Update: The hearing on 07 October was adjourned for a third time at the request of the prosecution. The next hearing will take place on 18 November.   

On 26 August Musa Usman Ndamba, land rights defender, will appear in court at the request of one of the most powerful and wealthy landowners in Cameroon. This marks his 100th appearance in court in what has been widely documented as judicial harassment aimed at preventing Ndamba from defending the land rights of the Mbororo, one of the largest nomadic groups in the world.

Ndamba is the National Vice President of the Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA) which has championed the rights of the Indigenous Mbororo pastoralists in Cameroon since the 1990s.

“For the Mbororo–Fulani home is where the cattle roamed. As nation states evolved, the Mbororos increasingly struggled to continue their nomadic way of life and as a result a million settled in Cameroon in the last century,’’ he says “While the majority live in one place, in the northern part of Cameroon some are still practicing nomadism.”

Whether settled or nomadic, the Mbororo’s land rights are insecure in a country where large-scale land investments, supposedly to address the world food crisis, have lead to land grabs, driving local indigenous communities from their ancestral homes.

In April 2014, for example, 300 Mbororo families were forcefully evicted from land they had lived on for over 100 years in the North West Region of Cameroon. In a few hours all their homes and farms were bull-dozed and destroyed. With no where to go, these 300 families staged a sit-in in front of the Catholic arch-dioceses of Bamenda which was claiming the land for the construction of a University. MBOSCUDA also mobilized international pressure and eventually after two weeks the Archbishop announced that they would withdraw from the land and the families could return. Despite this, over two years later, they live in fear of further evictions. Despite the promises of the church to withdraw– they are still in procession of the legal documentation saying the land has been ceded to them.

“This has happened so often and continues to happen. There are cases of land disputes all over the country,”says Ndamba. “MBOSCUDA and other civil society organizations in Cameroon advocating for land and resource rights. This will greatly improve the livelihood of the Indigenous peoples and farming population and help eradicate poverty and hunger in Cameroon and the world at large.”

MBOSCUDA also works to find innovative solutions to land and resource based conflicts including model they call alliance farming. This involves a system of rotation between farmers and the grazers, whereby the grazers occupy the land during the dry season and move out during the rainy season when the farmers will take over. The organic manure produced by cattle during the dry season is extremely beneficial to the farmer increasing their yield. Land title in this case is communal and shared and according to Ndamba : “This practice is piloted in some areas and has proven to be very effective in resolving farmer-grazing conflict because the farmers see that they are benefiting.”

However, MBOSCUDA’s work to empower Mbororo communities to demand their land rights has also brought them into confrontation with powerful business interests. The ongoing alleged defamation case against Ndamba was brought about by billionaire rancher Alhadji Baba Ahmadou Danpullo and has continued for over 10 years without any basis or any finding of guilt.

Despite the judicial harassment and persecution that he and his organization face, he is resolute:

“Until the Mbororo have secure access to their land, the situation of poverty and exclusion that they face cannot be easily overcome so we must continue to defend our rights. My dream for the future is for the Mbororo Indigenous peoples of Cameroon to live in peace and total harmony with their farming neighbor, with land rights and natural resource secure under law. Without any fear of forceful eviction from the ancestral land where they live and which they presently occupy.”

Ndbama hopes that his appearance in court this week will be the last.

“Never, never again should Land Rights Defenders be harassed or imprisoned or be killed. Marralladdejo’oni! #landrightsnow!”

Take Action !

Call on the Government of Cameroon to dismiss the case against Musa Usman Ndamba here

This article was written by Nona Bouwman in conversation with Musa Usman Ndamba