Ruben Um Nyobè

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Ruben Um Nyobé

Ruben Um Nyobè (1913 – 13 September 1958) was an anti-colonialist Cameroonian leader, slain by the French army on 13 September 1958, near his natal village of Boumnyebel, in the department of Nyong-et-Kellé in the maquis Bassa. He created on 10 April 1948 the Cameroon's People Union (UPC), which used armed struggle to obtain independence from French colonial rule. After his death, he was replaced by Félix-Roland Moumié, who was assassinated by an agent of the SDECE (French secret service) with thallium in Geneva in 1960. Until the 1990s, any mention of Ruben Um Nyobè was prohibited in Cameroon.[1]

Early childhood[edit]

Um Nyobé, known as the forgotten father of Cameroon, was born in 1913 in Song Mpeck. Cameroon was still under German occupation at the time, but was divided after the First World War between France and the United Kingdom. An intelligent African politician to have emerged after the Second World War with the sole purpose to fully liberate the country of Kamerun from French rule. Um Nyobé was not just an ordinary child. He came from a family in Bassa where Agriculture was the main production in the village. His father, however, was not just a farmer. He was a traditional priest in their village, where they practiced animism as a form of religion. Um Nyobé, however, was deemed Christian by many who knew him. He only acquired his Christian name Reuben after he was baptized but prior to that, he was known as Um Nyobé. He was baptized as a Christian and attended a Catholic Christian school. Um Nyobè was educated in Presbyterian schools in the part of the country occupied by France. He was part of the minority of indigenous people who had access to this level of education. Polyglot, he spoke French, Bassa, Bulu, and Do. At the age of 26, he achieved his baccalaureate degree at a university in Edea. Shortly after his degree, he married his wife, Martha. After his university studies in 1944, he stayed in the city of Edea to pursue his passion in law.

He became a civil servant and became interested in politics at an early age. At the end of the 1930s, he became involved in the Jeunesse camerounaise Française (JeuCaFra), an organisation set up by the French administration to counter Nazi propaganda, before taking part, at the end of the Second World War, in the Cercle d'études Marxistes - launched in Yaoundé by the French teacher and trade unionist Gaston Donnat - which would become a real breeding ground for Cameroonian nationalism. The association proposes to fight in the same momentum against "Nazism, racism and colonialism". For him, it is a turning point: "This is the first time I have sat at a white man's table: I consider it a great event in Cameroon. I will not forget it. »[2]


Um Nyobé was initiated into the CGT union that fought against the partition on Cameroon into the Anglophone and the Francophone region in 1947, along the same period of the Partition of India and the end of the Indian Raj. Due to this fort resistance is seen around the world and particularly in Asia, Um Nyobé and the member of the Union began spreading the words of independence and denounced the Catholic religion that justified and advocated for colonization and slavery. His efforts managed to unite diverse ethnic groups to join the resistance against the French. He was named" Mpodol Ion", which meant speaker of the nation or spokesman in the native language of the people of Bassa. His friends called him Mpodol, which meant "prophet", due to the belief that it was his biblical mandate to lead and speak as their prophet.[3]

In September 1945, settlers opened fire in Douala on a strike demonstration that turned it into a riot. The clashes spread and a plane was even used to shoot up the rioters. Officially, according to the colonial authorities, the death toll was 8 (and 20 wounded), but according to historian Richard Joseph, this toll was much lower than reality and the number of deaths was in the dozens. The ensuing repression against the USCC and its leaders led a new generation of activists to take over the leadership. Ruben Um Nyobè became general secretary of the union in 1947.[2]

The second major event is the creation of the African Democratic Rally. Um Nyobè was present in Bamako in September 1946 for the first party congress as a representative of the USCC. Back in Cameroon, he worked to create a Cameroonian party following this dynamic, which led to the founding of the Union des populations du Cameroun (UPC) by USCC trade unionists on the night of 10 April 1948 in a café-bar in Douala. If he was not present at the time of the foundation, he was nevertheless propelled to the head in November 1948.[2]

Umism or the legacy of Ruben Um Nyobe Umism which is a derivation of the name Um. It is doctrine and philosophy developed by Professor Alain Ndedi. It is expressed by the fact that a potential leader must always place himself as the people's prosecutor. The umiste is first of all nationalist and pan-Africanist animated by a will to plead all the popular demands as well social, cultural as economic and social of the voiceless and the poor. It is an eminent embodiment of the pride and the will to fulfillment of every Cameroonian citizen.

