Monday, August 24, 2009

Niger Delta group ends ceasefire

Nigeria's largest militant group has said it is to end its ceasefire and resume attacks against Africa's biggest oil and gas industry.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) said the move to end the truce on on September 15 was in response to the government's 60-day amnesty programme.

Read more on Al Jazeera:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cameroon shutters radio station over talk program

(Source: CPJ)New York, August 19, 2009--The Committee to Protect Journalists CPJ calls on Cameroonian authorities to reopen a private radio station shut down on Monday over a popular talk show. About 20 paramilitary police summarily sealed the studios of Sky One Radio, based in the capital, Yaoundé, the station's president, Joseph Angoula Angoula, told CPJ. The station was accused of "recurring violations of legal and administrative regulations" of media laws, according to a statement on the Web site of Cameroon's Communications Ministry. The statement did not detail the violations.

"It would appear that the government is afraid of hearing the voices of its own citizens," said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. "This is unacceptable censorship. The authorities must lift the suspension on Sky One immediately."

The ruling was linked to a daily call-in program called "The Tribunal," which allowed listeners to air grievances and seek assistance, according to local journalists. Sky One received a letter from the Communications Ministry on August 6 ordering the station to drop the program in connection with a July 24 program in which a HIV-positive woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo said her embassy had denied her travel documents to return to her country, the host Duval Lebel Eballe told CPJ. The ministry subsequently ordered Sky One to fire the presenter and change the time slot of the program after the station raised funds for the woman and attempted to intercede on her behalf with the Congolese Embassy, he said.

Speaking to Agence France-Presse on Monday, Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary accused the station of "pretending to solve social problems."

In July, CPJ sent a letter to President Paul Biya calling on him to end a pattern of ongoing press freedom abuses disrupting the free flow of information in Cameroon.Te letter is published here:

In Cameroon, pattern of press freedom abuses
July 13, 2009

H.E. Paul Biya President of the Republic of Cameroon
c/o The Embassy of the Republic of Cameroon to the United States
2349 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20008

Dear President Biya,

We are very concerned about an ongoing pattern of abuses against press freedom in Cameroon. In particular, we are alarmed by recent death threats against an editor, the recent prosecution of two others by a military tribunal, and the lengthy imprisonments of another two on libel charges. We call on you to use your influence to end practices that are undermining the free flow of information.

Jean Bosco Talla, editor of the private weekly Germinal in the capital, Yaoundé, has reported receiving anonymous threats since June 27, including a July 2 text message with chilling references to the slain Burkinabé editor Norbert Zongo and the missing French-Canadian reporter Guy-André Kieffer. The threats cited the paper's decision to republish, on June 24, a report by the Catholic Committee Against Hunger and for Development, which raised questions about your private wealth, according to local journalists. The report included numerous footnote references to an August 2008 investigative report in Germinal that detailed your assets.

On June 3, a Yaoundé military court sentenced two journalists to five years in prison and fined them 500,000 CFA francs (US$1,000). The verdict stemmed from a complaint filed by former Defense Minister Rémy Zé Meka over articles that were critical of his performance in office. We are particularly alarmed by reports that the defendants, Editor Jacques Blaise Mvié and Editor-in-Chief Charles René Nwé of private weekly La Nouvelle, were not notified of the charges and, thus, were not present at their own trial. CPJ obtained a copy of the verdict--issued by a panel of judges headed by Col. Jean Legrand Mvondo Akoutou--that convicted the journalists by default of "complicity of insult" and "breaching national defense secrecy." The journalists are free pending appeal, according to defense lawyer Paulain Marie Ndong.

Two other newspaper editors have been jailed since September 2008 on criminal libel charges. One is reported to be ill.A doctor at Douala's Laquintinie Hospital has diagnosed Lewis Medjo, editor of the weekly La Détente Libre, who is detained at the city's New Bell Prison, with a severe ear infection, local journalists told CPJ. Medjo is awaiting an appeal on a three-year prison sentence handed down in January in connection with a column about a presidential decree on the terms of senior judges, according to CPJ research. He has also suffered heart trouble during his detention, according to local journalists.

Michel Mombio, editor of the bimonthly L'Ouest Républicain, is awaiting trial on libel charges stemming from a story critical of Scientific Research Minister Madeleine Tchuinté. Mombio is held at Yaoundé's Nkondengui central prison.
We call on you to ensure that authorities fully and promptly investigate the politically motivated threats against Jean Bosco Talla; halt legal harassment against Jacques Blaise Mvié and Charles René Nwé and afford them due process; provide proper medical attention to Lewis Medjo; and provide timely due process to Michel Mombio. We further ask that your government bring defamation laws in line with international standards by eliminating criminal penalties. We believe that journalists should not be imprisoned for their work and that defamation is a civil, not criminal, matter.
Thank for your attention to these very important matters.

