Heaps of garbage, stench of decay

In 2014, President Paul Biya on a visit to the town referred to Buea as a clean, beautiful town. He was even more charitable when he endorsed the “Legendary Hospitality” pet name with which the town had come to be identified. But in the ebbing days of 2018, the Buea mayoral authorities abruptly changed the Legendary Hospitality sobriquet to “City of Excellence.” Unfortunately however, the town didn’t have a facelift commensurate with the status of the city it had been bestowed with.

Workers of the waste disposal company, HYSACAM had downed tools, following the destruction of their garbage trucks by the so-called Amba boys and the fact that it was increasingly dangerous for them to perform their duties freely, without being hurt by the rag tag army. But a newspaper report had it that the Buea mayor had, by his magnanimity, personally funded HYSACAM and gotten the disposal company back to work.

However, despite the claims of magnanimity and all that, heaps of garbage and other waste material still litter the town, constituting a health hazard. Desperate denizens have resorted to burning their refuse, further compounding the risk of respiratory related diseases. Otherwise, refuse is now dumped at every other street corner. Certain people The Rambler approached thought that municipal authorities ought to have reverted to the pre-HYSACAM era, during which refuse disposal in the town was handled directly by council workers. At that time they claimed, the town wasn’t suffocating from the stench of decay surrounding residential houses as is presently the case.

On a similar note, residents of the town have intensified their criticism of the so called monthly ‘Keep Buea Clean’ campaigns which entails devoting one or two Wednesdays per month for everyone else to come out and clean the town. It should be recalled that on such days, civil servants keep off their offices for at least four hours, ostensibly to participate in keeping the town clean. All business places stay shut while taxis are forbidden from plying the streets.

However, it is an open secret that these special Wednesdays have more or less been converted to public holidays. Offices stay closed throughout; hardly any one engages in the cleanup campaign and the only beneficiaries are local administrators who are known to provide special dispensations for certain cabs to ply the streets against prescribed amounts of money paid, but which is widely believed to be unaccounted for.

It was expected that with HYSACAM’s job of clearing garbage having been compromised by marauding gangsters in the name of an army of liberation, the ‘Keep Buea Clean’ campaigns should have been upgraded and closely supervised to make up for the shortfall. But that is not quite the case. And the situation is gradually but surely getting out of hand. Instead, the only visible form of development in the municipality is the mushrooming of boutiques, courtesy of the local council. Someone recently joked that one out of every three residents of Buea can now be said to be a trader, selling one commodity or the other, going by the uncountable number of boutiques with which the council is littering the town.

Elsewhere, running water is a luxury. Long lines of children and other denizens are often seen trekking long distances to fetch water from brooks and streams. Access roads are practically nonexistent. Respective neighbourhoods are known to contribute money with which they grade their own roads or open up new ones. The banning of commercial biking in the town has made transportation, especially in the peripheries a big social headache. The town council has been conspiratorially silent in the midst of all of these social constraints. But it has been sporadic in ensuring that cars and other automobiles are not carelessly parked in the public space or along the roads as to block free circulation. Those in charge are known to clamp poorly parked automobiles, only having them released against a fee of FCFA 25,000.

That said, if the Buea municipal authorities are really serious about lifting the town to the status of a city and ensuring that it is one of excellence, then they face the urgent challenge of taking crucial lessons in waste management. In which case, the collection, transportation, disposal and recycling of waste ought to take precedence over the proliferation of boutiques.

Forgive VISION 4’s ‘press passes’

It wasn’t a secret. The late Jean Forchive, was the Government’s hangman. He was mourned on dry cheeks because of how he dealt ruthlessly and summarily with regime dissidents. I was his unwilling guest on a couple of occasions. He told me in Pidgin English: “I fit finish with you.” It was a frightful, chilling experience!

 My crime was to have asked Mr. Biya how the very gendarmes that voted 99 percent for him could turn their guns on him barely two weeks after election results were proclaimed.

The New York based Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, was three years old at the time. CPJ fought for my release. CPJ has been consistent on its fight for free media worldwide and defending the rights of journalists to report news without fear of reprisal. Unfortunately, CPJ has so far been rather conveniently hesitant to draw a line between impostors, “Journalists Iscariot” and professional journalists imbued with high ethical and deontological standards.

