Judicial Murder without Consequences

Berlin has not yet rehabilitated Manga Bell, anti-colonial resistance fighter and victim of German judicial murder. In the German city of Ulm, a square will be named after him.

ULM/DOUALA (Own report) – The German government should finally rehabilitate Rudolf Duala Manga, the anti-colonial resistance fighter from Cameroon. This demand has again been raised on the occasion of today’s inauguration of the Rudolf Duala Manga Bell Square in the German city of Ulm. Manga Bell, the King of the Duala in the German colony Cameroon, had been condemned to death by a kangaroo court of the colonial authorities in 1914 and immediately executed. He had been trying to coordinate the resistance against the racist forced expropriation and relocation of the Duala, who were supposed to make way for white only residential areas, with the resistance of other population groups in the colony. Because of its exceptional brutality, German colonial rule was “infamous throughout the entire West Coast” of Africa, as the German left-liberal journalist Hellmut von Gerlach reported from his extensive trip around West Africa in 1912. Whereas Manga Bell is being honored in Ulm, the German government, has still not rehabilitated him. Financial compensation for Manga Bell’s judicial murder, to which his descendants would be entitled, is nowhere in sight in Germany.

Rudolf Duala Manga Bell

Rudolf Duala Manga Bell was born in 1873 in the Duala region along the estuary of the Wouri river, where Cameroon’s economic metropolis by the same name is today situated. Manga Bell’s grandfather Ndumbe Lobe Bell had been king of the Duala people, who at the time had still been free. When Manga Bell was eleven years old, his grandfather signed a so-called protection treaty on July 12, 1884, which served as the basis for the establishment of the German Empire’s colonial rule over Cameroon. In 1891, Manga Bell went to Germany to learn the German language and attend German schools – initially in Aalen and then in Ulm, where he spent almost a year at the high school in 1896/97. Soon after his return to the colony in 1897, his grandfather died. Subsequently, his father Manga Ndumbe Bell became king of the Duala people. Following his death in September 1908, Manga Bell, who, in the meantime, had also adopted “Rudolf” as his first name, assumed the traditional Duala kingship. According to historians, his reign was markedly inspired by efforts to establish prosperous cooperation with Germany and was oriented also in other respects to a European style of government.[1]

The “Twenty-Five Country”

That was nothing to be taken for granted. Not only did German companies mercilessly plunder the colony. The German Empire was also infamous in West Africa as an exceptionally brutal colonial power. This was not least of all due to its excessive use of the lash, against which the Duala petitioned the Reichstag in June 1905 with a specific complaint – alongside other measures, such as the arbitrary demolition of houses and the illegal refusal of salary payments.[2] The left-liberal journalist and former Reichstag parliamentarian, Hellmut Gerlach, was appalled, when he witnessed, during his trip around Cameroon, the extremely brutal measures being used by the colonial authorities. They were not only treating “the blacks” as an “inferior race,” who had to be ruled “with a heavy hand;” they were also applying brutal punishment such as the “chain punishment,” by which prisoners are chained together, or the use of the lash. “Throughout the West Coast” of Africa, the German colony was “notoriously known as the twenty-five country,” reported Gerlach later: 25 was German punishment with the lash – the amount of heavy whip lashes that ripped the skin open.[3]

Racist Forced Resettlements

When Gerlach was traveling around Cameroon, the colonial authorities had succeeded in escalating widespread resentment to their tyranny and their excessive punishments into a generalized mood of rebellion. Around 1910, Gerlach describes that “German racist fanatics had developed the idea “that blacks and whites living together was unworthy of the white race.”[4] The colonial authorities then planned to reserve the areas along the banks of the Wouri River exclusively for whites, and all black residents were forced to be resettled to remote, malaria-infested regions. “The forced expropriation of the totality of black property ... was introduced,” reported Gerlach, “the entire population became very agitated,” because the Germans “wanted to force them to evacuate the lands of their ancestors.” They were all the more enraged because the 1884 “Protection Treaty” explicitly stipulated that Duala property rights would be preserved. “The first expropriations took place,” as Gerlach recalls of his 1912 visit to Cameroon. “These were not only illegal; a compensation was paid that must have been considered adding insult to injury.” Not seldom, the compensation amounted to a hundredth of the property value.

In the Anti-Colonial Resistance

Manga Bell took up the cause. With appeals addressed to the Reichstag in Berlin, he attempted to halt the forced expropriations and resettlements – to no avail. His associate Ngoso Din, who was sent to Berlin, was able with Gerlach’s assistance, to provoke discussions, which motivated the Reichstag’s Budget Commission to temporarily freeze the finances for the forced expropriations being carried out in Cameroon. As early as May 1914, however, Berlin had changed its mind. Under pressure of colonial circles, the resistance to the financing of the racist resettlement measures collapsed. Manga Bell then began to coordinate the resistance of the Duala with that of other population groups of the German colony. When the colonial authorities found out, he and Ngoso Din were arrested. Both were tried on August 7, 1914, in a common trial that did not even meet colonial standards, both were sentenced to death and executed the following day, August 8, 1914.[5] Their judicial murder was one of the last crimes committed by Germans in their colony, French and British troops took over. “As the English arrived in Cameroon in 1914,” Gerlach wrote, “they were greeted as liberators by the coastal populations.”[6]

Still Not Rehabilitated

Today, Friday, a high-ranking delegation from Cameroon is expected in Ulm, to participate in the inauguration of the Rudolf Duala Manga Bell Square. This will be in honor of the Cameroonian resistance fighter, who had attended school in Ulm. Nearly eight years ago, the recently deceased Bundestag parliamentarian, Hans-Christian Ströbele (Green Party) had officially asked the German government why Manga Bell has not been officially rehabilitated. The presiding Minister of State in the Foreign Ministry, Michael Roth declared at the time, “A demand for the rehabilitation of Rudolf Manga Bell has yet to be made to the German Government by representatives of the Doula in Cameroon.”[7] That demand has now been made – in the form of a petition, initiated in March 2022 by Princess Marilyn Duala Manga Bell, Manga Bell’s great granddaughter, and others. More than six months later, that rehabilitation has still not been granted – not to mention the compensation not paid for the colonial crimes, that the descendants are due and some of whom have demanded.[8] However, the German government is not even willing to pay compensation for the genocide on the Herero and Nama – alleging that the official designation of that crime had not yet existed at the time it was committed, while everything else has surpassed the statute of limitations.[9]


[1] Ralph A. Austen, Jonathan Derrick: Middlemen of the Cameroons River. The Duala and their Hinterland, c. 1600 – ca. 1960. Cambridge 1999.

[2] Horst Gründer: Geschichte der deutschen Kolonien. Paderborn 2012.

[3], [4] Hellmut von Gerlach: Von Rechts nach Links. Frankfurt am Main 1987. S. 200ff.

[5] Christian Bommarius: Der gute Deutsche. Die Ermordung Manga Bells in Kamerun 1914. Berlin 2020.

[6] Hellmut von Gerlach: Von Rechts nach Links. Frankfurt am Main 1987. S. 200ff.

[7] Christian Bommarius: Der König, der Recht wollte. zeit.de 31.08.2021.

[8] Gerold Schmidt: Auf den Spuren des Urgroßvaters. inkota.de 13.09.2022.

[9] See also Hush Money Instead of Reparations and Die Berliner Reparationsverweigerung (II).