Kumba-Mamfe:Tarred highway to robbery and accidents?

After many decades of neglect, lying, fake promises and ruthless advocacy genuine construction work on the Kumba-Mamfe
road saw the light of day. About three years ago, work effectively took off on it. This stretch should be ready for commissioning
by the end of the year. Before now, travelers from say Fako or even Kumba to Mamfe were compelled to crisscross at least, two Regions and many other towns before reaching this chief town of Manyu Division in the Southwest Region.

At a particular point in time, it was considered both economically prudent, physically and mentally safe for one to get first to Bamenda before starting out afresh on the Mamfe segment of the trip from Ndian, Meme, Fako in the Southwest including
most other parts of the Littoral. But with the catastrophic stretch between Babadjou in the West Region and Bamenda in the Northwest, people bound for Bamenda prefer making it first to Buea and eventually using the Kumba-Mamfe road still under construction to get to Bamenda. Ninety percent of the tarring is complete. But many hazards and other hitches seem to have been just waiting in the wings for the project to reach completion for them to set in. Vehicular traffic on this road has, in the past few months more than tripled. In the past few weeks countless accidents have occurred, especially between Kumba and Buea. The Buea-Kumba stretch, commissioned slightly over half a decade ago is deteriorating at a rather alarming rate. Logging interests have taken advantage of the relatively good road network and embarked on what is by all means imprudent timber exploitation in the Region. So also are unprecedented highway robberies beginning to be perpetrated, especially between Mamfe in Manyu Division and Batibo in Momo Division of the Northwest
Region.

Security imperatives misdirected?

With the regime overly concerned mostly with puncturing a civil disobedience campaign kick-started in the English-speaking Regions of the nation some eight months ago, security priorities and imperatives appear to have been redesigned, reconsidered and targeted at political goals like forcing parents to send their kids back to school. Huge logistics have, as a consequence, been deployed to see to this, with many basic life protection concerns left unattended.

Highwaymen and other hoodlums have been quick to cash in on the apparent lapse, resorting to waylaying unsuspecting,
helpless and hapless travelers; holding commuters and other road users at gun point and relieving them of their valuables. Such was the case some two weeks back between Mamfe and Batibo, when armed robbers harassed, manhandled and subjected
passengers of travel agencies to intense stress in the dead of night.

Hundreds of them lost valuables that included cash amounting to hue millions. Many others victims of the hold-up involving more than 10 70-seater public transport buses were manhandled by the marauders, for many hours. The bandits had opted for a point far away from any village, and knowing that help couldn’t easily be got. They reportedly took all the time in the world to ransack individual luggage and handbags for cash and trinkets. Security forces, we are told, are yet to identify, let alone bring the thieves to justice. The immediate concern of the regime is dousing the Anglophone anger and ensuring that it comes to naught. Special protection for influential timber interests and corrupt Government officials.

A latest phenomenon taking place on the road currently being tarred from Mamfe to Kumba and beyond is the scores of heavy duty articulated trucks competing for space with earth moving equipment, graders, passenger vehicles and other automobile.

These trucks transport timber of all sizes and quality from Manyu Division through Meme and Fako Divisions to Douala where they are shipped overseas. Behind this highly lucrative and often shady business we learnt, are Chinese, Lebanese and French interests. Persistent claims have been established as to how most of these logging companies flout laid down forest exploitation legislation. Their harvesting habits are said to be largely callous, destructive, haphazard with wildlife turning out the worst for it.

While the locals barely exist; while only a few of them effectively eke out a living, these foreign Shylock interests make and casually get away with tens of billions monthly, often with the connivance of overly corrupt top Government brass. Their harvesting methods are haphazard, with reforestation completely nonexistent. Only natural reforestation accounts for what any hopes of any regeneration of Cameroon’s timber, which is ripped by the hundreds of thousands of hectares yearly.

The normal instinct that readily tickles one’s mind when they see such quantum of forest products emanating from their communities is the economic benefits of the logs to the nation’s economy, particularly, the municipal administration of the affected community. However, it is ironical to be faced with the fact that very little or no benefits at all accrue to the people of Manyu Division as the case ought to be.

The Rambler investigated this timber exploitation process and unmasked the evil behind the seemly economic booster. In fact, its nefarious consequences to the population of the Southwest Region out-weigh its benefits to the exploiter and the state. The exploiters and a few cheats in big Government offices reap from what is, in short, an official racket.

Is the Southwest in Sangmelima?

