Climbing hills of injustice in North-West Cameroon - Rahamatu the Mbororo-Fulani

Rahamatu Sali, from Cameroon, is one of the first Mbororo_Fulani women to get a University degree GENEVA, July 2007 - Rahamatu Mallam Sali comes from a Mbororo-Fulani community in North-West Cameroon . Since their arrival from the Adamawa Plateau region in West-Central Africa at the end of the nineteenth century, these pastoralists have suffered considerable human rights violations. Rahamatu is part of a new generation of Mbororo-Fulani who want to bring about change in their community.

In this Central African nation made up of 281 ethnic groups, only two tribes are recognized as indigenous: Rahamatu's tribe and the Mbaka Pygmies in the South. The Mbororo-Fulani represent an estimated 13 per cent of the general population with 2 million people dispersed on hilltops in remote areas of most of the country. This semi-nomadic people are becoming more and more sedentary, with a tendency to regroup into larger settlements.

Rahmatu is part of the first generation of Mbororo-Fulani women to benefit from formal education up to the higher level. As such, she feels it is her duty to help her community. "For generations [the Mbororo-Fulani] have resisted anything perceived as a threat to their cattle herding style. I consider myself very fortunate to serve as a role model for my community", she says.

Illiteracy and human rights abuses are some of the biggest challenges her community still faces. Ninety-eight per cent of Mbororo-Fulanis are illiterate. Their centuries-old way of life has never been accepted by their fellow countrymen. Discrimination, exclusion and extortion are common.

Despite their newly adopted sedentary lifestyle, the Mbororo have no rights over the lands in which their cattle graze; as a result, there are frequent evictions. Grazing lands are often seized by neighbouring farmers or wealthy individuals. According to Rahamatu, 91 displaced Mbororo families have lost 20,000 hectares of land.

Rahamatu hopes the training she is receiving today through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Indigenous Fellowship Programme will give her a better understanding of mechanisms that will help best protect her community's rights, and give her more skills to lobby and advocate for the rights of indigenous men and women in her country. She also realises now the great role non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can play.

Back , even with the scarce knowledge she already had of these issues, Rahamatu chose to tackle the problems her community faced by joining in 2002 the Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA), a community based NGO created by local youths primarily to help the marginalised Mbororo-Fulanis gain access to the justice system. Soon after, the organisation focused on fighting illiteracy by creating an education programme for adults, building schools and sponsoring students thanks to funding from the NGO Village Aid UK .

For Rahamatu, "The issues of inequality and injustice in Mbororo communities is primarily because of their lack of education, effectively denying them access to what is a key socializing process in any society". So far, more than 250 students have been sponsored by MBOSCUDA to complete their education up to college.

Born from an illiterate mother, she feels it is important to give Mbororo-Fulani women more autonomy. She received her primary and high-school education from her father, a court clerk, and her community association later helped her continue her studies. "We've run an adult literacy programme for over 700 women" she says, "Through our gender and women's promotion programme, which I manage, we train women and provide them with interest-free micro credit loans to help them reduce their dependency on men".

With her new acquired knowledge, Rahamatu plans to organise a training programme for members of her association back similar to the one she received at OHCHR Headquarters in Geneva . She also plans to contact other UN entities working on the ground in Cameroon to seek future areas of collaboration.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.