- Mbonjo sits in the heart of Cameroon’s country’s largest oil palm and rubber-producing region. In 2000, state-owned oil palm plantations around the village were acquired by Société Financière des Caoutchoucs (Socfin), a Belgian holding company that operates palm oil and rubber plantations through dozens of subsidiaries across Africa and Southeast Asia. Today, the company owns some 58,000 hectares of oil palm and rubber plantations in the region, which are managed Socfin’s local subsidiary Socapalm.
- In 2012, Socapalm attempted to expand the plantation into new areas. However, efforts to do so were met with opposition from the community, according to local residents who said they were living in the places the company wanted to take over.
- Socapalm ultimately withdrew from the area. But the fear that someday the company will return and try again to take their land persists in Mbonjo as issues surrounding the concession boundaries have remained unresolved. NGOs who have visited Mbonjo have documented several problems with the plantation operations, including unresolved issues surrounding land rights, poor housing conditions for workers and a low integration of the local population into the workforce.
- Socfin CEO Luc Boedt refutes claims that Socfin has harmed communities, saying instead that the company has helped them by training residents in modern agriculture practices, supplying nutrients to improve soil fertility, ensuring the availability of water and electricity, providing opportunities for education and jobs, and creating a market for smallholder crops.
The first time Emmanuel Elong wrote a letter to Vincent Bolloré was in 2013.
“The impact of the group that you are controlling on our lives is immense,” he wrote. “And because we have never had any contact with the representatives of this group, Socfin, we are reaching out to you to help us solve this.”
Elong, a 51-year-old farmer from a tiny village in Cameroon called Mbonjo, decided to bring his grievances to the table of one of France’s most influential businessmen, Vincent Bolloré, CEO of the French multinational Bolloré and ranked 451 on the Forbes billionaires list. Bolloré is active in logistics, plastic production, media, telecommunications, advertising and tropical plantations in West Africa. The Groupe Bolloré is a key shareholder of Belgian multinational Socfin (holding 38.75 %), which owns rubber and oil palm plantations in West Africa and South East Asia. In Cameroon, Socfin leased about 78,400 hectares of land from the Cameroonian government.
An attempted takeover
Mbonjo sits in the heart of the country’s largest oil palm and rubber-producing region, an island of tin-roofed huts surrounded on all sides by thousands of oil palm trees reaching 15 meters into the blue Cameroonian sky. The formerly state-owned operation was acquired by Socfin in 2000. Today, the company owns some 58,000 hectares of oil palm and rubber plantations in the region, which are managed Socfin’s local subsidiary Socapalm.