By Nfor Hanson Nchanji, October 17, 2016
Cameroon Journal, Limbe – The Cameroon Development Corporation, CDC, is the largest and oldest corporation in Cameroon. It employs some 22,000 workers, including temporary ones, going by gov’t stats. Almost from inception, the corporation adopted the then laudable practice of providing housing for its employees. They were/are called camps, very much like the type of camps one finds around war tone nations where refugees seek shelter.
CDC has since grown in size and assignment – it recently acquired independent status from the Cameroon Gov’t to negotiate with potential business partners directly. Despite such progress, the housing situation of the average worker in has CDC remained similar to what obtained at the inception of the corporation.
CDC workers continue to face severe housing challenges. They not only continually live in these refugee type camps, in the 21st century, CDC continues to build these “Kalabot’ houses for workers – such a shame.
The growth in number of employees recently pushed the corporation to construct new camps for personnel. Ikome Manyaye Paul, Public Relations and Communication Officer for the CDC, sounding very elated about the provision, told a group of visiting reporters from the United Nations Human Rights Commission for Central Africa recently, “We are creating new and modern camps for our workers. For those who cannot live in our camps, we give them 25% of their monthly salary to rent wherever they wish. We also have 100% health coverage for all our workers without discrimination. In fact, we are few in Cameroon to do that”, IKOME said.
But the reporters in spite of Ikome’s excited appraisal found such CDC provided housing to be such pitiable sites for human habitation. Our reporter was among those that visited the new Camps in Njonge, around Idenau in Fako Division and the Oil Mill in Idenau. If anything, the living conditions there tantamount to human rights abuse.
The problems the reporters witnessed range from Hygiene and Sanitation, pollution and Environmental decadence in the housing communities. Most of the houses are caving, owing to old age, corrosion and erosion from the outside. There is virtually no drainage system and unlike what obtains for senior personnel of same corporation, no recreational facilities exist for these low level workers who live in camps and make up the largest part of the company’s work force.
For one thing, it was apparent to the journalists that the Cameroon Development Corporation has not been quick to adjust its housing policy. Most of these houses were built since 1947 by the colonial masters who first planted the Plantations. The houses have become sort of rat holes, – too small to accommodate fast growing families.
These houses when initially constructed were meant to accommodate expatriate colonialists who were foremen at the plantations. They were single families of one or two that lived in them. Then, the houses were considered luxuries, and even senior personnel indigenes were fortunate to be called upon to move in there.
But today, it is suicidal to have a family of five live in same setting – one bed room and a parlor, and of course, the sizes have nothing to write home about.
The CDC appears to be moving in the right direction constructing new camps like that of Njonge, the rooms are larger, even so, families with more than two members should not live in one room.
The Cameroon Journal spoke to Irene Vekima. Her husband has worked with CDC for ten years now. She told our reporter that they are five in the house but live in just one bed room and a parlor. When it’s time to go to bed, she said, the children are forced to sleep in the living room because they all cannot cramp in the single bedroom.
Our reporter observed in the newly constructed camps in Njonge that the constructions by no means meet modern housing standards. The new houses still look archaic, some still made out of ‘Kalabot’ – (plank houses).
The numbers of toilets are not only insufficient, they leave much to be desired. Whereas camps in areas such as Tiko, Middle farms, Limbe, Moliwe have modern toilets, these ones are beyond deplorable. The UN group of Journalists wondered allow why they can construct new housing void of modern toilet facilities.
Most of the pit toilets are insufficient when compared to the number of residents who have to use them. For instance, at the new Camp in Njonge where over 140 families are expected to take up residence, only 6 toilets and 6 bath rooms are available for men and same figures for women.
Most of the camps, especially those in the interior areas do not have recreational centers where workers can assemble and release stress after hard labor. Yet, the creation of recreational and leisure centers such as playgrounds, and parks in the camps could very well boast the output of workers. A 2012 study by the International Journal of Humanities and Social sciences, stated that; ‘’Workplace recreation significantly contributes to employee productivity when viewed as part of rewards and benefits scheme. This is achieved through motivation, body fitness and reduction in absenteeism.”
The results are consistent with those of a research by the Department of Health Development, IIES (2006) which revealed negative correlations between productivity and subjective symptoms such as stiff neck, low back pain and fatigue.’’
The reporters observed that though the low level CDC employees do not have such amenities, Senior Service employees do. They have ample provision for clubs such as Tennis courts.
Most CDC camps are covered by refuge which have either not been properly disposed of or are totally neglected. The result is environmental pollution and a fertile breeding ground for Mosquitoes that transmits Malaria, one of the killer diseases in Cameroon.
Also, the poor drainage systems in CDC camps result in stagnant water which easily breeds mosquitoes and also lead to Malaria. They are not healthy for Children and they will easily provoke severe floods in the event of a minimal down pour.
The CDC has done one thing right – 100% health coverage for its personnel. The only problem here is that those living in suburbs find it difficult in times of emergency to have access to quality healthcare. The UNHR working group of Journalists recommended the acquisition of well equipped emergency ambulances that could transport serious cases to town and also the provision of modern equipment in its health centers found in camps.
According to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as adopted on 6 December by the General Assemble on December 6, 1966 and entry into force on January 3, 1976 and considering the obligation for enterprises to respect their engagements in Corporate Social Responsibilities, the working group of Journalists noted with satisfaction, the role played so far by CDC but noted that the above mentioned lapses must be corrected as prescribed by article 12 of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on quality standard of living, mental health, industrial hygiene and improvement in environmental aspects.