On Tuesday, July 18, 2017, I was at the New York headquarters of the CPJ where we debated issues of freedom of expression and media regulation. It was stormy, with yours truly challenging the CPJ for advertently defending criminals purporting to be journalists. I suggested to my New York hosts that CPJ practically prays for any mindless scribbler to run into trouble so that the committee has work to do.

This brings me to a certain scandal house of communication, aka ‘VISION 4’ and the dreadful tripe and treacle it has been spewing, often with the blessing of nebulous judicial artifice. Note that the latest sleaze ‘VISION 4’ broadcast was the purported death of Gabonese President, Ali Bongo. ‘VISION 4’ Invited to tell their own side of the story, ‘VISION 4’ snubbed the National Communication Council, NCC, invitation. They were served a relatively mild sanction, hardly commensurate with its diffusion of fake news and disregarding constituted authority. As usual, the “bawdy house,” including hirelings on its payroll ranted like ants while heaping invectives on the NCC.  Even when it was proven beyond all reasonable doubts that Bongo was alive, ‘VISION 4’ neither retracted nor apologized.

Besides ‘VISION 4’s’ latest brainlessness, the TV station is noted for systematically devoting hours of hate speech, with muckrakers referring to some Cameroonians as cockroaches and rats good to be fumigated. This media outfit is noted for cheap rant and cant, including broadcasting pictures of a nude professor in the name of journalism. Their warped idea of press freedom is shared by quite a good number of busybodies and wannabes.

As far as this class of people goes, journalists are above the law. Journalists can publish seditious libel and go Scot free. Journalists are free to destroy the good name of any institution or individual, unchecked by any social legislation or laws. In short, journalism in their view is the art of criticizing, even denigrating everyone else without recourse to legality. That is why ‘VISION 4’ expects to be hailed when the outfit broadcasts pictures of nude or calls individuals unprintable names on air. That is why when some other television station screens gory pictures of decapitated human bodies and is sanctioned, cringing inconsequential lobbyists must turn up, draw the attention of Western vested interests and decry press censorship. For people of their ilk, it is either their way or the highway.

Certain other points that I raised at the New York meeting with officials of the CPJ included why it was that after the bombing of the Twin Towers next door to the headquarters, not a single one of the thousands of dead people was shown on an American television Channel. I asked why it was that even at the level of the “permissive” social media, Americans were wary of posting gory pictures or even using insulting language on presumed opponents or enemies. And why was the CPJ always so quick to defend proven gangsters, especially in African countries that were pretending to be journalists?

The good thing was that we agreed that all journalistic freedoms have limits; that limitations on free speech have to be legitimate and proportional. No doubt, Cameroon’s National Communication Council has all along been operating within this context. Understandably, norms are created within individual countries. How laws are interpreted would be up to peculiar jurisprudential options. Sometimes they are poorly or deliberately wrongly interpreted, depending on the tastes, preferences, idiosyncrasies or gullibility of the presiding judge. I suspect this to have happened when ‘VISION 4’ celebrated with idiotic fanfare the fact that Peter Essoka, NCC President was jailed after the media outfit was duly sanctioned.

Lest we forget, relative freedom of speech or media came to Cameroon like a spurt. Journalists and ordinary citizens alike were shocked to the reality of what is meant to discuss and publish issues freely and so preyed on the freedom like locusts on a maize farm, ravishing it. To the extent cocktail journalists like we have at ‘VISION 4’ thought they could justifiably glorify hate speech and insurrection on the pages of newspapers or on airwaves.

Last Line…

Imagine family members of the senator/varsity don zapping to ‘VISION 4’ only to see their husband and dad being paraded stark naked. Imagine Bongo’s family members getting the announcement on ‘VISION 4’ that the president of Gabon had died. Imagine a bona-fide Cameroonian citizen being labeled on television as a cockroach and rat. And Tchiroma, minister of Communication as he then was, turns up at the very station to congratulate the local version of ‘Radio Mille Colline’ for “doing a great job…” Then I ask you, ‘who then, is responsible for ensuring that the media is honest and is telling the truth? Whose responsibility it is to ensure that the legal bar to establish inciting violence is absolutely high?

