Thursday, July 12, 2012

SPOTLIGHT: Bamenda, our city as we know it!

Situated 366km North West of the administrative capital of Cameroon, Yaounde, and about 450km of Cameroon’s economic capital, Douala, Bamenda, estimate to harbour some 500,000 breathing souls, has come to mean more than one thing to many a keen observer.
            At one time simple known as the land where heroes come to die, today, Bamenda stands its own, tall among the emerging towns of our triangle nation. It gained the status of a city on the strength of a Presidential Decree of 17th January 2008, which created the Bamenda City Council from the defunct Bamenda Urban Council, bringing in as well the three Municipal Councils of Bamenda I, Bamenda II and Bamenda III.
            Senior translator and writer, Canute C.N. Tangwa paints the picture of a city of two epochs in the following TRAVELOGUE.

Bamenda then and now:
Any day and time I am bound for Bamenda, the gateway to the North West Region, I remember the late Kotto Bass’s hit song dubbed, “Bamenda.” In the track, he reels off the names of past and present captains of industry and politics as well as custodians of tradition and culture (Fons) from the North West.
            As we slowly but surely descended the Station Hill, Peter Essoka’s question, “who is the Bamenda man,” and Julius Wamey’s terse response flickered through my mind. It did not die because Jomia Pefok’s wise crack that the Bamenda is a law abiding citizen but very sensitive to injustice kept me thinking. Indeed, with kaleidoscopic precision, images of Bamenda during my stay at CCAST Bambili kept surging and rested on bell Luc Rene’s crisp and riveting description of the mindset of the Bamenda man over the CRTC programme, Actualité Hebdo: a formidable go-getter with a penchant for detail.
            I looked down as usual to catch a glimpse of downtown Bamenda. It was dark except for pockets of lit-up areas! I held my breath. In the good days, any visitor took in, sized up and appreciated Abakwa from the Station Hill. “Quelle beauté”, a friend of mine exclaimed in 1989.
            The decay was knee-dip and shouting. We sped past Finance Junction and slowed down at Ngeng Junction, not because of traffic jam but of the deplorable state of the road. We swung towards SONAC Street hoping to catch the usual night revelers around former Zenon or so. Since there was no action around there, we moved on to the famous Commercial Avenue. There was not hustle, no snack bar, no cabaret life… nothing! Bamenda used to wake up one a Friday as from 9pm till dawn. Very few businesses could afford power generating sets so they had to adopt break-even measures like closing early.
            Formerly, we could have been spoilt for choice as to which night club, cabaret, snack or joint to go to, particularly along the Commercial Avenue. We met a semi-desert, dark and poorly lit Commercial Avenue and town. Someone proposed Dallas. We did not hesitate and had to maneuver to get there for the road was an eyesore. The ambiance was fairly good, the music below par for guys cruising in from Douala; the services were satisfactory and the call girls aplenty. We guzzled beer and listened to jarring renditions of tunes or hit songs of yesteryears.
            Then I spotted my younger brother, an excellent ball juggler-termed- developer, some distance away from the Government Delegate of the Bamenda City Council. He electrified the atmosphere. Booze flowed and there was mirth.
            At around 3am we decided to retire. But our intestines had already started complaining. We badly needed a bite. We began a frantic search. Every available restaurant was closed. Fortunately, there was this lady around former Black and White night Club at Nkwen who operated an open air cafeteria. We went down to business and retired to our various abodes with the hope seeing Abakwa by day.
            When we met the following day everyone commented on our night experience. Two of my friends who lodged at Ayaba had a bizarre story to tell. The lifts were seemingly not operational. At Le Bien, the proprietor had to make do with a generator but at a price for the visitor: lights-out after 11pm!
            Bamenda by day looked like a battered truck in need of urgent repairs. It had been buffeted by the New Deal, the wind of change, “scratch my back and I scratch your back” brand of politics, socio-economic neglect and opposition politics. Seemingly, Bamenda was paying the wage of being an opposition town. The intrepid Ntemfac Ofege stated clearly that when the 1999/2000 State budget was CFA 1,100 billion, the North West got less than 2% of the total revenue!.
            I decided to board a motorbike (bendskin), in order to beat the traffic jam at Nkwen, for the Bamenda mortuary. From Ndamukong Street, we rode through Mile 2 Nkwen, down towards the former Rota snack bar and veered towards Cow Street through Ngeng Junction, City Chemist Roundabout towards the market and took a short cut to the mortuary. From the mortuary, the “bendskin” made a detour via Ntamulung. Two Bridge and unto Nkwen. From thereon we sped to Bob Fula Junction in Ndamukong Street. I saw what the French term, “Bamenda Profound”: poor road infrastructure and underdevelopment.

Bamenda now
            Indeed, that was Bamenda then. Bamenda now looks like a serpent that has sloughed off its skin someone has given Bamenda the Midas’s touch! In Cameroon, it has gained currency: where the Head of State passes, development follows. Bamenda will receive the Head of State, President Paul Biya, for the 50th anniversary of our valiant Armed Forces. Thus, pot holes have been filled, roads have received a facelift, the street light are on, hotels are being refurbished and built, cabarets, nightclubs and snacks have come to life, streets are swept clean, there is an expected construction of a thermal power plant, and business seems to be moving in the right direction with the imminent construction of the Bamenda-Enugu road. Apparently, the Bamenda man looks set to seize this opportunity: the resilience, hope, potential and possibility are seemingly back.
            Shandie Shing Av wontom captures the new Bamenda spirit when he states, interalia; “Bamenda … will be the terminal of the main road with the Nigerian giant, a tractor and bus assembly plant will soon be built in Mile 4 Nkwen for the West African market, a State University may be underway, Azire and Police Credit Unions are the largest Credit Unions in Central Africa, not to talk of the vast potential of its qualified people and its experience from all over the world who are rushing back to have a foot in Abakwa. And there is more!

            For this is the first Cameroonian city in which call box vendors make a profit selling telephone air time for 25CFA Frs. Per minute; where there is no need for low cost housing; and where part of the city gets water free of charge. It is a city with cheap food and cheap housing, where the cost for a taxi drop has stabilized at 100CFA Frs. For the past ten years. It is the city with the highest concentration of high standard secondary schools in Cameroon. Its Government Delegate is a Civil Engineer, and it’s Parliamentarian an Architect. So often I wonder what that city would be like if just a fraction of its children were to return from abroad to live there, with their experience, their means and their courage. Bamenda has over twenty 4,000 capacity Church houses in which campaigns and elections take place every year; it is the bedrock of myriad Credit Unions where democracy is the overriding factor.

No comments:

Post a Comment