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

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