Joel Simon
Executive Director

From source:

Committe to Protect Journalists

More info:
Sky One Radio

Friday, August 21, 2009

Second warning: with the floods come the landslides and police brutality

On 4 august in the afternoon, a promise became reality. This time the water came with company: two landslides. Predictable logic, as they are caused by too soaked land. And it showed it can be deadly. In Nkwen the landslide crushed a house taking the soul of a child. On the Gebauer/Up Station Road at the height of the ‘C’ bend, under the Commissioners House, a massive landslide rushed down. Temporary blocking Bamenda’s life line with the rest of the country at 16.00 hours. Two days later, the life line got cut drastic at the Santa Station-Akum Road.

It’s a ‘We told you so’, our article of 17 july: Flood Wrecks Havoc in Bamenda (The Vanguard, issue no 31). We all were warned. After two days of heat in the raining season: severe rain will follow and the water mass will be to much for the rivers to handle. Water will flood the riverbeds and will rampage through the lowest parts of town. Being warned, The Vanguard was prepared to catch it on camera, on the move to visualize and report the suffering of the people and see the authorities in action. Working in the flooded parts of Old Town the landslide at Up Station was clear to see. Fire Army Rescue, Police and Gendarme - no-where to be seen where houses and lives where at danger - did try to rush to the blocked road. So where the journalist from newspapers, internet-media, radio stations and CRTV.

Clearing Bamenda’s lifeline

The mass of the landslide on the Up Station Road was impressive, pure luck it did not take any bystanders or vehicles on its way. Clearly to understand that the Commissioner’s House on top will come down sooner or later, if it’s not constructed on solid rock bottom. From Savannah Street a shovel came up and started to dig it’s way through the mud. While travelers tried to master the mud trying to continuing their journey. As it kept on raining the ground kept on sliding down as the shovel was eating it’s way through the blockage, it took the counter weight of what was loose but still in place. It became clear that the whole area was a dangerous in-stable place to be. The authorities started to clear the area of those who have no professional reason to be at the landslide. The urge to clear the life line of Bamenda with the rest of the country as soon as possible weighted heavier than the arguments to wait till the mass dried a bit down and became more stable, and thus more safe to dig in. Meanwhile through the bushes between the height difference of the road, mass of people started to climb up and down trying to continue their journey. Trying to do this without loosing their balance, bags tumbled down and so now and than, followed by it’s human counterpart in the same order. Giving the whole theater a comic scene.

Rushing down to police brutality

Another shovel started to work on the upper part of the blockage. The shovel on the lower side of the landslide threw its load over the edge. On the slope above The G.B.H Down Town Secondary School and the Ayaba Hotel; calculating that the mud would do no harm to whatever it encountered in it’s way down. With no other place to throw it’s load, the second shovel did the same, throwing the mud over the edge. With this in difference, it threw it loads just a couple of meter above and away of the road below, filled with people and cars. And where people where still climbing up or down. Finally the authorities really started to make effort in clearing the area of anybody with no direct reason to be there. As it became a clear and present danger: mud came rolling down more and harder. Sadly nobody came up with the idea to order the men on top to hold till all was clear on the downside. Luckily a soldier and a lady jumped just in time to get out of the way of a huge rock rushing down. The lady landed in the water drainage. The Police, Fire Army Rescuers and the Gendarmerie where notable frustrated with the people who where not clearing the area. And than it happened: police brutality. The authorities started to let their frustration out on civilians. Kicking and hitting some men.

A showcase of lack understanding, knowledge and skills on how to control any given mass. A mass of water, land, people or power.

In the aftermath

Two days after the landslide was cleared from the Up Station road. Bamenda’s life line was cut drastic by the collapse of the road between between Santa Station and Akum. Resulting in fuel shortage and a rush on what was left. At the few stations that still had gas, it did cost CFA 2000 extra on top of any amount. Where the road and bridge were washed away, the water mass was simply too much for the small waterway under the road. An acknowledged problem, the road was very visible, enforced with an armor jacket of stones. A serious sign that a real bridge, that gives the water the space it needs during heavy raining seasons, was due. After the collapse the authorities hasted to fix pedestrian paths and a dirt road in the hinter land. Looking around, we were very welcomed by the Gendarmerie, Police and Army Rescue Unit. They where guarding the safety of the pedestrians that needed to cross. We noticed that several times they had to argue and discuss with some travelers why they couldn’t pass ‘such way but had to go so’. For example in cases of keeping the flow going, keeping the temporary bridges from collapsing or to protect pedestrians against falling trees. In later days the Rapid Intervention Force was deployed to guard against thieves and pickpockets who were preying on the struggling travelers.

Special report: George Kweilla Fombutu and Auke VanderHoek


The whole scene at the landslide was chaotic, a showcase of lack understanding, knowledge and skills on how to control any given mass. A mass of water, land, people or power. It proved there is a whole load of work still to be done for us all: train, educated and supply the services that are there to protect and serve us. And make sure they do that. And all that starts with educating our selves about the dangers and options for a safer and thus better life. For that reason we are still looking to find out who’s responsible for what. And how to reach the authorities for their feedback and their side of the story. Policy brutality should never be tolerated. It’s straight abuse of power and so unnecessary. Although the frustration of the men in uniform was understandable. The communication between the public and public services is a serious point of discussion. As professionals they are expected to be trained in crowd control and how to handle people who are refusing to listen to emergency orders. To handle a crowd that lacks to understand the dangers they are facing. As the phrase goes: ‘To protect and to serve’.

