Eefje Gilbert – Field Report 1: Cameroon, July-November 2013
“In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the whole world. And because the road was once a river it was always hungry.” – Ben Okri
Everything happens on the road here in Cameroon, or so it seems to me…
It has taken me from place to place, paying everybody on it for a multitude of reasons. Police for ‘security”; people selling food to still my hunger; road side technicians for fixing my motor bike; bus and taxi drivers to take me places, women to charge my phone with enough credit to make calls, street children so I can sleep at night…
But there are more things to be found on the road. Like self made speed bumps where funerals are held to prevent another. Trucks loaded with huge tree trunks cut from the forest to send to Holland (in one piece). Friends getting drunk in the many bars along the long stretch from Kribi to Lolabé. And houses. It reminds me of the “lintbebouwing” in West Flanders. A splatter of houses and then nothing, in an infinite repeating pattern. Big boards announcing a relocation project. Churches, impromptu or older buildings.
The state the road is in, tells yet another story. A well kept road, like the one between Edea and Kribi, means there is a company interested enough to keep it that way for easy transport of a range of resources “out of Africa”. A dilapidated one, like the one between Francophone Bafusam and Anglophone Bamenda, sends a more politically meaningful message. You do not comply, neither do we.
The road I live on is on the way to the new deep-sea port of Kribi and cause for many a disgruntled co-habitant. It needs to be expanded by three meters on either side so the many trucks coming to and from the new port can pass with ease. A large relocation project has been put in place, well in theory that is. In theory everybody living on the strip that needs to be cleared, should get reimbursed for the dispossession of their property. Be that just bare or agricultural land, and/or the house(s) and crops upon it. The legal reimbursement fee is not only a tithe of the price of what has to be disowned, it has also up until now in most cases, not even resulted in a proposal even though the taxers have come and gone. For the Bagyeli specifically the fee poses another issue altogether. Since it only applies to lands, bare or agricultural and brick or cement houses, they are not applicable to them. What they can expect, is for their houses to be rebuilt elsewhere.
The project of enlarging the road is outsourced to two companies, the China Harbour Engineering Corporation (CHEC) and the French owned RAZEL. The cut off point is Grand Batanga (see picture above). For the last two months, I could see RAZEL measuring and re-measuring on the crossing with the main road and Tara Plage (my current “office”). The latest buzz is that they want to reduce the size of the enlargement with a meter on each side, because the whole ordeal would be too expensive. Most people I have talked to say they will probably not be paid and forced off their property at gunpoint by the military. At this point, I cannot confirm nor deny this claim through official channels.
The road from Kribi Port to Kribi/Douala and anything north of that is not the only one being built. Another one, meant to connect Kribi to Yaoundé and the like is being planned to go right through the dense rainforest (Bagyeli territory). On top of that a railway, running all the way from Lolobé to Mbalam (approximately 490 km) and cutting right through Bagyeli and Baka forest planned by CAM-IRON. The railway should make the iron ore that is being exploited by the aforementioned company to the new deep sea harbour easy. The map below shows that it would only impact on about 15 camps, but according to APED (Appui pour la Protection de l’Environnement et le Développement), a local NGO concerning themselves with the legal representation of the Bagyeli in land claims, that information is faulty and they have sent a proposal to investigate the social and ecological impact more profoundly.
The whole deep sea port and industrial park project are actually four separate projects. The port is funded by EXIM, a branch of the Chinese Development Bank, owning no less than 85%. The industrial park is being held for Gaz de France Suez (GdF), Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) and CAM-IRON. I have had the pleasure of talking to two independent consultants from Gaz de France, who were hired to investigate the social impact of the industrial park on the current surrounding population and take care of all communication concerning the subject. They took the time to explain to me patiently the history of the deep sea project and the complexity of all its stake holders.