USA: African Group Threatens Lawsuit over IMF Privatization Plan

Stage Set for Land Crisis as Cameroon Government Cracks Down on Indigenous Peoples

Disappointment at the World Bank's decision to finance the controversial Chad-Cameroon pipeline had hardly subsided when the ramifications of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) structural adjustment program in Cameroon risks creating Africa's latest crisis.

As part of a structural adjustment program with the government of Cameroon, the IMF requires the Cameroon government to sell-off public companies. One of these companies earmarked for sale to multi-national companies is the Cameroon Development Corporation, the nation's largest agro-industrial enterprise. European and American multinational corporations have lined up to take over the tea, bananas, rubber and other plantations operated by the CDC on more than 380 square miles of land around the Mount Cameroon area, which is also the habitat of wildlife including rare gorillas, monkeys, elephants and antelopes.

The only problem with this classic IMF privatization scenario is that the land in question was seized from the native Bakweri people by German colonialists more than a century ago. The Bakweri were never compensated for the land, which was later handed over to the British, and Cameroon governments.

Since 1946, the Bakweri people, through their Bakweri Land Claims Committee (BLCC) have petitioned the British and Cameroonian governments to recognize their claims to the land. These petitions have been ignored. Indeed, the government of Cameroon has banned meetings called by Bakweri traditional chiefs to discuss the privatization. As recently as this month, the government declared the BLCC, which has existed before Cameroon became independent, an illegal organization and suspended its activities in Cameroon.

We are not against privatization per se," said Mola Njoh Litumbe, Secretary General of the BLCC. "We just want the government of Cameroon and multinational companies interested in buying the plantations to know that the land on which most of the activities of the plantations are based, belongs to the natives. As such, they must be included in all negotiations." He said.

Lyombe Eko, Executive Director of BLCC-USA, expressed disappointment with the actions of all parties concerned in the privatization. "By preventing the natives from assembling peacefully to discuss this problem which has caused them grief for more than a century, the Cameroon government is violating their right of assembly and their freedom of speech as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We appeal to the World Bank to intervene with its bilateral partner, the government of Cameroon, to respect the human rights of the Bakweri natives" Eko said.

In a letter to the World Bank and the IMF, the Bakweri people plan to sue both institutions as well as all multinational companies which participate in the sale of the plantations. As a result of the high social and political tension in the area, there are fears that if the land problem is not solved, it may lead to another Zimbabwe-style farm invasion. It will be recalled that there is a lot of socio-political tension in Southwest Cameroon as a result of recent secessionist activities.

Dibussi Tande

Director of Communications, BLCC-USA

For more information, visit the Bakweri Land Committee website.

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