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Thursday, January 6, 2022

Welcome Africa Episode 4 ( Food & Drink)

Give us good food and drink and we feel loved. This line sums up the Cameroonian joie de vivre and almost epicurean delight over good food and drink.

A Cameroonian diplomat told me once, (4,363km from home) that his May 20 (Cameroon National Day) galas were highly solicited by diplomats because of the cuisine. So, if you are arriving Cameroon for the first time, I can confidently say keep your mind open and enjoy a unique culinary journey. In the Sahel, Forest, Grassfields and Coastal cultural zones your palate will be enchanted.

The cosmopolitan cities of Yaoundé and Douala offer a wide-range of modern and traditional cuisine, from the street corner to the plush city-centre restaurants and hotels. At sunset expect some of the best grills and spices the African continent can provide. Most of the more modern restaurants offer takeaway services and serve food till late at night. 
My Advice: Try all the local foods you can, avoid too spicy foods.

Please give me your hand let's walk you through some of the kitchen magic we possess. In Yaoundé and most of the Centre and South regions expect some exotic local foods from the forest people like Ntuba, pounded ripe or half ripe plantains, a delicacy eaten with Ndomba a traditional sauce cooked in leaves with catfish, chicken, pork or viper.

The Okok, (also known as funbwa) a combination of eru vegetable leaves mixed in groundnut paste, mostly cooked with smoked fish and eaten with cassava. 

My advice: In Yaounde you can get a vast array of local and modern foods. Be adventurous.

My recommendations: O’haira (Near Mahima), Chez Tchakounte (Tsinga Yaounde), Manuba (Nouvelle Route Bastos), Fines Epices (Elig-Edzoa), Cloud 9 Rooftop (Tamtam Weekend), Mabih (Mini-Ferme), Alvy’s Concept (Kondengui), Chez Bobo (Opp Carrefour Regie), Tchop et Yamo, White House (Bastos), All-Star, Le Municipal.

Douala the heartland of Sawa cuisine will blow your mind away with Ndolé a delicacy of groundnut stew made with an abundance of vegetables (bitter leaves). Shrimps or prawns are perhaps the icing on the cake in this dish. You can eat it with plantains, bobolo (a Cameroonian dish made of fermented ground cassava and wrapped in leaves).

If you can once you arrive Douala rush to Youpwe, a rustic wharf notorious for its fresh fish from the Atlantic and nearby fishing villages. The memorable taste of smoky spicy grilled fish on your fingertip’s envelopes you in a cocoon of home- cooked goodness. Typically sold on the streets, this is the quintessential Cameroonian meal. 

Mbongo Tchobi is a spicy black stew typically eaten by the Bassa people of Cameroon. The key ingredient is the intensely aromatic mbongo spice, from which the stew derives its name.

My advice: the major cities have food from across the country, this is the place for fresh fish.

My recommendations: White House (Akwa), Tchoo Space (Opp Tradex Bonamoussadi), Base Navale ( After Rabingha hotel), Aqua Marina hotel, Cozy O (Denver, Bonamoussadi), Breeze Restau (near Hotel le Nde), Chez Nina ( Near Oil Libya Bonapriso), Ni’s Restaurant (Petit Terrain, Bonamoussadi)

Limbe and Buea are the home of eru! The irresistible vegetable sauce, cooked with cow beef, skin (kanda), dried fish, cray fish, palm oil, Spinach (water leaves) to soften the shredded eru makes the mouth watery after each mouthful. It is eaten with water fufu (made from fermented grated cassava) and sometimes garri. 
Down Beach in Limbe, like Youpwe in Douala will also tempt you with Ocean marvels.

My advice: Most hotel chefs are good, if you can try some restaurants

My recommendations: Prive Lounge (Opp Afriland Bank), Municipal (Karata), Area Code, Abane (Newtown), Eco west (Newtown)

The culinary red carpet will be rolled out to you in the West region. Sharing a meal, is the ultimate act of brotherhood in the grassfields. This has inspired several fireplace menus today exported to cities across the world. Achu and yellow soup wins the popularity contest in the grassfields. This pounded cocoyam menu intrigues by its presentation and fascinates even more by its flavour.

The Djapche of Bamum origin is a mix of succulent vegetables, squashed grains, dried fish and other distinct spices. A marvel for the palate, it is eaten with pounded corn.