To begin with, strong rumours persist that those logs of timber are all stamped to give the impression that they are harvested from a forest in Sangmelima, in the South Region. This, therefore, implies that any benefit accruing from the exploitation would be directed to the Sangmelima municipality rather than the suffering farmers of Upper Bayang and Eyomujock, whose cocoa farmlands suffer in the process of felling and transporting of the timber. Maybe, just for the sake of this exercise, there is now a short cut that links Sangmelima to Kumba then to Douala? However, The Rambler couldn’t independently ascertain this claim. Someone gave to believe that what looks like Sangmelima that is stamped on the logs is actually the name of the exploiting company. The dicey issue here now is, why would the name of an exploitation company be conveniently stamped on timber logs?

To worsen it all, the articulated heavy duty trucks conveying the timber are always heavily escorted by either police or gendarmes, ostensibly to prevent them from being routinely checked at different check points and secondly to prevent the truck drivers from attacks by disgruntled villages who feel cheated. These are security operatives paid monthly by tax payers money to safeguard the lives of Cameroonians; but they are seen more to be protecting the pecuniary interests of private moneybags colluding with local Government brass. A victim of the holdup along Mamfe-Bamenda road wondered if it wasn’t more prudent for security details to be accompanying and protecting ordinary Cameroonians exposed to highwaymen at night instead of big necks that do nothing but thieve timber, ruin forests, destroy the ozone layer and bring about untold hardship to locals.

Climate change challenges

F u r t h e r m o r e , Cameroon has in recent years joined the international community to fight against climate change which of course, is gradually becoming a global crisis. One of the causes of climate change we are told by scholars is deforestation. That is exactly what the Manyu Division is experiencing. Timber trees which take approximately 200 years to grow to full maturity, are mercilessly harvested, pulling down at least 100 other smaller trees each time one of them is felled. In the process, no programmed concomitant replanting exercise as prescribed by legislation is effected. Reforestation suffers and precious timbers are exposed to extinction.

Crushing punishment, accidents on new road Also, given the heavy nature of the trucks and the timbers combined, road engineers have been arguing that the lifespan of the new Kumba-Mamfe is most likely to be very short. The consequence is that while local inhabitants will very quickly resort to suffering the effects of bad roads, the exploiters and their henchmen would be most likely enjoying in highbrow neighbourhoods in either the economic or political capital. As if that is not bad enough, the truckers hardly even respect the recent law restricting heavy duty automobile to circulating only at night. These truck drivers have repeatedly caused accidents and frequent congestion experienced on major highways elsewhere in the country. The phenomenon of recent, has been drifting to the Kumba road, ostensibly because of the high presence and recklessness of these timber truckers.

In fact apart of money paid to the Government by these timber exploiters probably another economic gain which one can advance from the activities of the truck drivers is that they get into sexual markets with prostitutes, which of course is a double edged sword as the result of such activity is unwanted pregnancies and spread of diseases and all that goes with it.They thus, endangering the lives of those living along the road corridors.

Security competes with insecurity in Bamenda

Regime stooges and other unsolicited do-gooders have, since the beginning of the Anglophone protests been on and about, desperately trying to outdo one another and in the process please and curry favours from the powers that be. One of their catch phrases has been how Government is “looking into the grievances and so parents should send their children back to school.

At each stop, they have sworn how security is so watertight, such that nobody needs not fear opening their shops or offices on ‘ghost town’ days. All along, they have been counting on the forces of law and order, some of who brought about the insecurity after they brutalized and in certain cases even killed school children. Again, they have been blind to sycophancy, such that they don’t even stop to ponder under what conditions policemen and gendarmes drafted to ensure security are operating. They are blind to all these facts.

Ministers, Governors and SDO’s briefly quit the comforts of their posh offices and homes, get paid hefty allowances to go around, telling aggrieved people how there is enough security to ensure that business returns to normal in the Anglophone sector of the country. But they hardly know what it takes for a policeman to keep vigil; to prevent marauding hoodlums from attacking and burning. Schools have been gutted; so too business places all over the place; yet these privileged few sing security in speeches and return home to down a bottle and snore, only to wake up the next day and don the official regalia and head off to inspect a building that was torched
overnight by hoodlums, for the attention of television cameras.

