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.          

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