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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bangui: A Bad Case

‘Run, run gunshots’, could have been the appropriate start to this post, but I am blogging tonight from the terrace of ‘Smile’ one of Yaoundé’s popular pubs, watching my countrymen sip away at their drinks in peace, a word we have come to take for granted so I’ll start differently.
 I can’t help but relive the vivid incidents of the last 5 hours in Bangui. I just landed at the NSIA, with about forty relieved ‘refugees’ fleeing the conflict tearing down our doomed neighbours in the Central African Republic. The forty claim to be Cameroonians returning to safety. (The debate over their identity could be discussed in subsequent posts, but tonight I want to share this evening’s experience in Bangui).
The MA 60 of the Cameroon Air Force on the last of its four airlifts of this Thursday December 19 (to rescue the about four thousand Cameroonian residents in CAR) had 6 journalists on board including me. Today Brigadier General Martin Tumenta, took over control of the International Support Mission to Central Africa, an African-led force abbreviated MISCA.
We landed at the Bangui-Mpoko airport at about 5 PM, and were immediately rushed to the Mpoko military base for a quick debrief on the contribution of Cameroon to international efforts to stabilize CAR.
Bam, bam, bam!
A spate of gunshots stopped our already fifteen minute discussion. To our greatest surprise they sounded really close. ‘We are just a few streets from the airport’ I said to myself, and we are in a military base, nearest the two most guarded places in Bangui after the Presidency I

 Moments later, two jeeps of the Chadian army sped into the base, with bloodied soldiers strewn at the back, trousers, skin and probably bones ripped by enemy bullets.

The Arab Schwa they spoke suggested Anti-Balaka’s (the pro-Christian militia group) had attacked them. The angry skinny, young looking and blood-thirsty Chadians wanted immediate retaliation. Their commanding officer had trouble calming them down.
The injured kept arriving and the number quickly swelled to eight, as more gunshots rang a few blocks away.
Occasionally the curious journalists, unaccustomed to war that we were had to scramble to safety, as the gunshots drew nearer and the fighting seemed to be taking place at the entrance to the base. French troops also headquartered in the same base ducked as they ran towards the hotspot.
We had been in Bangui less than an hour, but had had a graphic sense of how bad the security situation had become.
A Chadian Colonel told a Cameroonian soldier “this attack is certainly the outcome of hate reports in the local media”. Chadians like Sudanese have been accused of backing the Islamist agenda of the Seleka rebels who seized power this year in the CAR.
Moments later the impatient Chadian soldiers anxious to exact vengeance, shouted accusations at the French for being the cause of the conflicts on the continent.
Our mini-bus driver said “it is too dangerous to go out there” when asked to drive us back to the airport. Finally after feeling trapped in the base for about thirty minutes which felt like thirty hours, a team of Cameroonian soldiers convoyed us back to the runway through a detour.
We crossed French soldiers patrolling cautiously in armoured vehicles, as we had learnt in our quick crash course of ‘Bangui in crisis’, nightfall brings with it the most dangerous hours of the day. And the rebels have dropped their uniforms, to blend into the civilian population in a more elusive guerrilla warfare approach.
Clearly Bangui today is a Wild Wild West, with the rest of the country being even more uncontrollable as neighbouring states, Cameroon, Chad, Sudan, and DR Congo scramble to protect their borders.

 This night promises, almost certainly to be another bloody one, should the Chadians have their way.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Dangerous Landing

The Cameroon Civil Aviation Authority has issued a NOTAM that is a notification to airmen, prohibiting Instrument Landing Procedures on the Nsimalen International Airport between December 4, 2013 and February 4 2014. This actually means pilots cannot depend on this universally recognized safe-landing method to approach the NSIA.

Aircrafts use the instrument landing system (ILS), a radio beam transmitter that provides direction for approaching aircrafts through a receiver tuned to the ILS frequency. The localizer provides both lateral and vertical signals that guide aircrafts unto the runway.

For now pilots have to use other approach methods to land on the NSIA, and do so before 22:00H

The restriction also includes the operational hours of the airport, which is now between 6 AM and 10 PM, meaning all planes arriving or leaving the Yaoundé-Nsimalen International Airport must do so within this timeframe.
A senior airport official said climate change has made it increasingly difficult for pilots and control tower guides to give reliable estimates of the cloud ceiling height above Yaoundé, this is why the aviation authority preferred to restrict flights to 10PM in the absence of ILS procedures.