At the broken bridge, falling trees or cracking temporary bridges are not open for any negotiating like we do with potholes or with the amount of the bribes at roadblocks. The latest is an example given why their authority is constant questioned. Can a man rely on the Cameroonian officials? But what was the need of the arguments at the broken bridge? Pick your fight at the right time. For example when the authorities are celebrating and complimenting them selves when they open the road again. And why is it that, five days later, government officials declare on the state radio (CRTV) that the road is open again for traffic while it isn’t? Dozens of people had to be turned away by the military because the bridge wasn’t open for public transport. Although the officials on the radio said otherwise? Quite a frustrating situation. And to the CRTV: why were you broadcasting false information?

There should be a fierce argument why those responsible didn’t do a better job in the first place. As the collapse was to be expected anytime. Hence the armor jacket of stones. Easy to point the blaming fingers to the government. We do our part, trying to inform you as good as we can. But what are you doing to push your government in better governing and to push your fellow civilian to be more responsible civilian? We are all warned, dead seriously, a second time.

Auke VanderHoek

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Private radio station suspended indefinitely

(JED/IFEX) - On 17 August 2009, Sky One Radio, a privately-owned radio station based in the capital, Yaoundé, was "temporarily" closed by Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary because of "numerous issues concerning media professionalism" relating primarily to the popular programme "Le tribunal".

According to information obtained by Journaliste en danger (JED), Tchiroma announced on national radio that he made the difficult decision to close the radio station after three attempts at reconciliation with the radio station's management. The Cameroonian government has accused Sky One Radio of trying to act as a substitute for the Ministry of Social Services by attempting to solve social problems on its radio programmes.

"Sky One Radio was closed for multiple infringements of laws governing communications in Cameroon. If the management of the radio station promises to respect the code of ethics and the ministry's specifications, we will reopen the radio station," the minister said.

Contacted by JED, the host of "Le tribunal", Djival Ebale, denounced the government's decision and explained that the programme, which has been airing for almost two years, deals only with reoccurring social problems in Cameroonian society by allowing people to call in with their issues and search for solutions.

Journaliste en danger
B.P. 633 - Kinshasa 1
374, av. Col. Mondjiba
Complexe Utexafrica, Galerie St Pierre, 1er niveau, Local 18 Kinshasa/Ngaliema
République Démocratique du Congo
direction (@)
Phone: +243 81 99 29 323
Fax: +44 20 7900 3413

New Sierra Leone: New broadcasting act keeps public media under state control

Parliament passed a bill earlier this month that turns the state-run Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) into a public service broadcaster, but the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) says the President will still have undue powers.

The Broadcasting Act, passed unanimously on 7 August, seeks to merge Sierra Leone Broadcasting Services with United Nations Radio, a station set up by the world body during the civil war, to become the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC).

But under the act, President Ernest Koroma will have unilateral powers to appoint the director-general and the deputy director-general of the SLBC, say MFWA and the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ).

The association's president, Umaru Fofana, told MFWA that the powers given to the President would not only entrench executive control over the new media, but also undermine the interests of SLAJ members that work with the two stations.

According to Fofana, SLAJ was sidelined during the allegedly consultative meetings. "We should be seen to be making an input," he emphasised.

"We are calling on President Koroma not to assent to the bill but to conduct a proper consultation - by incorporating the views of all stakeholders to ensure that the station truly reflects its public service character and be accountable to the state and people of Sierra Leone," said MFWA.

MFWA is encouraging SLAJ and other civil society organisations to join forces and ensure Koroma does not assent to the bill. Koroma must sign the bill within 21 days of it being passed.

Source: IFEX

Six journalists sentenced to two years for sedition

12 August 2009. The six journalists, who worked for the two private newspapers "The Point" and "Foroyaa", had republished an 11 June Gambian Press Union (GPU) statement that criticised President Yahya Jammeh for recent comments he made on national television. Jammeh had claimed that the state was not involved in the 2004 murder of "Point" editor Deyda Hydara, and that press freedom was respected in the country.

According to the union, the six journalists will be held at Mile Two Prison in Banjul while the defence files an appeal. Failure to pay the fine of approximately US$10,000 each will lead to an additional four years in jail, says the union.

In another state television appearance last month, Jammeh threatened local independent journalists and referred to them as "rat pieces," reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). "So they think they can hide behind so-called press freedom and violate the law and get away with it," Jammeh said.

MFWA said it was not surprised at the verdict. "At every step of the trial, the Gambian authorities, as well as the courts, have demonstrated their resolve to jail these journalists," said MFWA. "(We are) saddened by the arbitrary and indecent haste with which the courts in The Gambia are openly doing the bidding of President Jammeh," MFWA added.