This much could be said of the case in Bamenda where the Women’s Empowerment Centre of Mezam, located just a few metres from the premises of the judicial police was burnt to ashes. The act took place on the night of May 20, precisely at 3 am.  So far no suspect has been arrested. The case of this Empowerment centre comes barely a few days after several houses were torched across Bamenda. At Mile Four in the outskirts of the town, two shops and two homes were reduced to ashes. There was a similar incident in which a portion of the Government School Atuakom was brought to ground level. But the case of the Women Empowerment Center is even more sad and shocking because only it last year that the Orange Cameroun Foundation renovated and equipped it.

‘Cold’ fire that didn’t burn the GCE Board

A few facts are sacrosanct here. A fire broke out in one of the of fices of the Cameroon General Certificate of Education  Examination, GCE Board, headquarters, Buea, last Sunday morning. It was
quickly put out. Damage done was absolutely minimal. Fire extinguishers belonging to the Board were largely used in dousing what could have graduated to an inferno. Some support came from a fuel pump station  situated directly opposite the Board building. Even so, the Board’s own extinguishers still hang on practically every strategic wall of the building. Some of them, with the tabs broken, as at Monday afternoon, were half empty, having been employed in the fire dousing exercise.

An upholstered chair was burnt to its skeletal frame by the fire. Window curtains were burnt to ashes. Only one or two window shutters were  cracked by the ensuing heat from the fire. When this Reporter visited the place, charred remains of the only air conditioner in the room had been taken away by the gendarmes, ostensibly to help in the forensic  investigation of what could have ignited the fire. Its remote control hung on the wall, behind the main occupant of the office, one and a half metres from the floor. Books on a shelf and two wooden tables were not affected by the mysterious fire. Neither was the ceiling, constructed with laminated  plywood boards and barely centimeters above the air conditioner which reportedly caught fire was hanging.

Every scrap of paper that was lying on the two tables in the room was safe. So too was a spiral of khaki paper that was strewn on the floor. A brand new printer installed barely a week earlier, was conspicuous on one of the tables. Only sooth from elsewhere had settled on it. From all indications, it would eventually be dusted up, reconnected and its printing attributes put to back to use. Fluorescent tubes on the ceiling had exploded, their cages were all burnt beyond recognition, but again, the ceiling, built with very combustible material was spared. The door, The Rambler was informed,
was only forced open for the exigency of putting out the mystical fire. It now carries a “No Entry” sign, preventing even its regular occupant, the man in charge of communication at the institution from entering. He has
been given refuge in a different room hard by. Gendarmes would have to complete their investigations; the room would need quite some rehabilitation before this regular tenant is cleared to reenter it, dust up files, books and other pieces of paper and return to regular duty.

The task of the investigating gendarmes, no doubt shall be facilitated by surveillance cameras that were strategically installed here some time ago. They reportedly work round the clock and should provide useful forensic clues to what must have sparked the Sunday morning fire. While this is being established, the rest of the building stands, safe; but for the lone  occupant of the affected room currently having “refugee” status hard by, every worker else in the building was busy at their posts. Plus, this Reporter also learnt that disaster would have been ‘spelled here in capital letters’ had the fire spread beyond the ill-fated room to engulf other parts of the  structure. This is because, beyond the fact of absolutely valuable  documentation and other equipment being preseved in the building, tons of material relating to the about to be written GCE examination are stacked  here.

Parents fear for kids’ security as examination is written

Another hitch to the smooth functioning of the school calendar for 2017 reared its ugly head on Tuesday, May 16, as pupils all over the country engaged in writing the Common Entrance examination that permits those in class six to gain admission into secondary schools.

“I will not dare leave this vicinity until the examinations come to an end” affirmed Mrs Cecilia Mbong, parent to one of the candidates.”

Government Primary School Likoko Membea, Bokwaongo, one of the Common Entrance examination centres was full of nervous parents on standby waiting for the exercise to come to an end, even though the school was heavily guarded by security goons. It was a rowdy atmosphere for an examination centre as these parents nervously waited for hours on end, outside the classrooms for their children to complete writing the exam. According to Mama Cecilia Mbong, her child has been away from school for over six months and she had just one week to prepare her daughter for the Common Entrance examination. With a corny smile on
her face she said, “I really doubt what my child would be writing now because she was not even mentally prepared for it.”

Mrs. Mbong stressed that she, like many other parents would not dare leave the centre until the exams were over. She said this on grounds that, due to recent burning of schools and kidnapping of students by unknown people, to unknown destinations, she is very scared to leave her child alone on campus even with top security guards, who are, themselves, not reliable as they have even molested students in the past.