This actually means airport staff have less time to offer ground service to the planes arriving and leaving the NSIA, than usual. An Aeroports du Cameroun, ADC staff told us they have a solid motivated team to do the job within this timeframe. Above all it allows the staff of this not so busy airport more time to return home early. Habitually some stayed on for arrivals and departures up till 2 AM.
Airport officials have blamed the restrictions on bad weather, which according to senior officials damaged the localizer.

However an Air France official told us that the airport has been having trouble maintaining and renewing its ground equipment for many months now, waving off the ‘bad weather theory’ as untrue. This incident has forced many airlines like Kenyan Airways, Turkish Airways, and Air France to reschedule their flights, a change that has also affected the travel plans of hundreds of passengers. (Below is an email sent out by Air France to Travel Agencies warning clients of the changes in flight times.)

Envoyé : jeudi 5 décembre 2013 16:33
Objet : TR : Horaires des vols AF900/901/05 décembre avancés / CDG - Yaoundé -CDG

Chers clients,
 En raison de la fermeture de l'aéroport de Yaoundé pour travaux, entre 22h et 07h, nous vous informons que les horaires des vols AF 900 CDG-Yaoundé et AF 901 Yaoundé-CDG du 05 Décembre ont été avancés.
 AF900/ 05Déc   Départ CDG 13h20 - Arrivée Yaoundé 19h05
AF901/05Déc Départ Yaoundé 21h50 - Arrivée CDG 04h25

Nous vous rappelons que les comptoirs d'enregistrement des vols de et vers l'Afrique d'Air France ferment 01h30 avant le décollage.
 Vous trouverez ci-apres la communication d'Air France.
 En restant à votre entière disposition

A technician of ASECNA, the agency in-charge of navigation and meteorology reassured us that the microchip that was destroyed in the localizer of runway 19 of the Nsimalen International Airport has been ordered from Europe and was on another plane en route to Cameroon. He however could not give a specific timeframe for the repair works, saying “it depends on the technicians, they need to replace and test the new equipment,” he said reluctantly.

While the airlines may feel hard done by some of these changes, local aviation officials feel it is standard procedure to impose certain restrictions if safety measures are not fully met. Until then if you are flying through Nsimalen make sure to double check your departure or arrival times.

Sunday, December 8, 2013


                                          With ink I mourn

Pain in my heart sojourns
I have a dream,
To give a man eternal life.

I am just another mortal
With tear-filled eyes
My dreams remain a mirage
Sadly I stare at the stones.

As a child I knew him,
I doubt if he will ever know me,
As a man I envied him
 I know he will never envy me.

To fight and win,
A dream we all nurture,
 To rest a ’ graceful sleep’.

I write in tears.
I see a deity going to rest
 The thought alone makes me weep
I see Mandela in a coffin.

©  Fonka mutta beau-bernard

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


We often say a hungry man is an angry man. This assertion has never been truer than in 2008, when a poor rice harvest sparked a global food crisis. Hungry masses were in deed mad at their governments for high food prices and regular shortages and took to the streets. Since then some governments have understood even more how crucial it is for their citizens to be able to put food on their tables.

So after Tanzania and Mali, some eight hundred participants from about sixty different countries are attending the third Africa rice congress in Yaoundé, Cameroon between October 21 and 24, 2013. The event is organised for the third time by the AfricaRice Centre, an advocacy and research group pushing for Africa’s self-reliance in rice.


·        Africa imports a third of global rice trade

·        Africa imports 40-50% of the rice it consumes

·        India, Thailand and Vietnam are some of the biggest exporters

·        In five years Africa’s production has gone up from 3% to 8.4%

Opening the event, Cameroon’s Scientific Research and Innovation minister, Madame Magdalene Tchuente, said “Africa needs the best existing science to double its rice production by 2018”.

Peter Matlon the American-born Chairman of the AfricaRice Board of Trustees called on rice producers, researchers, marketers, and policy-makers to exploit this platform to share experiences to help Africa produce its own rice and feed the rest of the world.

Better Harvests Higher Demand


Aliou DIAGNE an Impact Assessment Economist at AfricaRice says “Since 2008 Africa's rice production has gone up from 3% to 8.4%” a clear indication that governments in West and East Africa, as well as Egypt are upholding the continent’s production.

The Senegalese born economist however revealed that as harvests have improved, so has demand. “China is currently negotiating with Thailand to import a million tons of rice yearly” he said. This not only means Africa is facing competition but can push on with production, because the market is real. 