One of the six convicted, managing director of "The Point" Pap Saine suffers from a heart condition. Authorities have also revived unrelated charges accusing Saine of publishing false information in a January article about a reshuffle of diplomatic staff, says CPJ.

Another of the journalists, Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, a senior "Point" reporter and vice-president of the union, is the breastfeeding mother of a seven-month-old baby.

According to CPJ, the other convicted journalists are "Foroyaa" managing director Sam Saar and assistant editor Emil Touray, and "Point" deputy editor Ebou Sawaneh and senior reporter Pa Modou Faal.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is urging U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who is currently in Africa to promote good governance, to "modify her itinerary and make a stopover in Banjul." RSF said media harassment had reached unprecedented levels with the case. Meanwhile, the EU released a statement on 10 August expressing concern at the heavy sentences.

The GPU chapter in the U.S. has launched a petition calling for the immediate release of the Gambian six.
Sign the petition

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and other IFEX members have condemned the "politicised" verdict against six Gambian journalists who were sentenced last week to two years in jail and heavy fines for sedition and criminal defamation.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

At least he tries

Main Market, Bamenda. Everything that can walk, walks on and off the market. We parked our car. My father-in-law is sitting behind the steering wheel. Three of us sit in the back. With Sister Jane on the right side, Small Quinta in the centre and me right behind my father. My wife is looking for some jewelry for her brother on the market. The sun is high in the sky. All windows are open. We wait patiently.

A hawker with 10 breads on his head and one in his hand walks up to the car. Pushes his hand with a bread through the driver’s window and asks: “Bread?” With a short movement of the arm, father makes it clear that the hawker is not wanted. Now my window, same bread same question: “Bread?” I answer politely: “No thanks.” He pushes his arm even further into the car. Small Quinta answers: “No!” Then he even tries, as far as it goes without dropping the ten breads on his head, to reach Sister Jane. And repeat his question. Sister Jane answers: “No!”

The hawker moves from the car. With some respect I say: “At least he doesn’t give up that easily.” And he shows up on the other side of the car. Putting his arm through he right front window. With the same bread he pops the same question. Followed with the same gesture of my father in law. He moves to the right back window. “Bread?”, he asks. “No”, answers Sister Jane. The predictable answer of Small Quinta follows: “No” Now his whole arm stretches over the back seats. Just out of curiosity I ask him: “If I don’t want your bread on the left side of the car. What makes you think I want to have it on the right side of the car?” Not understanding the question he looks at me. And repeats his question: “Bread?” I answer: “No.” And recognize, at least he tries.

Auke VanderHoek

Just a family holiday in Cameroon

The ocean crashes on the black volcanic rocks. From the Gulf of Guineas the tropical wind blows through the windows. Replacing the smell of Camroon’s many fire kitchens* and diesel engines. It’s the raining season and the weather is living it up to the season’s name. In the Ambas Bay the lights of an oil rig are the only things to see nearby. On the horizon through the rain are the lights of the Chinese fisher boats and oil tankers. A desk with a sea front view in the 101 years old run down building of the Atlantic Beach Hotel. A room with two 2-persons beds, a clean bathroom with hot running water and friendly staff. On the desk an iBook laptop and a bottle of red wine. No horns, no blasting televisions and no radios. Left the iPod off. In front only a big black nothing. After all the pot-holes negotiatings, Nan Fangs and political b’s, this is what it makes it all worth. Cameroon: adventurous, enjoinment and relaxation: holiday!

Speeding: biggest farce in African time

After a day driving from Bamenda in the North-West Provence to the beach town of Limbe in the South-West, all six of us finally check in at the Holiday Inn Resort. We did survive a Jeannot Express mini-bus. It came up in the wrong lane climbing up the mountain while we were rolling down with a gentle speed. According to our professional driver he can do Bamenda-Limbe in four and a half hours. I point out if he would have been the one driving, we all would be now in the hospital, at least. Not just missing the Jeannot after an emergency stop, but going straight through it with the speed of an express liner. He replies: “Indeed the time you win doesn’t help in the end, if you kill your self speeding.”
My father in law insisted that we took his professional driver because he knows how to drive in Cameroon. For safety reasons I parked him on the back-seat and took the wheel my self. “Small, small. We are not in an hurry, safety first.” Speeding to win time is the biggest farce in African time. The last leg, after two gentle and friendly police roadblock and one small bribe, near Douala, my let the driver drive. A black guy behind the steering wheel attracts less attention than a white guy. At the beach my driver confessed that it was the first time he travelled that comfortable to Limbe. “And yes, we are still alive”.

