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Eulogy For The Economy Of Southern Cameroons 

By Yerima Kini Nsom

It was not all sugar and honey. But the Southern Cameroons’ economy was buoyant, generating bliss and prosperity for the great majority of its citizens. Yet the political mutations that saw Southern Cameroons metamorphosed to West Cameroon and later "annexed" in the May 20, 1972 Referendum, spelled doom for the economy.

In the beginning, providence endowed Southern Cameroons (which is toady the two Anglophone Regions of Cameroon) with fertile soils along the coastal region. That is why the Germans opened up rubber, black pepper, palm and tea plantations in 1895. When the British took over these plantations after the defeat of Germany in the First World War, they created the Cameroon Development Corporation, CDC.

According to statistics, the CDC, till date, remains the largest employer in Cameroon after the government. In the mid 1990s, the CDC is said to have been producing 25 000 metric tons of natural rubber, 95 000 metric tons of palm fruits and 40 000 metric tons of bananas yearly. After the wind of privatisation hovered over the CDC, making it lose its tea component, the outfit has never been the same again. The diversity of agricultural production that the CDC has ignited together with its agro tourism has made it a success story.

For one thing, only the CDC seems to have effectively survived among the general economic structures that made the economy of Southern Cameroons tick. The National Produce Marketing Board, NPMB, which was a means of sustenance among cocoa and coffee farmers died in the hands of its imposed Francophone managers. At the time that NPMB was in charge of exportation and sale of cocoa and coffee, the production of these cash crops witnessed a boom. Many peasant farmers sent their children to elitist Sasse and Bali colleges without stress.

Following the abolition of federated states in 1972, the headquarters of the NPMB was hurriedly transferred from Victoria (Limbe) to Douala. Here, the famers’ money was used to construct a 15-storey building for its headquarters. Its new managers siphoned the accrued funds, enjoyed the extravagance and ostentations of luxurious cars, leaving the farmers in a state of devastating poverty.

Many farmers became totally frustrated and dejected, causing cocoa and coffee production to plummet. One farmer at Anyajua Village in Boyo, Mr. Yola Kimbi, told The Post that he got angry and cut down all the coffee stems in his compound. "The behaviour of the NPMB made me believe in those days that coffee was no longer a cash crop." Today history has it that NPMB finally expired in the hands of one Roger Melingui, who later became the Minister Delegate in the Ministry of Finance in charge of the Budget. At the time the story made the rounds that as much as FCFA 16 billion was carted away by the management of the company.

The Southern Cameroons electricity company, POWERCAM, also disappeared following the reunification of Cameroon. Its main component, the Yoke hydro-electric power station that used to supply electricity was obliterated in the 1970s. Recently, government gave a contract of some FCFA 700 million to one company owned by a certain Douala-based businessman, John Fongang. He was expected to rehabilitate the Yoke power plant so that it could boost energy supply by AES SONEL.

But The Post has learnt that the project has since remained in the drawers for lack of funds.  Since then, the project has remained a dead letter. Even at this time when Cameroon is grappling with energy crisis, nothing is being said about the Menchum Falls in the Northwest Region that is said to have a capacity to generate electricity that could serve the whole of West and Central Africa sub regions if developed.

Following the union with La Republique du Cameroun, the Cameroon Air Transport Company, CAT, was killed. As a result, the airstrips in Bota, Tiko, Bali, Weh and Besongabang used in the 1960s, were abandoned. According to Mr. Francis Kwale Tang, a sexagenarian, who said he enjoyed life in Southern Cameroons in those days, all major towns in the country like Mamfe, Kumba, Victoria, Buea, Bamenda, Wum, Mbengwi, Kumbo and Nkambe, had at least 5 kilometers of tarred road.

"One could drive from Victoria to Bamenda without passing through Francophone Cameroon. It was a very narrow road and vehicles could not easily by-pass each other. To solve this problem, the administration made it in such a way that there were days for vehicles moving to Bamenda and there were special days only for vehicles moving from Bamenda to Victoria. They used to talk of Bamenda go up, Bamenda come down," he said. Today, 50 years after, the Kumba-Mamfe road is virtually impassable during the rainy season.

Very little road infrastructure has been developed in Anglophone Cameroon. However, the recent tarring of the Bambui-Fundong road, Bamenda-Bali-Batibo, Bamenda-Bafut and certain portions of the Ring Road constitute the candle that has been put in the dark times of the underdevelopment of Southern Cameroons. It would be recalled that President Biya promised during an outing to Bamenda many years ago that he would personally supervise the Bamenda Ring Road project.

Even though some unscrupulous Southern Cameroonian politicians are alleged to have obtained loans that were refundable in 99 years, the Cameroon Bank was, to say the least, strong and vibrant until its headquarters was transferred from Victoria to Yaounde. The bank finally collapsed in the hands of its Francophone managers in the mid 1980s.

Worse, when government was bailing out banks hit by an early version of the credit crunch, it did not care a dime about the poor Cameroon Bank. It died. The Wum Area Development Authority, WADA, equally died because of mismanagement. By 1953, the territory of Southern Cameroons had two seaports in Victoria and Tiko as well as a creek port in the Mamfe Cross River that were very busy. Today, these ports are just shadows of themselves.

According to Mr. Augustine Meh Zang, who was a young man in the 1960s, the road linking Kumba to Loum through Tombel in the Kupe-Manenguba Division was tarred. According to Senior Journalist, Martin A. Nkemngu, who was one of the witnesses of life in Southern Cameroons, there was also the Cameroon Development Agency, CDA, which masterminded the development plan of the territory. This outfit like many others went into oblivion following the union with French Cameroun.

Nkemngu who completed his primary education in 1962, looked back with nostalgia at the virtues of the Southern Cameroons public service. "Civil servants did not have a heavy pay package but the value of money was high. There was meritocracy and the work ethic was respected to the letter. Corruption was almost unknown. Where it occurred the press exposed it and the judiciary punished the culprits," he said. He testified that meritocracy was highly respected. Only qualified companies won public contracts. The Nangahs, the Ches, the Kilos, the Fomenkys, he recalled, were renowned business names of the time.

According to the erudite Professor and University don, Tazoacha Asonganyi,
 "Development is a holistic concept that should always be discussed in an integrated manner, rather than in parts. The holistic concept means that development is about human beings, and the environment (the society) in which they live. Looked at in this way, it can be said that by 1961 when the two entities decided to form a "united" entity, Southern Cameroons was quite set to takeoff in a serious way.

The concept of democracy was already in the blood of the citizens: there was already an established and functional multiparty system, an electoral system headed by a Chief Electoral Officer who had organised free, fair and transparent elections in January 1959 which the government party of Dr. Endeley lost to the opposition party of Dr. Foncha; Endeley accepted defeat graciously, and handed over to Foncha.

There was effective separation of powers because the people distrusted any single individual controlling power like a tyrant: the Executive, Legislature, and the Judiciary were real centres of power that checked other powers. There was a functional audit department, regular commissions of enquiry, and other institutions to check corruption.

And there were fledging infrastructures, plus tarred roads here and there, and well maintained earth roads. Much still had to be done, but at least, there were signs that the society was set to takeoff. Looking at the sorry situation in which the former West Cameroon (Southern Cameroons) finds itself today, it is clear that that part of the country has been seriously underdeveloped". In all, walking down memory lane, one cannot but sing a requiem for the good old days for Southern Cameroons.

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