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22.10.2006

Aftermath of the Trial 

With the trial behind him, Mpondo devoted his attention to the Beschwerdeschrift, and sent long explanations of the most important complaints to the Chancellor and the Kaiser in early 1906. During the Beschwerdeschrift trial in Cameroon, Mpondo Akwa was charged in absentia of treason and a warrant was issued for his arrest. The warrant arrived at the Altona prosecutor´s office on December 12, 1905, and, according to the prosecutor´s own report, Altona authorities were sent to arrest him. However, they were incapable of finding him and searches of his apartment and his mail turned up no incriminating evidence. It appears that Mpondo waited out his time in Kiel and Berlin, where authorities, though notified of the arrest warrant by Altona authorities, were equally unsuccessful in appre­hending him. Once the investigation of the Beschwerdeschrift began; the arrest warrant was found insupportable and revoked. The Altona prosecutor´s office gave up their search for Mpondo on February 12, 1906. Around this time, Gov­ernor von Puttkamer, in his presentation to the parliament regarding the Besch­werdeschrift, once again called for Mpondo´s deportation and blamed the entire Beschwerdeschrift on Mpondo´s supposed manipulations: "It is absolutely neces­sary that the instigator of this affair, the much discussed Mpondo Akwa be dis­patched back to his home [Heimat] without delay, so that his own people [Land­sleute] can quickly and clearly show him how ill-advised he was, when he seduced them to send off their complaints."

On March 29 of that year, Dr. Levi accompanied Mpondo to the Foreign Office. There they met with the officer for Kamerun, Wirkl. Geh. Legationsrat Dr. Gleim, and spoke for over two hours about the distressing situation in Douala. Dr. Levi complained about the legal basis of the recent verdict against the signatories of the Beschwerdeschrift: the judge in Douala had treated all fourteen incidences of al­leged insult in the complaint as fourteen separate counts of libel, though no law ex­isted to support such a decision. This legal question had been raised by Gleim himself at the special commission meetings held between March 2nd ad Sth in par­liament.He protested the fact that proceedings against Mpondo had been initi­ated without him being questioned even once or presented with the charges. He also found it wrong that the district court in Douala announced that final judgment on Mpondo Akwa - a resident of Altona - fell into their jurisdiction, and sarcasti­cally remarked that if this were to be believed, the editor of the Hamburger Frem­denblatt who published the Beschwerdeschrift and thereby popularized the insults would also have to be called before the Douala court. He ended his comments by demanding that King Akwa and the other accused be released immediately from prison in Kamerun, be brought to Germany, and be tried before the Hamburg criminal division.

Dr. Gleim agreed that the December verdict had been reached through a faulty process. He avoided, however, the issue of the immediate release of the prisoners by explaining that a new judge would reopen the case in the beginning of April. Because of this, he also believed it was not necessary to try the accused before a German court. To protect the Akwa chiefs from finding themselves again in a situation without representation, he had ordered that a missionary be named for that purpose. Other issues relating to the situation in Kamerun apparently were be­ing referred to the appropriate officials in the colony itself for further considera­tion. Gleim did promise, on the other hand, that the Foreign Office would investi­gate the by-now notorious letter from von Brauchitsch to the Hamburg police lieu­tenant Niemann, which the Frankfurter Zeitung had recently published; and that all twenty-four points of the complaint would be explored. He further stated that after investigating the letter, the Foreign Office would see about getting the Ham­burg Senate to rescind the expulsion order against Mpondo. We see here that Mpondo and Levi´s fight to bring Dualas under the jurisdiction of regularized German law were running up against a brick wall of polite denials and pleasant as­surances, which was to become the new mood of colonization.

Political disappointment, official harassment and financial troubles caused by co­lonial policies regarding the sources of his father´s rapidly declining wealth seem to have led to a good deal of personal strain. Late in 1906 Mpondo was charged in Frankfurt with threatening to kill a longtime friend and supporter, Hedwig Hart­mann, if she did not give him 1000 Marks. According to the police report, the in­cident progressed as follows: Mpondo Akwa visited Hartmann, a former prostitute and independently wealthy woman, on 5 October 1906 and asked her for 1000 Marks to cover his debts. He wanted to take the oath of disclosure [Offenba­rungseid] in Altona and needed to pay the debts off or he would be "politically ru­ined." When she said "no," Mpondo allegedly grabbed her and said, "Either you give me the money or I will kill you." He only left her alone when she screamed for help.

Hartmann gradually retracted this initial account of the incident. On October 18, for example, Hartmann told the police that he had done this in a drunken state and thus did not have his wits about him. She repeated this again on October 31. On November 30, when Mpondo Akwa was questioned by the court, he contended that Hartmann was prone to hysteria and had given him the money freely "for the purposes of the good cause of the Bonembela [the Akwas]." Finally, on December 1, Hartmann retracted her statement in full, explaining that she was just angry at Mpondo and never really took his threats seriously. The police report commented: "Hartmann.. . was and is apparently strongly influenced by Akwa, who also proba­bly urged her retraction."