My advice: Pepper is a key spice, yet quite delicate. Handle it with care.

My recommendations: Big man launch - (Marché B),  La térasse, Old School

In the North rice or corn fufu (couscous) with vegetable soup (Lalo, baobab or okro) is a must. In a region popular for its cattle fields there is a lot of beef to go around. Grilled beef known here as bifteck with options including entrails is the absolute street food.
You will equally experience some striking dairy desserts in Garoua, inspired by the region’s long grazing history. 
My recommendations: Restaurant la marquise (Roumde), Le noumou ( Yelwa), Restaurant du centre (MTN)

Friday, December 31, 2021

Welcome Africa Episode 3 (Lodging)

Welcome back Africa! It is probably the biggest call to make for any visitor upon arriving a destination. Where do I stay? How long do I stay? Seasoned travelers use all sorts of guides to help them make the right choice. From online booking sites, to peer reviews and even local fixers, visitors absolutely want to pick a decent and affordable place to live in. They also consider price, distance from city centre or to stadiums and other places they plan to visit.

You don't want the nightmare of power failure (without a backup generator), you don't want low water pressure (and having to use a bucket), no internet access, the TV having no remote or mosquitoes keeping you awake all night. Remember we are in the tropics.

10 days to Africa's showpiece football tournament in Cameroon, trust me the window of finding a decent place to live in grows smaller by the day and prices are going in the opposite direction. The official delegations for the most part have booked most of the top hotels. Leaving the individual traveler  (fans, tourists) with either the expensive suites, or very few other options to grapple with.

Overall all of the host cities have a handful of luxury hotels. 

Best Western Plus, Douala
Ribadou Hotel, Garoua
Krystal Palace, Douala

The list cannot be exhaustive, in Yaounde you can live in StarLand, Hilton, Boun's, Mont Febe, La Falaise, Merina, Djeuga Palace. 

In Douala- Pullman, Onomo, La Falaise (Bonapriso & Bonanjo), StarLand, Krystal, Best Western Plus.

Bafoussam- Zingana, Talotel, Guins Palace, Alitel, in the area Tagidor Garden, La Vallee de Bana

Garoua- Tour D'Argent, La Benoue, Ribadou, Shalom, Motel Plazza, Dreamland, Plateau

Limbe & Buea- Atlantic Beach, Marcsons, Savoy Palmz,, in the area Splendeur, Mountain Hotel, Plaza

My advice- most of these hotels are probably booked by now or have very limited space left.

United Hotel, Mbankomo-Yaounde

That leaves you with lots of new hotels blossoming here and there, and others refurbished, that do not feature on the top booking sites. Yaounde, Douala and its environs for example have seen a flurry of new hotels constructed over the past five years. These hotels are certainly not shortlisted by the Local Organizing Committee for official delegations and you stand a higher chance of getting space there. In Yaounde I can think of Franco, United (Mbankomo, City Centre) GFAC, Felicia. In Douala, Vallee de Princes, Akwa Palace, Ibis, Princes des Galles, Lewat, In Limbe Musango beach hotel, Holiday Inn, Miramare View, Ocean Breeze, Lk, Fini...

My advice- search more in this category, the newer the hotel the better.

As a rule of thumb, moderate Cameroonian hotels are poor at maintenance,  so try to go for a recently opened hotel. If possible make a quick check of the room before booking. Also consider access when choosing a hotel. However some really comfortable hotels could be found in areas with poor access. This simply means, you shouldn’t give up on a hotel because it is off a main street. Some really comfy hotels are hidden in neighbourhoods with earth roads. My Advice: Don't judge the book by its cover.

Onomo Hotel, Douala

Atlantic Beach Hotel, Limbe

While this post, gives you a quick overview of what is available in terms of hotels in the host cities, remember that you can also find some chic Air BnB's in the major cities of Yaounde and Douala. This will be a perfect lodging option if traveling in a small group.  My Advice: Check for Air BnB if you are with friends or acquaintances.

