One of the things that amazes me every day about the work of ALL for Cameroon is the sheer volume and variety of cases in which this little office manages to engage.
On Thursday Caroline set me up a day to meet and to hear from a cross-sample of her clients. It was quite a day. I shall write about some of the cases and causes in more depth over the next few days but in the course of Thursday we saw orphans who had been driven from their homes by relatives; widows deprived of their property rights on inheritance; a victim of assault in police custody; a human rights activist who had got on the wrong side of a powerful local man and had been beaten and shot for his pains; representatives of minority ethnic communities suffering discrimination and persecution and much more besides.
The position of the Aku people who came to see us along with representatives of the Hausa people was amongst the most complex and fascinating. Their articulate spokesman was at pains to stress that as an educated man working as a school teacher he was in a tiny minority amongst his people. He told a story of a people subject to arbitrary arrest and detention and who face constant attacks on their rights of land tenure.
ALL for Cameroon has acted for a number of Aku people in the recent past and to some effect. The problem remains, however, that most of the Aku are unaware of their own rights. The idea of engaging with the legal process in order to gain redress is also a pretty recent one. What I saw was a community struggling to protect itself and to take charge of its own development.
Many of the challenges that they face are legal but have their roots in the political situation here. There is not much that any lawyer can do to address educational under-achievement on such a scale that only three Aku girls have left High School with advance level certificate. It was clear from yesterday’s discussion, however, that the work of ALL for Cameroon in giving a voice to people who are otherwise mute and without hope is an important part of giving them the confidence to take on some of their challenges for themselves.
Where does law end and politics begin? It is not always clear and here in North West Cameroon the line is more blurred than ever. I guess that at the end of the day, if you are desperate for help you will take it where you can find it.