State Secretary Dernburg of the Colonial Office first brought this case to the atten­tion of the Interior and the Justice ministers, asking them to investigate Mpondo´s lifestyle [Lebensführung] further. Once they had received the police report and sent it on to the Foreign Office, the Foreign Office replied by asking if "it were not possible..: to deport [him] as a troublesome foreigner [lästigen Ausländer], and thereby to send him back home." The letter underscored the importance of depor­tation by alleging that the collection of money amongst Dualas for Mpondo´s life in Germany proceeded unfairly and was widely resented, that it was cutting into the hut tax revenues of the colonial state, and that "in Douala, the main location of the Akwa tribe, the conviction is shared, even by the missions; that the removal of Mpondo Akwa from Germany is thoroughly desirable [erforderlich]." Despite the considerable power of Mpondo´s enemies, he was never deported.

Also in 1906, Mpondo brought a lawsuit against former Lieutenant Commander (Kapitänleutnant) Heinrich Liersemann for libel in an 1905 article published by the conservative Schöneberg (Berlin) newspaper, the Preußische Korrespondenz. As newspapers were anxious to point out, this was the first time in Germany that an African had used the courts against a white man. Liersemann had written, à propos the dismissal of Governor von Puttkamer, "I personally knew of the fa­mous Prince Akwa during his residence in Kiel as a completely undeserving (minderwertig) subject, who had had been in our jails many times for grand theft and now runs a bordello." At the preliminary hearing, Mpondo told the judge: "I would not have taken Lieutenant Liersemann to court, but he wants to ruin me, be­cause I lodged a complaint against Mr. von Puttkamer... Mr. Liersemann con­tended that I had been punished for theft, but I have never stolen. I have been working as a traveling cigarette salesman for quite some time and have supported myself respectably. I plan to establish an import-export business between Ger­many and Cameroon, but I cannot do this if I am suspected of being a thief [wenn mir nachgefragt wird, ich sei ein Dieb]." It is not hard to imagine that Mpondo´s financial ruination was one of the purposes of Liersemann´s libelous claims. Liersemann, one of Puttkamer´s most vocal defenders (he described von Puttkamer as "one of our most hard-working colonial administrators") must have hoped, like much of the von Puttkamer camp and many in the Colonial Office, that Mpondo might be forcibly returned to Cameroon. Financial ruination had become a routine goal of the colonial government in Cameroon regarding Mpondo and other powerful and politically-minded Duala elites.

After a preliminary hearing in 1906, the case was postponed until all witnesses for the defense, many of whom were in Africa, could be interviewed. The trial - in front of a jury - finally took place on 9 January 1908. In the interim, Liersemann had published a book on the lawsuit, "S.K.H. Prinz" Ludwig Paul Heinrich M´Pundo Njasam Akwa: Ein Beitrag zur Rassenfrage, in which he defended him­self, questioned the general appropriateness of Africans in Germany, and pub­lished some of the testimony collected in Cameroon that would be presented by the prosecution at the coming trial!

Dr levi again represented Mpondo. Despite Liersemann´s publicity  on his own behalf, Levi won the case and the Hamburg court charged Liersemann with 30 Mark fine.

As always, Mpondo´s appearance in a German court attracted much publicity. In fact, so many, people and journalists came to see the trial that the court had to move to a larger room. Liersemann´s attorney presented testimony from witnesses, many of whom were interviewed in Cameroon and did not appear personally, who claimed to have known Mpondo in Douala and in Germany. Their testimony amounted to no more than hearsay. The new governor of Cameroon, Theodore Seitz, testified that although he could not remember if he himself had punished Mpondo in the past, he had heard that Mpondo had been punished several times, and commented, "He has been ruined by an inappropriate education and suffers now from megalomania." Another witness made vague allegations that Mpondo had offered his own wives as payment for a bid at an auction, and that he had been flogged for property crimes. The head judge in Cameroon also testified that he had heard that Mpondo had been sentenced to flogging for theft and echoed Dr. Seitz´ sentiment that an improper education had completely ruined him. A businessman whom Mpondo claimed he had never seen before in his life alleged that in 1896 Mpondo, while in Douala, stole a package of cigarettes from his store. Perhaps the most bizarre testimony came from a voluntary witness (whom Mpondo also had never met before). This man alleged that an acquaintance of his told him that he had once been out drinking with Mpondo in Berlin. At some point in the evening, this acquaintance accidentally dropped a gold piece, which rolled under the table. Mpondo then allegedly had put his foot over the gold piece to hide (and hence steal) it. Later that night, when the acquaintance returned to his hotel room, he supposedly found Mpondo hiding under the bed. When discovered, Mpondo and the man got into a fisticuffs "during which a whip [Nilpferdpeitsche] played a role."

