What motivated you to make this documentary? Why Cameroon in particular rather than one of many other cases in Africa?

Valerie Osouf: Before starting this project, Gaelle and I had worked on numerous projects on French colonial history, projects which where all rejected. The historical root of the French racism is one of the main and fundamental issues to both of us. In November 2005, during the hearings on the bill regarding the positive aspects of the French presence abroad, especially in Algeria, we spent the day at the assembly (equivalent of the U.S parliament), analyzing and decoding the different arguments and positions. Having lived in Cameroon during her teens, Gaelle had a clear reminiscence of the hidden past of oppression in Cameroon, which led her to suggest that we work together on that particular subject. We then spent months on research…

The reason we chose Cameroon thus has a triple origin, from the past experience and memories of Gaelle, to the extent to which the repression was practiced, and mainly to the blatant silence surrounding that dark episode of our history.

2/ When did you begin your field investigation?

Valerie O: We started by reading all writings on UPC and its political and military repression, as well as other more general historical works. We confronted the historical black-hole still persistent in French scholar books: aside from the conquest and decolonisation (taught as a pacific except in Algeria and sometimes Madagascar n 1947), nothing talks about the French presence abroad. That’s 150 years of history thrown to garbage.

We then progressively met key figures (UPC militants, colonial former authorities and Ahidjo supporters) and historians (of course Achille Bembé, but also Pascal Blanchard). Then started the long quest for archive content, quest we didn’t suspect the extreme level of difficulty when we first started. It is only after a year and a half of work that went to Cameroon, for two months of shooting.

3/ How did you proceed to carry out the investigation in general, particularly for the witnesses whom testify during the documentary?

Valerie O: First, we had to make our own complete chronology of the facts, not only in the political but also in the legal, military and international fields. Then files for all governors, High commissioners, secretaries abroad, in the cooperation, foreign affairs, and so on. The picture was getting clearer with time.

We also tried, through word of mouth and after many rejections to get in contact with the few witnesses still alive. Number of doors are still closed. For instance, until the end none of the former French military personnel accepted to talk to us, same goes for the former main national security agency (the actual DGSE).

4/ Can you say to us which are the sources of your images and other archives’ content?

Valerie O: Given the fact that there aren’t much official accessible archives left,( the most blatant example being the absence of archives of the U.N debates) we had to rely on private archives, as far as UPC is concerned. The real lack of visual material about Um Nyobe was a major challenge for us. How could we cinematographically restore the memory of that great leader without a single image?

The other sources are mainly the Army Historical Service, the religious funds, both catholic and protestant, the press and a particular document (on the 1962 gatherings) obtained thanks to a dispensation from the Fonds foccart.
Finally, the images are available in the usual sources, like for instance Pathé, Gaumont…

5/ Did you encounter difficulties both administrative and logistics during the following days of your investigation?

Valerie O: Actually, the way it goes in France is people never say NO to you. It’s rather "the files were altered" or "the file is inaccessible" and so on. Therefore there´re difficulties, but they´re subtle.

6/ Did you encounter reluctance from people questioned or to question?

Valerie O: You can’t do that type of movie without winning the trust from upper instances. It is true though that aside from General Semengue and former secretary Marcel yondo, none of Ahidjo’s associates accepted to meet us. Same goes for the French military personnel of operation Lourdes(56-64) . Some politicians and experts also withdrew, but for various reasons, I can’t make hasty conclusions about them.

7/ The contents are hard enough for the eyes and the ears because it describes a reality as much sad than revolting. Which was the moment you have been the most shocked during the assembly of your project?

Valerie O: It happened several times, when I realised the size of the UPC’s audience when it got banned and its bases attacked in may 55. If Achille Bembé had not got published the Mpodol writings, who knows what might have resisted to the action of time?

Also, I’m still shocked by the denial of history from some of the intellectuals in France as just as solid as what they have the nerve to call repentance. And let’s not forget that the Cold War allowed many to justify lots of atrocities with arguments such as "it was either us or the soviets". Still today can we hear, when people talk about the influence of France on some fields of the economy "If we let go, it will be the Chinese".

8/ Of all the interviews passed during the documentary one, which left its mark on you? Why?

