Travailler de concert

Par Michel Bélanger-Roy

Liste de choses que je ne m’attendais pas à faire lors d’un stage en droits humains au Cameroun :

#1 – Organiser un concert

Oh, je vois que vous froncez déjà les sourcils. Pas de problème, je prends les questions.

@FanDuCameroun : Mais Michel, pourquoi un concert? Je croyais que tu travaillais avec une organisation pour les droits des femmes.

#Action2015

#action2015

–       Bonne question, @FanDuCameroun. Mon organisation participe à une campagne mondiale intitulée Action/2015. Dans le but d’attirer l’attention sur une importante conférence de l’ONU, différents événements étaient organisés partout à travers le monde le 11 juillet dernier. L’idée était d’exposer le soutien populaire à un meilleur financement pour le développement international. Un concert avec des artistes « engagés » était une façon pour nous de rejoindre un large public de façon agréable tout en faisant passer notre message. En effet, il y avait aussi une portion du concert dédiée à discuter avec le public de thèmes chers à Women for a Change, comme la santé sexuelle et reproductive des femmes.

@PetitMalin : Le titre du billet est un jeu de mots?

–       Oui, @PetitMalin. Mes excuses.

@jaimelamusique : Comment on fait pour organiser un concert quand on est dans un nouveau pays et que notre organisation n’a jamais tenu un tel événement?

–       Tu vois juste @jaimelamusique : c’est un défi! Il faut trouver des artistes, des musiciens, une salle de spectacle, de l’équipement de scène, un technicien de son, des bénévoles. Et en quelques semaines seulement. On trouve peu d’information sur internet, alors on utilise le bon vieux « bouche à oreille ». On dit à tous ceux qu’on connaît qu’on veut faire un concert, puis par contacts interposés on fait beaucoup de rencontres jusqu’à trouver les bons partenaires.

@SRHR237 : Et pour la promotion?

–       Même chose! On a été très actifs sur les médias sociaux, mais on est aussi allé rencontrer les gens directement : sur le campus universitaire et même à la messe du dimanche!

@Africaincoquin : Épatant! Et vous aviez de bons artistes?

Dr Sley et Mr Leo interprètent "We Must Survive"

Dr Sley et Mr Leo interprètent “We Must Survive”

–       Oui, excellents! Tiens, @Africaincoquin, écoutes par toi-même leurs vidéoclips:

Dr Sley & The Green Soljas

Mr Leo

Ils sont bien connus dans la région pour leurs chansons qui dénoncent la guerre ou la corruption. C’était donc des choix naturels pour nous. Ils ont même écrit une chanson thème spécialement pour l’événement! Ça s’appelle « We Must Survive ».
(AJOUT : Cliquez sur le lien pour voir un extrait filmé lors du spectacle)

@Junglegirl8 : La soirée a été un succès?

–       Tout à fait! @Junglegirl8, tu peux imaginer qu’avec de tels artistes,  la salle s’est vite réchauffée et le public a beaucoup apprécié. La portion « séminaire » a provoqué de fructueux échanges sur le développement du Cameroun. Je crois que mon organisation a pu rejoindre un nouveau public et passer son message. Et on a terminé la soirée en dansant sur scène avec les musiciens!

@Fascinee : Fascinant! Et quelle a été la clef de ce succès, selon toi?

Musiciens, bénévoles et organisateurs réunis sur scène

Musiciens, bénévoles et organisateurs réunis sur scène

–       Le travail d’équipe! Même si Women For A Change n’avait jamais organisé de concert, mes collègues se sont lancées dans l’aventure et ont fait un travail formidable. Les artistes, les musiciens et l’animateur ont été d’une grande générosité. De nombreux partenaires nous ont aidé à faire la promotion du spectacle. Les déléguées régionales du ministère de la promotion de la femme et de la culture ont assisté et soutenu l’événement. Nous avions une superbe équipe de jeunes bénévoles, les « Iam15 ambassadors » et le public a participé activement au succès de la soirée.

@PetitMalin : Bon, au moins ton jeu de mots avait un véritable double sens alors.

–       Ce n’est pas une question @PetitMalin. Mais merci pour le commentaire. Je travaille fort sur mes jeux de mots, ça fait chaud au cœur.

C’est ce qui clôt la période de questions. Merci et à bientôt!