‘VISION 4’ may be flamboyant in their buffoonery, but we could still forgive them their press passes.


Why they are fuelling a war without end

Prior to and on December 31, 2018 many Cameroonians were all ears and speculating. They hoped that Biya’s traditional address to the nation would calm tested and frayed nerves and end the stupid two year long war in which uncountable lives have so far been lost and the economy mangled. Biya loyalists eventually, expectedly hailed his address which they said reflected the president’s “wisdom and deft approach to governance.”

But the teeming masses, especially those directly affected by the war thought otherwise. As far as they go, Biya and his advisers have been tactlessly intransigent. Biya’s threat to “neutralize” militants who didn’t drop their weapons was a thoughtless riot act, very unnecessary at a time the country was steadily buckling under, with countless of her teeming youths either killing or being killed. Biya, they insisted, ought to have been fatherly, softer, especially considering that his iron fist approach to solving the problem is hurting everyone else, including teeming Cameroonian masses in general and the soldiers and civilians being mowed down like disposable animals.

A public affairs analyst noted that the intractable nature of the conflict would have been mitigated, had regime hawks not been fuelling and deriving direct socio-economic gains from it. According to him, claims by Ambazonian separatists notwithstanding, the situation has been further worsened by bad governance, epitomized by social injustice across the board, maladministration and intolerance.  He said that resorting to denial, time buying and heaping of resources on propaganda was merely postponing the evil day. “You don’t solve a problem by pretending that it doesn’t exist.” Rather, he noted, it is often advisable to invite the complainant, sit down with them and put the cards face up on the table. Papering visible cracks and forming money guzzling commissions is tantamount to playing the proverbial ostrich, he warned.

The Rambler investigations revealed that rather than douse the raging fire of war, Biya’s vow to exterminate militants intensified the latter’s resolve to fight on. A source said that some 40 Ambazonian militants out of an estimated three thousand have so far surrendered to the disarmament commission which Biya created late last year. Some others are said to be still considering how and when to negotiate safe access to the commission. The 40, we learnt, are being debriefed somewhere in Bali.

On the other hand, limited sections of the population are reportedly cooperating with the regular army entrusted with the mission of routing or “neutralizing” the rebel fighters. The reason we got is that the biting effects of the ‘ghost towns’ on the people, the kidnappings and extortion of ransoms plus other acts of incivility on the part of the militants is turning the tables of trust from “faceless liberators” to a “visible elements of law and order.”

But the military, who themselves have on occasion gone berserk, raping, killing, looting and burning homesteads are not having it easy defeating the militants outright. Relatively, they are still having a hell of a time containing the determined “Amba boys” on the one hand and completely winning the confidence of the people on the other. This is further explained by the fact of people saying that “Biya’s New Year address was a mere babble. That it were best he kept quiet instead of saying the things that he said in the address. According to this class of individuals, “the war would be fought to the end and won.”

Meanwhile, the Northwest, like most of the Southwest Region is almost in complete shutdown. Only two Sub-Divisions out of the many in the Region are still functional in the true sense of the word. They are Bamenda l and Santa. Roads have been dug up, bridges destroyed and other vital infrastructures ruined. Most school gates remain tightly shut.

Elsewhere, administrative buffoonery and other forms of ineptitude continue to be perpetrated. Certain government officials are busy fanning the embers of war with a naïve view to being seen as punishing “enemies of the state.” They take ridiculous decisions that include denying access to food and other forms of basic assistance to detainees connected with the Anglophone crisis. An example is that of the charity going by the name Ayah Foundation, known to have taken succour to refugees in most parts of the English speaking Regions and Nigeria. But at the Yaounde Maximum Security Prison where about a thousand of the people are being detained reportedly under poor conditions, the provisions were rejected by prison officials and foundation members ordered to beat a hasty retreat.

Other reports talk of sleazy practices, whereby some local administrators and elected municipal authorities have been stealing relief materials, including food items, while those for whom the government destined the items are pining away at internally displaced people’s camps and in the bushes.

Any how one looks at the situation; it becomes only clear that many top brass are ironically working for the war to continue and not the other way round. Because they are benefitting from the misfortune of fellow citizens in many ways.

By Charlie Ndi Chia