Over the past ten days, the #MeToo movement has seen a resurgence in Cameroon as scores of women and men have taken to social media to report their experiences of sexual harassment, assault, and other abuses, all at the hands of the same alleged predator.
On January 19, Cameroonian whistleblower @N'ZUI MANTO shared an anonymous account from a victim accusing well-known businessman Hervé Bopda of sexual harassment. Soon after, other women, men, girls, and boys took to Twitter and Facebook – mostly through anonymized accounts – to share their own allegations of abuse by Bopda, including sexual harassment, rape, abduction, beatings, and threats.
@N'ZUI MANTO said he has received over 1,000 such testimonies from victims and witnesses of abuse going back 20 years. In one case, a victim claimed Bopda chained her to a bed and deprived her of food and water for two days. @N'ZUI MANTO also says that Bopda has “influential connections,” and published photographs of him with high-ranking members of Cameroonian security forces. The accusations were soon broadcast over the media.
Sexual harassment allegations have been raised before on social media in Cameroon, but this time has a sense of momentum with more people coming forward. “It is really a #MeToo moment as it is bringing to light a culture of powerful men preying on young people who are vulnerable because of their poverty and lack of social support,” said Kah Walla, a prominent Cameroonian rights activist and politician.
Sexual violence is pervasive in Cameroon and resources to provide medical and psycho-social support to survivors are limited.
The allegations against Bopda have led to public mobilization and outcry. An online petition calling for his arrest got over 20,600 signatures and lawyers have been made available to assist victims who wish to take their cases to court, with at least three complaints against Bopda already filed.
After over 10 days of silence and no indication of whether the allegations were being investigated, police arrested Bopda on January 30.
Authorities now need to deliver a fair and impartial judicial process that respects both Bopda’s defense rights and the victims’ rights. The ultimate goal though is to ensure zero tolerance for sexual violence in the future, including by strengthening the justice system to properly handle reports of sexual violence. Effective investigations into Bopda and better medical and psycho-social support for survivors would be a good start.