What If the South African Courts Were Right in Confiscating Baba Danpullo’s Assets

What If the South African Courts Were Right in Confiscating Baba Danpullo’s Assets

Colbert Gwain

I might have still been in the Junior Secondary School in Fundong in the Boyo Division of the North West Region of Cameroon in the 80s, but I knew virtually every well-to-do businessman in that community. One of such was a certain Pa Dominic, a popular bar owner of Bali extraction who had settled in Fundong in the seventies. No civil servant nor any person of mettle in Fundong then would be said to have had a well-spent day if s/he didn’t take a drink in Pa Dominic’s bar, situated off the jaws of Fundong Grandstand.

Pa Dominic had made a good fortune in Fundong and in turn,  decided to expand his bar and soya roasting business to real estate development. With his good standing in the lone vibrant micro-finance institution, the Fundong Credit Union, where most businessmen and civil servants in the Boyo Divisional capital served their money, and with his friendly connection to the management, he took a huge loan and invested in real estate adjacent the Fundong Government Primary School, GSS Fundong. His businesses continued to flourish, especially as indigenes took the lead in patronizing him.

He was the talk of the town and many appreciated the fact that he could leave his native Bali, by-pass Bamenda, and choose to settle in distant Fundong, despite the rugged nature of the road by then. Equally,  I had a good number of friends and acquaintances who were renting some of Pa Dominic’s apartments.

One day, I stopped by to check on one of my good friends only to see a Fundong Credit Union board, conspicuously planted next to the wall of the real estate with the bold inscriptions: “This is the property of the Fundong Credit Union”. On enquiring from my friend how a property everyone in Fundong had known to belong to Pa Dominick had suddenly become that of Fundong Credit Union, he told me how they as tenants were also embarrassed when Fundong Credit Union management informed them of the change of ownership.

Upon further inquiry,  I was told that Pa Dominick had taken a huge loan for his businesses from the Fundong Credit Union, with his estates in Fundong as collateral. As he started defaulting on repayments because of a slum in his business activities,  the Fundong Credit Union took the matter before the Fundong Magistrate’s Court.

After a series of failed reconciliation attempts and after a chain of adjustments, the court finally granted the prayer of the Fundong Credit Union. Pa Dominick started running into one difficulty after another until he folded up in Fundong and quietly went away to start a new life elsewhere. Although he knew for a fact that there were equally kom flourishing businesses in his Mezam Division where he could go back and whip up “patriotism” sentiments and claim with effortless ease, his conscience informed him that Fundong had given more to him than he would want to take.

Pa Dominick’s case and the Fundong Credit Union incident might have seemed an isolated scenario then, but more frequently in the towns and cities of Cameroon we come across instances where Credit Unions and banks confiscate individuals’ properties for loan repayment defaults.  At times, even empty plots are seized and cautioned to recover the loans. Those working in loan departments of micro-finance institutions narrate myriads of sorry stories and threats they come across in the loan recovery process. They would tell you how meek and gentle borrowers appear when they are still negotiating the loan and how “bestial” they become when creditors pressurize them to honor their engagements. At times some go personal with members of the loan recovery board, confronting them with machetes and threatening hell if they ever pass around the vicinity of their property. In the process, some debtors or borrowers go away with the situation, and the micro-finance institutions and banks write them off as bad loans.

Yet, the thrifts and loans community seems to be the one world there is no room for sentiments. Just like Pa Dominick’s estates were confiscated in Fundong (some 500 meters from Fujua where Baba Danpullo was birthed before he grew up to settle in Ndawara and set up his amazing ranch), so too were the same banking rules applied to Cameroon’s business tycoon, Alhaji baba Danpullo in South Africa. Just like Fundong welcomed and accompanied Pa Dominick in growing his business in Kom for close to 30 years, so too did South Africa for Baba Danpullo.

Worthy of note is that after Pa Dominick,  many indigenous Kom people have seen their residences and business places confiscated by microfinance institutions that could be imagined. Worthy of note is the strict business environment in South Africa has seen many more South African real estates and other properties confiscated in real-time than can be imagined. The only safety valve that enables a borrower to escape property seizure in South Africa after repayment defaults, is declaring bankruptcy. A legal loophole Baba Danpullo failed to exploit.

Those playing the xenophobia soundbites today fail to tell Cameroonians how the business magnet succeeded in becoming a leading business owner in South Africa,  if not for an enabling business environment for all. They have soon forgotten that the said business magnate used the same South African connection in the 90s to “clear” Cameroon of the tea sector through a privatization deal. Is real xenophobia not when one encounters problems in his or her host country and rushes back home to attack the businesses of foreigners in his home country the way Danpullo has done by blocking MTN and CHOCOCAM accounts in Douala?

But, how can one not be fair to Alhadji Baba Danpullo, the richest businessman in francophone West Africa? Richard Fondong, the fine Cameroonian writer explained in an article recently how although he was against Eto’I Fils’ management style at the FA, he has nevertheless, benefitted from Eto’o Fils’ popularity. He explained how he survived being kidnapped and tortured during one of his UN trips to one of the Latin American countries simply because he told the rebels he was from Cameroon and they asked whether he was Eto’o Fils’ brother and he accepted.

Similarly,  when I was in South Africa in 2020, I had to benefit from lots of favors from South Africans when they showed me the tallest skyscrapers in Jo’burg as belonging to a Cameroonian business magnet, and I proudly “claimed relation”. Since then, I have still been looking forward to meeting Alhadji and explaining to him how proud of him I am each time I am in Johannesburg until this Danpullo/MTN-Chococam wahala came up.

In the spirit of ubuntu, I strongly believe South African and Cameroonian authorities are capable of working out ways and means of getting the South African and Cameroonian courts to tamper justice with mercy so that Baba Danpullo can resume his activities in this “Rainbow” country, while MTN and CHOCOCAM continue working with the serenity of the past.

.At the same time, Danpullo must desist from developing the kind of Jesus Christ-like anger that pushed him to condemn the fig tree to barrenness just because he was hungry and approached the flowery-looking tree only to discover it had not bore fruits (even as Jesus knew it was not the season for figs). The same transferred aggression made him beat up Pharisees and Sadducees selling in His Father’s temple (even as he had seen them do so severally).

Colbert Gwain is a digital space immigrant, an accomplished author, radio host, and content creator known for his work at The Colbert Factor. Additionally, he actively contributes as a Commitment Maker for the UN Women Generation Equality Action Coalitions. Colbert identifies himself as an African Citizen merely residing in Cameroon, driven by his unwavering support for the Africans Rising campaign, which advocates for a #borderless Africa.
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