What had begun like an innocuous incursion into the sphere of community support sometime in 2010 has since metamorphosed into full time advocacy against spiteful land grabbing and unscrupulous Government concessions to large- scale plantation promoters and lugging companies. In this regard, from being an ordinary participant in a workshop relating to the quest for free, prior and informed consent of communities faced with agri-business promoters and lugging companies, last March, I have found myself being part of a select team designated to meet the Chinese ambassador to Cameroon to make known our discomfiture regarding the exploitative and sharp practices that have become trendy among his compatriots. From this pedestal, I have automatically become an influential member of the Network of Traditional Rulers for the Sustainable Management of Forest Ecosystems in Cameroon, under whose auspices I have also, been accorded the rare privilege of traveling to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as one of the participants to the African Conference on Land policy that held from November 14- 17, 2017.
The thrust of the conference is, The Africa we want: ‘Achieving socioeconomic transformations through inclusive and equitable access to land by the youths,’ with high premium on creating avenues for youths and women to access land for development. This perception of the conference organizers is premised on the realization that most African governments do not have well thought-out and implemented policies that specifically take on board the interest of women and youths. This, to them, is calamitous, given that farming that is mostly on a subsistence scale in most countries is driven by this category of persons who form no less than 80 percent of the work force needed to sustain Africa’s teeming population. As therapy, the African Land Policy Initiative of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, UNECA that has now been transformed into the African Land Policy Centre, organizers of the Conference, had thought it wise to bring together no fewer than 500 persons to brainstorm and by extension, exchange notes and learn from variegated experiences through engagement of the academia, civil society, Governments represented at very high levels and, of course, traditional rulers on whom land is supposed to have been vested by tradition, prior to the advent of colonialism .
Even so, the journey to Addis Ababa had not raised any particular expectation given that, Ethiopia had to my hazy imagination, been engaged in drawn- out civil war against Eritrea, its current western neighbor – the longest in Africa barring that between North and South Sudan. Images of the drought that had caused the whole world to be submerged in sympathy with victims consequent upon millions of deaths and had also, given rise to Bob Geldorf’s groundbreaking initiative to raise money through the famous ‘We are the World’ star-studded musical recording resonated in my sub consciousness.
However, this was not to be the case as the classy Addis Ababa International Airport that has nothing to envy from many European Airports dispelled any misgivings that I might have had about the development strides that have been in motion in the country of Ras Tafari Makonen (aka) Emperor Haile Selasie. From the more than 50 airplanes, mostly carriers with capacity of at least 200 passengers that adorned the hangers, to the meticulously constructed infrastructure and mouthwatering services offered by efficient ground staff, Addis Ababa is owe inspiring right from the airport.
Eilily International Hotel where most of the 50 and counting Traditional Rulers were lodged is barely fifteen minutes from the airport. From its aesthetic configuration to the services provided, our overvalued Yaounde Hilton- the only five-star hotel Cameroon boasts of would in all honesty be relegated to backwater. Granted that Addis Ababa is a 10 million inhabitant city in a 100 million inhabitant country, there is still need for the splendour of the city and its infrastructure, particularly, roads to be fore grounded. The sizes and cleanliness of the streets float the impression that work on them had been carried out by extra –terrestrial beings. Juxtaposed with the UNECA Conference Centre which in itself is a modern architecture marvel and other must-see sights like the palace of the legendary Emperor Haile Selasie, in the heart of the city, the awesomeness of the city takes a different allure to be likened only to some well constructed and planned European cities.
As for take-away from the conference proper, trading ideas with traditional leaders from other parts of Africa left one with the regrettable realization that Francophone sub Saharan Africa and Cameroon in particular, have the least attractive conditions to fulfill the vision of ‘the Africa we want’ in terms of access to land by youths and women. The example from Ghana was shortlisted and eventually proposed as the ideal that other countries must strive to emulate even as its government has been enjoined to scale up existing progress. The commendable example from Ghana materialized in 78 percent of all land being vested in traditional and community custody. This way, Government can only come in to request for land when the need arises, while income accruing from land transactions are shared into three parts- one to the local stool (the chieftaincy institution) part to government and another to the community. This way investors deal directly with local communities instead of the government. Can we contrast this with the land grabbing perpetrated by unscrupulous administrators and complicit chiefs in Cameroon?
Of much interest too, is the fact that Ethiopia is a federation, floating a pronounced devolution of power from the centre to the periphery. While paying allegiance to the Prime Minister in Addis Ababa, the Regional Governors have ample discretional powers that permit them to envision and implement development agendas that require no vetting from the central administration. Patriotism has been elevated to a pedestal where even the pauperized fringe still sees hope in a better tomorrow. The citizens have faith in their country and this must be the result of credible governance emergent from transparency and accountability despite military incursions on two to three occasions to infuse greater stringency in managing the commonwealth by some erring leaders. Unfortunately, in our skies, federation has been disrobed of its glittering qualities and ascribed anathema status by the current regime.
Whether we like it or not, the world is on the move. We will either have to join them as a response to inevitability of change or be constrained to experience the Zimbabwean or Burkinabe patterns and kowtow to prevailing trends.
By the way, could someone remind Aeroports du Cameroun, ADC that the Douala International Airport is an eyesore and greatly needs attention in terms of clearing surroundings of the tar mark and providing air conditioning!
By Chief Ekue John Epimba