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16.10.2006

The Story of Mpondo Akwa (1905): Overview of the Legal Context 

One of the targets of Levi´s approbation was the dual legal system that existed in German colonies. The 1900 colonial law [Schutzgebietsgesetz], which regulated colonial legal process, separated persons into two distinct classes: the “nonnatives” (who could be German citizens or “foreigners”) and the “natives” [Eingeborene]. The category of “natives” determined that a person would fall under the jurisdiction of a special form of law not strictly tied to legal norms in Germany. Although “natives” - like white foreigners in the colonies - could theoretically naturalize as German citizens through the office of the Chancellor, such applications were rarely granted. Even in cases where “natives” were tried by that colonial law reserved for the “white” population, colonial courts and judges were not afforded independence from the administration, and administrators and judges were often one and the same person, putting “natives” at an obvious disadvantage.

Mpondo Akwa´s citizenship status is unclear, though it appears he had in fact obtained German citizenship. He told Hamburg authorities in 1891 that he was a German citizen [Deutscher Staatsangehöriger], and showed them a consular document to prove it in February 1892. Nevertheless, in the Hamburg registration file [Meldekartei] pertaining to him, his citizenship is described as "German Protectorate" [Deutsches Schutzgebiet] and in the Altona file his citizenship is simply "Traveler" [Reisender].6 During the intense parliamentary debates over German colonization in 1906, the liberal Frankfurter Zeitung often referred to Mpondo as a "German citizen" [Reichsangehöriger], and used this status to underscore the perversity of his treatment at the hands of the colonial administration in Cameroon.[For example, see: Frankfuter Zeitung, 26 März 1906. A Reichsangehöriger was someone who naturalized in the German colonies (or who lived in Alsace-Lorraine). This differed from a Staatsangehöriger, who was a citizen not only of the Reich but also of one of Germany´s federated states or Länder . Persons could naturalize as Staatsangehöriger, but only if they were resident in one of the states.]

However, whether he was or was not legally a citizen often became a moot point in public debates about his “belonging”. Perspectives on this were influenced more by ideas regarding the proper position of persons originating from the colonies in the German nation-state. Conservative voices usually ignored the importance of legal status within the state and replaced it with their overriding concern, racial status within a (biologically-defined) nation. Heinrich Liersemann, a naval officer who attempted to ruin Mpondo´s reputation, published in a book in which he remarked, regarding the often positive reception of Africans in Germany, “Concerning the racial question, a proud and blossoming nation like the Germans must not be left behind the others.”

For hin, Mpondo Akwa´s political activity in Germany (what he called the "Puttkamer-Akwa affair") was an example of the deleterious consequences when “any Black whatsoever has the possibility of gaining attention in Germany for his often fabricated, but at least strongly exaggerated, claims.”[ Liersemann, Heinrich 1907. “S.K.H Prinz” Ludwig Paul Heinrich M´pundu Njasam Akwa: Ein Beitrag zur Rassenfrage. Berlin: C. A. Schwestschke und Sohn, 5-6]


Jesco von Puttkamer

Jesco Von Puttkamer, colonial Gouverneur in KAMERUN


Conservatives thus generally accorded Afiricans “Eingeborene” status irrespective of their legal position and solely on the basis of skin color. As Harald Sippel has pointed out, colonial law left no room for movement - between “black” and “white” spheres in the colony and between the colony and metropole. [Sippel, Harald. 1997. Die Klassifizierung “des Afrikaners” und “des Europäers” im Rahmen der dualen kolonialen Rechtsordnung am Beispiel von Deutsch-Südwesafrika. In: Eckert, Andreas and jürgen Müller (eds). Transformationen der europäischen Expansion vom 16. bis 20. Jahrhundert. Rehburg-Loccum: Evangelische Akademie Loccum, 157].