Cameroun : Parmi les inégalités

2015 Belanger Roy MichelBy Michel Bélanger-Roy

Bien sûr, la différence frappe. Avant même d’atterrir, en voyant par le hublot les banlieues délabrées de Douala, on comprend qu’on n’est plus en Occident. Puis, une fois au sol, le choc s’amplifie. La saleté. Le bruit incessant des klaxons. Chaque première expérience est une surprise : s’entasser avec 6 inconnus dans un taxi collectif (Ah, le siège prend 2 passagers? Bien sûr, assoyez-vous sur mes genoux); faire son marché (Les œufs ne sont pas au froid? Ah tiens, la viande non plus); chercher un appartement (Il n’y a pas d’adresses? Ah bon, les rues n’ont pas de nom). Parlant de rue, la traverser entre taxis et motos qui ne s’arrêtent pas demeure une frayeur quotidienne

Mais on s’habitue. Un peu. Et on découvre les différences qu’on apprécie : la nourriture de rue délicieuse et abordable; la musique africaine; les fruits savoureux; les paysages verdoyants; l’attitude décontractée; la générosité. Je me suis même surpris à souhaiter voir des taxis collectifs à Montréal.

Et au fil des jours, c’est autre chose qui m’a frappé : l’ampleur des inégalités. Il faut dire que mes rencontres sont variées. Entre un repas cuit sur le feu d’une femme de campagne et un scotch versé sur le minibar d’un riche avocat, je fais connaissance avec des gens qui eux ne se côtoient pas. Le mur encadrant la villa de l’avocat y est peut-être pour quelque chose.

Inégalités socio-économiques donc, d’abord. Ici, les Mercedes roulent en bordure des bidonvilles. Comme ailleurs, on affiche sa richesse comme gage de réussite. Mais dans un pays du tiers-monde, le contraste impressionne particulièrement.

Atelier sur les droits des femmes à Mudeka

Atelier sur les droits des femmes à Mudeka

Inégalités de genre ou condition féminine, le thème de mon stage avec Women for a Change Cameroon. Au Cameroun, la loi limite encore l’égalité, notamment en criminalisant l’avortement (Code pénal du Cameroun, Article 337). Plus encore, ce sont des normes culturelles qui perpétuent les inégalités. Le harcèlement de rue demeure pratique courante. Et le passage aux toilettes d’un bar ou d’un restaurant (souvent 3 simples panneaux de tôle dans une cour) rappelle que ces lieux sont conçus pour les hommes. Par ailleurs, inégalités sexuelles et économiques restent intimement liées, les femmes ne possédant que 2% des terres au Cameroun (Cameroon Gender Equality Network, 2011).

Inégalités linguistiques, ensuite. Pour un Québécois, il est fascinant de se retrouver en région anglophone au Cameroun. En effet, la minorité anglophone camerounaise défend fermement ses droits linguistiques face à une parfois oppressante majorité…francophone. Elle revendique même la protection de son système juridique distinct (de Common Law). À part l’inversion des rôles, rien de très dépaysant. Cependant, avec plus de 250 langues locales et dialectes parlés au pays, le portrait linguistique demeure autrement complexe.

Parmi les autres vecteurs d’inégalités, quelques uns sont plus encourageants. Malgré une diversité impressionnante, le Cameroun connaît peu de tensions ethniques ou religieuses et reste très tolérant à ces égards. En revanche, l’état des droits LGBT demeure déplorable.

Finalement, inégalité… internationale. Celle qu’illustre ma présence. Étant l’un des rares « blancs » (mon bronzage impressionne peu) en ville, j’attire forcément les regards. Outre quelques rares remarques moqueuses et des prix parfois gonflés, je n’ai vraiment pas à m’en plaindre. Mais en parlant du Canada avec des Camerounais, je sens bien leur envie. Légitime. Et je constate que même si on les déplore, notre système de santé, nos infrastructures et notre système d’éducation sont autant d’immenses privilèges.

Ce « privilège occidental », facile à oublier à Montréal, est ici exposé aux regards par la couleur de ma peau. Et forcément, ça confronte. Quoi faire avec ce privilège?

À cet égard, une femme demandait récemment à ma collègue ce que je faisais ici.

–       « A human rights internship »

–       « How long? »

–       « 3 months »

–       « And after that…? »

Bonne question, Madame. Bonne question. And after that…?

 

Yaoundé

Alexandra Bornac By Alexandra Bornac

Yaoundé is a beautiful city built around seven hills (namely why I call it the Rome of Africa). From any point of the city you can spot the peak of every hill: a green paradise. The problems lie at the base of this paradise. As the research I conduct here is targeted around HIV/AIDS, gender inequality, land and inheritance rights, I could not resist the urge of observing the living conditions and urban structure in Yaoundé.

