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12.10.2006

The Story of Mpondo Akwa (1905): Dr. Moses Levi of Altona defending Prince Mpondo from Kamerun 

Elisa von Joeden-Forgey

On 27 June 1905, Prince Mpondo Akwa found himself in front of the criminal court in Altona being tried for eight counts of fraud and for fraudulently using the title of nobility. He was acquitted the same day. Throughout Mpondo´s later years in Germany, his lawyer, Dr. Moses Levi (2.3.1873 - 4.3.1938), bore witness not only to the contradictions faced by Africans living under German colonialism, but also to the promise and limits of Western liberal legal institutions in the face of these contradictions. In the defense speech published here (note PPS see book page 9 to 54), the young lawyer combines a stunning reformist critique of colonial practice with various strategies to ensure that his African client be treated fairly and equitably before the law. Although his arguments demonstrate a remarkable creativity, broadness of mind and critical insight regarding colonization, they also demonstrate the difficulties caused for metropolitan law by the very existence of colonies and by the unpreventable border crossings of colonial subjects.

Mpondo´s lawyer was a courageous and thoughtful young man of thirty-two. By 1905 he had developed a keen sense of the injustices suffered by persons of color in Germany, even earning himself the nickname "Gypsy-Papa" for his pro bono representation of Roma-Sinti residents of Hamburg-Altona. The tradition Levi es¬tablished early on in his career continued throughout it - Levi represented not only Mpondo Akwa pro bono, but also many clients after him. Levi was born into an established Jewish family in Altona that traced his roots back to the sixteenth century. His maternal grandfather was the last judge of the then existing Jewish court. The Altona Jewish community was strongly influenced both by religious orthodoxy and Enlightenment ideals, and historically enjoyed freedoms under the Danish kings that were denied to the residents of the free city-state of Hamburg. Levi´s daughter, Herta Grove, now a resident of Philadelphia, describes her father in the following manner: "My father was able to effect a meaningful execution of ancient rituals by a marriage of respect for tradition with the fearlessness of a liberal."

Perhaps it was this combination of respect for the moral lessons of Judaism and the strong belief in liberal institutions that influenced the tenor of his defense. Dr. Levi did not call for the dismantling of the colonial system, but rather its reform. Unlike many liberal thinkers of his time, Levi also displayed a keen awareness of the legal contradictions created by the act of colonization and the challenges these posed for universal posed for universal and Enlightenment institutions such as law. He clearly believed that colonization was contributing to the perversion of the very concept of the rule of law and the Rechtsstaat. His solution in the case of Mpondo Akwa was to push for the extension of metropolitan law and judicial process to colonial subjects.


MPUNDU AKWA: The Case of the Prince from Cameroon, the Newly Discovered Speech for the Defense by Dr.M. Levi
Von Joeden-Forgey, Elisa & Levi, Dr. M. (Eds.)
Notes, bib, vii, 137pp, GERMANY. LIT VERLAG, 3825873544

Note PPS


Nous tenons tout de suite à signaler que le nom Mpundu a été purement et simplement remplacé par Mpondo qui n´est ni plus ni moins l´écriture correcte du nom de notre Prince MPONDO AKWA
 

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