Henriette Ekwe, still a troubling presence in Cameroon

Henriette Ekwe, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama - USA 2011 Photo: © HE

Political activist, journalist, publisher of the weekly independent paper, “Bebela” (truth) Henriette Ekwe was one of ten women to receive the “International Women of Courage” award in Washington, D.C. on March 8th. Ekwe, whose political activism spans decades, was the only Cameroonian (and only African woman) honored this year.

Journalists, fans and family members came to the Douala airport to welcome her home on March 17th.  Ekwe dedicated the award to her father, 100, who “came to visit her every morning in prison,” even though he was over 80 years old at the time. She also dedicated the award to Cameroon’s independent journalists and the many U.P.C. militants who lost their lives fighting for freedom and whose names have been erased from the country’s official history.

Ekwe has many admirers, but she remains a thorn in the side of the Biya regime. Cameroonian news reports today that the U.S. Ambassador, Robert P. Jackson, was called in to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX, Relations Exterieures) for a meeting. Apparently Ekwe’s award, her acceptance speech in Washington and an interview with Jackson in the local press in which he commented on the award and human rights in Cameroon, didn’t much please the government.

You can read about the award in English here.  You can learn more about Ekwe’s story here (in French). Ekwe is also featured in Chief! a documentary film on the abuse of power at all levels of society by Cameroonian director Jean Marie Teno (which I edited).

Like so many who have struggled for freedom and justice in Cameroon, Ekwe is hardly known outside her country. Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, may be one of Africa’s remaining “Big Men,” but he’s a steadfast ally of France and the U.S. (or as a recent AlterNet article put it, Biya is one of the “worst dictators the U.S. is backing to the hilt”). Western interests have translated into minimal (mainstream) media coverage of Cameroon’s democracy activists.

In 2008 the popular uprising in Cameroon that was largely provoked by Biya’s plan to amend the constitution, made the news. But you would have had a hard time finding any coverage of what followed the unrest. The Cameroonian government disputed and downplayed the number of deaths in the uprising, blamed the killings on “hooligans” and refused repeated calls for an official investigation. Law makers passed the proposed constitutional amendment, which removed term limits, allowing Biya to run again in 2011 and effectively legalizing his “president for life” status.

Cameroon’s presidential elections are scheduled for October 2011.




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