 Dr REN WANG Assistant Director at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, praised the increased production of Africa on new rice varieties, seeds which have been grown in irrigated systems, rain fed conditions, and others in dryer upland farms.

Cameroon’s Rice Report Card


More optimistic forecasts say Africa could become the world’s granary, exporting rice to the rest of the world if the rice sector is well-developed by 2025.

Cameroon is considered as one of the countries with the ability of leading this rice revolution, a potential rice hub. However the sector is still facing huge structural difficulties.

Like most of Africa Cameroon has a rice dream, putting an end to importation by adding four hundred thousand extra tons yearly to its current production figures.

Sali Atanga, Post-Doctoral Fellow, and Rice Researcher at IRAD says “Cameroon currently produces three hundred thousand to four hundred thousand tons of PADY yearly. When hulled production stands at about two hundred thousand tons. Cameroonians consume six hundred thousand tons yearly.”

As I blogged a couple of years ago, during the Agro-Pastoral show, this means current production falls short of demand by four hundred thousand tons. All of this rice is bought from abroad, a frustration for President Paul Biya who promised to put in place policies to reduce rice importation.

Has he been doing his job? So far rice production is driven mainly by the two government agencies SEMRY and UNVDA. Without a speedy involvement of private investors the goal of tripling rice production may remain just a fantasy.

Moreover the sector is afflicted by problems of its own. Sali Atanga says “there is need for seed production to be produced large scale. Farmers do not need new varieties, they just need the existing varieties to be in good supply.”

He added that poor post-harvest practices partly take the blame for the low supply of locally grown rice in supermarkets and local markets. “The Land Tenure policy makes it impossible for small farm holdings to expand production” he added.

Research and Innovation has proven that Cameroon can depend not only on irrigated systems, but also on upland farms to boost production. However industrialisation remains the missing link. For the country to multiply current production by three, government must go beyond small farm holdings by creating the environment that attracts the kind of money that leads to large scale quality rice production. Private investors.

How can a business be proven to be profitable, with an available market yet almost no private investors are grabbing the opportunity? This is the Cameroonian dilemma.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Decrypting Cameroon Politics


I set out on my third career political campaign coverage, with a lofty goal-understanding Cameroonian politics. Or at least have a go at some of those unanswered questions that have kept many in deep distrust of ‘our democracy’.

This Facebook post summed up the conundrum I was, and to a large extent am still faced with.


Decoding Cameroonian Politics- I will spend 2 weeks in the watershed Adamawa region. The region is believed to be a 'UNDP fort' however, the party failed to secure any of the ten parliamentary seats in the last elections. In a bi-partisan style the CPDM and UNDP jointly run many councils, notably in the big town of Ngaoundere.
How can the UNDP be so strong in the urban areas and so weak in the rural areas?
Is the rural vote strong enough to give any party a downright win as was the case in the Adamawa in the last parliamentary poll? Will be looking for answers...


Three weeks plus later, I must say I have a few answers (smile) but not a full picture of what politics in Cameroon is all about.

Let’s focus for a while on the Adamawa region. I was bemused at the purported ‘strength’ the UNDP party when I arrived the region. Simply because the figures pointed the other way. In a region with 21 councils and 10 parliamentary seats, the UNDP in the last legislature held no seat in parliament, and controlled two of the eight councils in the Vina Division (Ngaoundere I and II with a few councillors in Ngaoundere III) Most of the surrounding councils (Belel, Mbe, Ngangha, Nyambaka, Martap) were CPDM-run.

One can deduce therefore that the CPDM is strong in the rural areas and weak in the urban areas. The opposition has over the years read behind this assertion, the ‘well synced rigging machinery’ of the CPDM. Given that most of these rural areas are inaccessible, both for political parties and election observers.

A master’s student at the University of Ngaoundere told us in one of the pubs of Dang, that his first experience as an election scrutiniser was in a far off village only accessible by bike. He had been advised to carry his food along in his rug sack, a remark he only found pertinent on Election Day in the middle of no man’s land.

At the polling station, they were more interested in signing out their allowances for the job, and be done with it, than with the tab of the ballot box, which had inexplicably been broken. Experiences like this, many who have come up close to the election process, can recount tons.

But this year, I witnessed (in an urban area), a different story all together. Voters who crowded polling centres at nightfall and together tallied the votes. An attitude that certainly reduces room for foul play considerably.

I am of the opinion that our political parties are too weak, or too amateurish to man all the voting centres across the country. This lapse can be filled by genuinely involved voters like the ones I saw in some parts of Ngaoundere. Who do not just vote and go away, but wait to know the outcome.

