A protest diary – “the power is within us”
Kah Walla, the presidential candidate for Cameroon Ô’Bosso, who led yesterday’s peaceful protests that was brutally quelled by the army sent this dairy of events leading up to and during the protest and reflects on lessons learned.
Wednesday, 23 2:30 a.m. We left our strategy room feeling quite good. We were convinced we had a surprise itinerary which the police did not know about and we would be able to march for at least a half hour before they fell upon us. We were also thrilled with the symbolism of our start point: Um Nyobe’s house in Nkolmondo (one of Douala’s poorest neighbourhoods) was full of both historic and current day symbolism and would get us off with the type of energy we needed for the day. We had met with the family and they were in full agreement. Off we went to catch a few hours of sleep before our scheduled start time of 9:00 a.m.
8:00 a.m. The first part of our organization team arrived the site. Water sachets and 200 t-shirts in tow, they were busy setting up things for all to march non-violently and determinedly. The gendarmes show up, arrest 6 of our members and 1 journalist from AFP and confiscate our 200 t-shirts and our water. Our close to 300 protestors panic. The march has not even started and people are being arrested. The majority of them desist. A handful of about 20 diehards persist. We start figuring out possible new itineraries. On the spot we decide to print 50 new t-shirts.
11:30 a.m. We get a call from our colleagues at the P.U.R.S. political party. They are still willing to march and they are a good 2-3 dozen as well. We decide to make sure we mark this day. We set off to “Feu Rouge Bessengue” new red t-shirts brandishing “Ca Suffit” on them, in tow. We meet up with our colleagues of P.U.R.S. and don the t-shirts.
About 12:15 p.m. We occupy Boulevard de la Republique at Feu Rouge Bessengue. No traffic can move on one of the busiest streets in Douala. Amazingly, not one single car driver or motorbike driver protests. Those who support join us in our chants. Others turn their vehicles around quietly and go. Some passersby grab a red tee, don it and join our ranks.
About 12:45 p.m. The forces of law and order show up. An armada. About 70-80 policemen, two water cannons, riot gear and shields. We remain firm and as previously decided, sit, to show we are non-violent. These boys (and a few girls) do not have that word in their vocabulary. They use their clubs to begin seriously hitting on some of our protestors. To their grand surprise, I walk up to ask them to stop. The chiefs then realised they had Kah Walla, “l’oiseau” [bird] as one of them called me, right in front of them. For a few minutes they could not figure out what to do with me and had me walking back and forth while they decided to put me in a truck or in a car.
Finally a big boss in civilian clothes shows up. He wants to “teach me a lesson” as he said. He asks that I be put on the median in the middle of the street. Then he turned the entire water cannon truck on for my personal benefit. Note my two fists up in a victory symbol under the water cannon. That’s the lesson I learnt: the power is within us. No amount of violence and hysteria can remove it.
The icing on the cake is that as we choked and burned from the chemicals on the water, they then asked us to climb onto their truck. As we climbed up, with our backs turned, they hit us with their clubs. The only feeling I had was one of sadness that those whom you and I’s taxes pay to protect us show such extreme cowardice and meanness. After climbing onto the truck they let us catch our breaths then set us free. What was the point of climbing onto the truck? Just so they could beat our backs? Sad.
13: 40 p.m. The team and I head to Muna Clinic to make sure everybody is ok, a few wounds, some serious, some not too bad. Some serious welts on the backs of a few of our members, my back and eyes are still burning and I smell of hydrogen even as I write this. The amazing result though is a profound feeling of accomplishment:
- They wanted to stop us from protesting, we protested.
- We have a non-violent philosophy, which we maintained in the face of extreme violence. I could not believe it when the Cameroon Ô’Bosso guys were walking over to stop the population from throwing stones at the police. An incredible force of young Cameroonians.
- We started out almost 300 and ended up less than 50 but [being a] nugget has banished fear, for ourselves and for many other Cameroonians.
- The population did not join us in droves, but: not one person out of hundreds complained about the blocking on the road; when the violence broke out they started throwing stones at the police; they doused us with water as soon as the police let us go. They also refused water to a few policemen who had been accidentally sprayed by the water cannon.
If we ever doubted it, we now have extreme clarity on the absolute need for change and the absolute need for unwavering determination in bringing it about in our country.
Kah Walla can be contacted via email: email@example.com