AT THE FOREFRONT OF THE FIGHT FOR BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS for the people of Cameroon is Cameroonian Maximilienne C. Ngo Mbe, recently honored with the prestigious 2022 Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Human Rights Award.
In an interview with FORBES AFRICA, Ngo Mbe speaks of her early motivation to take to defending human rights: “My father, being a teacher, saw his rights regularly besmirched and violated… He received a miserable salary and on top of that he had to wait months to receive it. What’s more, the working conditions were difficult. It is all this situation that pushed me to fight since my childhood for the respect of teachers’ rights.” Ngo Mbe, Executive Director of the Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (REDHAC), says receiving the award feels like a dream.
Since 2010, she has led REDHAC in its efforts to promote civic spaces and protect fundamental freedoms throughout Central Africa through investigations of human rights abuses, advocacy before regional human rights bodies, monitoring of democratic processes, and demanding state accountability. She was also named an International Woman of Courage in 2021 by the U.S. Department of State.
“The empowerment of women has always been of paramount importance in so far as their contribution to the management of the household is undeniable,” she says, sharing her thoughts on the importance of uplifting women on the continent. “Is it not women in rural and urban areas who make sure that daily meals are cooked and that children receive an education? If, for any number of reasons, the father of the family is unable to play his role fully, it is the woman who does so effectively. We have seen this during the crises that have shaken the world.”
With over 30 years of experience, Ngo Mbe is sure about her mission going forward.
“I know one thing – I am leading a legitimate and laudable fight for the defense, protection and promotion of human rights. Many people benefit from it in Cameroon and in the Central African sub-region. I receive threats, dirty tricks, but also awards. This is how my life goes and I assume it is a long-term struggle, at the same time exhausting, arduous and exhilarating. How far and when? Only God knows.
“In order to move forward in life, you have to look in the rear-view mirror. I realize that beyond the threats and blows that we take at REDHAC, from afar, we are seen, and we are appreciated.”