The Rambler noticed from observation of manyCentres that, the turnout of these young leaders of tomorrow for the examination was below expectations. This became more explainable when many class six pupils were seen on the streets hawking and hovering from one place to the other on the day of the examinations. This Reporter met with one of these hawkers on the examination day who is a class six student, who said “I have not been to
school for a very long time and I don’t even know if the Common Entrance would hold because nobody, not even my parents have told me anything about it. I have not learnt anything as well.”

The examination bodies in the Anglophone Regions have been scared and tormented by the ghost of intransigence, burning down schools, persistent “ghost towns.” This year’s Common Entrance Examination like the General Certificate of Education, GCE has been marred by persistent wrangling between Government and Anglophone parents who, in solidarity with teachers and lawyers who had called for a strike have kept their children away from school in the last seven months.

The irony is that children who have stayed away from school for seven out of the nine months of annual school calendar are being pushed by Government pressure to write the Common Entrance into secondary schools. These half-baked pupils will certainly be of nuisance quality to the various secondary schools they move into and will be no match to those who studied in Anglophone schools located in Francophone Regions.

Citizen Journalists as active democrats

This was the perceived recurring message that ACTEE sought to put across recently when the organization met in Douala on May 18, 2017. Determined to portray the
importance of the participation of all citizens in a society, the Action Citoyenne Pour La Transparence ETL’equite Electorale au Cameroun, ACTEE, has been emphasizing its “Development of man, for man and by man” mantra.

ACTEE is an initiative developed toward transparency in elections, reinforcement of democracy of every society, Cameroon in particular and massive participation of citizens during elections. “Transparency of elections is considered the number one criteria of democracy and cannot be reinforced without the participation of citizens”,
says Philippe Nanga, one of the educators on human rights as well as the animator and coordinator of popular education. Citizens in this case will refer to all, but special note on youths from 30-40 years because they are the leaders of tomorrow, political parties, ELECAM, civil society activists and most importantly, media which is the watchdog ofevery society.

“Citizenship is the ability to participate actively in the democratic life of a nation, the right to take part in the construction of the society and its living standards, the right to participate in a sovereign power while contributing in making laws and putting in place institutions that will allow you to apply those laws,” added Nanga. In order to achieve this, the media, one of the main arms of the Government must favour the intervention of citizens on issues that concern them. They should work hand in glove by producing programmes and reporting issues that will bring a positive effect on society rather than reporting on large enterprises and Government personnel because they give them bribes and advertisements.  Journalists were reminded of some of the reportorial principles such as objectivity, impartiality, integrity, and respect for fundamental rights. “You are a citizen when you actively participate in the things that concern the society,”

Nanga stressed. So it is the journalist’s place to create platforms, not forgetting its basic principles, tuesday, May 23, 2017 that will give citizens the opportunity to express themselves critically and together they can produce positive effects in a society. Distinguishing human beings in terms of their age, sex, occupation, status, or cultures are the things journalists were warned against in their reports and programmes. These are aspects that if not carefully handled, could marginalize citizens. But rather they should
create an arena were things are looked into critically, permitting  citizens to exchange their experiences and views. The first preoccupation of a citizen media is that the effect of his production must be seen on society.

Monique Ngo Mayaj shared her experience on a story on child labour featuring children who carry things on their heads and sell. She met a 10 year old boy who hawks to
pay his schools fees. The boy said he would like to be an accountant in future. When she published the article, an anonymous person called and insisted she looks for the
boy. At the end of the day, in collaboration with the parents and Monique, this anonymous person opted to pay fees for this child; even
though she did not follow up to
know how far the man went.
Another experience from Augus-
tine Wendung of Radio Veritas
tells of how justice prevailed in
kumbo during the 2011 elections.
In the course of his stay, he invited
a prostitute in his room. In the
middle of the night, this prostitute
revealed to him how there are
many of them in the hotel brought
by ministers for the night. She fur-
ther explained that, those cars
packed outside were filled with
electoral cards and that the hotel
was also filled with anonymous
voters brought in from other parts
of the country to vote in this Re-
gion. He immediately made the
right calls and the military re-
sponded and took away the cards
as well as those who came in to
vote arbitrarily. He kept the girl’s
identity a secret and CPDM lost
the elections in that area.
Claudia Nsonon of Hi TV equally
shared an experience of a woman
running an orphanage in her home.
It comprised of children of about 13
to 18 years, some of them siblings.
What happened was that she used
some of these children for prostitu-
tion. Worst of it all, the children
were also having sex amongst
themselves as far as incest was
being practiced. “We covered the
story and the orphanage was shut
down and damages paid.”