Cameroonian activist Andre Blaise Essama has been on a decades-long challenge to purge his nation of its colonial-era symbols.
He has a popularity for being a statue chopper in the primary town Douala, together with his major goal being French World War II hero Gen Philippe Leclerc.
“I have decapitated Leclerc’s head seven times and toppled the statue at least 20 times,” Mr Essama instructed the BBC.
“I use my bare hands… but I make an incantation to the ancestors first,” he mentioned.
His purpose is to exchange them with Cameroonian and different African heroes, however he’s going to make an exception for individuals who campaigned for “the good of humanity”.
He is particularly concerned about erecting a statue of Diana, the overdue Princess of Wales.
“Diana was against racism and she stood for humanity. We loved her here in Cameroon,” Mr Essama mentioned.
Mr Essama has additionally focused a statue of Gustav Nachtigal, who arrived in Cameroon in 1884 to ascertain a German empire.
During World War One, British and French troops compelled the Germans out, later splitting the German-occupied territory between them.
Seven heads restored
The government see his actions as vandalism, arguing that African heroes may also be celebrated with out getting rid of colonial symbols.
Mr Essama has been imprisoned a number of occasions for decapitating Gen Leclerc’s head – every so often serving as much as six months at a time.
Sometimes he has have shyed away from a prison time period by way of paying fines, with the cash most commonly raised by way of his supporters in Cameroon and within the diaspora.
Each time he has broken Gen Leclerc’s statue in the primary sq. in Douala, the government have restored it.
With one hand on hip, the opposite protecting a strolling stick, the French hero stands on a plinth in entrance of a curved stone reduction depicting French World War II army arsenal, together with tanks and planes.
It was once erected by way of the French colonisers in 1948, lengthy sooner than Cameroon was unbiased in 1960.
‘Seen as a god in France’
Gen Leclerc is well known for his function in rallying troops within the 1940s in France’s then-colonies to struggle German career of France.
“Leclerc is the great hero who helped liberate France…so the French regard him as a god,” a historical past professor at the United Kingdom’s Oxford University, Robert Gildea, instructed the BBC.
But he was unpopular in Cameroon, retired Cameroonian academic Prof Valere Epee said.
“Cameroonians did not like him as a result of he appeared to not handle the folks.
“He was not like French President Charles de Gaulle, who visited Cameroon twice, and whom people seem to have an affection for.”
Gen Leclerc died in a aircraft crash in Algeria in 1947, 3 years after the liberation of Paris. Thousands of folks coated the streets within the French capital to pay tribute to him.
Several memorial plaques had been put in in his honour in France, two streets in Paris had been named after him and likewise a army tank, nonetheless in provider, bears his title.
‘Our heroes first’
His honored standing does now not provoke Mr Essama.
“He is not our hero,” says the 44-year-old activist, who’s a laptop science graduate.
“Gen Leclerc has come to represent the erasure of Cameroonian colonial memory and replacing it with a French one.”
Mr Essama has accumulated seven heads of Gen Leclerc over time, and has on occasion taken them directly to the streets to “sensitise Cameroonians about the country’s history”.
He says he was once impressed by way of Cameroonian nationalist Mboua Massock, who as soon as graffitied the overall’s statue with the phrases: “Our own heroes and martyrs first.”
“We sing in our anthem, ‘Oh Cameroon land of our ancestors.’ How is it that our ancestors are not represented in public spaces?”
In 1991, Cameroon’s President Paul Biya signed a declaration to rehabilitate the reminiscence of the rustic’s heroes who have been denigrated on account of their function all through the struggle for independence.
“Not much has been done since the law was signed,” Mr Essama mentioned.
French hero ‘now at the back of bars’
A historical past professor on the University of South Africa, Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni, says that statues and monuments “have become soft targets in the struggle against the decolonisation”.
“The Europeans were thinking they were the only people on earth and, therefore, there was emptiness outside Europe, which was waiting to be discovered,” he instructed the BBC, quoting the overdue American anthropologist James Blaut’s perspectives on Eurocentrism.
“If you follow that logic: you discover a place, you name it, eliminate what you find there, then you conquer, then you own it, and statues are symbols of ownership,” he mentioned.
“In the former colonies, the statues mean that the colonisers have not repented for the sins they committed against the local people but their presence in the home country means that this is the conqueror of the world, this is our hero.”
He dismisses the argument that statues must be safe on account of their ancient importance.
“If your statue is history, the indigenous people are saying: ‘But you wrote your history on top of my history. It is overshadowing our own histories.'”
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Prof Ndlovu-Gatsheni mentioned the focused on of statues was once a part of a multifaceted marketing campaign by way of Africans.
“There are those who topple statues, others want to stop the use of West Africa’s CFA currency [which is pegged to the euro], others are pushing for reparations, all these are part of the struggle against the empire.”
As for Mr Essama, he’s now much less focussed on decapitating statues, turning his consideration to fundraising to construct statues of Cameroonian heroes and calling for reparations for colonial period crimes.
So a long way his advocacy staff, Essama Hoo Haa, has helped set up two statues.
One is of Samuel Mbappé Léppé, regarded as Cameroon’s best possible ever footballer, “better than Roger Milla and Samuel Eto’o”, Mr Essama says.
The different is of John Ngu Foncha, a former high minister who championed the reason for larger autonomy for Cameroon’s principally English-speaking areas.
Gen Leclerc’s statue does nonetheless occupy Mr Essama’s thoughts, even though it has turn out to be harder to focus on as a result of it’s now sealed off and has guards protective it.
“He is in prison,” Mr Essama mentioned with a wry laugh.
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