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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.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Cameroonians Train in Aviation

At least 120 Cameroonian students are currently enrolled at the elite South African based Denel Aviation Academy under government scholarship.
The school of technical aviation with over 40 years of experience is training the future engineers of the Cameroon Airforce in various technical trades.
As part of CRTV’s special May 20 coverage, Beau Bernard Fonka Mutta caught up with some of the Cameroonians on apprenticeship at Denel. His special report.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

South Africa Decides 2019

South African political parties have had final campaigns ahead of next Wednesday’s general elections.

 This weekend the top three parties, the African National Congress, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters all staged grand campaign events.

Beau-Bernard Fonka Mutta witnessed most of the campaigns around Soweto and Johannesburg and compiled the following report.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

AU Reforms. What for?

The head of the Institutional Reform Implementation Unit of the African Union, Prof Pierre Moukoko Mbonjo has briefed the Pan-Afircan Parliament on what he termed a robust reform process of the AU.
He noted that the AU seeks to improve it’s performance by carrying out reforms that will ease decision-making, improve partnerships and harmonize it’s institutions for a more people-centered organ.
Here below is an in-depth interview with the Cameroonian technocrat

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Stacey Fru, Author at 7

It was truly an enchanting and inspiring encounter. Last month I met with this 10 year old, multiple award winning Cameroonian author, Stacey Fru, who lives in South Africa. She wrote her first two books, Bob and the Snake and Smelly Cats, at the age of 7. 

Her illustrated children's books takes the reader into her imaginative world from which they exit with some precious moral lessons.

As she pursues her writing career, Stacey, has a number of other projects going. As a motivational speaker and online TV host she is touring South African colleges and universities, inspiring the young and the old alike.

Beau-Bernard Fonka Mutta met with the prodigy in her parent’s Johannesburg residence. Enjoy this enchanting meeting.