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17 Arrested For Theft At Market Fire Disaster 

By Joe Dinga Pefok — Security forces, July 3, arrested 17 persons for theft at the Congo Market in Douala during a fire disaster that struck the market in the night. The hoodlums, who were caught attempting to flee with items they had looted from the market, were detained at the Third Police District and presented to the State Counsel at Bonanjo on July 6.

The police also claimed that all the items that were recovered from the alleged bandits, were intact, and had also been presented to the State Counsel. The July 3 incident at the Congo Market was the fifth fire disaster to hit the market in less than a decade.

Two fire disasters occurred at the Congo Market in 2004 (February and July) one in 2008, and another one in 2010. Meanwhile, the July 3 fire, which reportedly sparked off in an electronics shop at about 8 pm, ravaged other shops that deal in electronic equipment, jewels, cellular phones, dresses and crafts.

The fire spread rapidly owing to the fact that a majority of the crammed shops and stalls at the market are built with cardboards or sticks. Thus, the fire fighters were unable to manoeuvre their trucks inside the market. They were forced to pull their water hoses through long distances while the fire spread in four different directions, causing more damage.

Worse still, there was no water point in the market where the fire fighting unit could refill their tanks. Consequently, they were forced to rush elsewhere to refill. Littoral Governor, Joseph Beti Assomo, who visited the scene on July 4, announced the creation of both an administrative and judicial commission of inquiries to probe into the cause of the fire disaster as well as identify the victims.

Over 1000 Traders Affected
The President of the association of traders of the Congo Market, Nsangou Mama said more than 1000 traders at the market were affected by the fire disaster. Among the affected traders were a number of foreigners from Nigeria, Senegal, Chad, Ghana, Mali, and China.

Upon hearing about the fire disaster, which reportedly affected some 50 Senegalese traders, the Ambassador of Senegal rushed in from Yaounde, and accompanied the Littoral Governor to the disaster scene. Meanwhile, the financial loss caused by the fire disaster is estimated in billions of francs CFA.

The proprietor of a big retail and wholesale shop that was dealing in assorted mobile telephones estimated his loss to be about FCFA 800 million. The victims of the disaster have been crying out for Government to come to their rescue, with financial assistance.

Many of them say they have lost their entire business capitals, while some say they are also in debts, having borrowed money in recent months from financial institutions and even from individuals. The Wouri SDO, on July 4, issued a communiqué announcing that the census of victims of the fire disaster would be conducted by the administrative commission of inquiry, with the Third Police District serving as venue. 

The census effectively kicked off on July 6 and was expected to last for a couple of days. The traders, however, complained that the commission which included many security officers were asking them for too many documents and questions. But members of the commission said they were given directives by hierarchy to be very vigilant so as to ensure that only genuine victims of the fire disaster are registered.

On July 6, the President of the Chamber Commerce, Christophe Eken, visited the market to sympathise with the fire victims. Once more, the affected traders pleaded for Government assistance. Some of the traders said they will not be able to send their children back to school in September, now that their sources of revenue have been consumed by fire. 

First published in The Post print edition no. 01357

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