Dr. Levi´s arguments, reproduced word-for-word by many newspapers, displayed an acute mercilessness when it came to racial baiting. He responded that according to the law, the article written by Liersemann was indeed libelous. It mischaracter­ized Mpondo by suggesting he was in one of “our” - meaning metropolitan German - jails for theft. As the court knew, Mpondo had spent time in jail only awaiting the 1905 trial, when he was acquitted. The fact that some persons from the colonies had described him as of little worth [minderwertig] was, Levi argued, of no impor­tance, as they would probably describe any African as such. Levi pointed out that the supposedly damning personality characteristics outlined by other witnesses were shared by princes, noblemen and other educated people, and stealing ciga­rettes when one is sixteen years old is not to be taken seriously, if it indeed hap­pened at all. The witnesses speaking on behalf of Mpondo included a former prin­cipal from Kiel and a catholic priest, who noted that although Mpondo sometimes dressed like a "pimp" and also did not show up at his voluntary job regularly, he was not disorderly
[unregelmäßig] .

Faced with Levi´s arguments, Liersemann´s lawyer stepped up the tenor of his de­fense, thereby showing the true colors of the decrepit circle surrounding his client. He argued that the preponderance of witnesses against Mpondo proved that he was indeed minderwertig, and that it would be a grave mistake to enable him tell his tribesmen in Douala that, in addition to causing the dismissal of Governor Puttkamer and having audience with the Kaiser and the parliament, he was now able to win a case against a German person in a German court. The trial - like the original libelous article - was, for Liersemann and his counsel, not so much about legal truth or even plausibility as it was about maintaining proper race distinctions - and they felt no need to moderate, much less hide, this agenda.

The judge grounded his decision to rule in favor of Mpondo by referring to the li­belous claim that Mpondo had sat in jail, and commented reasonably that there could not be two different forms of justice for blacks and whites. He ordered a mild sentence for Liersemann, however, because - he believed - Liersemann had acted in good faith in making the accusations and because Liersemann was at­tempting to be a good patriot when defending Governor von Puttkamer.
Despite this mild sentence, the outcry from pro-colonial circles was : immense. Not only had an African brought a German to court, but also he had wan. What they saw to be a dangerous role reversal lasted only one year. Liersemann´s defense at­torney appealed the case and continued to investigate Mpondo´s past to show that Mpondo had indeed been a thief and spent time in jail. According to newspaper articles, however, not much new came of these investigations, and the same testi­mony was given at the next trial. Ignoring that the testimony for he defense came entirely from Mpondo´s political adversaries, the appeals court acquitted Lierse­mann in 1909, a decision strongly criticized in the liberal and left press. Mpondo and Dr. Levi tried in vain to appeal this decision.

Mpondo Akwa was able to get enough money together from other Duala to pub­lish the first German/Duala-language newspaper, Elolombe ya Kamerun (The Sun of Cameroon), with businessman Hans Meyer Mons, and apparently started a business in equestrian sports. The purpose of the journal was to bring an under­standing of Germany and Europe to Duala speakers in the colony, as well as to open up German debates to African perspectives. For financial reasons, only one issue appeared. With the appearance of this journal, talk of Mpondo´s deportation began anew. However, Mpondo Akwa only returned-apparently voluntarily- to Douala in mid-1911 intending to further pursue business ventures and political activities of uncertain definition. Douala authorities found his presence threatening; especially in the context of a planned expropriation of valuable Duala land on the river. After the Douala police director spent several days eavesdropping in mar­kets and collecting evidence from informants, Mpondo was apprehended for spe­cious charges of illegally collecting funds.[Archives Nationales du Cameroun, Fond Allemands 4/454: Untersunchungen gegen den aus Deutschland zurückgekehrten Mpondo Akwa] He was imprisoned and eventually ex­iled to Banyo in north Cameroon. There he was twice sentenced to 14 days in chains and 25 lashings.

Even while in prison, he continued his fight to obtain from colonial authorities a recognition of and respect for the historical importance of Duala (especially Akwa) power and the noble titles tied to it. Mpondo wrote a history of the Duala in the form of a letter to the Governor in which the issue of noble titles - and hence Mpondo´s own position in the world order - played a central role. In this history, he argues that the name given a king´s first son (such as himself), "Niazam" [or Njasam as it was often spelled in Germany], was understood to mean "prince" from the time that the Duala leaders received their royal titles from the British. Thus, his claims to nobility were justified by history, a reminder to the colonial au­thorities that their conduct was abominable on all accounts.[ Archives Nationales du Cameroun, Fond Francais TA6. Extraits du Bulletin Colonial Allemand 1907-1914. “Apercu historique sur la Tribu Douala”]

Mpondo Akwa made one escape attempt, but was intercepted just before he crossed the border to Nigeria and was reimprisoned.

He is presumed to have been shot for subversion in August 1914.


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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