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  Le Ngondo

Akwa Prince Mpondo

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The story of Mpondo Akwa is of almost cinematic tragedy, and has captured the interest of several historians. Recently a radio adaptation has been created from the 1905 trial. The interest in Mpondo Akwa is explained in part by rare richness of the documentary record, but probably rests more in the fact that his life in Germany generated such partisan and passionate responses, many of which are echoed in present-day treatments of his biography. The mere fact of his presence in Germany, forceful and opinionated as it was, was enough to send some of his most vociferous critics into fits of angry accusations, cruel mockery and sometimes despair. And yet, he also had strong support, especially from his lawyer, Dr. Levi,. From this we see that the colonialism was never a taken-for-granted status quo in Germany. Colonialism appears; when seen through the prism of Mpondo´s biography, as an incomplete project, one which was seriously contested even in metropolitan circles; and thus which could be ever so slightly unhinged by the presence of an ambitious African nobleman in Germany.

The picture of Mpondo Akwa that arises out of the written record is of a man whose complex and nuanced vision of political possibilities were directed towards the reasonable management of colonial regimes through the increasing inclusion of African representatives in decision-making processes. This vision does not fit neatly into categories of resistance or collaboration, which unnecessarily limit analyses of human agency and power under colonialism. In fact, much of Mpondo´s work in Germany can be better understood as a form of foreign policy - a variation on a nineteenth-century theme - which now involved public relations work and fundraising in the metropole, in addition to coalition building between Duala and Europeans. Such coalition building in Germany proper was necessary to Mpondo´s legal and political successes (however limited), and links to the “respectable classes”, as exemplified by Dr. Levi and Freiherr von Landsberg, were indispensable. However, Mpondo did not and could not limit his networking to these circles, and he therefore traversed many class, regional and political divides in the name of opening up German discursive space to his and other African ideas about governance.

Always key to the success of Mpondo´s project were the German courts. It was only through law that colonialism gained "legality," and thus it was through law that the legalization of patently illegitimate and violent methods of rule could be powerfully questioned. Dr. Moses Levi knew this. Indeed, he took on the cause as his own after witnessing the effects of colonial “legality” on his client up to 1905. He recognized that the perversion of any serious definition of justice was threatened when law and legality were dictated by mere political convenience couched in racist logic. His principled and committed defense of Mpondo Akwa has a relevance to all those fighting for pluralism and justice in former colonizing countries today.

After his intense engagement with colonial issues, Dr. Levi founded a family and gained solid recognition and respect for his commitment to the legal profession and to the rule of law: His illustrious career was brought to an end by the National Socialist regime. During this terrible era, Dr. Levi still exhibited the same Zivilcourage that strengthened his resolve to represent Mpondo Akwa almost thirty years before. Herta Grove remembers that one morning, shortly after the Nazis came to power, he turned to her, pale, before leaving the house for the court and said: "If I don´t come back tonight, I just want you all to know I´ve done my duty." She later was told that her father stood in the courtroom and announced, after realizing the extent to which his job as a defense lawyer would be purely symbolic: "If this is German law, I do not want to be called a German lawyer any longer." He then walked out. When his behavior came under scrutiny for this, the public prosecutor who had been his long-time professional adversary in that courtroom came to his defense. With his legal career seriously curtailed and his notary seal rescinded, Dr. Levi continued his work in an advisory capacity - for Jews and non-Jews alike - until his death from cancer in 1938, three weeks before the Gestapo´s black wagon arrived for him at his office.

Dr. Moses Levi´s four children were all able to emigrate. His wife, Betty Levi, after whom a street in Altona is now named, was not. She was deported to Auschwitz on July 11, 1942.

That the dangerous melding of race and law against which Moses Levi fought already in 1905 with such single-mindedness and clarity should later come to bear upon him and his family is a cruel irony - one that alerts us to the timeless importance of the defense speech reproduced in this volume.

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

Recherche Bibliographique: B. NJOUME

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