For the first time in Southern Cameroon, an Indigenous Baka village has been officially recognised and their chief formally installed by the Cameroonian state. This marks a significant milestone in a country where Indigenous Peoples face extreme social, political and economic marginalisation.
The installation of his Majesty Martin Abila as official chief of the village of Assok is the result of several years of work and advocacy by community members and Cameroonian civil society, in particular the organisation Appui à l'autopromotion et l'insertion des femmes, des jeunes et des désœuvrés (APIFED). For over fifteen years, APIFED has been fighting for Indigenous Peoples in southern Cameroon to receive equal rights as their Bantu neighbours.
RFUK began working with APIFED in 2014 under a participatory mapping initiative to document the areas managed by the Baka and to provide the communities with evidence to advocate for their rights over the land and resources they depend on. Six years later, the first Baka chief in southern Cameroon was finally recognised and installed with a defined territory.
So, what does this mean for the population of Assok and the Baka in general?
First, the installation of HM Martin Abila gives the village a legal identity and means he can vote in elections and elevate the concerns of Baka communities to the regional and national levels through official channels.
Second, with the community now officially on the map, its members are more likely to have access to government services such as education, health and identity cards as well as royalties from forestry activities.
Finally, this unprecedented achievement opens the door for more Baka villages to be formally recognised. In a region where the Baka face extreme marginalisation, their leaders are often treated as subordinates to their Bantu counterparts. The installation of HM Martin Abila sends a powerful message that Baka chiefs can and should be on an equal par with others.
The community’s dream is to use the 60,000 hectare territory to establish a community forest, a community managed hunting interest area, and a cultural centre where people can visit the Baka and learn about their way of life.
Although HM Martin Abila’s installation is an essential first step for the people of Assok to pursue previously unavailable avenues to legally secure their traditional lands, they still lack protection. They need more support to reclaim their rights over this area and to bring into fruition their vision of sustainably managing the forest resources their lives depend on.
On a larger scale, Assok is one of thousands of Baka villages in southern Cameroon. APIFED is aiming to accompany Indigenous chiefs and their villages throughout the region to be formally recognised under their initiative On the Path to Baka Chieftaincies in Cameroon.
For more information on how you can support APIFED or to learn more about the initiative, please contact Norah Berk at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The official recognition of Baka Chief Martin Abila launches our initiative “On the Path to Indigenous Chieftaincies in Southern Cameroon". We must work together for the official recognition of more Baka chiefs and chieftaincies, to secure the spaces and resources Baka peoples depend on and enhance their participation.”
- Marie Ba'ane, Coordinator of APIFED
I am the very first Baka chief of 3rd degree recognised in southern Cameroon. This is a great sign, but alone, I remain very weak. I am asking for the creation of several other indigenous chieftainships so that our voice can be better heard."”
-HM Martin Abila
His Majesty Martin Abila and his princess Cécile Mendomo
HM Martin Abila with Marie Ba’ane (left) and a local teacher that designed the attire for leaders at the event (right)