The unsung pangs of ‘ghost towns’

By Achaleke Ashley*

From a seemingly inoffensive offshoot of a minor protest by lawyers and teachers ghost town phenomena have morphed to a credo in the two Anglophone regions with well-articulated rituals attached to non-adherence.The advent of the socio-political crisis in October 2016 in the Anglophone regions midwifed ghost town in December 2016, as a weapon to induce government compliance to conjuring up solutions to Anglophone recriminations against marginalization. A brainchild of the separatist fringe of disgruntled Anglophones the weapon has been diligently implemented even as the Cameroonian authorities initially denied the existence of an “Anglophone problem.” It was declared by the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium that Mondays should be ‘Operation Ghost Town.’

During these ghost towns citizens are expected to stay at home, shops and businesses are not to open and if one is spotted open by the separatist on a Ghost Town day, it is rumored that they follow that individual up and warn him or her or instantly do away with her/his life or burn down the store. And this was highly respected at the start. All schools, from nurseries to universities remain closed on this day for fear of being attacked or torched. This shut down was so as to force the government to abide by the demands of the Anglophone community. This act has led to countless loss of lives and injuries on civilians.

So far this is not the first time President Paul Biya is faced with non-functioning towns. This ghost town is a tactic that dates back to the early 1990s. As far back as 1991 a series of pro-democracy demonstrations ended with bloodshed after clashes between students, other youths and security forces. The opposition responded to the shooting and killing demonstrators by employing Operation Ghost Town. This crisis is deadlocked but the government and separatists are sticking to irreconcilable positions. Each believes in their own greedy so called authority. Both sides are not ready to explore compromise solutions. The security forces acted like snails but by mid 2018, they inflicted heavy casualties on the separatists. There have been several attempts on dialogue between both sides but neither the government nor the separatists are ready to make things right or come to a compromise.

Though Ghost Town is highly respected by the Anglophone regions, taxes are paid normally by store owners or business owners regardless of if they respect the Ghost Town or not. A store owner says no matter how they try to avoid problems it seems it cannot be avoided because if one respects Ghost Town the Mayor breaks open their locks or shutters, or better still adds another “municipal” lock. They face a lot of difficulties too from the separatists who could burn down one’s store for opening.This is rather confusing for them as they fear persecution on both sides.

They say if you want to know the effect of being citizens in this country dare you not pay tax then and only then can you know that the Cameroon government does not take anything as serious as the tax citizens pay. Taxes had been increased from last year. According to some store owners they now pay above what was previously expected from them. Some tax collectors walk around and ask for petty offerings to keep in their pocket but at the end it is not recorded that they had paid tax therefore double crossing them.

 Some business owners complained of being regular tax payers but their shops which are their property are forced open on Ghost Town days by a marauding Buea mayor which to them, amounts to invasion of privacy or sheer municipal insanity. Those stores belong to them and whatever they choose to do is to their detriment. As long as they pay their taxes, they maintain, they should be allowed to open or close as they wish. Howbeit, the ghost town affects them in a lot of ways. They are made to stay at home doing nothing. Though to some it is an advantage to others it may not be same case as they seem to lose a lot on such days with massive decreases in their turnover. They don’t open on Ghost Town days to ensure customers purchase from them so they have enough for their family and to take care of personal needs.

Some stay at home and work which is to be done at the office is postponed to the following day causing piled up work and the stress added on individuals has a massive negativity because at first many businesses functioned daily from Mondays to Saturdays but now they are forced to start from Tuesday to Saturday which is a decrease in their budget. Also, pressure from government and separatists are issues they are sometimes unable to handle as every authority wants the citizens to respect their orders.

      This crisis headache is becoming unbecoming and as time goes on, more days are placed for Ghost Town making some businesses to collapse under inconsistent trends. A workable ghost town calendar has been suggested by economic pragmatists if only to avoid such inconveniences as are faced when they are abruptly “decreed.”

As one industrialist put it, “the Ghost Town phenomenon especially in Buea is a serious difficulty that needs to be addressed by an authority more astute and level-headed that what from all indications is a psychotic case of a municipal authorities that is in the habit of leading drugged thugs to hack open private business enterprises, leaving same to the mercy of separatist hoodlums.

*Siantou journalism student on internship

Erratic mayor grounds business in Buea

Lawlessness is certainly not the preserve of notorious criminals or jailbirds. This assertion has recently been ascribed credence by Buea Mayor Ekema Patrick Esunge, who has decided that the wrath from his inability to wrestle Ambazonian separatists to a standstill on the issue of suffocating ghost-towns, has to fall on businessmen and cab drivers.

To the extent that indiscriminate shutting down of business premises and seizure of driving licenses and vehicle documents from township taxi drivers as a means to force them defy ghost town edicts has become customary, highly placed government functionaries and masters of the law have begun trading legal punches in regard to the desirability or otherwise for Mayor Ekema to unilaterally seal business premises without regard to governing statutes.

