The French Trials of Cléophas Kamitatu: Refugee Politics, Leftist Activism, and Françafrique in 1970s Paris

When and Where

Friday, April 26, 2019 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Munk 108N
North House
1 Devonshire Place, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 3K7


In the 1970s, the French lawyer Jean-Jacques de Félice served as defense counsel for Cléophas Kamitatu-Massamba of Congo-Zaïre, who was expelled from France in 1972 even though he had obtained political refugee status. At the request of Mobutu Sese Seko, the French Minister of the Interior had censored Kamitatu’s critical portrayal of the Mobutu regime, La Grande Mystification du Congo (published by François Maspero Press in 1970). The Kamitatu case illustrates how, even as France ratified the 1967 Protocol of the Geneva Convention on Refugees in 1971, immigration, censorship, and late Gaullist era Africa policies dominated political discussions. The attempts to censure Kamitatu’s book published by a French publisher and to deport him despite his status as political refugee show how various facets of French government engaged with international laws regulating refugees and deportation at the very time that Jacques Foccart, who had oriented France’s Africa policy since 1958, sought to integrate Congo-Zaïre into France’s sphere of influence in Africa. Kamitatu’s story thus exposes the network of Jacques Foccart as detrimental to French civil liberties, African opposition politics, and international refugee protocols alike. The chapter draws primarily on Kamitatu’s legal case files in the archives of his lawyer, Jean-Jacques de Félice. It places cause lawyering in historical perspective, promotes use of the lawyer’s archive as fertile historical method, and considers state and non-state actor networks in a common analytical framework.

Meredith Terretta earned her PhD in African history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She holds the Gordon F. Henderson Research Chair in Human Rights and teaches history at the University of Ottawa. She specializes in themes of African liberation movements, legal activism, histories of refuge-seeking, and human rights. She has recently coedited African Asylum at a Crossroads: Activism, Expert Testimony, and Refugee Rights (Ohio University Press, 2015). Her most recent single-authored book is Nation of Outlaws, State of Violence: Nationalism, Grassfields Tradition, and State-Building in Cameroon (Ohio University Press, New African Histories Series, 2014). Her articles appear in numerous journals including The Journal of Contemporary History, The Canadian Journal of History, Matériaux pour l’histoire de notre temps, Politique africaine, The Journal of World History, Human Rights Quarterly, and The Journal of African History. She is currently working on a book tentatively titled Activism at the Fringes of Empire: Rogue Lawyers and Rights Activists In and Out of Twentieth Century Africa. She is President of the Canadian Association of African Studies.


1 Devonshire Place, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 3K7