If you have a solution for transportation, you could actually live in nearby towns around the host cities and travel into town for the games. The Littoral, South West, Centre, West and North regions have several beautiful towns near the host cities with some breath-taking tourist attractions. In the North you could have a memorable time and stay at Ladgo lakeside (67.8km away)  and go to Garoua on match days. In the Centre region you can stay at Sanaga Camping Beach (62.4km away) and travel to Yaounde for the Group games. In the Littoral, you can live in the beautiful Atlantic city of Kribi (170km away) and watch games in Douala. In the West region you can live on the highly demanded Petpenoun estate (43km away) and watch games in Bafoussam. While Limbe is easily accessible from Douala and Buea.  My advice: Look at nearby attractions and lodging and take into account traffic delays when moving on match days.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Welcome Africa! Episode 2 (Transport)

 Hey, it's been a bit quiet in here. A rollercoaster of events have kept me glued to work, but I always keep to my word. When heading to a new destination, we usually plan where to stay, what to eat, what to wear, and which places to visit. The experienced traveller would agree that mobility is a crucial and often neglected bit of the puzzle.

Travel in and around Cameroon is essentially by road, air and rail. The reality on the road changes significantly in terms of comfort and price depending on several factors. Where you are? Which time of the day it is? Which agency you are using? 

Of the five host cities, only Limbe does not have an airport but it is just an hour and a half from Douala by road. International flights will get you directly into the economic hub Douala, and the capital Yaounde. Touchdown in Douala or Yaounde the two main ports of entry could offer a completely different reality from landing in Bafoussam or Garoua. Domestic flights will connect you to most of the major cities in the country.

Expect yellow taxi cabs in Douala and Yaounde for international arrivals. A trip from the airport  into town costs approximately 17 USD (10.000CFAF). There are also some private shuttle services provided by private companies (more comfortable and more expensive) and in some cases bus shuttle services provided by hotels. My advise- arrange for pickup upon arrival.

Commuting in Yaounde and Douala, expect cabs to carry at least four passengers as the drivers operate on a permanent pick and drop basis, constantly trying to fill their cabs and thus make more money. An average trip can cost 250 CFAF (less than half a dollar) but this is negotiable. People usually pay more if their distances are a bit long (above 5km). It can be cumbersome and time-consuming, but trust me it is also the perfect meeting place with the community. There could be rare cases of robbery on these cabs. Hiring a cab for an hour could cost 3000 CFAF (about 5 USD). My advise- hire a cab and ride with people you know.

Commercial motorcycles are very popular, in the busiest city Douala, and in the outskirts of the capital city Yaounde (some zones are restricted). Bafoussam and Limbe have a fine balance of cabs and bikes, while Garoua is mostly dependent on bikes. Prices are usually negotiable. My advise- avoid bikes if you can.

For inter-city travel most bus companies operate hourly trips between the major cities. Yaounde to Douala costs averagely 8,000 CFAF (14 USD). The train service operated by the Cameroon Railway Corporation is also an option with its new express train with five intermediate stops.  First class passengers pay 10,000 CFAF (17 USD). My advise- bus and train are slower but quite safe. 

As I mentioned earlier domestic flights serve most of the main cities. Despite a small fleet, the national carrier regularly serves regional capitals. Connecting Yaounde and Douala in the South of the country to Garoua, Ngaoundere and Maroua in the North. The Bafoussam airport has also been recently refurbished. My advise- book your tickets early.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Welcome Africa!

 Woo Hoo! Africa will be coming home in 61 days. Home is Cameroon, proud hosts of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. 

As a journalist who has criss-crossed Cameroon for 15 years, and spent the most part of my childhood and professional life traveling the land for education or work, there is no better way of sharing my experience of the country with you than in this special series on Cameroon. 

As a google maps contributor fonka mutta  with travel experience across four continents from Jegu to Cape Town. I have a clue on some of the details that can make your trip to Cameroon fun.

First of all, welcome to Africa! Our tourism may not be as popular as our football, but trust me there are quite some unique experiences to live in this country. From food to people, culture to agriculture, wildlife and landscapes, Cameroon is certainly Africa. 

For the basics Cameroon is home to some 24 million people mostly youth. We speak about 230 different languages, including the two official languages French and English, and the hugely popular pidgin-English spoken in most of West Africa and other former British colonies. 

Cameroon has four cultural zones, the Sahel, the equatorial forest, the coastal and grass-fields.

The climate may vary depending on if you are in the breath-taking desert plains of the north, the cattle-rich midland mountains of the Adamawa, or coursing through the wildlife and fauna of the southern rainforests. No need for winter clothes though, the seasons are essentially dry or rainy. The weather will be bright and sunny during the Africa Cup of Nations tournament that runs from January 9 to February 6, 2022. 