Pundits aver that his malignant display of insensitivity to the plight of the residents of Buea municipality infringes onSection 19 sub A of the Cameroon penal code, which gives only the court powers to hand down such decisions and eventual enforcement.

Mayor Ekema on his part holds fast to his draconian measures, claiming to be politically correct, in a bid to battle with the ghost of intransigence.

According to Chief Barrister Eta Besong Jr., who broke the seal placed on the doors of his chambers, the actions of the mayor are illegal, untenable and bad. “The first thing we have to find out is whether what is being done is in accordance with the law, or it is in violation of the law. I believe what is going on now, is in total violation of the law. The constitution says that everybody has inalienable and sacred rights, and if these rights are violated and swept under the carpet, you don’t expect the people to say Amen! Draconian measures have never solved any problem in the world. Draconian measures create only resistance,” he noted.

 He further explains that, “the constitution says no person may be compelled to do what the law does not prescribe, the same constitution says no person may be punished except by virtue of a law enacted and published, again the constitution says no person shall be harassed on grounds of his beliefs,” he stated in a local television programme.

In accordance with the law, if a business operator believes that it is not in his interest to open on Mondays, you cannot punish him, otherwise you would be going against the constitution. He explained that “leadership is abiding by the rules and regulations of a country. There is a distinction between what the mayor says and what a municipality says. The mayor is not the municipality; municipal decisions are taken during council sessions and must be forwarded to the supervisory authorities for a visa.”

What the mayor is doing is both criminally liable and civilly liable because he is acting in contravention of the laws. You cannot be legally wrong and say you are politically correct. Is closure of establishments and impounding of taxis a solution?

“I am asking the Mayor to read section 19 sub A of the penal code, which talks about the closure of establishments. That is an accessory penalty, it says that, that measure cannot be taken except by a decision of a court and it is only enforceable by a court decision. The mayor has no court decision and is acting outside of the law. The mayor has to be told enough is enough and end this wild goose chase that would never lead to legality.”

Monday morning saw Bonduma to Great Soppo sealed, while cab drivers flocked to the Buea council, demanding the release of some 200 taxis confiscated the previous night by council thugs, aided by security forces at the behest of the Mayor. According to field reports, they were offered bribes and other cajolements like gallons of petrol, to work on Mondays. These drivers stood their grounds saying, they would only operate on Mondays if there is maximum security and if passengers would be available, which was very uncertain.

Tuesday saw council thugs and heavily armed policemen, picking up some business owners and sealing their shops, on grounds that, they did not operate on Monday. Sealing continued from Checkpoint down to the Total gas filling station in Molyko. It is also important to note that, some business operators along the major highway revealed that, some of them squeeze in some money into the hands of the thugs, before their businesses can be spared from sealing.

This reporter carried a tour and met many of these business people, who described the mayor’s actions as inhuman, because of the fact that, even people’s makeshift businesses along the road side, were sadistically destroyed. All of them revealed that, they cannot operate on Mondays because of a high the level of insecurity, which some of them noted even the military cannot give them assurance.

In recent times, many business premises have been burnt down by unidentified men for operating on Mondays, taxis set on fire, businessmen and cab drivers threatened.

Nathaly Mojoko,  a makeshift business owner along the roadside says “the mayor walks with the world’s security, which even follow him to his house and guard him 24\7. What about poor people like us? My brother who works with the CDC is almost useless now after his hands were chopped off by separatists. I would only operate on Mondays if only I see the mayor walking alone on Mondays. I cannot be deceived, my life is more important,”she ended.

By Atembeh Ngewung Lordfred

Taxi drivers will work on Mondays if security is assured

Taxi drivers have recently been caught in the web of Separatist fighters (their cars burnt) and Government officials (taxis impounded) whether or not they ply the road on Monday. It is in this light that taxi drivers in Buea have reaffirmed their decision to work on Mondays only if their security would be guaranteed. They jointly spoke recently during a meeting decrying the fact that taxi drivers have been placed at the centre of political issues in the country.

Akwe Edwin, President of the National Syndicate of Taxi Drivers in Cameroon, SYNTACAM, said he decided to invite drivers and hold a discussion with them because of the prevailing insecurity and dicey political situation in the country.

After a brief deliberation, they resolved that they are willing to work on Mondays but that due to insecurity, their operation doing so could become very risky. They, however, appealed that the administration should do something as far as peace is concerned in the country.

“I think that there is no one who loves the country more than another. We are all Cameroonians and we believe that if we have to play our role, it is to support whoever stands for peace so that peace should reign in the country, especially in the two English speaking Regions,” Akwe noted.

