By Aminateh Nkemngu, Thursday, August 17, 2017
Cameroon Journal, Buea – The locality of Ekok, in Eyumodjock District on the Cameroon-Nigeria border is a very busy transit point for persons doing business between the two countries.
At the crossing in Ekok, we meet Ali Dambazu, a Nigerian from Kano who can only express himself in Hausa. With the help of an interpreter, he explains to the Cameroonian police officer at Ekok, that he is heading to Douala, Cameroon.
The curious police officer flips through Ali’s Nigerian passport and then asks how he is going to communicate while in Douala when he can’t speak French or English.
Ali demonstrates with his hands that he does “kan-kan,” a local appellation for fortune-telling, adding that he already has many customers in Douala. With passport stamped, Ali hops on the waiting motorbike and they speed off.
A long and unending cue of travelers from the Cameroon end take turns to get clearance to continue their journey to Nigeria.
Tagne Apppolinaire, a businessman from Bafoussam, in Cameroon’s West Region explains that” during weekends like this, we travel to Nigeria and buy goods. Since the road is very passable now, we return at the beginning of the week with our goods. A few years back, it used to take us several weeks or even months to travel to Nigeria and back. But now you can do the journey in two days.” He said.
One of the Police Officers on duty who opts for anonymity adds that each day hundreds of people cross the border, mostly for business purposes in both countries.
About 150 metres from the Frontier Police Post, on the Mfum Bridge over the Cross River which links Cameroon to Nigeria, the Cameroonian Police officer on duty flings open the metal barrier for a long line of vehicles with Nigerian number plates “Abuja” ,”Calabar”, “Jigawa”, “Ebonyi” ,”Lagos” ,”Enugu”, “Cross River”, ”Plateau”.
Across the bridge, on the Nigerian side, Immigration officers take turns to check passports. Daniel Akpbu, a Nigerian who runs a small shop in Etung Local Government Area, Cross River State remarks that his business has experienced significant growth, thanks to the construction of the new road.
“My business is doing better now .Look over there, the Chinese who are constructing the road have started opening up the river banks. They want to construct another bridge. Their campsite is just up there. A dual carriage way will also be constructed.” He said.
Akpbu quips that all kinds of goods transit the border – Fruits, rice, soap, pepper, tomatoes and other food stuff enter Nigeria from Cameroon while manufactured goods leave Nigeria to Cameroon.
From Etung Local Government Area in Cross River State traversing the Mfum Bridge on the Cross River back to Mamfe, Bamenda , Kumba and beyond, there are visible signs that business is beginning to blossom thanks to the construction of the Bamenda-Mamfe-Enugu Highway.
The Highway is part of the Trans-African Highway, which was conceived over 30 years ago as a transcontinental link
from Lagos to Mombasa. Today, the highway stretches 6,300 km, traversing Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Kenya. The Trans-African Highway Authority that was established in the 1980s by the six member states could not achieve its mandate to fully develop the highway due to lack of adequate resources and political will. Cameroon and Nigeria signed a Memorandum of Understanding on March 29, 2007 and sought funding from the African Development Bank and other development partners to execute the much-needed transport corridor.
Obliterating regional trade barriers.
The 443 km long Bamenda–Enugu corridor comprises the Cameroonian Bamenda-Mamfe-Ekok road sections (203
km), the Nigerian road sections (240 km), the bridge over the Munaya River in Cameroon (100 m) and the border bridge over the Cross River (280 m).
This corridor was constructed by China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) between July 2008 and December 2013. On the Nigerian side, it is the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC).
The second stretch is the 149 Km Kumba-Mamfe-road. It is a natural extension of the Bamenda-Enugu corridor and guarantees greater returns on the investment made under the transport facilitation programme on this corridor. It cuts across the second largest cocoa-growing area in Cameroon, and is the most important segment of the Lagos-Mombasa Trans-African Highway, retained as a priority road under the Lagos Plan of Action.
Construction work on this stretch which started in May 2014 is nearing completion. The first phase stretched from Kumba to Nfaitock with China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) in charge, while the second phase; Nfaitock-Batchuo-Akagbe stretch is handled by another Chinese company – the Jiangsu Provincial Transportation Engineering Group Co. Ltd (JTEGC). Work on both phases went on simultaneously.
This African Development Bank-financed project is a genuine success story, paving the way for regional integration and greater social cohesion. This part of the Mombassa – Lagos Trans-African Highway is defined by the “Economic Commission for Africa” as “a priority highway for the development of international trade.”
“It helps increase trade and strengthen cooperation between countries of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and those of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in general, and between Cameroon and Nigeria, in particular through improving the efficiency of the logistic chain of transport along the corridor, as well as the living environment of populations of the area.”