Eish! Every football lover has certainly heard a thing or two about football and Cameroon. Legendary players, historic rivalries, colourful fans. The last AFCON to be hosted by Cameroon was in 1972. Close to 50 years later football is coming home, Africa is coming home. Five bustling host cities and 6 buzzing state-of-the-art stadia await you. So do 24 million proud Cameroonians waiting to showcase our cuisine, culture, customs, clothes and nightlife.

Take your seats, buckle up and brace up for an exciting four weeks bumpy but unforgettable ride. Over the next couple of weeks our series, will give you tips on where to stay, what to eat, how to travel and the must-see places in Cameroon.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Inside Campo-Ma'an National Park

I took off this weekend to reconnect with nature. My destination the Dipikar island in the Campo Ma'an National Park, renowned for its amazing wildlife and fauna. Home of the West Africa lowland gorillas. I was accompanying two singers (Mr Leo and Wax Dey) and actress (Laura Onyama), who were visiting as WWF champions to advocate for a new climate deal for wildlife and communities.

(Left to Right, Fonka, Mr Leo, Onyama, Wax Dey)

The trip to Campo certainly had its own challenges. As tropical rains whipped the ground, it became evident why the WWF conservationists put their most robust Landcruiser vehicles and several teams of experienced drivers at our disposal.

The wooden and stone bridges for the most part leading up to the National Park could do with some repairs and refurbishment to make them safer. As the slippery roads heightened the risk of skidding on the often narrow treacherous road. In the wettest areas, heavy-duty trucks had left ridges of mud, making it tough even for the most dexterous drivers. 

The 75km drive south of Kribi towards Campo took roughly 3 hours, we left the comfort of the tarmac at the Kribi Deep Sea Port area, for the off-road trip. The little town of Campo sitting next to Bata in Equatorial Guinea was a small charming coastal town, its vegetation divided between the coastal areas, and the dense equatorial forest, home of mainly the Baka and Bagyieli pygmies. 

From Campo to Dipikar we covered another 25km drive to the Bangola bridge the gateway into the Dipikar Island, the richest portion of the park. From Bangola the crew of eco guards, conservationists, and artists trekked another sweaty 6km on a muddy footpath almost silently, respecting tips provided by trackers that the gorillas were last sighted in the area.

 Anougue France, Gorilla Health Monitoring Assistant and her team of trackers welcomed us to their modest camp and briefed us on the Gorilla Habituation Project. Despite the persistent rains, the crew was determined to cover another 4km to the area where the gorillas were last sighted.

After close to an hour, we came to an area where we had to leave the footpath and venture further into the untouched forest. 

Vets and Trackers at Dipikar

The guides pausing each time our untrained boots cracked twigs noisily, urging for caution. The adrenaline rose when two or three trackers converged around an over 5m tall tree and pointed up towards its foliage. The first few looked up and saw nothing, then as our eyes adapted to the sun rays piercing through the tree canopy, a black shape became apparent at one of the tree-forks.

It sat there peacefully obviously aware of our presence long before we could spot it. But determined not to be disturbed. No sounds, the specialists said is a sign that its habituation is on course, and it tolerates the human presence. Occasionally it lets it's huge arms hang down from it's resting place. "It has been a wet day" France explained, "this is their rest hour, that is why they went high up to the trees to bask in the sun."

We obviously want to see more of the troop of about 26 gorillas believed to be high up in the trees or around us. An exact figure of the real gorilla population is still to be completed. The trackers suggest we retreat so that they try to lure them down for the photographers desperate for a shot. Several clicks are heard, but the gorillas refuse the invitation to come down. Despite ruses like clicking sounds made with the tongue and ripping off leaves like food to attract them, they don't yield.

We decide to leave them alone. Happy to have seen them high above us. The wildlife champions now fully understand their role, encourage the government to do more to protect such endangered species, and promote ecotourism. A  tough job, they have bravely taken upon themselves to do. Put their star power at the service of wildlife and make an even louder call for a new deal for nature and peoples.

Human activity around the park is on the rise, with agricultural concessions being granted to industrialists, the construction of the Kribi Deep Sea Port, and much more. Not every part of the Campo Ma'an National Park is as secluded as Dipikar, surrounded by the Bangola and Ntem Rivers. To keep this little piece of paradise happy government must intentionally step up its wildlife policies, conservationists' stress. 