Enough racism in my life

The next day we moved to the Atlantic Beach Hotel and booked two rooms for a week. Spending the days swimming at Semme New Beach, taking lunch at Victoria Bakery and diners at Suzanna’s Corner with it’s excellent chef Nouga Ndjip Jean and welcoming it’s owners Suzzana and Albert, in Church Street. And a morning at the Limbe Zoo, one of the world few primate sanctuaries. As my son and wife still have a Cameroonian passport, they only had to pay CFA 300,-. Me as non-Cameroonian was asked to pay CFA 3000,-. My wife and son went in, I sat down on the steps. When asked why I did not go in I answered: “I had enough racism in my life. I will fight it at home and abroad, surly not going to pay to supported it.” That was the opening for a nice and inspiring conversation. In the end they said. “Go in for free. Your my brother. Your Cameroonian and we need you.” Hey, normally my big mouth it gets me in trouble. Guess this was the exception on the rule.

Two days later we made a stop at the 1999 lava flow (mile 11). The guide/guard on duty displayed a most impolite way of asking my attention. George, my colleague and family member who was joining us on this holiday: “He wants you to come into the office.”, “I understood that one. But I don’t like to be called like I’m a dog.” In the same rude manner he showed me the price list. For a Cameroonian CFA 100,-. And for me, what a surprise, CFA 400,-. Already irritated by his impoliteness I replied him: “I’m not going to pay for racism. Fuck you.” We left, leaving him confused and with a big smile on George’s face.

Mount Cameroon

The ship journals of the powerful ancient city-state Cathage (814 BC, near present day Tunis) are the first known written reports about the Ambas Bay. The journals speak about ‘mountains of fire’. More than two thousands years later, in 1472, the Portuguese sailed around the West Africa corner. Recognizing the huge potential and feeding their greed, severals different European powers had their try to gain from these shores. Standing at Down Beach the skyline is simply impressive when Mount Cameroon and Etinde clear them selves out of the clouds. As impressive it must have been when my fore-fathers saw it. I stand here with my Cameroonian born wife and son, the moment is magical.

Rudely awakened out of a moment of thought by the plain dirt and filthiness of the place. The fishers quarter raises just above sea level. Making it in the raining season a real wet place and dangerous for any stronger than average storm. Knowing that there is no sewer to flush the shit and piss away or any water drainage, I conclude I’m standing in an open sewer: a source for deceases and plagues. Why doesn’t the counsel built a proper water and road infrastructure and provides decent housing? Why not? Are the problems of this village so different than any other fisher villages in Europe, before they became ‘rich’? In Europe they came up with a solution all by themselves, why can’t the population here do the same? The counsel does pay effort to clean Limbe and the boulevard. Still can do a lot more. But that’s not an excuse not to take care of cleaning your beaches. Do people really need to be hand held, depending on others, to take care? It’s a shame but it isn’t mine. I’m just passing, while you all sit in the Off-License and churches.

Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day.
Teach a man to fish and he will eat forever.

The local fishers fish in small and a bit bigger boats. Offshore there are the modern boats. Chinese boats with Chinese fishers. Some gentle elderly could not remember there where any modern Cameroonian boats before the Chinese came, when I inform about it. “They are supposed to fish in the deep waters, only. But they fish now in the shallow waters, too. Where our fishers need to fish. Our small boats can’t go out to the open sea.” Putting one and one together I asked: “How do you feel about that Chinese are fishing Cameroonian fish and then sell it to Cameroonians?” To keep it short: they are angry about it.

Going to the Port Authorities to see what they say about it, I put it plain and simple: “They sell you what is yours in the first place. As men of respect and honor in uniform, officials of the Cameroonian Republic, how you feel about it?” Their mouths spoke the diplomatic language, couldn’t say anything about it, I should go to Yaounde to ask. Their eyes displayed a damaged honor and anger. The Europeans had theirs and sill try and now the Chinese have their turn. If Cameroonians don’t stand up, they easily will be colonized again by America, Europe or China. As the quest for natural resources and markets will only grow with the days to come, as the strong will feed from the weak. When will Cameroonians get up and stand up, live up their potential?

Bribing and speed breaks: it slows down

On our journey back to Bamenda, we got stopped four times by the military. It would have been irritating, if we did not made fun out it. At the potential fifth stop we scarred, accidently, the shit out of the soldiers. At the first stop the uniform wanted to see all documents. Demanding to see what is in the booth. Three of us got out of the car, we showed him: “Suitcases”. Particular what’s in the suitcase totally behind all the others. Simultaneous we said: “A computer”. Still demanding we opened the case and showed him, we started to making fun out of the situation. “If there was anything in it we want to hide, we would already have paid you some bribe, or not?”, “Maybe it’s not a computer but a nuclear bomb”, “Want to be here when I fire it?” And pointing it out that we had all the time in the world, but how longer he occupies himself with us, how less cars he will stop who he can bribe. Finally I open the case: “What a surprise: it’s a laptop. Want to buy it?” The poor soldier gave up. Starring at all the cars driving by who he could have bribed.