The direct beneficiaries of the programme are transport service users, as well as the 11 million inhabitants (3 million in Cameroon and 8 million in Nigeria) in the area, representing 7% of the total population of the two countries.
The total cost of the Bamenda-Enugu corridor is $423 million, of which the African Development Bank provided a $288 million loan and a grant of $25 million. The balance was financed by the World Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Government of Nigeria, Government of Cameroon and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The Kumba-Mamfe stretch cost circa $152 million.
The road to business growth
Prior to the construction of the road, dilemmas were frequent especially in the rainy season, making travel extremely difficult and costly. These problems swelled transport costs and seriously hindered the evacuation of regional resources to the urban centres in Cameroon and Nigeria.
On account of the extremely heavy rainfall in the zone (approximately 3400 mm/year in the Mamfe area and 2 000
mm/year in the Batibo area), traffic was frequently slowed down by the rains, and even stopped heavy trucks from plying the road. Even small vehicles sometimes waited for several hours or days before setting out again for a distance which normally should be covered within 30 minutes to 1 hour at most. Before the road was constructed, the transport cost per head for the Mamfe – Ekok trip (70 km), reached $26 on motor-bike in the rainy season.
Ngwa Francis, a trader based in Bamenda, Cameroon, recalls that “In the past, when you thought of travelling to Nigeria, it made you sick. But we didn’t have a choice because we had to travel to stock our shops. We usually spent 15 to 20 days to travel to Nigeria and back. If you were travelling back together with your goods, it took you at least a month to come back. It usually cost us close to $268 to $358 to travel and come back.”
He concludes that “but today, leaving Bamenda to Onistsha in Nigeria where we do business is a journey of hours. If you leave Bamenda at 5:00 am, you will reach Onitsha by 10:00am that same morning. The road has really facilitated a good number of things for us the business people. Today with less than $179 you can comfortably travel to Nigeria and back. We have been able to save time and money. But on the other hand, the road has brought unfavorable competition and dumping. It has also introduced adventurers.” He said.
The construction of the road corridor has led to increased demand for food products, drinks, and manufactured consumer goods, uninterrupted supplies for traders and evacuation of locally manufactured goods to consumption centres in both Nigeria and Cameroon.
Foreign trade is dominated by manufactured goods from Nigeria. With its market of almost 170 million consumers, Nigeria is the primary supplier of Cameroon (22 % and 17.8% of imports in 2011 and 2012), with whom trade
exchanges total on average $684 million a year, according to the Cameroonian Ministry of Commerce; not to mention contraband products, which are traded on both sides of the 1500 Km border separating the two countries.
Before the construction of the road, quarterly customs receipts amounted to about $110,000 per quarter in the dry season and fell to $9,000 in rainy season owing to the bad roads which virtually brought activities to a standstill during this period.
A customs officer at the Ekok Customs post reveals that “we are experiencing a very big increase in the revenue we collect. If you look around our premises, you will see a huge pile of goods which are waiting to be controlled. I can assure you that custom revenue has greatly improved, but I can’t give you the exact figures because I am not authorized”.
A way out for agriculture
Agriculture is the principal activity of the populations along this transport corridor. The weekly markets deal mainly with food products, while the seasonal markets with cash crops (cocoa, coffee, palm nuts). There are periodic markets in all the big villages crossed by the road with permanent cores at Batibo, Widikum, Bachuo Akagbe, Mamfe, Eyumodjock, Ekok, Konye and Manyemen. The area is characterized by a wide range of crops, notably corn, colocassia, cocoyam, cassava, plantain, groundnuts, beans, yam, market gardening and fruit growing. There has also been increased production and marketing of farm produce and handicrafts, driven by demand. Some Cameroonian cocoa farmers now prefer to sell their cash crops such as cocoa and coffee to Nigerian businessmen.
Alexander Enow, a farmer in Mamfe quips that “we prefer to sell to Nigerian businessmen because they offer better prices for our produce. While Cameroonian businessmen are offering $1.25(fcfa 700) for a kilogram of cocoa, their Nigerian counterparts pay as much as $1.7 (fcfa 1,000). So we prefer to deal with the Nigerians”.
But Cameroonian businessmen argue that this growing illegal trade by Nigerian businessmen in Cameroon must be checked.
“Mamfe is the hub for this illegal exportation of Cameroon cocoa to Nigeria. We have noticed a lack of commitment from the government to solve this problem. Nigerians come to Kumba and Mamfe. They use Cameroonians. The State cannot tell us they do not have the means to fight against this phenomenon, “said Kate Fotso, Managing
Director at Telcar Cocoa, the local trading arm of Cargill, who represents close to 35% in Cameroonian cocoa beans exports.
Oil palm cultivation has witnessed a boom too, thanks to the activities of PAMOL Company in the area which impact palm oil and palm wine production.
