An AEFJN antenna in Africa: Cameroon Faith and Justice

An antenna was set up in Cameroon in 1997 and the religious who belonged to it were very active on debt remission and the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline. Then changes in missionary personnel led to a reduction in activities. In 2009, however, the Xaverians sent Annie Girard, the former executive secretary of the French antenna, to Cameroon to further AEFJN’s work in Africa and the antenna came back to life with new energy.  Since then, ‘Faith and Justice’ has been reconstituted as an official organisation and was recognised by the government of Cameroon in 2010.


The first priority for ‘Cam Faith and Justice’ has been to establish contact with organisations that share a similar vision and interest in social justice so that they can work together. A leadership team of religious and lay people has been formed. As AEFJN’s objective is to let the voices of Africans be heard at European and international institutions, religious and laity have been given training in advocacy connected with economic issues that are important for the country. These courses of six sessions entitled “Combating the causes of injustice through advocacy” have been given in different parts of the country, both French and English-speaking: Garoua, Maroua, Bertoua, Douala, Yaoundé and Bamenda. Altogether nearly eighty people have taken part.  It was an opportunity to raise public awareness of injustice, to analyse the issues chosen by us  in Cameroon and the impact of policies on the people, to provide tools for information gathering and to take action on matters of economic justice.  With the information gleaned during these sessions and meeting with partner organisations, Cameroon Faith & Justice worked out an action plan adapted to each region.  Working groups were formed to tackle concrete issues, (i) land-grabbing because of its impact on food sovereignty and the way of life in rural areas and (ii) access to good quality, affordable medicines for all.


In May 2010, Thomas Lazzeri from the AEFJN international secretariat in Brussels visited the Cameroon antenna.  He saw the conditions of workers on the largest banana plantation. These bananas are destined for export, chiefly to Europe.  Advocacy at the EU to improve the work conditions would be important and so “The Big Banana” film was shown to the European Parliament in October 2011.  This documentary on banana production had been made by a Cameroonian film-maker, but censured in Cameroon.  Its showing at the EP was followed by a round table and led to a meeting between the antenna and the EU delegation to Cameroon.


During their General Assembly in March 2012, the religious of Cameroon decided to create an ‘observatory’ of socio-political, economic and cultural questions. They called it the Africae Munus (Gift for Africa) Commission, a reference to the Apostolic Exhortation on reconciliation, justice and peace in Africa. Twenty congregations committed themselves to this commission and brought it into being.  A formation session introduced them to a methodology for observation.  As a result the visiting programme acquired a new objective: to make the Commission known and so make it operational.


Visit to groups in North Cameroon

Annie GIRARD of Faith and Justice and Christophe TIYONG of Justice and Peace (Yaoundé diocese) visited groups in North Cameroon (Garoua and Maroua) and partner organisation in October and November 2012. Their purpose was to follow up work already done, to promote the Africae Munus Commission and to research information about injustice/problems and their causes.


A meeting of Major Superiors in this region offered the opportunity to present the Africae Munus Commission in order to find observers among the members of the congregations.


The meeting in Maroua with Maître Abdoulaye HARISSOU, a lawyer, was important. The Secretariat in Brussels had met him at the European Parliament.  Dunod has just published his book « La Terre : un droit humain » (Land is a human right). Maître Harissou proposes legislation for land reform. The high cost of title deeds put them out of reach of most people and the people still live according to traditional land rights. The proposal is for a simplified and secure title deed which he has seen work in Madagascar and which can be set up quickly at little cost. This system requires moving away from the principle of state ownership, the decentralisation of deeds to the local communities and the modernisation of the land register using satellites. All of this depends on political will.  A bill is being studied by French-speaking MPs. Maître Harissou is ready to work with us to formulate and promote our proposals.


Following up the courses on advocacy enabled us to see that the participants are becoming more aware of its possibilities and are doing all they can to put it into practice.  We have set up opportunities for collaboration on the various issues and are looking forward to fruitful outcomes.


Contact with the reality of the rural areas has unearthed some of the causes of injustice that we are working on through advocacy.


Access to good quality, affordable medicines


Many parts of Cameroon lack health facilities.  In several districts there is no pharmacy and village pharmacies have been taken away. This means a shortage of trained staff and drugs; pharmacies in ruins or badly maintained are commonplace. By contrast, there are many people selling medicines from their bikes or makeshift stalls.  Good hygiene is generally lacking, especially to do with water and sanitation; hence the proliferation of diseases such as cholera. 


Realistically speaking, our advocacy must start with research about these problems: a map showing health facilities in the country; a study of the situation of supply structures for medicines; a search for alternative care where structures are absent or deficient; setting up of quality control tools for medicines; research on health insurance and, above all, advocacy with government bodies.


The right to land for all who live off it


The semi-desert and overpopulated savannas of the North are also affected by the land issue: there is much migration towards better farmland and culture is breaking down. Depriving people of the land they live off produces poverty and famine: hence the need to keep up-to-date with the development of land legislation and any new proposals.  Above all, those affected by land-grabbing and potential victims need to be trained in the basic theory of land issues so that they are not exploited.  For this, detailed information about all large-scale land acquisitions needs to be collected.


In the future, it would seem vital to unite the efforts of all who desire advocacy for the sake of justice and to create coalitions.  This would mean that the unheard or ignored voices of the victims would be broadcast more widely.


Annie Girard (Foi et Justice Cameroun, an antenna of AEFJN)




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