The Prison van parked outside Bamenda Court of First Instance. Can’t imagine it would be comfortable!

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Remember I said I thought the road from the airport to Yaounde was bad? That was before I went to Kumba for the day!

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Meeting the Aku

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.

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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.

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Cameroon – Apparent and Real

The obstacles placed in the path of Caroline and ALL fror Cameroon are many and varied.  They are sometimes obvious and unashamed.  In many ways they are the more obvious and easily tackled ones.   The less obvious ones are more the more potent and the more difficult to take on.

 Yesterday was a step back in time for me as Caroline took me round the courts in Bamenda, introducing me to Court Presidents, Magistrates, Prosecutors and Barristers.  Some, it was clear, understood the need for the work that Caroline does and were supportive.   Caroline herself would list the various occasions on which they had assisted her.

 Others, however, would listen politely and nod but make no further comment.   Occasionally you would see a flash of hostility.   One official in particular challenged Caroline on the need for ALL and its work asserting that Cameroon already has a system of criminal legal aid where courts appoint representation for those who can not afford it otherwise.   It was a coherent argument – at least for a couple of minutes until he spoiled it by saying that she risked opening a floodgate of people who would want representation.  If the system were working there should be no floodgate!

 Last night Terence, a local supporter ALL Cameroon, observed that there are two Cameroons – the apparent one and the real one.  It was a neat way of summing up why the work here is necessary.

In the apparent Cameroon the law states that bail is free.   Legally, in fact there is a presumption of bail being granted.   In the real Cameroon, however, bail is often anything but free.   In fact the law allows for money to be lodged as caution (security).  So ostensibly the law can be followed and an accused person can be required to lodge a money guarantee but no receipt is given and no one ever expects to see the money again.

That is why the work here matters.  Declarations of Human Rights are all very fine but if they are to be meaningful then people must have access to advocacy and courts where judges and officials are independent and honest.  In that respect the Real Cameroon still has work to do.

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Another client brings a case of inheritance rights.

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The first client of the day discusses his case with Caroline.

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