We moved. Just some hundred meters away. Again the whole show. Around the corner, again. At the fourth I thought I could pass. No. Totally exited to see a white man driving, a soldier enthusiastic ordered me to stop. So I did. Hit the brakes full speed while steering into the military. Scarring the living soul out of his colleague. Got out of the car. Got all my papers and pushed them in the hands of the uniform next to the car. And exclaimed my irritation: “Again?! What else do you need?” Taken a bit off guard about the change of initiative, the man looked at me, a moment of recognition. It was the one in charge, who we bribed with CFA 1000,- on our way to Limbe. Both had a small smile of comic relief, hey each his job. No harm, we all could continue. The fifth we run into, I was concentrating if they would order me to stop or not. Just in time to see they placed them self technically just in front a speed-break. How nice, if it’s not a bribe it’s a break that slows us down.

Raining Season: a detail I missed

Why a holiday during the raining season? Well, simple, it’s all in the detail. Where we live, The Netherlands, the schools have six weeks of Summer Holiday right now. As the tickets to Cameroon are so outrages expensive, we want to get the max out of the tickets. Christmas Holidays are only two weeks compared with six weeks Summer Holiday. Next to it, Dutch summers are often full of rain while it should be sunny. So we took all our savings, booked three tickets and off we went to tropical sunny hot Cameroon! The raining season was just that detail I missed, my bad. Of course my Cameroonian wife didn’t say anything, happy to see the family. “Didn’t you know?”, she asked with those innocent eyes of hers that made me fall in love with her in the first place. Damn, never saw that much rain in my life.

*Fire kitchen: a closed room with an open fire, wood lighted with rubber, and no chimney or any form of channeling the smoke out.

The Vanguard, national independent newspaper Cameroon
Special report by: Auke VanderHoek

Santa Council Workers on a do-or-die combat over tax drive in Mile 12 Santa

On monday june 22nd, at the Santa Mile 12 Market local hawkers fought off the Council Workers. As the hawkers are not satisfied with what is done with the tax money in return. And questioning the time of collecting the tax money by the Council Officials. As the Council Offices were closed. The Vanguard caught it on camera.

It was a serious fight, exchange of blows and mortal fighting skills between the local hawkers and the Santa Council Officials. All at a time when we as The Vanguard journalist we’re just driving by, coming from Santa Mbei Village. While behind the steering wheel trying to catch the fight on camera while parking the car safely, my colleague jumped out of the car trying to get straight to the source, getting the story. As we just drove in to the scene accidentally, the story unfolded in front of our eyes.

On june 22nd at about four o’clock in the afternoon the local sellers stood their ground: not willing to pay any money to the council worker. From a source on the scene we learned that the businessmen are not satisfied how the Santa Council is taking care of them. But they still have to pay taxes. Besides, it’s a increasing habit of the officials to try to collect money on odd hours than what is usual. Next to that, the Council Office is closed at four in the afternoon. Making it an arguable question why the council officials were collecting money while being off duty? We will try to get the answer on this question in a later edition.

Seeing a photo-camera in action, one of the Council Officials rush to us, threaten to smash the camera. We, as journalist, stood our ground too and called his bluff: “Just try!” Surprised with the press around on the scene and the lack of fear for his authority, took him off guard. He said that we had to identify ourselves as journalist before starting to shoot photos. We replied that we were not asking him anything or hiding who we were. We even have ‘PRESS’ spelled out clearly on our car. As another witness remarked: “These are international journalist. Let them do their work!” And we pointed it out that what happened did happen so in public space. And we were just following the action and monitoring the powers that be as independent journalists. As that is exactly the whole duty of journalism. He left us alone.

The Vanguard, national newspaper Cameroon
Special Report by: George Kweilla Fombutu and Auke VanderHoek.

Menchum Falls: Where is the tourist industry?

Cameroon is the African Continent in miniature. Almost everything that Africa has can be found in this country. Look around and you see it’s a country rich on natural resources and has a huge potential for tourism: impressive beautiful and adventurous. But what is missing is a good tourist industry.

Roughly ten years ago a Dutch Airliner, Martin Air, saw the potential and started a regular inter-continental flight connection to Cameroon. The minister of tourism demanded $100,- per tourist for his own pocket. Martin Air took it’s business to another country where it was welcomed instead of blackmailed. As sources in the Netherlands confirm. That gives an insight why the industry is lacking on a national level. But what about it on the regional and local level?

Cameroon is shaky

The Menchum Falls are described as very impressive and dramatic. With a stiff warning in The Bradt Travel Guide Cameroon: ‘Beware of the so-called safety rails. People have fallen to their deaths here’. The falls are around 20km south of Wum and 3okm north of Bafut. Staying with family, at Bafut, we all loaded up in a 4wheel drive Toyota Hi-Ace mini-bus and started driving. Looking on the map, it could not have been that long a ride, making it a good trip for an afternoon picnic. That is, we did not take in account the bad condition of the Ring Road. My seven year old son said it illustrative: “Cameroon is shaky!” Meaning riding around you get hustled and tussled around in the car because of all the potholes. That is bad for the tourism although two of the five kids kind of liked it. The other three had to trow up of car sickness. But it’s even really worse for the population who depend on this road for as their main connection with the rest of the country.