Valerie O: Not only one: Bernard Kamto, Mathieu Njassep, Flaubert Nganya. These men paid (camps, torture, prison) and are still paying (very poor quality of life) for their integrity. Elsewhere, rather under a different regime, they might have been treated as heroes. All of the freedom fighters who gave us their trust deeply touched me. I also think about Moukoko Priso, Abel Eyinga, Woungly Massaga. And I also think about witnesses that don’t appear in the movie, such as French anti colonialist lawyers, then member of the communist party: Pierre Kaldor, Pierre Braun. Those resistants of the second world war stayed true to themselves: they didn’t change faces once they crossed the Mediterranean (unlike Pierre Messmer, the hero of Bir Hakeim)

9/ Are you aware that the information you report in this film is not known from the majority of the young Cameroonian people, for the simple reason that it is not taught in detail at the Cameronian schools, besides that more than 56% of the population have less than 20 years?

Valerie O: Yes, but I have faith in the new generation of Cameroonian students we got to meet both inside and outside Cameroon. Both in France and Cameroon, history is biased. With the new technologies, I’m sure that our juniors, if they meet even one engaged person will be better informed than us.

10/ Concerning the French government, have you meet particular difficulties in the research and obtaining information? For which specific element?

Valerie O: We had access to an important amount of archives. The air force, for example let us consult all the material available. For the ground army, half of the boxes were still classified. For the marine, it was much more complicated. And for the Gendarmerie, our 60 demands for permission ere all rejected. It is true that the Gendarmes were closer to the field, a lot of names could be found in their statements and charge books. The question is still there: how come after 2 years of research wee couldn’t find a single picture or film of the armed conflict don’t they exist? Were they destroyed? Are they classified? Where?

11/ According to you, the French public opinion will it be touched, scandalized or indifferent to your work?

Valerie O: It all depends on each one’s beliefs. The worst case of course is indifference.

12/ What is your personal opinion about the mandate of France with Cameroon like elsewhere, at the colonial era?

13/ Cameroon is commonly recognized, as well on place as everywhere else like having been a “French COLONY”. However, as we clearly see it in your film, the texts stipulate that Cameroon is rather a French Trust Territory, on mandate of the SDN at that time. What do you think of this handling of language? In your opinion, who is the person in charge?

Today, Valerie Osouf, also author and film-maker of the documentary "Cameroon, Autopsy Of An Independance", answers on this taboo story during the colonial age...

A lot of relevance and involvement in her answers...

12/ What is your personal opinion about the mandate of France with Cameroon like elsewhere, at the colonial era?

Valerie O: My personal opinion, like you said doesn’t matter. What matters is the deafening silence of the international community at the time on the Togolese and Cameroonian mandates it conferred to France and England after the First World War what did the control missions really do? Who really listened to Nyobe in New York? Who acknowledged the petitions signed by thousands of Cameroonians?
The question of the international organisations is sadly still very relevant. For a
Mugabe, how many tyrants are safe?

13/ Cameroon is commonly recognized, as well on place as everywhere else like having been a “French COLONY”. However, as we clearly see it in your film, the texts stipulate that Cameroon is rather a French Trust Territory, on mandate of the SDN at that time. What do you think of this handling of language? In your opinion, who is the person in charge?

Valerie O: That word game is sadly revealing of the power then in place. Who’s responsible? Governments that don’t respect the laws of the international organisations they created.

14/ According to an article published in Le Monde online, published on June 26, 2008, there is a real dissatisfaction in Africa, and even with the new generation.
What’s your opinion about this report?

Link: http://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2008/04/26/limage-tres-degradee-de-la-france-enafrique_1038797_3212.html

Valerie O: As long as we don’t cross check our versions of our common history, denial will keep entertain anger. This matter must be taken up to our authorities, both for the foreign and internal politics. I think for example about the huge part of the French population originally from former colonies and about the November 2005 riots. However, it seems to me that president Sarkozy’s speech in Dakar goes in the opposite sense.
I read that article: apparently, France wants to restore its spoiled image on the African continent, but there even really sincerity and self questioning along with it?
I totally understand a young African student francophone or not that would rather go study in the U.S, England, Canada or Japan.

15/ Concerning the leaders of UPC (Union of the Peoples of Cameroon), especially Um Nyobe, would you speak about heroism or lack of realism, otherwise, do you think that to give its life for freedom is ultimately of use?