He said the message is that taxi drivers need peace. “We are appealing to the Government to do something about this problem. It is not really easy because when we talk of insecurity, it is not possible to leave our homes when we are not sure of our security. He stood on the fact that most administrators are moving with the military or police guards, while they (drivers) don’t have a guaranteed security but are expected to ply the road on a risky day like Monday.

“They have burnt so many cars in Buea and last time we had a meeting with the mayor, I personally asked a question to the mayor on what the council has done to support those drivers whose vehicles were burnt because they worked on Monday, but no concrete answer was given. If there is peace and security, I think everyone will resume their duty.”

Samuel Molombe, another branch President of S/N SYNCHTACAM stated that he was very impressed about the meeting after a series of crisis recently which really affected township drivers. “As Presidents of the various taxi drivers’ syndicates we are not politicians but out to defend our drivers to fight for their problems. We are praying that God tempers justice with mercy. Our drivers should be allowed as far as the crisis is concerned” he implored. Molombe prayed that God should step in and touch the leaders of Cameroon, so that they should go deep into the problem so that this issue should be resolved emphasizing on the much needed peace and dialogue.

“Drivers are saying that they should stop using them because they are not politicians and which that message has to flow” he indicated. On whether they will be working on Mondays, he said security is the best, for without security, he has nothing else to say. He added that he was just the president and drivers have their proprietors, so the decision has to come from drivers and their proprietors.

Denis Musumbe, an elected President of Buea SYNCHTACAM also held that ‘Ghost town’ wasn’t spearheaded by taxi drivers syndicates but that it appears the blame is being placed on them or they are being put at the centre of the crisis. As a president, he recounted that he has been a victim of the burning of taxis which till date he hasn’t a car with which he could go out and work. “Even though our security may be guaranteed when we work on Mondays,” Musumbe stated, the problem is that those burning cars don’t burn taxis during the day but at night and in some cases, even kill drivers.

Another driver who spoke to The Rambler revealed that, on a certain ‘ghost town’ Monday while he was working, he came across a BIR official who asked him where he was going and whether he wasn’t scared of his life. This, according to the driver reveals that even if they work on Monday, their security cannot not be guaranteed because if a military personnel could say such to him, it means they themselves know the risk on the ground and are not ready to protect drivers.

Many of the drivers who attended the meeting, noted that a meeting was held at the council during which the Mayor emphasized that taxis that don’t work on Mondays will not be impounded but if those who did not work on Monday decide to do so from Tuesday and beyond, then a penalty shall be slammed on them.

This according to the drivers will rather intensify the ‘ghost towns’ because if all drivers receive a penalty for working on Tuesday and not Monday, then they will continue the ‘ghost town’ by not working at all.

By Relindise Ebune

Poverty, insecurity, lawlessness crippling Cameroon

The biting poverty currently being experienced in Cameroon in general and the two English speaking Regions in particular is without doubt an offshoot of the regime’s decision to go to war instead of parleying. Following this war project is palpable insecurity, lawlessness and impunity across the board.

The average English speaking Cameroonian is caught in the web of a rag tag army of separatists. They restrict the freedom to attend school, do business and move freely. They kidnap and extort ransoms and sometimes kill their victims outright. They have ghost towns imposed on the territory with most key sources of the people’s livelihood destroyed. On the other hand, local administrators, especially in Buea have gone haywire, criminally sealing private business premises. They are finishing off what is left of an economy already in a coma.

Security operatives have, unfortunately, also adopted the bad sadism of brutalizing, putting people through lots of psychological and physical stress by randomly torturing, looting, killing and extorting from a people that are barely surviving, not living.

Even as a swashbuckling mayor of Buea is making the rounds, forcing people from their homes on ‘ghost town’ days, on the frivolous basis of the town having been “secured” the rag tag separatist fighters are still wreaking havoc. Two lawyers, Messrs, Wilfred Shribe and Ndetan Victor were kidnapped in Buea last week. Shribe wrote on social media shortly after he was released days later:

“I was abducted at about 2 pm from my home last Wednesday at Mile 16 just after I returned from the office and was and was heading to a funeral. They were four armed men and three of them were younger than my son who will be 23 in March.

“I was taken to their base, tortured both physically and mentally. I also paid some ransom. My phone seized but my sim card was given back to me. I was released on Friday and I got home at exactly 2pm same time that I was taken from my home.

“My family and I want to thank FAKLA and the entire Bar for the prayers and whatever assistance you made towards my release…”

Barrister Ndetan Victor is still being held by his captors nearly a week after he was abducted. Meanwhile the mayor’s thugs were yesterday, Monday and aided by security operatives intimidating individual businessmen to open their doors for business. On Sunday, they were afield, commandeering taxicabs and locking them up at the council premises. The cabs would only be released on Monday, against an undertaking that its drivers or owners must beat the ‘ghost town edict.’

