ASSOCIATION OF WOMEN LIVING ALONGSIDE SOCAPALM EDEA (AFRISE)
Tel. 00237 90443317 (w) ; 00237 697507504 (w)
Association registration number 054/RDA/C18/SAAJ
Edéa, 26 May 2023
From: The women neighbouring Socapalm Edéa
To: His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Cameroon, Paul Biya
Subject: Demands of local women whose rights have been violated by Socapalm in Edéa
Your Excellency the President of the Republic of Cameroon,
Sadness, fear, disappointment and despair are running through the communities living near Socapalm, particularly those in the village of Apouh à Ngog, in the Edéa 1 district, department of Sanaga Maritime.
Since March 2021, we, the villagers living alongside Socapalm, have been crying, with aching hearts, because of the oil palm planting operations being carried out by the company right up to the edge of our huts, despite the negotiations carried out on this matter between the company and us.
Father, we, the women and girls of Apouh à Ngog, come most humbly to your very high benevolence, to request access to enough space, given our current and future population density, to live with dignity on the land of our ancestors.
A life of misery on the land of our ancestors
For more than 40 years, Socapalm's oil palm trees have stood alongside our huts. With the growing population, our living space has completely disappeared. This deplorable situation has led to permanent tensions between the company and local residents, which have worsened with the arrival of Socapalm's new majority shareholders, Socfin/Bolloré. Since then, we have been living in constant discomfort, as the oil palm industry – this important driver of development that is supposed to benefit us as well – has become our nightmare. Here in Apouh à Ngog, we rural women no longer have land to cultivate. Worse still, we are strictly forbidden to access the palm grove around us. The company has ensured that this prohibition is enforced by hiring plantation guards who act like bullies and by digging trenches that are large, dangerous ditches four metres deep and wide. Not only can we not grow crops, but we can no longer collect snails, mushrooms, or even pick non-timber forest products to feed our families. The rivers are polluted and water-borne diseases are our daily lot. We are denied access to the company's dispensary, which is the nearest medical centre. We are invaded by swarms of flies and midges because the company dumps its waste around our homes. The forests have been literally destroyed and systematically replaced by oil palms, which has robbed us of our medicines, our hunting areas, our sacred sites, and our cultural and religious grounds. We are now seriously exposed to the negative effects of climate change. Without any compensation – now peasants without land, forest or water – we have lost all our resources. On the fertile lands of our ancestors, we and our families live starving in a green prison. No viable and sustainable development projects have been initiated by the company for the benefit of women.
The lost dignity of local communities
Abandoned to this sad fate, we must nevertheless continue to play the role of mothers who feed their families, and the Socapalm palm grove alongside us is the ideal place to source our means of survival. Unfortunately, our struggle for this most basic necessity exposes us to all forms of violence and abuse.
We are forced to enter the plantation illegally, at our own risk. Those who are caught by the guards are subjected to multiple abuses. Some are beaten, which sometimes leads to miscarriages, while others are taken to court. Our sisters and children who don’t have the money to bribe people working in the legal system are imprisoned in Edéa. We negotiate entry into the plantation by handing over our bodies to the Socapalm guards, who make this a condition to access the land. As lifelong thieves and sex slaves for generations, we have lost our dignity as women by losing our most basic rights. We are regularly victims of many other abuses and violence due to the presence of this company on the land of our ancestors.
Another 40 years of unbearable misery
The women living alongside Socapalm in Edéa do not want to live in these intolerable conditions for the next 40 years. We were confident that our living space would be returned to us after the old palm trees were cut down. Unfortunately, replanting is still going on right up to the edge of the concessions. We are at the point of explosion. Our numerous attempts to secure our fundamental rights through local authorities in connection with our status as residents have been strongly repressed. The last one resulted in the administrative imprisonment of our village chief, His Majesty Ditope Lindoume.
We want our land rights back
Your Excellency, Mr. President, you are the supreme authority, the father of all Cameroonians, our father. We come to express to you our most ardent wish to enjoy our rights and freedoms as Cameroonian citizens.
We demand our right to land, a vital space for ourselves, today and for future generations. We want to enjoy our right to a sufficient amount of land, like other rural women, to grow food and develop economic activities so that we can be self-sufficient and support our families. We want our dignity restored. We want to be free to move around on our territory, where the remains of our ancestors lie.
Your Excellency, Mr. President, you have in the past resolved even more complex cases to preserve peace and inclusive development, ideals that are dear to you and to the nation of which you are the guardian. We, your daughters, come to beg you to consider our grievances and instruct that our land rights be restored. The land authorities had already sketched out a plan in this direction:
- During a field visit in September 2022 by a technical team from the Ministry of Lands, Cadastre and Land Affairs (Mindcaf) in Yaoundé (including Mr. Oumarou, Director of Mindcaf, Ms. Biloa Régine from the Mindcaf technical team in charge of the Socapalm file, and Mr. Brandon), it was formally recommended that Socapalm, represented by Mr. Cappelletti (Director of the Edéa plantations) and Mr. Mooh (CSAC of Edéa), refrain from planting in areas near people’s homes.
- The argument put forward by Socapalm, insinuating that the areas we are claiming fall under land title No. 184, has been roundly defeated by members of the Mindcaf technical team that came from Yaoundé. Moreover, the land title in question, which Socapalm possesses, is located in the village of Dehane and not behind the houses of Apouh, a secular village. Moreover, this land title was alleged to have been established in 1960 in Dehane, while it is common knowledge that at that time there was no village in this place bearing such a name, but rather a periodic market under the rubber plantations called Kongue or Bakongue market.
Furthermore, Article 6(h) of Socapalm’s long-term lease, “Obligations of the leaseholder”, stipulates that no planting shall take place on an area of 250 ha surrounding the communities until the local administration has designated plots that shall be allocated as their living space. The exact area of each designated plot shall be determined by the administration and the leaseholder, while the administration will designate in each case the beneficiary village community.
Also, Article 14(1) of Decree n° 76/166 of 24/04/1976, on how the national domain is to be managed, stipulates that the consultative committee shall propose to the prefectoral authority the distribution of rural space in agricultural and pastoral zones according to the needs of the local people.
Your Excellency, Mr. President,
How can we sit back and remain insensitive in the face of such extreme restriction of fundamental rights such as the right to life, the right to protection of one's physical integrity, the freedom to come and go, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to work, the right to education and the right to what we hold dearest but is being grabbed from us: our land, our history. We are not demanding anything other than our right to use our land for the well-being of our families, and especially for the future of our children. We simply demand justice for ourselves, for our families.
We would like to draw your attention to the fact that Socapalm is regularly in crisis with the people living near its plantations. In Kribi, Dizangué, Dibombari/Fiko Bonalea and Edéa, the surrounding communities, including the indigenous pygmies, no longer have any real living space where they can develop in complete freedom and security.
Your Excellency, Mr. President,
With tears in our eyes, although filled with hope, we are looking to your very high benevolence, and we thank you in advance for the particular attention you will give to our demands. Please accept, Your Excellency, the President of the Republic of Cameroon, the expression of our profound respect.
Done at Apouh à Ngog, on 26 May 2023
Also signed by us women and girls of Apouh à Ngog
► Original signed letter (PDF)