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On June 20, 2017, the Minister of state property, surveys and land tenure (MinDCAF), announced via a decision[1], the establishment of a working group in charge of the audit of land and state property situation of the Cameroon society of palm plantations (SOCAPALM). The establishment of this working group comes with a lot of expectations. This audit should among others, lead to the review of SOCAPALM’s cadastral situation and determine its borders. At the end, we would be able to know “finally”, the real area occupied by this Luxembourg holding company, SOCFIN that possesses a long-term lease of 60 years. So one would have answers to questions such as, did Socapalm occupy spaces outside those intended for it?

The establishment of this working group comes in a context where Socapalm maintains a “conflictual marriage” with local communities; marriage in which Socapalm’s noose tightens right of access to the land of local communities, who, gathered within Synaparcam, are waiting in vain since 2005 that ancestral lands occupied by this society are handed over following what the amendment lease of August 30, 2005 says.

Indeed, this 2005 amendment in its section 2 reduced Socapalm’s concession from 78 529 ha (in accordance with the lease of 2000) to 58 063 ha. Therefore, the 20 496 ha of difference should be reassigned for local development needs. As the need for space became large, communities feel that they should use these lands, once they have been handed over, for their agro-pastoral activities. Unfortunately, more than ten years after this amendment, retrocession issues remain a quest for communities. This quest has already led to numerous protests and paralyses of activities in Socapalm plantations by local people. These protests “show that social peace remains precarious despite the setting up of platforms for dialogue bringing together representatives of the Cameroonian State, local residents and Socapalm’s representatives[2]”.     

Could the audit of the land and state property situation free the communities bordering Socapalm’s plantations?

The land and state property audit of the Cameroon society of palm plantations (SOCAPALM) is undoubtedly an indispensable way for a better analysis and assessment of all stakeholders’ interests including local communities. However, this main role of the audit can only be achieved if certain conditions are fulfilled including, transparency while conducting the mission, participation of all stakeholders and independence of the working group set up for this audit. Unfortunately, if we stick to MINDCAF’s decision at its section 3, communities - key actor- , do not appear in the composition of this working group, which is already a bias to the participation of this family of actors, especially because they are most affected by Socapalm’s activities.

Who will therefore speak on the discomforts of communities? Who will propose means for the alleviations of these discomforts? We are therefore in the situation “doing for me without me, in fact it is against me”, remembering Gandhi’s thought.  

Could the WG achieve its missions with Socapalm’s financial support?

MinDCAF’s decision raises serious issue on the effectiveness and sustainability of this working group (WG). Indeed, section 7 of this decision concerning the financial support of the activities by the WG, reveals that it will be taken by Socapalm. This brings us to question the serene pursuits of its missions. For example, in the worst-case scenario, Socapalm does not find in WG an ally that can guarantee its interests, declaring its cash-flow challenges, and drag down the WG activities. Also, since its creation in June 2017, no information is available on the activities of this working group, the number of meetings already held remains an open secret. Moreover, the fact that no deadline has been set by MinDCAF on the rendering of WG’s works in its decision, could turn into an interminable wait, while communities continue to shout out for justice.

In any case, actually, it is appropriate for the independent actors of the civil society, including FODER, SYNAPARCAM and the others to be more vigilant in the monitoring of the activities of this working group in charge of the land and state property audit of Socapalm, in order to provide, if possible, their contributions in the reflections. It would be relevant for the MinDCAF to reconsider the list of members of this WG and integrate in the group local communities who, already feel that the government does not give them enough support on the effectiveness of the retrocessions.

By Magloire TENE

[1] Decision n° 000948 MINDCAF/ SG/D2/ l300/ I320 of June 20, 2017 establishing, organizing and operating a working group in charge of the land and state property audit of the Cameroon society of palm plantations (Socapalm)

[2] The Belgian national contact point of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development made this remark in a communiqué issued on June 15, 2017