What is missing

Before arriving at the Menchum Falls there are already a couple of locations excellent for a break, to give your back a rest and to absorb the sights. Like the new bridge, where the cars used to pass the river Menchum through the water. And at the other rapids in the river. Even to branch to Mbi Crater reserve between Bafut and Befang. It’s easy to miss the Menchum Falls if you do not know where to find them. No signs at all pointing out that you are finally there. At the spot a neglected view stand is welcoming you. And are the Menchum Fall really impressive. You can feel the power of mother nature. A great place to spent some time and just relax. You can feel it’s touristic potential, local and internationally. What is missing? Everywhere, even in the middle of nowhere in Cameroon, you’ll find an Off-License. But here were we could sit for hours and just watch but nothing to eat or to drink. Want to take a look around but everything is overgrown with bush. Trying to get through the bush, we just saw in time that the next step was 30 meter down. Better take that stiff warning serious.

Join hands

The Menchum Falls are impressive to see. But the long rough ride and unwelcoming conditions of the site makes it not worth it all the trouble. The government should be held responsible for the bad conditions of the Ring Road as they have the means and the power to easily develop it. They promised to do so in 1980. Recently the government made a start, better late then never. Hopefully the new prime minister Philemon Yang will speed up the paste. As the leading opposition, Social Democratic Front’s Secretary General Dr. Elizabeth Tamajong called upon him in an interview with The Star (Vol. 2 No. 054 monday july 13, 2009). As quoted from The Star: “She called on him to start by constructing the ring road that was launched by his predecessor. In this way she said the people would have him a heart.” But the local community should take more care of the sites, too. Go cut all that bush - mind your step - clear it out, and more people will stop over and spent their money on their local business. What are the excuses not to do so? What holds us back to join hands for the common good?

The Vanguard, national newspaper
Special report: Auke VanderHoek

Floods wrecks havoc in Bamenda

It did happen in Bamenda but it could have happened anywhere in Cameroon. Saturday 17 july 2009. A gently brook in the dry season became a fierce-full river in the raining season. Taking by force back what mankind took. People witnessed the hidden power of water claiming it’s natural space. We treat our brooks and rivers as a drainage, sewer and something that is in the way. Instead of respecting it as the source of life. A strong and urgent warning, from above, to take better care of our water infrastructure. What brings life can easily take it away, let us be warned.

Taking back

The trouble started up stream but did the most visual damage around the Vatican Express terminal at Sonac Street. At Savannah Street the water already had fierce strength, eating away big pieces of land. Near the bridge in the Old Town Road the water floated two garages. Taking a Toyota pick up into it’s stream, blocking the waterway under the bridge even more. At Sonac street the bridge itself was blocked by human waste by the start on. As a result of no maintenance or cleaning before the raining season started. A problem all waterways have in common as a small sight seeing tour of the Bamenda brooks proofed. Taking a look around it can be feared that it’s a nation wide problem.

Sonac Street, 3 p.m. the river started to overflow as the water mass built up and gained speed. A stone wall, made to canalize the water and to prevent water to enter the lower parts of the Colina All Life Bamenda Agency office building broke. Water rushed in. Destroying businesses. Taking away men’s income. Down stream, on the other side of the street, the river took the lion share of the stone wall, taking a big generator and floating the lot of the Vatican Express terminal.

The day after, the victims tried as good as possible to clean up and overcome the trashing of their livelihood. The Toyota pick up from the garage in Old Town was retrieved from the river bed. As it’s a Toyota, it will run again any time soon. The wall at Vatican Express Terminal will be rebuilt and the generator was pulled out the water. Not so lucky where other businesses. At Dinga Chambers, a law firm, the owners estimated the financial damage done to their business about CFA 2.000.000,-. They requested the court to postpone all their cases for at least two weeks as all dossiers and files where totally soaked, if not totally lost. “All our computers, printers and all our documents damaged.” Answering the question how they prepare for the future, they said to have decided to move their business to higher and thus safer grounds. In the front of the building a man was washing the soaked computers clean with water. As far as common knowledge goes, computers can’t stand water. Guess the manual was washed away too.

We hardly could save ourselves

Women of another business in the same compound told their account: “We were here when the water came in.” It came with an u-turn into the lower parts of the building through it’s entrance. The users of the building had to run into the water to get out of the compound, that rose to a level of chest level. “We hardly could save ourselves.” They answered when questioned if they could save anything at all. “The water came in with such a speed. No warning, no sound, crushing all the doors.” A dvd and cd vendor at Vatican Express told us: “It was the first time I saw something like this. I was frightened.” The water rose to the passenger floors, about one meter and thirty cm high, of the big Vatican Mercedes busses parked under the office building. A mechanic said he got scarred as hell: “It made such a noise!”

