Bamenda and the Anglophone Crisis, Winning Or Losing It’s Development?

A road project realised under PIB

It is no news the North West and South West regions of Cameroon are plagued by a devastating socio-political crisis, morphed into an armed conflict. This is its fifth year counting and frustratingly enough, several activities have been halted, business slowed, lives and properties lost and a host of other ills surfaced to portray a disturbing image of human cruelty.

Unfortunately, this has left the North West Region, particularly its regional capital Bamenda underdeveloped, frustratingly more so if you want to consider the years of derelict in the periphery of the country’s projected or rather decried economic growth. Projects earmarked by various government, development agencies, local authorities and even local businesses and individuals have either been left unfinished, others completely abandoned in some cases diverted elsewhere.

Bamenda Online and its sister Organ City FM Radio recently dispatched a team of reporter to answer the following question “Where would the town of Bamenda have been in terms of development if not for the Anglophone crisis?”

They spoke to local authorities, businesses, traditional authorities and individuals to find out more about some of the projects that were earmarked but never or partially realized due to the crisis.

Jacob Mwacha, City Planner, Bamenda City Council says “Over the years we have thought not to focus only on council projects but mega projects. This included the World Bank project (the ring road) that has been halted for about three years. C2D projects envisaged to be realized within five years. So far three years have been wasted because of the crisis; we are therefore left with just two years.”

Mr. Mwacha goes further to say several other projects envisaged by the council but unfortunately could not but fully realized includes the “Sisia resilience project and restructuring for Sisia quarter” which has dragged on due to the crisis. The construction of a Multipurpose Town Hall by the council sponsored by FEICOM which is still at the Foundation level. The City Park funded partly by UN HABITAT and the City of Bamenda, indicating here that work had already commenced but is on halt. He also said the construction of a bulk market after mile 90 has grounded to a halt because of security challenges.

At the level of the sub divisional council the construction of Nitob Market, a project sponsored by FEICOM is almost abandoned due to the insecurity posed by the crisis. The Bamenda Horse Race event coupled with a track to be constructed after GTHS Bamendakwe in Bamenda I subdivision has been abandoned because the sponsors are unsure of investing in an insecure environment.

Businesses like Les Brasseries du Cameroun, the biggest brewery company in the Central Africa sub region and one of the major investors has pull back millions of francs CFA in structural, capacity, education and training investments in the Northwest region and Bamenda in particular.

Mr. Chi Francis, Senior Marketing Chief at Les Brasseries says his company usually organizes events in line with its social corporate responsibilities like the Top Cup, and the Mutzig Star Competitions that both unearth raw talent for the next generation in football and music fields, the Christmas for all parties that pump in hundreds of millions to school clubs, radio, advertisement, sponsorship, traditional dances, retails etc which has been scrap since the last one in 2015.

“We used to payout over 600 million (customers’ savings) francs CFA as bonuses to business every semester in 2015 but this has dropped to just about 40 million per semester since the crisis started. Each December before the crisis, Les Brasseries put aside 45 million in the ‘Christmas for All’, where 30 million goes out in cash prizes and 15 million frs in articles to various winners” This event has not held for 4 years now, that is close to 200 million frs being lost he explained.

Another disturbing aspect of the crisis he said was the huge number of workers and support staff laid off. “we used to have about 120 support staff like musicians, animators, sales agents and more who all benefited generous salaries but have all been laid off” he continued, adding that they salaries did not only benefitted them but their dependents as well.

“The Mutzig Star and Top Cup competitions approximately cashed out five million in cash and three millions in kind (jerseys, drinks) annually but these competitions are off since 2016” Mr. Chi explained, adding the company used to carry at least a public event every week where they pay 80 000 frs to the council area per event but they no longer do that again due to the crisis.

Back at the City Council, the city planner regretted the fact that some businesses have transferred their operations or part of their businesses to other regions. “Individuals had presented projects to construct in the region which were approved by the council; the projects were later taken to other regions due to the crisis. Schools and other infrastructures have been taken to other regions though approved by the City Council to be constructed in the region.”

Mr. Nwacha further laments on the slow rate of realization of those project that are finally executed. “What we witnessed between 2012 to 2016 and from 2016 to date, comparatively, we are working highly on a negative.” Though he will not place an exact percentage on the realization rate of some of the failed project, most he concluded were never realized and the credit lost for good.

It may be very difficult to place an exact finger on the number of projects and opportunities that the city of Bamenda has missed out of due to the ongoing Anglophone crisis, or pretend to say talking to the City Council and les Brasseries Du Cameroun can give us a real picture. But from close observation it’s easy to notice that several businesses like Camlait, Chococam, Afrique Construction, and hundreds of other small and big business initiatives like bars, shops, warehouses, schools have either closed down operations or transfer business to other region. A huge man force has also left the region, leaving a enormous gap in the labour market, while capital has also been transferred to safer place.

In spite of these difficulties, the council has braved the odds by devising measures to better execute its projects. Some of these include the involvement of locally based contractors who are versed with the terrain and can easily make their way through in difficult moments. The council has decided to go into partnership with the communities to fund projects to avoid destruction as a result of the ongoing crisis considering they feel the pain of their money spent in executing a project and are obliged to protect it. The Council has also embarked on educating the population on the need and importance of development in the community despite the security threats.

Auxiliaries to the traditional authorities likeQuarter heads have not been left out in the development of their various neighbourhood, though the realization rate is slow due to security issues, highlighted the Quarter head of Ntarinkon II, Chi Pius.

“We’ve embarked on the electrification of some obscure areas in the quarter. We also mobilized the quarter to carry out community work on some roads, including opening up gutters and filling pot holes. We also carried out door-to-door inspections in a hygiene sanitation effort to keep the quarter and her members free from disease. For electrification we have succeeded in installing some 27 street lamps around the quarter which has greatly reduced the insecurity situation in the quarter. Security remains a very pre occupying worry and we keep looking for ways and means for auto defense in the neighborhood.”

This is a similar method employed by the big corporations like Les Brasseries. Mr. Chi Francis says no matter the security challenges; they continue to think about their consumers. Les Brasseries despite losing million in the sale of bottle water in the region has gone ahead to work with local communities. One such is the constructions of a 32 million Frs modern solar powered water system at le Bien neigbhourhood in Bamenda II, expected to provide portable water to the people of Le Bien and beyond, they have also provided tens of 1000 litre containers at various markets, schools and orphanage in Bamenda and still continue to push ahead with bonus payments and award of excellence to students and pupils under its Coca Cola brand.

With the situation in Bamenda gradually improving, the council and government has stepped in to start major infrastructural development with the road network in Bamenda expected to get a major overhaul. There is current expansion work on some of the major road axis in the city, beginning at the entrance to town from the West region through Finance Junction, Miss Ngen, Veterinary Junction, Sonac Street, City Chemist, Food Market to Hospital Round About, through Mete Quartet, T-Junction Ayaba Street to Veterinary Junction and from Finance to Bambui all expected to be expanded to dual carriage roads.

It’s a political cliché, that “there is no development without peace” Peace has always been seen as a catalyst for development and human growth, there is no doubt then, that for four years, Bamenda has more or less stagnated in terms of development. Four years in quantitative and quality development, human growth, education and knowledge acquisition is unimaginable.

By Anye Nde Soh and Abongwa Fozo

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