Cameroonian activist Andre Blaise Essama has been on a a long time-lengthy mission to purge his nation of its colonial-period symbols.
He has a track record for becoming a statue chopper in the principal metropolis Douala, with his primary focus on becoming French Earth War II hero Gen Philippe Leclerc.
“I have decapitated Leclerc’s head 7 instances and toppled the statue at the very least 20 occasions,” Mr Essama advised the BBC.
“I use my bare palms… but I make an incantation to the ancestors to start with,” he explained.
His goal is to exchange them with Cameroonian and other African heroes, but he will make an exception for those who campaigned for “the excellent of humanity”.
He is particularly eager on erecting a statue of Diana, the late Princess of Wales.
“Diana was towards racism and she stood for humanity. We liked her right here in Cameroon,” Mr Essama explained.
Mr Essama has also qualified a statue of Gustav Nachtigal, who arrived in Cameroon in 1884 to set up a German empire.
In the course of Planet War One, British and French troops compelled the Germans out, later on splitting the German-occupied territory between them.
7 heads restored
The authorities see his actions as vandalism, arguing that African heroes can be celebrated devoid of eliminating colonial symbols.
Mr Essama has been imprisoned a number of moments for slicing off the head of Gen Leclerc’s statue – serving up to 6 months at a time.
From time to time he has avoided a jail phrase by shelling out fines, with the money typically elevated by his supporters in Cameroon and in the diaspora.
Every time he has harmed Gen Leclerc’s statue in the most important sq. in Douala, the authorities have restored it.
With a single hand on hip, the other holding a strolling stick, the French hero stands on a plinth in entrance of a curved stone aid depicting the French Planet War Two military arsenal, such as tanks and planes.
It was erected by the French colonisers in 1948, prolonged in advance of Cameroon turned unbiased in 1960.
‘Seen as a god in France’
Gen Leclerc is celebrated for his role in rallying troops in the 1940s in France’s then-colonies to combat the German occupation of France.
“Leclerc is the wonderful hero who helped liberate France… so the French regard him as a god,” a background professor at the UK’s Oxford College, Robert Gildea, advised the BBC.
But he was unpopular in Cameroon, retired Cameroonian educational Prof Valere Epee reported.
“Cameroonians didn’t like him simply because he seemed not to care for the folks.
“He was not like French President Charles de Gaulle, who frequented Cameroon two times, and whom men and women seem to be to have an affection for.”
Gen Leclerc died in a aircraft crash in Algeria in 1947, a few years after the liberation of Paris. 1000’s of folks lined the streets in the French cash to pay tribute to him.
Several memorial plaques have been put in in his honour in France, two streets in Paris have been named just after him and also a armed forces tank, nevertheless in provider, bears his identify.
‘Our heroes first’
His commemorated standing does not impress Mr Essama.
“He is not our hero,” says the 44-calendar year-old activist, who is a pc science graduate.
“Gen Leclerc has occur to depict the erasure of Cameroonian colonial memory and replacing it with a French a single.”
Mr Essama has gathered seven heads of Gen Leclerc above the years, and has sometimes taken them on to the streets to “sensitise Cameroonians about the country’s historical past”.
He states he was inspired by Cameroonian nationalist Mboua Massock, who as soon as graffitied the general’s statue with the text: “Our own heroes and martyrs to start with.”
“We sing in our anthem, ‘Oh Cameroon land of our ancestors.’ How is it that our ancestors are not represented in community spaces?”
In 1991, Cameroon’s President Paul Biya signed a declaration to rehabilitate the memory of the country’s heroes who experienced been denigrated due to the fact of their part during the battle for independence.
“Not considerably has been carried out given that the legislation was signed,” Mr Essama mentioned.
French hero ‘now at the rear of bars’
A historical past professor at the University of South Africa, Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni, claims that statues and monuments “have turn out to be comfortable targets in the battle from the decolonisation”.
“The Europeans ended up imagining they ended up the only people today on earth and, thus, there was emptiness outdoors Europe, which was waiting to be found,” he told the BBC, quoting the late American anthropologist James Blaut’s views on Eurocentrism.
“If you observe that logic: you find a put, you identify it, get rid of what you uncover there, then you conquer, then you own it, and statues are symbols of ownership,” he reported.
“In the previous colonies, the statues necessarily mean that the colonisers have not repented for the sins they dedicated towards the community folks but their presence in the dwelling country means that this is the conqueror of the planet, this is our hero.”
He dismisses the argument that statues really should be safeguarded for the reason that of their historic significance.
“If your statue is history, the indigenous folks are indicating: ‘But you wrote your heritage on major of my historical past. It is overshadowing our personal histories.'”
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Prof Ndlovu-Gatsheni said the focusing on of statues was part of a multifaceted marketing campaign by Africans.
“There are those people who topple statues, other folks want to prevent the use of West Africa’s CFA currency [which is pegged to the euro], others are pushing for reparations, all these are component of the struggle towards the empire.”
As for Mr Essama, he is now a lot less focussed on decapitating statues, turning his awareness to fundraising to build statues of Cameroonian heroes and calling for reparations for colonial-period crimes.
So much his advocacy group, Essama Hoo Haa, has assisted install two statues.
One is of Samuel Mbappé Léppé, considered Cameroon’s best ever footballer, “improved than Roger Milla and Samuel Eto’o”, Mr Essama claims.
The other is of John Ngu Foncha, a former prime minister who championed the cause of increased autonomy for Cameroon’s generally English-talking locations.
Gen Leclerc’s statue does still occupy Mr Essama’s thoughts, however it has grow to be far more difficult to target mainly because it is now sealed off and has guards shielding it.
“He is in jail,” Mr Essama reported with a wry chuckle.