At the Furniture Wood Shop the water came to the roof of the business’ shelter. The owner saw it all happen. Showed the photo’s he made with his phone. “It came at once! Without a sound. Silence!” Taking almost all his craft tools. “Moving to higher grounds? No, there is no space. I will make the shelter higher”,to stand another float and as the owner explained, “Make a box to store my tools so the water can’t take them.” Explaining that he expects floats to happen again. For all the time he has his business on the Sonac Street and next to the blocked bridge: “I never saw any maintenance of the bridge. Or saw any clearing of the water drainage.” The victims would not dare it to say it out loud but most confirmed that the council should get the blame for not taking care of the water management in Bamenda. At the moment of pressing this edition of The Vanguard, we did not jet took the chance to ask the Bamenda Council or the Delegation of Town Planning for a reaction. Or being able to let us inform ourselves of it’s plans, ideas or programs considering the water management in the future. Hopefully we will get to it in later editions.

A source of life

Where there are rivers, there is life. Rivers bring water to drink, to grow crop, means of transport, to wash and as a line of defense against enemies. Cities grew where the rivers could be crossed by natural dams and where it was possible to make bridges. Rivers formed natural boundaries for powerful empires. Settlements can be found down the river where the water could be of any use in daily life. But humans have the bad habit to treat what is good for them badly. Rivers can bring life, but surly also takes.

A walk through any town in Cameroon shows that there is a serious mismanagement of the water infrastructure. A clear showcase of lack of understanding of the power and the nature of water. In small amounts it’s harmless. Once it’s grown to full proportion it’s a deadly force to be taken seriously. Canalizing the streams, taking the space and filling it up with waste is not a wise thing to do. As proven through history. Just ask the Dutch. Canalizing makes the water gain power as it is forced through a straight smaller space. If water becomes higher it increases in speed. With more speed it rapidly eats away land or anything human made. A strong solid stone wall can crack as easy as matches. Illustrated by the broken walls at Sonac Street in Bamenda.

The Holiday Inn Resort, in Limbe, built its extension over a canalized creek. Is the structure of the canal strong enough when it’s tested to it’s maximal capabilities? What happens if the water mass starts to overflow? If the owners already have problems to keep the hot showers up and running, we noticed when we were there, how can they guaranty the safety of the building on top of the riverbed? One pothole in the structure and the water eats it’s way trough the fundament. With water, everything is as strong as the weakest link. And it’s not the question if but when a disaster will strike at the resort.

Everywhere in Cameroon people built in the waterbeds. Using the space the river needs as a reserve when the water mass becomes to much. Taking away the ability to spread out the water: if the water mass can spread out, it will slow down. By having no room to spread out, it will grow higher gaining, again, more speed forcing itself through a too small space. Accelerating the increase of the power and the danger: it gains momentum rapidly. On top of this the creeks and rivers are used as an easy way to flush trash. The bottlenecks in the streams will get blocked. The streams gets gridlocked, more water coming in, less getting out. More mass will built up. Till it finally will force it’s way, over it, next to or simply crushing through it. And if you’re in it’s way, it can be fatal.

Bond to happen again

The witnesses that we spoke, did this with a lot more respect for the force of the water. As they stated it was a power never seen before by them. For them, the experience was an eye opener, a serious warning that it could have easily been a fatal rampage of the gentle water stream. Some believe it was an act of God. Others blame the council of not taking care, for is could have been prevented with some basic water management. What is even more scary is the lack of understanding of the problem and it’s threat by those who didn’t see it. As it’s bond to happen again. With the climate change the world is in for some ruff weather, more rainy days to come. The small creek in Bamenda showed it’s deadly teeth once it becomes as fast streaming water mass. Let us be warned: do not use the creeks as sewer or trash bin and do not occupy the natural waterbed. Mother nature will take back by force what is naturally hers.

What can be done? Three options: do nothing, do something or take it as an opportunity to be drastic. First option: keep on living daily life as nothing did happen. Blame it on the council or saying that’s it’s Gods will. Ignoring the phrase ‘God helps those who helps them selves’. Second option: Do not live or built your livelihood on dangers grounds. Take the counsel orders seriously, like the smashed sign board at Sonac Street illustrates: ‘Warning: no throwing of refuse around here by order of council’. Do your part of keeping the waterways clear of waste. And if those responsible lack action, take action and hold them responsible. The third option: take the opportunity to be drastic: clear the whole original waterbed of the river of buildings. Relocate business and houses to saver grounds. Repair and improve the bridges. Make a park out of the waterbed where all of Bamenda can go for a walk, relax or entertain. Great for business opportunities on the side of the park: restaurants, cabarets and hotels with a great view. Create in he heart of the city a green paradise, as a green avenue through Bamenda. Take Central Park in New York as example. The stream will refresh the air, a major and welcome health improvement of the city. And in case if the river overflow, it can do so safely without any serious damage. While all are watching from the pleasant and safe cafe’s, restaurant and off license. Let the rivers bring life to Bamenda.

The Vanguard, national newspaper Cameroon
Special Report: George Kweilla Fombutu and Auke VanderHoek