By Tikum Mbah Azonga
This paper is an adaptation of an earlier one I delivered on the Cameroon National Radio Station on the 11th of July 2003, as a spur-of-the-moment reaction to the predicament faced by the urban communities of Cameroon. The paper was one of the daily political commentaries I delivered on the 6.30 a.m. prime time national and world news on Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV), Yaoundé, between 2002 and 2005.
There is an aphorism which contends that stronger than any army in the world is an idea whose time has come. The same line of thought, put in more simplistic language would be the well known saying that, a banana that has to ripen will ripen, regardless of where it is put.
By the look of things, that time has come for Cameroon’s towns and cities. More than ever, the heat is on, for Cameroon to come clean and clean up its act, in terms of urban development. The large number of international events whose organizers choose Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital city, for their venue should set our authorities wondering loudly whether sooner or later the figurative skeletons in our urban cupboards will not be unwittingly exposed to the visitor. Our cooperation pact with international donors such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), propped by HIPC funds, compel us to clean up our backyard as we fight poverty and strive to distribute the country’s wealth so that something filters down to the underprivileged. Apart from all that, Cameroon’s leadership position in the Central African sub region makes it a must for the country to serve as an example to be emulated by the other countries.
Nonetheless, our country, despite the progress made so far in the domain, still has a long way to go, before our cities, for instance, can compete favorably with their opposite numbers in other countries. The problem with Cameroon is that unlike in the developed countries its employees generally have a touch-and-go attitude. As a result, they do not seem to notice that objects are in the wrong place and things are only too often done the wrong way. Therefore, it appears normal even to the authorities for women selling food, for example, to set up a vending stand in the midst of contaminated standing water, food peelings and decomposed food particles. It appears normal for smelling rubbish heaps to stand for weeks and months on Yaounde streets, without those responsible for cleanliness batting an eyelid.
For the situation to improve a drastic change in mentalities on the part of Cameroonians is badly needed. That time is now, more than ever, considering that Cameroon has up to three authorities that have a direct say in the development of its towns. These are the local councils, the Ministry of Town Planning and Housing, and the Urban Affairs Ministry. All three authorities stand to benefit if they put their heads together, rather than work in isolation, which would be counter productive. The truth is that Cameroonians want better living and working conditions, and it really does not matter to them who is in charge. So, the authorities really and truly must go out of their way to understand the present dispensation. But this must be done in partnership with the people themselves, with their views being sought. Let us make a difference, by all means. We owe it to the Cameroonian people.