Returning to the theme of the urban vote vs. the rural vote, it is hard to tell why the village people in the Adamawa do not vote, like the city people of Ngaoundere do, assuming the city people know better what is in their interest.

Politicians will tell you, most rural people vote along tribal lines, and the opposition fails to campaign in the remote areas. These are all part of the answer I guess, but it does not seem to explain everything.

In most countries the urbanised areas, presumably the more populated, should sway the vote in favour of one candidate or the other, but over the years, politicians have been trying to convince us that especially in the northern regions, the voting public is found in out of sight villages, and cannot be underestimated, as their vote in the end can decide the polls.

This is certainly possible in the case of the parliamentary poll, where a candidate is believed to be strong in 5 rural areas out of 8 sub-divisions (I still have to check if the demographics in these rural areas outweigh the urban).

So, as you can see, I still have many questions unanswered, this election has certainly helped me realise the value of reaching out to the remotest areas in political campaigning, and we must agree, this is an uphill task for politicians across the globe. Is this inaccessibility playing in favour of one candidate and not the other? Do rural voters follow the trend of their peers in the urban areas? Do rural voters vote for parties (loyalty) or candidates? These are all questions that need to be studied further by political scientists, to better understand the Cameroonian voting public, and explain the success or failure of one campaign over the other.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cameroon Elections Rivals Clash

An ADD campaign rally in Burkina, a neighbourhood of Ngaoundere 1, turned violent when an FPD convoy forced its way through the street on which ADD staged its campaign.

 Tensions heightened as the intruders, the FPD complained that the ADD did not have to occupy the street. A few fights broke out between both camps as supporters hurled insults at each other. ADD supporters blocked off the FPD convoy for a while but finally let them drive by.

The FPD caravan had driven past for the first time just as the ADD rally started at midday in the rocky Burkina quarter, without any incidents. They were noisy waving yellow flags and blaring vuvuzelas as their bikes crossed the area.

It was their second passage, when ADD, national president Garga Haman Adji, was addressing the rally that provoked tensions. Garga told his supporters, “don’t let them pass here!”

The rogues heading the FPD caravan swore to force their way through. Garga asked the national media to film the interference which was almost turning violent, as both sides shoved, trying to push away a cardboard that separated them.

There was no security officer in sight as both camps pushed and shoved for minutes.

The ADD supporters eventually let the FPD caravan drive through their crowd. Once this crowd closed up again to listen to Garga, some leftover FPD supporters travelling in the same direction caused a third interference. This one ended in punches being exchanged by both supporters on the fringes of the ADD crowd.

Tensions are expected to mount in this last week of campaigning in the Adamawa region, especially with some party’s threatening a ‘jihad’ if they are cheated this year, according to some security sources.

The election is expected to be much disputed especially in the three councils of Ngaoundere. The Governor of the Adamawa, Abakar Ahamat, promised to step up security in the sensitive areas of the town, and in some polling stations before and after Election Day.



Sunday, September 22, 2013

The University vote Vs. The Rural Vote

The Ngaoundere three council is the most hotly contested area in the Adamawa with 7 political parties vying for the Mayoral seat.
Observers say apart from the two dominant political parties in the council, many other smaller parties feel they stand a chance because 45% of the electorate are students of the University of Ngaoundere.

Less than fifteen minutes on the main street of the University town of Dang, caravans of four different political parties had sped past. Dang the host council of the University of Ngaoundere, in Ngaoundere III municipality has the highest density of political parties campaigning in the Adamawa.

 If you are wondering like me, why 7 parties will be struggling to control this semi-rural, semi-urban locality, the answer we found out is what political analysts call here the University vote vs. the Rural vote.


Hamatoukour Bobbo, the ELECAM communal office chief confirms that University students represent about 45 % of the voting public in Ngaoundere III, 7.500 of over 15.450 voters. The area is politically divided between the natives and university students.

Unlike the rural people, politicians say the University students are not loyal to the NUDP or CPDM and want change, which they argue newer parties can bring. However no party can lay claim to a significant part of this electorate.

Responding to this claim, the CPDM candidate in the area, Dauda Ishaga, says “We are all going to fight for the University vote in this case, because our opponents are acting like they control this electorate.”

He also claims that his blood relation with the natives plays in his favour in this race.

At the roundabout leading off to the campus the UNIVERS party, competing only for the Ngaoundere III council in these elections was handing out fliers to students passing by. A political party which is only 3 years old and is depending heavily on the student voters to triumph in Ngaoundere III.

