By Ernest Ndukong
An American President once said "where a road passes, development follows." This statement, beyond all reasonable doubts, sounds valid. Its validity has been verified from the local level through the national level to the international level.
Most economic activities are often delayed by poor roads. Reports reveal that less than 30 percent of Cameroon’s national roads are paved. This either causes congestion on our roads, accidents or delay in the delivery of commodities. An example of traffic congestion in Cameroon could be seen in the Economic Capital, Douala and particularly on the Wouri Bridge.
Congestion on this historic and dilapidated bridge was due to disrepair where vehicles sometimes spent several hours in the process of going through the bridge. The situation usually led to missed appointments, waste of fuel and communication credits. People spend time rescheduling appointments; others lost millions for not catching up with appointments.
From another perspective, road side vendors increase their turnover during the congestion. They would definitely have time to better explain their products to clients blocked in the congestion, subsequently leading to increased sales for the hawkers.
The economic implication is a deficit return because what is generated is in no near commensurate to what is lost. Also, usage of communication credit leads to increase in the turnover of Communication companies. Economically, this additional gain would probably be reinvested into the Cameroonian economy and this will help boost other economic activities.
Congestions on our roads could be avoided and unnecessary waste of time and energy checked. Take the case where a road project is handled by a local contractor who effectively works less than eight hours a day in a six-day working week. Completion time of the project could be reduced if it was given to a foreign contractor.
They would work twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week with unnecessary breaks observed. This would serve as a quick fix to the congestion on some of our major roads. Another school of thought kicks against the idea of awarding contracts to foreign contractors. This, they say, leads to repatriation of local funds and the indirect benefits of that project would not be felt by the local populace.
The enclaved nature of our rural areas also hinders the supply of food to urban areas and subsequent export. Thousands of tones of cocoa,, for example are grown in the interior parts of Ndian Division in the Southwest Region but the area is inaccessible. The poor state of the roads makes it difficult for farm inputs to get to the area. When these inputs get there, their prices skyrocket thanks to Value Added Tax. This increases their production costs which are not reciprocated by increase in market prices.
These persistent losses send the farmers out of business. The economic effect does not only end at the level of reduction in cocoa production, but also a massive drop in exports leading to negative Balance Of Payments (BOP) to the Cameroon economy. Sometimes, foodstuff gets rotten on the way to the market. Bad roads cause accidents to trucks carrying many tons of food destined for urban markets. Products which are perishable would definitely lose value; while others are thrown away as waste.