Africans were thus accorded a jurisdiction according to the arbitrary will of the person in charge, whether the Governor, a district commissioner, or even - in the earlier stages of colonization - a military officer or business person.[Walz, Gotthilf. 1981 Die Entwicklung der Strafrechtspflege in Kamerun unter deutscher Herrschaft 1884-1914. Freiburg: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, especially 55-56]. Colonial law thereby led to many confusions that proved to be constant political flash points until Germany lost its colonies during World War I. In the Mpondo Akwa case there were Germans in the colonies and in Germany who argued that he should be sent back to Kamerun for trial. In most cases, however, Africans from the German colonies in Germany were tried in metropolitan courts, and Mpondo was no exception.[ Legal precedent for this may have been the practice of legally treating German citizens who had naturalized in the colonies (as Mpondo may have) as full citizens once they came to germany proper. The expense of the return trip was also always a factor working against deportation.]

This legal rending of the world in two, into spaces of “native” and “white” law, created serious difficulties for the Duala. As I have argued elsewhere, Duala notables were interested in asserting simultaneously their “Germanness” and their right to much more local autonomy, as a way to check the total power assumed by the German colonial administration in Kamerun. This ran counter to colonial ideologies which posited the existence and desirability of "pure African" and "pure European" spaces. Thus, while German state representative and colonial enthusiasts focused on what they saw to be the fundamental differences between their own and Duala [and all African] social orders, Duala notables were interested in finding realms of analogy if not similarity between the German state and their own. These analogies were based not only in the long history they shared with Europeans through trade but also in a kind of "pragmatic universalism" the Duala used to counter the hierarchical universalism that undergirded European imperialism. According to this "pragmatic universalism," the Duala had a "State" as much as the Germans did, and they also had "Kings" [and hence, as Mpondo argued time and again, "princes"]. Though these terms and their references operated differently, these differences were presented by Duala elites as of little importance to some of the central issues at stake: the role of Duala kings in the new colonial world, the status of an “Eingeborene” in terms of German legal norms, and the way in which law empowered the German state and its agents vis-à-vis bodies, land, thought, speech and action taking place in the legal space of the "Eingeborene."

In the early years of colonization, Duala elites drew their models for a reformed colonial political system from nineteenth-century intellectual constructs, which accounts for their request in the Beschwerdeschrift [1905 letter of complaint ] that German bureaucracy [Assessorismus] be replaced by a "consular system."[ For more detailed discussion of the intellectual trajectory out of which late nineteenth and early twentieth century Duala notables were approaching Germany and German colonization, as evidenced by letters to monarchs, parliamentarians and the Duala Elite of Cameroon, Paper presented at the Twenty-First Annual Conference of the German Studies Association, September 25-28, 1997, Washington, DC]

Leonhard Harding discusses this issue at greater length in this volume; here it is importantly only to note that the idea of a "consular system" was in part the, result of years of shared spaces between European and Duala merchants, out of which grew a language and terminology of contact, including also the designation, “king,” given to the most powerful Duala merchants by the British. Despite this historically shared space and vocabulary, German colonial legislation proceeded according to metropolitan legal definitions, and debate took place within the parameters of these definitions, which bore little or no relationship to the social realities, .historical trajectories and intellectual systems upon which the Germany´s relationship to the Duala was founded.

The context in which legal terms were understood became very important in the 1905 trial considered here. Dr. Levi found himself in the tense position of having to ensure that his client received justice according to German legal categories that were defined without reference to colonial realities even while the very propriety of Mpondo´s title, Prince, was questioned by those very same categories. As we will discuss later, Dr. Levi´s use of language shows a rare and elegant attentiveness to the challenge colonialism posed to European ideas and words, a challenge that often goes unrecognized even today. His handling of “difference” and his variations on the theme of colonial injustice proved to be a visionary caution against the melding of race and law.


MPUNDU AKWA: The Case of the Prince from Cameroon, the Newly Discovered Speech for the Defense by Dr.M. Levi
Von Joeden-Forgey, Elisa & Levi, Dr. M. (Eds.)
Notes, bib, vii, 137pp, GERMANY. LIT VERLAG, 3825873544

 

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