Engagement in the UPC[edit]

The party then created a women's branch in 1952, the Democratic Union of Cameroonian Women, in particular to combat discrimination specific to women, and then a youth organisation in 1954, the Jeunesse démocratique du Cameroun. He particularly insisted on "efforts to raise the ideological level of militants and leaders", and party schools are created. On the organizational level, he defended the strengthening of "base committees" to build a party acting from below and preferred to speak of a "movement" rather than a "party" for this reason.[2]

Despite its limited financial resources, the UPC was able to issue three newspapers (La Voix du Cameroun, l'Étoile, and Lumière) thanks to the mobilization of its activists and campaigns around three main themes: national independence, the reunification of the former German Kamerun and social justice. Um Nyobè traveled the territory to give conferences everywhere. The colonial administration seeks to denigrate him by presenting him as an agent of international communism, having been trained "beyond the Iron Curtain, in Moscow, Warsaw, Prague. "These lies were also picked up by some press titles in France, including after his death.[2]

Um Nyobè opposes tribalism and its instrumentalization by colonialism as a factor of division: "Such a situation requires us to break with outdated tribalism and retrograde regionalism which, now and in the future, represent a real danger for the development of this Cameroonian nation". This approach also lead him to oppose religious fundamentalisms, as well as to denounce anti-white racism. Opposed to armed struggle and violence, he encourages his supporters to conduct only peaceful actions such as boycotts, strikes and demonstrations. Until 1955, a sign of his undisputed hold on the UPC, no colonists were killed, not even during an overflow. In 1953, the UPC meetings ended again with the Cameroonian anthem and La Marseillaise, while Um Nyobé repeated that he did not confuse "the people of France with the French colonialists".

He presented multiple forays in the United Nations both in 1952 and in 1954 speaking on behalf of the people of Cameroon and other colonized African countries. He expressed his view of independence as an appeal to the natives of the country and must be the same vision for the rest of the World. As leader of the UPC, he made many gestures of integrity where he refused to negotiate with the French.[4]

Um Nyobè was initially opposed to violence. In 1952, he stated that "the armed struggle was carried out once and for all by the Cameroonians who contributed greatly to the defeat of German fascism. The fundamental freedoms whose application and independence we claim and towards which we must resolutely march are no longer things to be conquered by armed struggle. It is precisely to prevent such a possibility that the United Nations Charter called for the right of peoples to self-determination. Nevertheless, it recognizes the right of peoples to armed struggle elsewhere on the planet, when circumstances so require. He thus salutes the "heroic struggles" led by the Vietnamese of Việt Minh and the Algerians of the FLN.[2]

On June 13, 1955, the UPC was banned by the French government and its militants went into hiding. Ruben Um Nyobe was killed by the French army on 13 September 1958


  1. ^ Video: Panafricain-e-s : Ruben Um Nyobè, le héros oublié du Cameroun. Tué en 1958 par l’armée française, il a consacré sa vie à la lutte pour l’indépendance et l’unité du pays. Pourtant, les autorités post-indépendance ont tout fait pour effacer sa mémoire. By Emile Costard and Laureline Savoye. Le Monde, 28 March 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Thomas Deltombe, Manuel Domergue, Jacob Tatsita, KAMERUN !, La Découverte, 2019
  3. ^ Kinni, Fongot Kini-Yen. Pan-Africanism: political philosophy and socio -Economic anthropology for African liberation ... and governance. Vol. 3, Langaa Rpcig, 2015.
  4. ^ African Nationalism in Cold War Politics: 1952-1954, Cameroons' Um Nyobe Presents the UPC Program for Authentic Independence at The United Nations
  • Joseph, Richard A. (October 1974). "'Ruben Um Nyobe' and the 'Kamerun' Rebellion". African Affairs. 73 (293).
  • Joseph, Richard A. (Summer 1975). "National Politics in Postwar Cameroun: The Difficult Birth of the UPC". Journal of African Studies. 2 (2).
  • Joseph, Richard A. (1977). Radical Nationalism in Cameroun: Social Origins of the U.P.C. Rebellion. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Mbembe, Joseph-Achille (1989). Rubem Um Nyobe: Ecrits sous maquis. Paris: L'Harmattan. ISBN 2858029229.

External links[edit]

Media related to Ruben Um Nyobe at Wikimedia Commons