On Monday however, Buea streets were still deserted. All school doors, including the University of Buea,UB, remained tightly shut. The mayor is not known to have visited private homes to, in characteristic style, forcefully take away children from their parents or have teachers report for teaching duty. He didn’t go anywhere near the university to maybe force the VC and lecturers to get into empty lecture rooms.

Elsewhere, traveling on the nation’s highways has become something of a bazaar. Passengers, especially those using commercial transport are routinely made to step down at the multiple checkpoints that litter the highways. Their national identity cards are collected by the security operatives manning what has been described as illegal toll gates and only returned against a bribe of FCFA 1,000 each.

On Sunday, January 27, a lady in her late fifties decided that she would abandon her identification document with the police at a checkpoint after Dschang in the West Region than pay the compulsory bribe of FCFA 1,000. The thieving cops held it back. And when she approached a cop wearing a higher rank at the checkpoint, to complain about what had just happened to her, the cop merely shrugged and beseeched her to “go and pay something.” That is how much impunity and a general moral turpitude taken root in Cameroon.  

Power gear shifts at SONARA

Personnel and other stakeholders of Cameroon’s lone refining company, SONARA, are easily credited with succeeding over the years in shifting every precise gear with the utmost care and with a view to sustaining the sterling industrial qualities with which the enterprise is noted. But when the gears shifted last week, it happened administratively. Managerial power changed hands.

A new BOD chairperson replaced Mr. John Ebong Ngole, who had held the position for 25 years. She is Mrs. Ndoh Bertha née Bakata. Named to that office by the head of state, her appointment was endorsed by the SONARA Board of Directors, following an extraordinary BOD meeting at the premises of the refinery.

Similarly, the task of keeping the command, nay, pivotal gear working for optimum productivity shifted from Ibrahim Talba Malla to Jean Paul Simo Njonou whom the BOD, still following the head of state’s decision, endorsed as the New General Manager of SONARA. Njonou is aged 54. Talba Malla, who was named on January 4, to be Minister Delegate at the Presidency of the Republic in Charge of Public Contracts will now fully settle down in that office, knowing relief that he and Ebong Ngole have handed over the baton of continuity to competent hands.

Following an hour long conclave, the Minister of Water and Energy, Gaston Eloundou Essomba, officially installed the new officials into their new offices.

Mrs. Ndoh Bertha, who hails from Meme Division, Southwest Region, is a Journalism and Mass Communication expert. She served for several years as a Lecturer at the Journalism and Mass Communication, Department, JMC, University of Buea, UB. But since 2003, she has been serving as a Special Advisers to Cameroon’s Prime Minister and Head of Government.

 Her appointment on Monday, January 14, as SONARA Board Chair was just one more feather that was stuck on her scarf of performance.

She takes over an office that was so far exclusively occupied by men ever since the refinery was commissioned some 38 years ago in 1981. Njonou who hails from the West Region steps onto the managerial cockpit as only the fourth indigenous General Manager to manage SONARA since its birth.

The late Bernard Eding was the very first Cameroonian General Manager. Charles Metouck replaced him and reigned until 2013. The outgoing GM, Ibrahim Talba Malla took over on February 15, 2013, and on January 4, after five years of service, he was elevated to the rank of a Minister with office at the Presidency of the Republic.

The Minister of Water and Energy, especially, congratulated the outgoing Board Chair, John Ebong Ngole and the outgoing GM, Talba Malla, for a job well done.

He said the successful completion of the first phase of the modernization and expansion of SONARA, in November 2018, was proof of the enormous work the duo of John Ebong Ngole and Talba Malla did to ensure that SONARA maintains its enviable reputaion as a going concern, a success story.

He especially, noted that even when there were difficulties, Talba Malla did his best to improve on the customer base of SONARA, successfully steering the execution of the first phase of the Expansion and Modernization project to completion with utmost satisfaction. This, he said, led to the expansion of SONARA’s refining capacity from 2.5 million tons per year to 3.5 million.

“For these great achievements, I do extend to you the hearty congratulations of the Government for the appreciable and loyal services you rendered to the nation,” the Minister noted.

To the new GM and the Board Chair, Minister Eloundou said he was in no doubt confident of their abilities to deliver, notwithstanding the fact that the task ahead of them is enormous.

He, nonetheless, gave some guidelines of what was expected of them.

He, especially, called on the new GM, Njonou, to be proactive, most especially in assuring the proper maintenance of the new production units of the Refinery, ensure transparency of management and also assure fluid collaboration between his office and the BOD.

Above all, the new GM shall have to ensure that work on the second and final phase of the expansion and modernization project is done and completed with same success as that of the first phase.

Before being appointed GM, Njonou, who holds a Diploma in Public Administration was said to have already put in 32 years of service in the public service. He was, before his date of commissioning, Head of the Department of Economic and Financial Affairs at the General Secretariat of the Presidency of the Republic. He was also a Board Member at SONARA, representing the Presidency.