Filmmaker Anurin captures a butterfly on my head

If seeing these gorillas, was simply breathtaking, I couldn't help but admire the simplicity of the locals, and their ingenuity. From the fireplace to the handwash, their tables were eco-friendly and original.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

His Musical Laughter

It will take us another century to hear a voice like he's.To enjoy a breath that frees. His  towering figure made him taller than most men. His big heart seemed to accommodate even the smallest of us. His mastery of the sax and other instruments left us in awe.

I remember asking for a selfie at the Warda Sports complex in 2000, as a young reporter backstage. And he paused and smiled. A true star. Immense yet accessible.

I always remember the 'Aye Africa' video with the jolly Pops playing to and with children of the world.

We grew up with his smooth effortless tunes. That blew through our spirit with the freshness of the Wouri breeze.

The more I listened and understood music, the more I realized that this Pops was more than a tall black happy man. He was a genie with the power to take away our pain.

So when I felt low in Molyko I listened to his music. He played and laughed. Enjoying every bit of it. Making it feel less like work and more of pleasure.

I was on an international flight once and sat next to this young white girl who must have been less than 8. A flight attendant had tucked her in her seat. She was traveling alone. After chatting briefly with this child. I gave her one of my earphones and played her some of his music. She smiled as she listened.

When she asked who was playing. I told her it was the Louis Armstrong of Africa. She was marvelled. And the music did to her what it does to me.

I remember a work visit to Seoul in 2015. Sat with media personalities across the world. They started paying attention to me when I said I covered Boko Haram. An outspoken Ugandan journalist wasn't too impressed. But when he realised what music I  listened to. He immediately warmed up to me. And told me how BIG this musician is.

At the end of the trip he surprised me at the farewell lunch. He suggested I speak on behalf of the delegation.  Saying I was the youngest but a real leader.

I have never separated with his music since. It is always in my pocket, ears or rucksack.

Thank You. Manu.
Thank You Groovy Pops.

Friday, September 6, 2019

The battle over education

The media is awash with politicians frantically trying to reconnect with their bitter people by campaigning for an effective school resumption in the NW and SW regions.

A campaign that is noble. Yet upsets many. The average South westerner North westerner doesn’t want to be lectured about education. More so by people who may not have as many rural schools as they do.
They want security. Not gunmen in front of campuses, but an assurance that their children can walk safely from home to school and back without hearing gunshots or being hit by a stray bullet. This not just in Buea and Bamenda but also in Eyumojock and in Lebialem.

The simple truth is gunshots will still resonate in these two regions every now and then, as military and secessionist engage each other. For how long hard to say.
Amidst separatist calls for school boycott and a lockdown, and government’s call for school resumption, the noise is becoming deafening and many parents are unsure which way to go.
A recent UNICEF report says close to 4500 schools were closed in Cameroon because of conflict. Attacks on schools recorded between the months of January to August totalled 27. At least 19 teachers and 58 students were equally kidnapped.
Josephine Bourne, chief of Education for UNICEF says “at no time is education more important than in times of war”. Extensive work by this UN agency highlights the real danger of suspending education. Young boys become child soldiers instead of teachers, young girls become child brides and mothers instead of engineers. 

Hopelessness, violence, no education, no social skills will result in radicalization for many displaced children. In Somalia books and a librarian rode to communities on camels in an attempt to keep education going despite conflict.

In its August 26 press briefing in Yaounde Basic and Secondary Education officials detailed efforts to subsidize schools in the North West and South West regions.
Basic Education subsidy to the North West stands at 354 million CFAF, in the South West 253 million CFAF. Cameroon has equally injected 982 million CFAF for classroom construction in the North West and 712 in the South west, while private education has been allotted 855 million CFAF.

In a perfect world, a cease fire, dialogue, disarming and an end to hostilities must pave the way for school resumption. But we are not living in one. Families that can afford it have already sent their children to study in safer zones. Yet thousands who cannot afford it remain trapped between the warring camps. These children must continue getting education as hard as this may seem, if we want them to contribute positively to nation building in the future.
Sadly education has been weaponized by the political class. In this battle over education separatists feel school resumption will be defeat. Government thinks effective schooling will be victory. 
The only victory will be getting politics out of education and making the country safe again.