Industrial palm oil processing is equally promoted by Manyu Oil Palm Cooperative (MOPCOOP) with its oil mill at Nchang, and Manyu Palm Kernel Industry (MAPKIN) for the processing of palm nuts at Mamfe.
There are also numerous motor or manual presses belonging to local private promoters and to community groupings. Handicraft is developed in the immediate project area with the intensive exploitation of cane.
In Mamfe, the reference production is the processing of cassava marketed on a large scale in the form of “gari” in and out of the South-West Region of Cameroon. Mamfe is also a major fruit (orange, papaya, and mango) production centre and is at the crossroads of the transit of goods from Nigeria via Ekok over the Cross River and Manyu River.
Unlocking tourism and mining potentials.
Among the potential productive sectors of the immediate project area, tourism offers undeniable and under-exploited opportunities. The huge untapped tourist potential includes in Eyumodjock District, historic sites such as “German place” called “Abokeng German,” located at Nsanakang, two German bridges, the Ekwen bridge built in 1935, which crosses the Munaya River, and the Cross River bridge at the Cameroon/ Nigeria border, the Ottarem and Abat caves , Lake Ejagham and the falls which can be harnessed for power generation; the hanging bridge over the Manyu; the falls located at Olorunti and Ichia villages on the River Tandjo and the hanging bridges at Olorunti and Egbetchu.
The hotels industry is also experiencing a rapid transformation. Despite visible construction of several small hotels in the locality of Ekok, finding an empty hotel room can be challenging.
Asick Felicia, a receptionist in one of the hotels remarked that “renovation work is currently going on as you can see. When we finish the work, the price for a night’s stay will increase. In the past, we used to give out rooms for as cheap as 3,000 FRS ($5) and still will not have customers. But very soon, the price will triple.” Customers shuttle from one hotel to the other trying to get empty rooms, many without success.
This further explains why bar dancing runs throughout the night. Travelers who can’t find accommodation stay the night in beer parlours. Roadsides are littered with hills of empty beer crates gulped by waiting travelers.
In the extended project area, one may mention the national parks of Korup and Takamanda respectively to the south and the north of the Mamfe-Ekok section as well as the Banyang-Mbo Wildlife Sanctuary and Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary.
Mining production is gradually being introduced in the area. The existence of salt lakes is reported in several villages of Eyumodjock District: the locality is extremely rich in salt lakes locally called “Kang”, so much so that the village names ending in “kang ” are the areas where these salt lakes are found. So far already, 4 salt lakes have been discovered at Nsanakang, Mbenyang, Bakang and Mgbejata. There is already a salt manufacturing centre at Kembong.
Also reported is the existence of precious stones and oil showings. In the sedimentary basin of Mamfe (between Mamfe and Akwaya North), showings of lead, zinc, sapphire, lignite and salt have been discovered, as well as some thermal springs. There are also potentialities for the exploitation of building materials such as sand and gravel .The exploitation was constrained by the bad state of roads. But with the construction of the new roads, exploitation of these resources is expected to start soon.
Access to Healthcare for women and children
Before the construction of the Bamenda-Mamfe –Enugu and Kumba –Mamfe roads, women and children of the villages crossed by the highway did not benefit from adequate vaccination coverage, says Doctor Armand Bikok of the Mamfe Health District.
“This was due to the isolation of the area which made it difficult for the populations to access the numerous health facilities particularly in the health districts of Batibo, Widikum, Mamfe, Nguti, Kumba and Eyumodjock.”
“But now, things have changed and the population can access the health facilities that we have in the area” Bikok concluded.
The most common diseases in the area are: HIV/AIDS with a prevalence rate ranging from 5.3 to 8.7%. Other communicable diseases include chlamydia, syphilis and gonococcal diseases.
There are also reports of respiratory infections such as HIV/AIDS-related tuberculosis, bronchitis and rhinitis, malaria, affecting 60 to 70% of the patients consulted, the presence of mental patients especially in Batibo district, a high frequency of epileptics (Batibo and Widikum), cardiac diseases such as hypertension caused by diabetes, and tropical diseases such as onchocerciasis.
Between 2005 and 2006, approximately 2767 orphans and vulnerable children were identified.
Mixed blessings on wildlife and protected areas.
The Bamenda-Mamfe-Ekok and the Kumba –Mamfe roads cross several ecological zones such as forests and plains, shrub savannas, plateaux, hills and rivers, the major ones of which are found between Mamfe and Ekok and between Batibo and Bachuo Akagbe.
The forest belt of the area still contains substantial wildlife species. The new road network is leading to an influx of
poachers and loggers into the area.