After the commissioning, Messrs. Ndoh Bertha and Njonou both thanked God and the head of state for their appointments. Hear Ndoh:

“It was with joy and excitement that I received the news of my appointment as the new Board Chair of SONARA. I want to give God all the thanks and also the head of state, for the confidence he has accorded to me to this prestigious establishment.”

She pledged her readiness to carry on in her office, in accordance with prescribed texts. “Everybody is looking up to us and we are not going to fail.”

The New GM on his part said: “I want to thank God for the grace He has given me up till this day. I want to thank the head of state for the confidence he has placed on me to become the new General Manager of SONARA.”

SONARA workers were all beaming with happiness when their new GM was presented to them.

“We are today very happy. When we got the news of the appointment of our former GM, we were kind of scared. But today, at least, the anxiety has calmed down. We are happy that we have seen our new General Manager,” Mrs. Shu Ntamag Rachel, a staff at the general Affairs Department said.

How war victims are adapting to bush life

“Life is gradually becoming very normal for those who fled into the bush especially in Munyenge, in the Southwest Region due to unrest and insecurity that has highly hit their area,” says a Cameroonian youth. For almost a year now living in the bush, Oforka Rebecca a 24 year old lady recounts how they fled into the bush and how life has been for eight months now.

“Military people have settled in our area and there are constant shootouts between warring parties, endangering the lives of natives, so we ran into the bush. One Sunday morning we were home and suddenly heard as people were heading to our village. We were not even aware of their mission or motive but we just ran into the bush. After that they came and were burning houses because they wanted to make their camp in Munyenge. Documents of people were burnt, houses as many were rendered homeless even at the moment,” she narrated.

Oforka added: “They were shooting to scare off people so that they could establish. Their reason, according to what we heard was that they got information that our land is a training ground for ‘Amba boys’ but which is not true. Even though the boys are actually in Munyenge, the truth is, they live far away in the bush and only come out when they want to operate.  Most of us don’t even know where they live particularly because they don’t even permit people to go close to them except if one is a member of their group.

“Bullets were flying over our heads while we were even scampering for safety into bushes.”

How life was during the first month in the bush

“It really wasn’t easy for the first one to two months living in the bush. During that period, life was just so tough, as many fell ill and died since our bodies were still to adapt to that of regular animals in the bush; no good source of drinking water, mosquito bites but gradually life became very normal.

Life at present in the bush

“Life in the bush at the moment is even better than our houses to the extent that even if we are asked to go home, we would even prefer the bush.All activities that took place normally in the village also take place in the bush. People do their businesses only in the bushes. They buy from Muyuka and sell in the scrubland, and others do their traditional marriage there, birthday celebrations just to name but these.

“We also have mosquito nets that were provided by the Government before the crisis, so we took them to the bush and built our small huts since we cultivate mostly cocoa. We put our mattresses on ovens designed to dry cocoa and sleep.

“We also have cocoa buyers who stay with us and buy cocoa then transport to Douala. There are tailors, shoe menders, we go to church and do everything as in the village.

How marriages are done in the wild

Questioned on how marriages are carried out in the bush, she stated that if a man and woman wish to get married, the two families meet, if they approve the union, they then organize a small area still in the bush where people will meet, eat and drink and life moves on normally. The only difference from home according to Oforka is potable drinking water because we just have but small streams which farmers used to use to spray their cocoa but we now use it as a source of drinking water. So most us do suffer from malaria and typhoid which is being caused by our surroundings and poor hygienic methods.”

Health units in the bush

“We also have small health units. The nurses and doctors who were with us before the war also ran into the bush and have built small health centers were people visit when sick or for child birth, except when the cases are bad that they are referred to the hospitals in the towns. The hospital bill is also very expensive and the absence of a medical laboratory to run tests makes life difficult because for complex situations which require that a test be done, they are referred to hospitals in town.”

Number of deaths and unfriendly surrounding

“We have recorded cases of snake bites because of the surrounding and the lack of electricity since we use but bush lamps at night. Snakebites are very common and almost inevitable in our area. We have been in the bush now for about eight months and about 20 people have died while in the bush. A majority of them died and there was no means taking them to the village so most of them were buried in the bush but when it is possible for burial to take place in the village, we go bury the corpse then do the entertainment in the bush.”

Natives caught in the web of military and Amba

“Apart from the military we also face challenges with the ‘Amba Boys.’ They are noted for suppressing farmers. They demand huge sums of money from poor farmers. They demand high amounts from those they think have money, for others who have their bush guns, they forcefully take their guns, but we are gradually coping with them.

“We are caught up in the web of the military and ‘Amba.’ Most often we bewail that it would have been better that we remain and suffer the way we had been before the crisis than running from all fronts, both the military and ‘Amba.’

“Most people are even scared of going back to the village because the military can arrive at any moment and no one knows his or her fate in such situation. There have been times when people ran back and homes were searched, people taken out and killed. That is why most people are scared of going back to the village.

