Anyone with a mild interest in Cameroon’s anti-colonial history has definitely heard of the three men that have been erected as the figure symbols of the U.P.C party: – Ruben Um Nyobe, Felix Moumie and Ernest Ouandie.
While a few probably know that Ruben Um Nyobe was captured and killed at the age of 45, that Felix Moumie was poisoned by a French spy in Geneva at the age of 35, and that Ernest Ouandie was publicly executed in Bafoussam at the age of 47, even fewer know that these three men were all married to women called Marthe.
Marthe Nyobe, Marthe Moumie, and Marthe Ouandie. – The Three Marthes
While my research on Marthe Nyobe has not yielded much, Marthe Moumie is no doubt the most renown of the three. Her husband, Felix was a brilliant, brilliant, medical doctor whose poisoning and subsequent death was the direct cause of the UPCs demise from the mid 60s to the early 70s.
An educated woman and a UPC militant just like her husband, she became editor in chief, in 1952, of the newspaper “Femme Camerounaise.” The newspaper was formed specifically to inform women of the movement for independence and to rally them to join the cause.
In 1957, she was arrested by the British in British Southern Cameroons along with her husband, Ernest Ouandie and 10 others. They were deported first to Sudan and then to Egypt. In 1959, she went into exile in Guinea Conakry while her husband was poisoned the very next year in Geneva.
For the following 9 years, she continued living in exile in many different African countries which gave her shelter right up until March 1969 when she was arrested in Bata, in Equatorial Guinea. She was extradited to Cameroon in May of the same year. She remained imprisoned at the Brigade Mixte Mobile for the next 5 years until her liberation on July 14th, 1972.
As for Marthe Ouandie, she died in Douala in April 2016 at the age of 95. She too was forged in the UPC’s ideological crucible. She was naturally a member of the party and was active in the female section the party – the Union Démocratique Des Femmes Camerounaises (UDEFEC), even serving as vice president at a point in time.
The history of the UPC party’s high regard for women is well-documented. I was lucky enough to meet one of such women. She joined the party in the early 70s as a student in France just after the execution of Ernest Ouandie, and recounted to us how party members gave them orientation on what to study, recounting that these areas of study were based on research on what the economy of Cameroon needed at the time and would need in the future.
She explained that the women in the party were given equal importance as the men, and occupied top positions in the student union’s hierarchical structure and were encouraged to run for these positions.
The power of the U.P.C lay in its strong force as a grassroot movement. Um Nyobe is largely credited for growing the party from a few hundred in 1948, to 7,000 registered members in 1949 and to 14,000 registered members in 1950. The UPC was a formidable force that understood the grassroot structures of the Cameroonian society, and so many traditional structures like the Ngondo and women’s meetings were approached.
The UPC understood that politics were not the affairs of men only. They were highly motivated to get women enrolled into the party. The UDEFEC was birthed from that ideal and even the newspaper “Femme Camerounaise” was created to give these women a means for the expression and the documentation of their intellectual views on society, and to have them put these out in a perspective that appealed to other women.
The UDEFEC, although established by Um Nyobe, functioned as a fully independent party. When some of his male counterparts showed reluctance and even attempted to have some control over UDEFEC’s funds, Um Nyobe declared that “if UDEFEC only struggled for the interests of women, the UPC would be glad, because the UPC wants freedom and a better life for every Cameroonian, man or woman.”
Defending the autonomy of the party, he said that the UPC taking charge of UDEFEC was no different from the French colonial government denying Cameroonians the right over their own political and social future. Indeed, he saw the women of UDEFEC as collaborators, just as he did the men in the U.P.C.
And so, the wives of the UPC leaders were not seen as accessories to their husbands political aspirations, mais a part entière as unique, charismatic, and emblematic political entities that promoted the general ideas of the UPC party – the immediate independence of French Cameroon, and a union with British Cameroon.
This was exceptionally rare. Even the French colonial administration did not have women even in mid-level administrative positions. It wasn’t even until 1944 that France allowed women to vote in municipal elections! – and that act was voted into law by De Gaulle’s government in exile. And while 51 men voted for it, 16 voted against it.
THE UDEFEC’s ideologies transcended class, social status, origin and economic power. It was focused on making women understand that political issues were also their issues and their participation was as important as that of men, and it was in their interest, before anyone else’s, for them to take part in it.
Between 1949 and 1960 these women wrote over 1,000 petitions to the UN’s Trusteeship council demanding an end to racial discrimination, increased economic opportunities and better social services. Many of these petitions were smuggled through the Anglo-French borders, hidden inside the dresses of these women. And when the UPC decided to pick up arms, many of these women joined the ranks as soldiers, spies and informants.
Today, our nation boasts of very few militantly political woman. Outside of Kah Walla, Michele Ndoki, Alice Nkom, and Flore Mboussi, there are not many PROMINENT names. Of course there are many other militant women that are not in the limelight. Many of you have probably never heard of Alice Nkom, nor of Flore Mboussi.
The other charismatic political women are the Fonings of the CPDM party. Noisemakers and praise singers.
It is important to reflect on the situation of the woman in politics and of her contributions thereof. This is a different epoch, and while it is common to see women represented in all areas of government from parliamentarians to ministers, there is a still a great imbalance in our country as regards to the representation of women in politics.
Where does this come from? The easy way out will be (as always) to blame it on patriarchy, fold arms and ask men to do something about it. Sorry, but that will never happen. Women need to sit together, get to the root of the problem and resolve it themselves. To a certain level, if you cannot find solutions for your own problems, nobody else will.
Um Nyobe and the UPC could only do so much.
– Wandji Wilfred.