This has created a situation in which all politicians are eyeing the two distinct groups of voters. While this political calculation sounds clever, the fact that the University students are on holidays now, and most may only return after Voting Day could be a game changer. University students traditionally resume school in October for a new academic year, this year they are expected to resume on September 23, one week before Election Day.


Thursday, September 19, 2013



Elections Cameroon takes a stance against the time-honoured practice of sharing food and gifts during electoral campaigns.

ELECAM member Madame Sadou nee Ladibawa told this reporter during a campaign rally by the ruling party in Belel sub-division, in the Adamawa, that the practice is proscribed.

She observed on the fringe of the rally, to judge for herself if the political parties campaigning for the September 30 poll are playing by the rules.

She said “distributing foodstuff and other basic needs to voters is tantamount to buying their consciences”.  At this rally no food was shared out.

The practice of sharing food and gifts to rural peoples has been an age old technique employed by political parties during campaigns. Political analysts feel the practice blurs the sense of right and wrong of the largely uneducated voting public.

Last Monday during the grand launch of the CPDM campaigns in the Adamawa region, shoulder-high heaps of rice bags, soaps and other gifts were shared out at the villa of El Hadj Abbo Ousmanou. This certainly was a clear violation of the ELECAM prescription.

Observers say the politicians may not share out gifts during public rallies, but will surely do so under the cover of dark, in their vicious quest for votes.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013



Hundreds of voters in some parts of the Banyo division of the Adamawa region could be denied their right to vote because of the distance separating them from polling offices.

The Governor of the Adamawa region Abakar Ahamat, expressed this concern today to the Electoral Board member of ELECAM, Madame Sadou nee LADIBAWA.

He said the suppression of some polling stations has left some villages 7km away from the closest polling office “it is one village, which is very far from the new polling station. They had a polling station but the polling station was cancelled, and they were transferred to another polling station that is 7km away from their house, it is too far, they will not be able to vote”.

The people of Mayo Fo’orou Minguem a remote village in Banyo division of the Adamawa overcame all the hurdles to exercise their civic right of voting, but they did not foresee this. “It is a problem we have presented to ELECAM and we hope they will find a solution that is my wish” Governor Abakar Ahamat said.

Less than two weeks to the poll, it is highly unlikely ELECAM will create a new voting office to address the concern. This means hundreds of registered voters in Mayo Fo’orou Minguem, could be excluded from the September 30 polls because the closest polling office to them is 7km away.

It is equally unlikely that these voters will trek to the next polling station in Labare Sieni.

Both officials also discussed the ongoing campaigns, training of voting centre staff and security around the elections.

It is worth noting that the Adamawa now has 1.344 polling centres and not 1.346 as announced in some media reports.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

CPDM, CDU, FSNC, SDF stage political rallies in Ngaoundere on first day of Campaigning

Hooting bikers, and flag-waving convoys signal the start of Municipal and Parliamentary election campaigns in the streets of Ngaoundere, chief town of the watershed Adamawa region. Caravans of various political parties criss-crossed the main commercial street of Ngaoundere each trying to out-shout the other. The CPDM, and NUDP parties were most visible in the early hours of the day. Their flags floating on electricity poles.   The CPDM launched its campaigns at the plush Haut Plateaux residence of its biggest spender, El hadj Mohamadou Abbo Ousmanou. He revealed that the CPDM Central Committee has injected 34 million CFAF to the region’s campaign effort. Mr. Abbo himself donated 11 million to the five divisions where the party is competing for almost every council and parliamentary seat.  The FSNC competing for two council seats in Ngaoundere I and Ngaoundere III. Their campaign kicked off with an over 15km motorcade between Manwi and Yalla-Yarna in the Ngaoundere III district. Later on in the day they staged a rally to set up 6 party cells, with calls to likely voters to withdraw their cards and vote on Election Day.   The CDU made its statement of intent, by canvassing for votes door-to-door in Tchabal Margo and a public rally in Margal. CDU national president and wife said their programme addresses the development needs of each locality, as well as the study conditions of students. The SDF also launched its campaigns in Ngaoundere with a late evening rally this Sunday in the Marche Centrale

Esplanade neighbourhood. Chairman Ni John Fru Ndi who is in the northern part of the country says they are vying for 10 council seats in the Adamawa region. Ten parties are contesting for as many parliamentary seats and even more mayoral seats across the Adamawa.

The region has an electorate of 360.637 registered voters, who will vote in 1.346 polling offices on September 30.