Even though we are being suppressed by ‘Amba,’ if opportunity is given for us to choose between the ‘Amba’ and the military we would choose the ‘Amba’ because they don’t shoot us with guns but the military does and very casually.”

Respect of imposed ‘ghost town’ in the bush

“While in the bush we still do respect ‘ghost town.’ There are days that they will inform us of a three day ghost town dubbed “mami water ghost town” and on such days, we just wake up make our food and eat, then sit in our huts but when it is evening, we can open our market centres.”

On how a common market centre was created in the bush, she stated that it started by the help of a pharmacist who one day displayed drugs on a land belonging to no one and as people saw him; they started building their market sheds which has now become a big market centre. The 24 year old girl added that for those who don’t have land in the bush, they have built their own houses by the market side while others stayed back home alerting those in the farm by phone or ringing of bells whenever the military is around.”

Councilors created to dissolve disputes

She revealed that in the bush, councilors have been created who settle disputes amongst settlers in the bush and that like in towns; they have names of different localities in the bush. Some areas she said have been dubbed Dubai and the market named ‘number one water.’

“We really want the crisis to come to an end because I as an example, my education has stopped for the moment. I pray the Government makes things better for people to live peacefully. Even if we were asked to go back to the village, I don’t even know where we would live because our houses have been burnt down,” Oforka lamented.

By Relindise Ebune

Stakeholders dump mobile money school fee deal

Parents, bursars, students, and even mobile money operators have said the initiative introduced this academic year by the Minister of Secondary Education wherein, school fees would be paid through the mobile money component of some telecommunication companies and financial institutions in the country, is not working. They complained recently to this reporter in Buea when she set out to know how this method of school fees payment dubbed as advanced is working.

The innovation was meant to reduce the rate of bribery, corruption and fraud to its barest minimum in colleges nationwide. While the deal seems to be working to a considerable extent in some parts of the country, schools in the Southwest Region are yet to fully understand, accept and utilize the system effectively.

Going by the bursar of one of the Government Technical High Schools in Fako Division, who refused to be named, the challenges are enormous and they have resorted to the old method of fees payment whereby, parents and students pay money handy. She said the system is not only complicated but strenuous for parents, especially those that are not literate as they have to look for someone to help them follow the procedure using their mobile phones. She said the fact that Parents Teachers Associations, PTAs, is paid to the school through bursars and the rest through mobile money is enough discomfort for the payers, which many of them have said they cannot support.

She added that the process is not just tedious but risked thievery as she explained. “A few months back, some two girls and a boy came to our school and introduced themselves as agents of one of the telecommunication companies. They said they were being sent by their manager to establish a base in our campus so that parents would not have to be moving up and down just to pay fees.

 “We said it was good, but asked that they present an authorization from the manager authenticating their mission. As we speak, those three left and till date we never saw them again. You see that they wanted to dupe us.”

The bursar regretted the fact that the announcement of mobile money mode of school fees payment rendered the school coffers empty for a long period of time. She said it was because they had no budget from the ministry nor were they allowed to collect fees. She stated, “…there was a time when there was no chalk. The school administrative staff had to provide, a alongside other teaching and learning necessities.”  The Bursar however appealed that, the Ministry should help them elaborate on how the whole process works for efficiency because, ever since it was announced, beside mobile phones that were given them to ease their job; no accompanying text has been provided.

 John Mbua, a parent, does not understand anything about the procedure because nobody has drilled them on how to go about it. “I have paid my children’s school fees the same way I used to do before. I didn’t even waste my time going to pay through any mobile money because I have no knowledge on how the thing works. When the Government is serious about the mobile money method, it will educate us on how it works and we will use it,” he averred.

Anu Justice, a student in GHS Bokwoango, says he knows little or nothing about the mobile money method of payment. He said he just went straight to the bursar’s office and paid his fees without any complications.

Mobile money operators on their part have said the process has not boosted their business as they thought it would since parents are not making use of their services in paying school fees as expected. The people have therefore proposed that for the innovation to be accepted and used in this part of the country, there should be enough sensitization, especially in rural areas where most parents and guardians are not very literate.

By Nester Asonganyi

War induced insecurity may sink CDC

Franklin Ngoni Njie, Cameroon Development Corporation, CDC, General Manager, waxed historical and philosophical while interacting with the media on Friday, January 18. He emphasized how reporters are best placed to depict the corporation’s awful plight in the face of the Anglophone crisis.

CDC and Cameroon are historically bound together, he noted. Similarly, he recalled, CDC has a very special place and affection with Cameroonians, especially those of English speaking expression, who constitute 93 percent of its work force. Thousands of parents, grandparents and others were directly educated by the CDC or thanks to the corporation. He would later wonder why a battle, which is a product of a political problem, is being fought in a plantation like the CDC.

