By Tikum Mbah Azonga
How is that for an article headline? Misleading, you may say? If that is what you think, then I beg to differ, because I strongly believe that Buea has a problem that needs to be looked at with all seriousness.
Buea, headquarters of the South West Region, is one of Cameroon’s ten regional administrative headquarters. The other nine regions and their regional capitals, are: the Far North with its capital as Maroua, the North whose capital is Garoua, the Adamawa and Ngaoundere, the North West and Bamenda, the West and Bafoussam, the Littoral and Douala which is also the national economic capital, the Centre and Yaounde which is also the national political and diplomatic capital, the South and Ebolowa, and finally the East and Bertoua.
One of the problems with Buea is that while the nine other regional headquarters have “grown up and moved on”, Buea has basically remained rooted to the spot, refusing to grow up and join the “big boys”. One example is that a couple of years ago when the government decided to break up the big towns into three different administrative units and thus increase the number of sub Divisions in the country, all of the other nine regional headquarters benefited from the move by being split. Buea alone remained as a single sub division. Yet with each of the new sub divisions came a local government council and a new way of looking at things.
The new administrative units were a welcomed innovation for the local populations because as the government put it, this was a way of bringing the administration nearer to the people”. To substantiate the point, they point to the services brought about by the new administrative units such as a district office, a police station, sub delegations of the various ministerial departments and a host of other amenities.
The creation of new local councils has also greatly changed the outlook in the towns in question. A typical example is the keen competition that has developed among the three new local councils in Bamenda city, headquarters of the North West Region, which benefited from the split into three units. These are Bamenda 1 Council which corresponds to the territory of Mendankwe village and includes the administrative quarter of the city since this is where the regional governor and his Etat Major as well as the Senior Divisional Officer for Mezam and his own Etat Major live and work. The Bamenda 2 Council area corresponds to the villages of Mankon, Mbatu, Nsongwa and Chomba. Bamenda 3 is Nkwen village and its northern neighbour, Banjah. Like we said earlier, the two new structures that are the sub Division and the Council have greatly enriched life in their localities. One can therefore imagine the loss that Buea suffers from having been left as single Sub Division and a single Council. One government official said Buea did not qualify for the spit because it is still a “small” town, compared with the others.
One aspect that is even more striking is that in addition to the other nine ten regional headquarters being split, in some regions, even divisional headquarters considered to be large were also split. An example is Limbe, headquarters of Fako Division of which Buea, the regional headquarters is part. Kumba, divisional headquarters of Meme Division still in the South West Region was also broken up into three new sub Divisions and three new Councils.
Paradoxically, the regional hospital of the province is located not in Buea the regional headquarters but in Limbe, the divisional headquarters. Instead, Buea has been made to host a provincial hospital “annex”, which of course is comparatively smaller and less commanding. Still, compared with Limbe, Buea really does not have urban roads worthy of the name. Apart from the long street that runs from Mile 17 through Bongo Square and up to the SOWEDA and National Security junction, there is not much else to see as a road in the city. Even so, one notices that the city’s lone main road described above , despite having been redeveloped some years ago and given two lanes, still remains a death trap which one has to seriously watch out for when crossing because the narrowness makes fleeting vehicles a danger to pedestrians.
Buea does not have a market worthy of a regional headquarters. For years now, it has had to contend with the make shift and unsightly structure that stands like an eyesore next to the OIC, the international outfit put in place to train young people in professional job skill areas such as catering and carpentry. Ironically, people who live in Buea and want to buy foodstuffs in a “serious” market are obliged to go to Muea whose market attracts sellers and buyers from all the neighbouring towns. Yet Muea is a smaller town in Buea Sub Division. Furthermore, some necessities that one might take for granted in a town or city may be surprisingly missing in Buea. One example is the fax machine. So it is very frustrating for anyone, notably a businessman who has an urgent text to fax to realize that after hours of searching, they are till unable to find one.
Even so, when one looks carefully at the city of Buea, one finds that probably in no other place in Cameroon are there as many assets as there are in Buea. For the tourist, Buea offers a unique climate which changes as one goes up the town from, Mile 17 and passes through the bright weather of Molyko, the overcast sky of Bongo Square, the fog covered atmosphere of Bishop Rogan College and the humid tea plantation of Tole.
Buea is a major historic town of Cameroon, the proof being the legacy the Germans left when they settled there. This includes the former residence of the Governor General at the time, a building which later became the famous 72 bedroom official residence of the prime minister of the state of West Cameroon. The building still stands there today as testimony of the role Buea once played in shaping the history of Cameroon. Apart from that sumptuous edifice, there are numerous other houses in the city which were built and inhabited by the Germans before they were booted out by the allies when they lost the World War. Today, they constitute a major tourist site.
The history of today’s Cameroon or that of the former West Cameroon or even the Southern Cameroons can not be effectively written without pride of place being given to Buea. Who does not remember that this was the seat of power in Cameroon West of the Mungo, even when our people sat in the Eastern Nigerian House? When later following the plebiscite the State of West Cameroon was created as part of the Federal Republic of Cameroon, who does not remember that this was where our prime ministers lived and worked. Who does not remember that this was the seat of government of the State? Has anyone forgotten the capital role played by Radio Buea at the time? How about the penetrating music of the Super Ambiance Orchestra of the Lido Bar in Kumba? Have we forgotten the Bali Modern Jazz Orchestra led by Dr Moses Fokong? Have we forgotten famous radio names such as Mary Kamara, Annembom Monju, Rahel Fombuh, Maurice Odine, John Ndane, Paul Kode and a host of others?
Buea boasts cash crop plantations of the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC) in and all around it. As plantations are crowd pulling locations in terms of the many people who have to go and live and work there, their mere location adds a spice to the daily lives of the community. Plantations are of course a source of employment for those who are interested in working. Increasingly though, businesses and other investments are taking root in Buea. Some of the latest are Chariot Hotel, the new palace of the Chief of Muea, the King David Square Hotel in Muea, the three new petrol stations along the road from Mile 17 to Mile 13, the multiple storey building being put up at Mile 17 by the Lobe Cooperative Credit Union, the National Social Insurance Fund complex, as well as the numerous student hostels, popularly known as “mini cites” dotted here and there in the city. Unfortunately, Buea lost the historic Mountain Hotel some years ago. It was allowed to fall into disuse, get dilapidated and collapse. This is a pity because of what the hotel represented in the making of the history of Cameroon, especially history west of the Mungo.
Apart from the thousands of students that the University of Buea has on its campus, there are also students in a good number of other educational institutions which make the city an indisputable citadel of learning - in fact one of the major ones in the country. Others include the Pan African Institute for Rural Development, the National School of Penitentiary Administration, the National School of Public Works and the National School of Posts and Telecommunications, to name some. Mention must also be made of the numerous institutions of higher education which have seen the light of day in conformity with government’s policy of expanding higher education in the private sector.
So, what has happened to our Buea? Has it been cursed? Is someone holding it back deliberately? Whatever is the case, what is certain is that the city needs shock therapy to get up and take its rightful place in today’s Cameroon. The problem is no longer at the local level. So it is not a matter for the governor or the District Officer or the Mayor. It is a matter for everyone. It concerns anyone who lives or works in Buea or cares about the place, even if they live and work elsewhere. Perhaps such people could now come together without any discrimination and set up some form of platform for the resuscitation of the city of Buea. Only then can this lovely city of ours rise and shine again.