It is understood that a clean house and a roof is necessary to safeguard one’s health and it is important in the moments of convalescence. It is not the case here where houses either have no roofs and the windows consist of a stack of old t-shirts stuffed in rectangle holes. Bastos, one of the richest neighbourhoods of Yaoundé, is filled with expensive houses and embassies surrounded by well-kept gardens. In between these imposing and well-built buildings, you find the native population who sold their lands to buy food. Yet, they kept small parcels where they built houses out of dirt which bent towards the ground at the slightest wind blow. They are not painted, nor do they have floors: they are built directly on the ground. The roofs are different pieces of metal put together simply to protect from the rain but there is never a guarantee that it will work.

The other consistent problem is the abundance of garbage lying on the streets or thrown in the rivers. Canals are built between the main roads and the pavement to divert the rain water, but instead they turned into intense smelling garbage disposals. I pass to work a complex of apartment buildings where the smells are impossible to handle for more than ten seconds and the mountains of garbage seem to have grown higher since I got here.

The rich build houses as wide as their parcel of land and as high as to cast a thick shadow on the small houses that the poor barely try to keep standing. The discrepancy is astonishing and the images are worth a thousand words. It reflects the true structure of the society: you are either very rich or very poor. The middle class is non-existent and the poor constitute the majority of the population. Those that have the money prefer to fund soccer fields, churches or private universities. Some will sometimes even pay for street lights in their neighbourhoods but the majority of the Yaoundé areas remain unlit at 7 pm when the sun is gone. Populated areas get their lights from the little bars on the side of the road or the grill fire that the street food vendors use.

Yaoundé is also filled with half-built house: people will start big projects and will stop mid-through due to lack of money. This gives squatters the opportunity to settle in these construction sites. One 5 story building I pass on my way to work every day stands there half-finished and you cannot be oblivious to the sheets attached to the ceilings which play the role of walls.

The saddest image I encountered was when I was walking towards to the biggest park in Yaoundé situated downtown. On my way I could not stop looking at the garbage lying around in front of the prime minister’s office. I tried to look the other way and I only met the eyes of a woman who must have been around 60 years old sitting in the seat of an abandoned car. She was smiling, but her eyes were sad as she was rearranging the sheets so that the rain does not penetrate in what was definitely her home.

A couple of weeks ago, the garden of the house across the street caught on fire in the middle of the night. It was a sort of apartment building with a kitchen outside. While nobody was actually aware of the fire until it reached the height of the house, neighbours gathered as fast as they could to try to control the fire until the firefighters showed up. Yaoundé is the capital and, thus, the traffic is unbearable at almost any time of the day. However, in the middle of the night, any movement by car should take a maximum of 15 minutes. The firemen took 30 minutes to reach the neighbourhood and, luckily, they arrived somehow in time (regardless of the fact that the neighbours had to tear down the wooden fence of the house before it caught on fire).

I can only imagine how long it will take for an ambulance to reach a dying patient. It is not about promptness, it is about the streets that are slowly turning into red dirt. If it rains for more than a half an hour, the streets turn into fast-running rivers (in which I have fallen repeatedly). Two way streets turn into one way streets when all the cars and motorcycles drive only on the good side. The red dust fills the air abundantly every day as the car pass by hurriedly through the narrow and unpaved streets. Each time I am told: C’est la réalité de notre pauvreté.

Parks are rare to be found and those made by the government demand an entrance fee and are barely the size of the law faculty. There is no way to escape the city and its pollution, no way to escape the life and the worries. The paradise is only to be found on top of those hills where the air is still clean, the lands virgin and the quietness is only interrupted by the sound of birds singing the day away.

 

 

 

Property Stories

From Edward Bechard-Torres

We had arrived at Minkoaméyos, a small town straddling a main road just beyond the outskirts of Yaoundé, when a colleague of mine recited that worn fetish: “Work in the field is always more complicated: you learn how all those laws you’ve been reading about translate into practice”.

My colleagues were making rounds in the village to houses that had been designated by a UK-based NGO to be demolished and re-built according to a model designed to curb the incidence of malaria in children. I was to piggyback onto these visits to interview residents on the methods by which they came to access their plots of land.

There was always going to be more to property law than what was provided for in the medley of inherited laws and local ordinances. Our visit that day underscored the role property law may play in the construction of identities and of perceived communities.  More precisely, in Minkoaméyos, property rules almost certainly help cement perceived differences between the locals – les autochtones – and the non-locals – les allogènes. To explain, not every Cameroonian possesses a right to title any bit of land. The right to undergo the titling process on a specific plot of land flows from a certificate of traditional occupancy, a document that, in essence, certifies that one’s “ancestors” occupied a given plot of land. It is hard to imagine any world where one’s ancestors continually occupied a single plot of land, but that is the only story these certificates permit.