Dominic Ngwese of Nature Cameroon, an NGO working along the Kumba- Mamfe road explains that “over-hunting for bush meat, especially the endangered wildlife species of elephants, buffalos, drills, chimpanzees, water chevrotain, crocodiles and unsustainable harvesting of non- timber forest products by the frontline communities have increased as a result of the construction of the road.”
The locality of Manyémen is situated between two Protected Areas, the Bayang-Mbo Wildlife Sanctuary and the Korup National Park. Local poachers comb these protected areas and kill wildlife species in indiscriminate quantities.
They sell their catch in the Manyémen bush meat market. This illegal poaching of endangered wildlife species has witnessed an upsurge from buyers who troop into the area from urban centres.
Joseph Nono, Chief of Wildlife and Protected Areas in Cameroon’s Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife in the region says “We embarked on repressive measures where we mobilized armed forces and invaded the area in a crackdown operation some time ago, but unfortunately we did not succeed. The poachers are deeply rooted and regrettably I have to say their intelligence surpassed ours at that moment.”
Nkemka George, an agronomist who has lived and worked around the Manyémen area regrets that wildlife hunting in and around this area is a cause for concern.
“Bushmeat clients come from all over Cameroon and Nigeria. They pay high and demand for more. This compels the local hunters to defile restrictions and invade the forest, killing these wildlife species. They have understood government’s crackdown so well that they dribble the authorities and move on with their illegal activities.”
Villages such as Ngwo, Ekaw, Chikwa, Kenshi, Bantakpa, Alumfa, Ayi and Amassi around Kagwene Mountain Forest, along the Bamenda-Mamfe road stretch are very vulnerable.
“The constant struggle with poverty gives pressure on the Kangwene Gorilla Sanctuary with a gradual natural forest loss. This threatens the survival of flagship species, the Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) classified as Critically Endangered by IUCN’s Red List besides other rare species of flora and fauna. The exploitation of these species has been facilitated by the construction of the road as it provides a ready market for bush meat” says Charlie Ambe Ntonifor an Agronomist who has worked on a project of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in the area.
Furthermore, road improvement means an increase in heavy vehicle traffic, notably, vehicles transporting dangerous or hazardous substances, hydrocarbons, chemicals, organic pollutants that constitute factors of environmental risk, in case of spillage.
Smugglers find their way
Manyu River is not only a safe course for smugglers but it is also a reservoir for some of Mamfe’s waste, which makes the town look deceptively clean.
The stench of illicit fuel imported from Nigeria wrenches the air as one drives from the border to Mamfe, Kumba and Bamenda. Roadsides are littered by small huts, and plank tables often in isolated bushes where this fuel is displayed
in transparent plastic bottles. The real stock is kept in the bush waiting for potential buyers who are well acquainted with the network.
A ban on plastic bags in Cameroon went into effect on April 24, 2014 but illegal plastic products are still sneaked into Cameroon through Ekok.
“We are still intercepting a lot of plastic bags being smuggled into the country through Ekok,” said Jean Fotabong Etem, Chief of Bureau for Sustainable Development at the local government service for the Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development in Mamfe.
The townsfolk unload their domestic waste at the John Holt Beach at the old German Bridge. The rest of the town’s trash is deposited at Okoyong, a few kilometres along the Mamfe-Bamenda highway.
Compensations and social projects
Construction of the Kumba-Mamfe road section saw the extermination of 93 homes belonging to 92 owners, 108 sites, and 322 identified crop owners, 3 community drinking water supply systems, one drinking water tower and 10 wells.
The costs of compensations stood at $862,640 broken down as follows: $352,000 for crops; $320,534 for buildings; $2,059 for 5 built graves; $15,508 for 14 drinking water supply systems plus 25% contingency.
Besides these compensations, the road project envisaged several social projects along the Kumba –Mamfe Highway including the construction of 118 km of rural roads for the collection of farm products, five women’s empowerment
multipurpose centres, four youth multipurpose centres, 30 drying yards, Konye forest and wildlife checkpoint, two pedestrian overpasses, rehabilitation of six primary schools and six market stalls; supply of 132 consignments of small farm equipment to female associations and alternative means of transport; support to the improvement of road safety and emergency relief for the supply of emergency equipment and two ambulances to the two health centres of Mamfe and Konye.
On the Nigerian side, the Federal Council of Nigeria announced on 22 February 2017 that it has approved the project to construct another very important bridge.
According to the details given by the Nigerian authorities, this bridge estimated to cost $ 40 Million will be built in the area of Ikot- Efiom in Nigeria, and should join the 403-km road being completed, linking the towns of Enugu (Nigeria) and Bamenda (North-West Cameroon). Financing for this cross-border road project, according to the Nigerian government, will be provided by the African Development Bank (AfDB).
This report was produced with a grant provided by the Africa-China Reporting Project managed by the Journalism Department of the University of Witwatersrand, Republic of South Africa.