Valerie O: The situation and the colonial oppression in Um Nyobe’s Cameroon were too much for him not to fight. That is what I can say. Moreover, Um was a dedicated legalist, a true humanitarian and a pacifist. He didn’t run away because he was a man of great courage and integrity.

16/ In this instance, do you see similarities with other historical cases, in Africa or elsewhere in the world?

Valerie O: Other famous cases where at any given time victorious. So yes I can think of similar cases, but unlike Um Nyobe, people are aware of them. Gandhi, for instance after he returned from South Africa.

17/ What do you think about the general silence on the Bamileke’s tribe genocide with use of weapons of massive destruction, like the napalm, the poisoning of Felix Moumié, the profanation of his grave 20 years later, the verdict not guilty of the agent William Bechtel which has asserted this murder, the death of more than 300 000 people after the so called independence, the conspiracy in all impunity for the assassination of Um Nyobé, Ernest Ouandjié, and others, that it’s on the level of the French, Cameroonians or international authorities (African Union, ONU, etc.)?

Valerie O: I hope our movie answers that question.

18/ Like the proverb says,
Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar´s.

UPC, Union of the Peoples of Cameroon, was an example of national unit, because its leaders came from ethnos groups through the territory (Bamoun, Bassa´a, Bamiléké, etc). It’s a beautiful symbol in the current context of interethnic wars in several areas of Africa. According to you, was their work recognized, and honoured enough both at the national and international level?

Valerie O: Absolutely not. I hope Nyobe will soon have his place at the pantheon of liberators, along with Lumumba, Kenyatta, Nkrumah, Nyerere, although those ones all had their victories, obtained real actual international support and eventually became heads of states. It’s a big difference.

Also, you use the word "ethnical", but let’s not forget that many so called "ethnical" conflicts in Africa are, as elsewhere economical, social and political. Is the conflict in the Delta of Niger about ethnicity or oil?

19/ In wich direction do you think that Franco-Cameroonian relationships have evolved and will evolve?

Valerie O: State to State? It all depends on the heads in position, especially on the Cameroonian side. No one can say that France hasn’t been constant in its African policy whether the governors were Gaullists or socialists. I just hope that with the economic competition and the appearance of new countries in the game (China, U.S., Malaysia, but soon also India or Brazil) will allow Cameroonians to take better advantage of their resources.

20/ It is known that to carry out such a documentary comprises undoubtedly thorny risks. Dear Gaëlle, Dear Valerie, did you have problems (intimidations, threats, etc) after the release of your documentary which is a real autopsy?

Valerie O: None, of any kind.

21/ The Assassination of Felix Moumié, directed by Frank Garbely, is a documentary which reports the facts of this conspiracy. Did you look at it? What do you think about it?

Valerie O: We’re on the same side. It’s a principle for me to support any work trying to disclose information on this forgotten war. Only by stopping the denial will Everyone will at last be able to look the other in the eyes.

22/ In view of the content of the film, it appears that you still have many other facts to reveal. We can thus sense a follow-up. Do you project to tell us more? Could you please give us a taste of the contents and the principal points that you will cover?

Valerie O: I know that a group of 9 young searchers, both French and Cameroonian are working on a movie (and a book) on the subject, and I’m glad to know that. We already met twice and I give them the information a have, so that they can go even further than we did. Before us, Franck Garbely did a movie on the assassination of Moumié. There’s no doubt in my mind that other producers are working on UPC, whether it’s documentary or fiction.

23/
One cannot make a tornado in the water glass, because some negros were massacred… It is nevertheless something which pushes to reflect on the direction of what we call the civilizing mission, the love of the democracy, freedom, Human Rights, etc. There are the rights of which human beings in fact?
- Moukoko Priso, professor of university -

Up to which point the action of France in Cameroon push-such by wondering about the direction of these values?

Valerie O: How deeply does the French action in Cameroon makes us think about the meaning of these values? The answer to that question lies in Moukoko Priso’s question. It makes us wonder on the depth of what the Age of Enlightenment brought us in terms of universality.

FD: Thanks a lot for your precisous time and as Cameroonians, thanks for this revelations.

Valerie Osouf: Thank you very much for the interest that you express to our film.
 

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