Back in February 1999, Professor Babila Mutia of Yaounde University, Christopher Lobe of the Information service at the Presidency of the Republic of Cameroon, and I traveled to Nwangale, one of the villages found on the Rumpi Hills of the South West Region of Cameroon.
Our mission was to prospect and study how to supply potable water to this village perched on the Rumpi Hills.
We discovered that the traditional Oroko people did not fell trees for timber to build or for fuel wood. They went for twigs and pilled the backs of some special trees to build with. For fuel wood, they gathered dead branches from the forest floor.
As they explained, the trees were their closest relatives and provided all their livelihood and existence for generations immemorial. They could point to a few trees which were more than 200 years old.
Unfortunately, they bemoaned that timber companies had come to cut and destroy their forest. “These companies were slaughtering our natural relatives. Some of us will soon be wiped out of existence if they do not stop cutting down our trees,” Lamented Sango Lobe, uncle to Christopher Lobe.
Many years after I returned from Nwangale, I was assigned to cover an environmental seminar at Pan African Institute of Development West Africa in Buea. The seminar brought together, Mount Cameroon Project, Korup Project, and Katamanda project. These were all environmental projects which assembled to present their findings and conclusions on their work on the field in Cameroon. They confessed that they had all failed because they never considered the local communities as stakeholders and partners in the conception and implementation of the conservation projects.
After the seminar, I returned to my desk at Eden Newspaper where I was sub-Editor and penned an article, “On the Road to Nwangale”. This article celebrated the traditional African's ingrained passion for environmental conservation and protection, drawing on my Nwangale experience. On the Road to Nwangele concluded that Africa did not need lessons from any school on environmental conservation and protection, because their lives, considered poor and backwards are hinged on conservation and protection of the environment.
So, when multinationals come to Africa today claiming that they were there for development, and had to clear forest to set agro-industrial projects, I am forced to remember the lament of Sango Lobe of Nwangale about the companies coming to wipe out their forests.
For me, the magnitude of the clearing of the forest is some form of genocide, because most traditional Africans see the spirits of departed relations to dwell in the trees around them. There are legends of trees which have risen after being felled by loggers. Other legends hold that trees have mourned with a human voice when they are being cut.
A couple of people have taken exception to my use of the word genocide in referring to the destruction of pristine tropical rainforest. I wish to send them on an anthropological survey in the forests of the South west Region of Cameroon or throughout Africa. All African cultures see trees as their close relations in spiritual and symbiotic terms.
Let me set the stage for what I consider environmental genocide, if as an African I considered trees as my human relatives gone to the spiritual realm. In fact I am entitled to this intellectual liberty to name and rename concepts, without feeling inferior to English terminologists. I may also take credit for coining soft corruption to describe the corruption practiced in Cameroon by Herakles Farms, its agents and assigns. After studying and using the English language for 40 years, I do not feel as a language neophyte
Does anybody doubt that clearing 73,000 hectares of pristine rainforest with hundreds of millions of trees is genocide? Clearing these millions of trees is (a) killing members of the universal group of sacred trees. This (b) causes serious bodily or mental harm to the universal ecosystem and environment, (d) deliberately inflicting on the environment conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) imposing measures intended to prevent regeneration of forests within the areas where agro-industrial plantations are implanted and finally, (e) forcibly transferring species of trees from the forest concessions to botanical gardens for conservation.
I hope the new environmental enthusiasts getting on the stage to rally around the noble objective of preventing the clearing of 73,000 hectares of high value conservation rainforest will not shy away from seeing the act they are struggling to prevent as genocide. They should take inspiration from Nwangale to see those precious trees as humans in the plant kingdom. Before I go, let me leave you with a precious flower from the forest of Talangaye. It may never be seen when the agro-industrial plantations come and clear the forests.
*Christopher Fon Achobang is an Environmental Enthusiasts and a Rights Consultant who also finds time from his numerous expeditions to the forest to do work as a freelance translator.