If a “foreigner” intends to acquire titled property, he would have to either purchase that certificate of occupancy and undertake the titling process himself, or he would otherwise have to wait for a “local” to title the plot and then purchase the titled land. In Cameroon’s urban centres, I have been told, most of the land occupied has been purchased, even if in an informal sense; few plots are still held by the original occupying family. The widespread absence of original occupants signals an aggregate shift of property holdings away from a less-efficient allocation, based on a families’ historic occupancy, to a more efficient one that privileges those who stand to benefit most from close proximity to urban markets.

In Yaoundé’s satellite villages, however, the property holders’ composition is mixed. In some villages, the difference between the autochtones and the allogènes is stark. In these places, the allogènes may be wealthier, mostly holding employment in Yaoundé, and take advantage of the relatively inexpensive cost of land to build gated dwarf mansions, which stand in stark contrast to the mud-based housing of the indigenous. In Minkoaméyos, the separation is invisible; the “foreigners” are residents drawn from the surrounding region who mostly hope to gain employment at the budding water treatment facility within the town’s limits. The “foreigners” do not appear to be any wealthier. They are culturally similar and occupy by and large similar houses to their “indigenous” neighbours.

And yet those differences, traceable to property law, may have generated a sense of group identity, with an accompanying sense of solidarity between imagined kin. The end of my day had me sitting under a large aluminium sheet that shelters a family’s supply of wood. The family’s eldest sister they are allogène – informed me that les indigènes often “sell” the same piece of land to multiple buyers. To avoid being defrauded, incoming families often have to signal to other prospective buyers that that portion of the property has been “purchased”. I have seen walls of houses, for instance, that have been inscribed with the forbidding “DO NOT BE MISTAKEN, THIS HOUSE AND LOT HAVE ALREADY BEEN SOLD”. Her family had bought a virgin plot, and to evidence their occupation they decided to immediately erect an improvised residence. That need to construct has imposed a double cost – the family lives in an unstable house that imperils the health of its residence, while its construction diverted needed savings away from the mother’s project to build a more durable, adequate familial home. The vendors have stumbled with handing over the certificate needed for her family to title the land – a “he has it, no she has it” kind of affair – and her working family is simply too busy to put the kind of pressure needed to get things moving. Throughout her story, the family are referred to merely as “les autochtones”. At the end, the eldest sister points to a small plot across the path, recently acquired by another family of allogènes. She tells me that she watches out for this family as well, to make sure that les autochtones do not try and pull a fast one on her apparent comrades.

The community could have been studied exclusively through its property norms. We repeatedly found wives busying themselves alone in their home, where they spend the lion share of their waking minutes. In spite of their reliance on their husband’s living quarters, they were ignorant on their property status. The most basic questions went notably unanswered. Nearby, a large family’s property is held communally in a collective title, kept at the home of the communal matriarch. This sub-community prefers to manage their property relations amongst themselves, perhaps according to custom, and eschew the application of State law. The entirety of the property is titled only so as to preclude forced eviction at the State’s hands.

Most importantly, the day underscored the how common property-related insecurities were. So few plots have been titled. Many occupants not only lack that basic legal protection, they also lack the tools and capacity to obtain it. One man tells us that he had purchased a future morsel from a man who had purchased the customary right to title the lot in its entirety. The vendor has since died, and this occupant is now clueless as to the location of the documents he would need to title his morsel.

Others have begun the titling process. The process, even after recent reforms, remains cumbersome and expensive. One resident, lured into hope by his neighbour’s success story, has taken the first steps and expects the process to take six months (as per the government’s half serious promise). Down the way, one family had invested its hopes in a sponsor, an individual who undergoes the titling process on behalf of another in exchange for a portion of the resulting securitized property. Three years have passed and no title has yet been received. The sponsor has been happy to live and farm his share of the land and to blame bureaucratic hurdles for his own lack of follow-through.

A kind of property anxiety is thus widespread – as it should be in a State where the threat of forced eviction looms large – and while it may encourage residents to undertake the titling marathon, it risks over-simplifying the life of property norms to the question of “is this property securitized, or not?” Although, it is interesting that, of all the criteria on which the UK-based NGO selects the recipients of its model houses, that is not one of them.

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