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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