He proceeded to present staggering statistics of problems, loses and bungled prospects accruing mostly from the ongoing war in the English speaking Regions. Out of seven oil palm estates, only Bota and Debunscha are partly operational. Collaborative efforts with the military to attempt harvesting crops in areas that were considered as not very dangerous have not been totally successful. Militia have run riot in most of the corporation’s estates, resulting in non CDC workers now illegally occupying its houses and looting its crops and other facilities.

Quoting the jaw dropping billions that it would take to rescue the corporation from the imminent brink of total collapse, the GM was quick to add that no matter the amount of cash infused into the project, there was likely not going to be any headway without concomitant viable security imperatives carefully thought out and speedily implemented.  Majority of the corporation’s plantations have been abandoned for security reasons, the GM noted.  Personnel have been attacked and in certain cased mutilated or killed. Soldiers too have not been spared, with at least one of them beheaded. “Abandoned plantations require rehabilitation. Oil palm plantations at very conservative estimates are put at FCFA 7, 78 billion. Out of 11rubber estates only four located in the Littoral Region are still operational. The Tiko rubber facility is working, but cannot be fed because of the lack of products. The rubber sector rehab is estimated to cost FCFA 7,8 billion. Banana rehab is estimated at FCFA 14,5 billion…”

Njie said workers are being owed salary arrears amounting to seven months. So also are contractors and suppliers being owed. But the GM, was quick to add that to rehabilitate the workers and re-establish their confidence and get them back to work would require motivation beyond financial. He had the amputation of CDC workers’ limbs by criminal militia gangs to show for his concerns.

“The negative trend manifested on January 2, 2019, just when we were nursing hopes of getting back to work. Workers were attacked in Tiko at 11pm right at their residences. Three of them had their fingers chopped off. Their attackers were asking: ‘why are you still planning to go to work despite the fact that you are not being paid?’

“Before now, we had carried out our studies and presented them in their most undiluted form to the owners of the CDC. The Prime Minister created a technical committee for the restructuring of the CDC, including institutional and financial considerations. But with the accompanying realities and complications, things are not just working out as they ought to.

“Oil mills are old. Mondoni and Boa should at the very best be considered as museums now. Idenau may be relatively old, but should, under normal circumstances also get the status of a museum. Before the crisis we had planted 600 ha of banana…high cash demand…”

The GM said before the crisis came on in full, they had still been nursing and operating in hope, until last year (2018) when the CDC was hit directly. A vehicle conveying workers’ salaries was hit another conveying drugs intercepted and destroyed. Cash and drugs stolen by the militia amounted to about FCFA 30 million. “This marked a turning point with the attacks increasing in frequency and magnitude…”

The GM pointed out and appreciated what he referred to as the godfather role which Government and institutions like the IMF, World Bank and the French Development Agency have been playing all along, traditionally stepping in to bail the corporation when the times were dire. He, however, noted that that this time around it is more peculiar as the problem is basically one of insecurity.

“Before the eruption of the Anglophone crisis, CDC was going through a different form of crisis. In 2012, rubber prices dipped from boom to gloom. This crisis reduced our earnings from over FCFA 40 billion to below FCFA 15 billion.

“We were not operating sustainably… we diagnosed over aged plantations.  Wind damage and other negative factors were impinging rubber tappers’ work. Banana presented an even bigger catastrophe…

“Banana plantations before the crisis had over aged. A typical business person notified CDC of their intention to withdraw. A business inclined GM would have closed the plantations, putting 7,000 workers off…”

Part of the GM’s rather informal media brief handled the evolution of the agro-industrial company. Branding a map of the locations where the CDC was operational, he recalled how the corporation was created alongside others that have long since drowned over the years. But that the CDC has stubbornly weathered the corporate storm. He traced CDC’s corporate resilience and survival to the fact that the population and the CDC have an unwritten contract, which is basically to ensure the survival of the agro-industrial giant, the odds notwithstanding.

Franklin Njie implored the media which he said are the ears and eyes of the population on the one hand and mouthpiece of the same population on the other, to act such that every stakeholder understands and contributes their quota to the continuous existence of the corporation as a going concern.          

Anglophone crisis hampers PIB execution rate

The on-going crisis in the nation has not only helped to cripple the already crippled economy but as well heavily hampered the execution rate of the Public Investment Budget, PIB.

Statistics prove that, out of the FCFA eighteen billion allocated for the Southwest, the execution rate of the PIB stands at 64 percent. This drop in execution has been blamed on the precarious and unsecured environment plagued by the crisis. To this extent, Governor Bernard Okalia Bilai has urged economic operators to shun the phenomenon of ‘ghost towns’ and to pay state taxes so as to get a much higher execution rate of the public investment budget, PIB.

He made the call Thursday, January 10, in Buea during the launching of the 2019 state budget for the Southwest Region.

