Bring Back Our Girls from Kuwait

The ‘Bring Back our Cameroonian Girls from Kuwait’ campaign consisted of street demonstrations on Bamenda streets with placards from July 7-14, 2015. It was to raise awareness on the plight of over 900 Cameroonian girls trafficked to the Middle East, especially to Kuwait and Lebanon by some Cameroonian agents with government turning a blind eye. It also consisted of protesting in women’s high heel shoes and pulling down publicity materials from street corners announcing travel and work opportunities in Kuwait by those agents. I also initiated radio and newspaper campaigns aimed at mobilizing the civil society, opinion leaders and the political class to force government to engage the Kuwaiti authorities to free those girls from bondage or servitude and send them back to Cameroon. Meetings with CSO's, opinion leaders and political parties were organized and a memo presented to government on the issue after an online petition was organized.

CAMPAIGN OBJECTIVES

The campaign aimed at forcing the government to bring back the over 900 Cameroonian girls trafficked to Kuwait by some agents. I also aimed to through the campaign bring to the forefront of public consciousness the fact that when a government treats its youth with reckless abandonment they can resort to any kind of thing for survival. The project also aimed at raising awareness to the level of modern forms of slavery and servitude still existing in the world today. My objective was to mobilize civil society, opinion leaders, the political class and the international community to the fact that if nothing is done and urgently, Cameroon will remain the destination, transit and source of human trafficking.

HOW THE OBJECTIVES WERE ACHIEVED

A major indication of success was the fact that media as well as social networks took to raising awareness and potential victims who were still planning to travel to the Middle East cancelled their plans. Since the campaign also targeted the agents who had hitherto set up shop along the commercial centers to recruit more victims, we mobilized the police to arrest them and in the process; most of them escaped and abandoned the business. The few that were finally arrested are currently facing human trafficking charges. At the level of government, and since during the protest I have presented a memorandum to the North West Governor on the subject, the External Relations Ministry after pressure from the Cameroon public as ignited by my campaign, began negotiations with the Kuwaiti government so as to release the girls and bring back the others who were living under inhumane and degrading conditions. The Civil Society also started factoring in human trafficking.

CAMPAIGN INNOVATIONS

A key innovation in the campaign and the one that attracted attention most was the singular fact that all the protest for the seven days was done by wearing women high heel shoes. It attracted many passers-by, security, opinion leaders and government officials who were forced to be quick in finding solutions to the issues I raised. Another innovation was the fact that unlike traditional protest matches were organizers needs a crowd; I went out all alone and in the process those who sympathized with the objectives joined along the line. It was a one-man protest, it did not require any special planning nor excessive preparation – yet the impact was many-fold.

CAMPAIGN IMPACT

It brought to the forefront of public consciousness the fact that modern forms of slavery were still very visible in our society. Mainstream media took interest and dit a series of stories on human trafficking. Besides the press human rights NGO's, Church groups and civil society began factoring human trafficking activities, not only to the Middle East, but also Cameroon into their agenda. Three months after the campaign, three Trafficking-in-Persons Task-Forces, at government level, were set up by Cameroon’s Prime Minister and headed by the regional Governors concerned with the North West Region as the main focus. A greater impact, by my rating was that the leading opposition Social Democratic Front SDF Party took a resolution on the issue in one of its National Executive Committee meeting calling government to order and calling on the international community's attention.

CHALLENGES FACED

The campaign’s biggest challenge was that of every human rights defender’s security. The campaign was undertaken at a time the Country was undergoing the biggest security threat caused by the Nigerian Sect, Boko Haram and where government had raised the security alert to maximum. It was also just six months after Cameroon’s national Assembly had passed an anti-terrorism law restricting freedom of association, movement and more importantly, protests. The law specifically spells out that demonstrators face either life imprisonment or a death sentence. As an individual I had to fear not only for my family but also the consequences on me as Cameroon security forces are noted ruthlessness against demonstrations. It was clear that if I went for authorization to demonstrate as permitted by the law; it was not going to be granted. I had to take the risk, gather courage and go to demonstrate without any prior authorization.

LESSONS LEARNT

The biggest lesson I learnt given the share magnitude of the campaign success was that for change to came, it does not require a crowd. The actions of one individual can bring all the change in a society and I was inspired by the example of Rossa Parks in the United States during the time of the segregation laws. Another lesson learnt was that as an individual activist or demonstrator, one needs only the dogged determination and courage to challenge a long entrenched system like the one we have in Cameroon.