Going by Okalia, there is a need for more decentralization which can only work by paying taxes. While calling on the SDOs, Divisional delegates, service heads, mayors and other stakeholders to be more professional, he stated that the population of the Region should expect from their elected officials and their various government delegates to provide them with social amenities like potable water, farm-to-market roads and some basic health facilities.” He, however, called on municipal authorities to submit their financial reports to the Divisional finance controllers for a better follow up.

Until economic activities will be functioning like was the case some three years back, Okalia believed, the state budget will not be executed conveniently. “You cannot execute the state budget when economic operators are closing their businesses everyday to observe “ghost town” and projects too cannot take off,” he held.

The administrators, the Governor added, should choose the best partners when it comes to choosing contractors, to move around, collect taxes and to avoid corruption.

Buinda Godlove however supposed that the low execution rate is understood by everyone, knowing the current precarious environment.  “We are living in a situation where insecurity is a major issue and that is why we had to launch projects severally, because bidders were not available to go to areas where it was so difficult,” he explained.

“In fact even Fako which we thought would have a 100 percent execution rate had challenges in areas like Muyuka. So that is why we had a low execution rate due to insecurity,” Buinda added. 

Patrice Limumba Mboh, DAG, MINFI, on his part explained that while those for investment have dropped, that for functioning has increased which to him is because of the Anglophone crisis. Statistics last year going by him, showed that the investment budget was not executed at a satisfactory rate and which to him has been taken in to consideration.

“Our mission is to accompany the various stakeholders so that we can look forward to a better execution rate this year” he added. 

According to the financial document for this year, the Region has been allocated FCFA 14 billion, one hundred and two million, seven hundred and eighty one thousand, eight hundred and seventy eight 14, 102, 781, 878, representing a decrease in the PIB from 2018  and an increase in recurrent budget.


‘Sealing’ Mayor resumes shuttering business places

It is becoming something of a circus show, with rented clowns performing to entertain a bored audience by any means possible. Practically everyone who lives in Buea is unaware of how dangerous it has become in the past one year to venture out of their homes, let alone open business places. Soldiers and “Amba boys” alike are an impediment. They are feared. The army may not have set any business premises or homes ablaze in Buea, but the “Amba boys” have.

No denizen yet, has lost their fingers or other limbs for “disrespecting ghost town edicts.” But it has happened in neighbouring towns. Very unlike the mayor of Buea, who is heavily protected by armed to the teeth soldiers, other teeming masses of residents of the town are condemned to ensure their own security in an environment where human life is taken like that of chickens. Legal experts have so far proven the criminality of shuttering private business premises because their owners did not open. One of them is the former Bar Council president, Eta Besong Jr.

Yet the Buea mayor, protected by dozens of well armed troops and municipal police still takes delight in going about on ‘ghost town’ days, sealing business premises with idiotic glee and subjecting their owners to subsequent colossal losses. He was at it again on the first Monday of the year just beginning.

After Ekema Patrick Esunge, rallied stakeholders and economic operators in the Buea municipality on January 04, 2019, who came swearing and promising to cast out the Monday “ghost towns,” which has understandably brought the nation to its economic knees, three days later, the Mayor went on rampage again, sealing shops and other business premises that bowed respected the traditional Monday “ghost towns.” It should be recalled that over 99 percent of all business premises in Buea did not and often don’t open their doors on such days. The few that attempted it at the level of the commercial hub of the town in Mile 17 were burnt to ashes and no one compensated their “patriotic” owners.

During his latest outing on Monday January 7, the mayor sealed about 20 shops. As usual, he went about it, protected by a platoon of military men. Despite all measures, foul and fair, put in place by the council to put an end to the traditional ‘ghost towns,’ denizens have preferred to save their heads than money, as Mondays in recent times have proven to be the deadliest and most unsecured days in Buea, as many shops and even vehicles have been burnt down by unidentified men for operating on Mondays. The town was totally paralyzed just like most other towns in the Southwest Region.

With the intensity of the “ghost town” observed on Monday, January 7, the council may have felt betrayed as the decision taken by the mayor and other economic operators was not heeded. It should be noted that, most shops in Bongo Square and Buea Town are owned by the Buea Council. Consequently, it would want to do everything possible to be able to open its own doors in the face of adversity, even as business operators occupying those shops, argue that the pay all their rents on time and any other bills, and so have the right to operate the way they want. Besides, they argue that operational periods or times were never part of the contract they signed with council authorities. Others say they are being violated, while majority admit the fact that, their lives are in danger if they operate on Mondays and wouldn’t want to die.

This is not the first time the Municipal authorities are sealing shops and business premises in Buea for respect of “ghost towns.” Last year the Mayor of Buea crippled many businesses after he sealed hundreds of shops in the Buea Municipality for more than a week. Motorbikes were also banned from circulating in Buea. Insecurity still lingers around Buea, while denizens live in fear and panic.