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Kumba, Cameroon’s Wild West 

By Opio Azore

It could just as well have been any other town but Kumba, and any other Saturday morning, but that was the way it happened.  You know you have reached K-Town when you cross the Kumba Water Bridge and step into the sultry heat and swirling dust. Or mud if it has rained.

K-Town, like any town, is always busy on Saturdays and, when I stepped down from the okada, it looked like most other towns in the country; ugly, hastily constructed houses thrown together in a hurry and coated with as much dirt as with brown dust.

Today, the muck had been watered down by a torrent of rain that pounded the city, laying a six-inch carpet of thick brown morass. Whenever it rains in Kumba, I tell you, there is so much mud you could use it as chocolate to garnish bread. And when torrential rains cut off Kumba from Mamfe and Ekondo-Titi, Loum people prefer to travel via Buea.

There is no city like K-Town. If a geography teacher set a question eliciting the names of cites of the world and a student listed K-Town as one of them, you are sure he/she would be ashamed to tick it as correct, because K-Town has virtually lost its former lustre and prestigious compass point on the Cameroon grid. It is, however, a Graffi potpourri; mostly Momo aborigines – Moghamo, Batibo; at least 1000 registered in ‘country’ meeting; Ngi, Menemo, Ngwo, Oshie. The Kom are found in Bai-bikom, Bai-Panya.

You can count a handful of Bakweri girls and a few Molas in the civil service. The landlords; the Bafaw, might soon attain the status of tenants. Their Bafaw Street is mostly inhabited by Igbos. The vein of "madness" in K-Town begins with the chauvinistic vile in Muea, the wild tempers in Muyuka to the courteous reception of the wildest bunch in Kumba. Kumba reeks of the Wild West with its heavy accent of crudity and violence.

If Kumba isn’t filled with violence enough, stemming from night raids, numerous outlaws, and the ever-present vigilantes trying to control them, then another common event is the frequent feuds, trivial wars and political conflicts that create yet more bloodshed in the Kumba. The violence created in these battles often occurs where the law is too "weak" to enforce any type of control. Similar to the vigilantes, those who feel they are unduly wronged are prone to take the law into their own hands.

The forces of law and order are not exempted from these violent incursions. To their extreme discomfort, they got the vandals to set their offices alight; one on Buea Road, the other in Fiango. You also begin to experience rundown plank houses in Muea and caved-in barns with weathered boards, leaning at impossible angles and people living in them. The houses are unspeakably sad.

After all, each one of them represents the death of someone’s hopes and dreams for the future of their children and themselves. You get the same sad feeling whenever you pass through a small town like Ekona that was once a thriving place, full of life and activity. But if Ekona now seems lifeless, as if slowly crumbling back into the black earth from which it sprang, Fiango gives Kumba the necessary pivot, liberalism; nobody cares about the law.

It is a pot of a heady brew of cultures; a social stew steaming with little tribal accord to dilute it where a little misunderstanding over a paltry change, can spark off a bloody clash which often culminates in death as befell 28-year-old Issa of Hausa origin. He was stabbed by a commercial motorcyclist (bendskin) after a brawl over FCFA 300. Issa’s death released Hausa venom. Hausa youths stormed the bendskin’s residence and burnt down the entire family residence comprising about twenty apartments.

Without a gun slinging marshal of the law, Kumba is a hands-off tombstone town where you can get a dagger stuck in your chest and your stiff corpse laid out on the street with a bible beside it as it happened to poor 18-year-old bread seller, Onel Apong Ebah. Dead and cold as stone, Ebah’s assailants dragged his body to Akale Street and placed a Holy Bible and some change on his corpse.

Ebah’s reckless murder aroused an angry mob from Three Corners Fiango, where he lived. Their assault on Akale Street inhabitants opened a putrid wound inflicted by a smouldering Hausa-Bamileke conflict. Clubs and machetes clashed and clanged, resounding the abrasion between Hausas and Fiango boys, which had only recently left several wounded.

The lawlessness is not a reserve for gutter snipes from Fiango. Sometimes men of the higher realm engage in the same struggle of trivial but bloody bar brawls such as a councillor of the Kumba I did, leaving the gendarmerie little choice than to relocate him to a better bar after he nearly gorged the eye of a fellow bar patron.

In K-Town, anything and everything is possible; even dogs can lay eggs there. Stepping out into a dark corner to answer your c-phone is enough to invite muggers who can quickly send you to your doom. Some of the stakeholders of the flesh industry are not only vendors of the raw venison, but they are also robbers, pick-pockets who can audit you after a fling in the hay. K-Town rarely receives national radio and television signals beside the local FM channels. It is a luxury if you stumble on BBC or Radio Akwaibom.

Of all the branches of criminality, none have caused more continuous bitterness and infamy than forgery and feymania in Kumba. The city has been a top-rate birth and marriage certificate forging garage on the higher rungs of diplomatic blacklists. And the feymen here who ‘wash’ banknotes are so civil they send you a huge thank you note and an equally huge apology after defrauding you. Just to cool your heart more, they ask for forgiveness.

Violence, just like the fires that frequently ravage the market, is a rumbling volcano that can be relied upon to erupt at a wedding, funeral, a public ceremony, a political rally and every encounter with the administration; and of course at any contact with the police. Not that the rules of the police or tax collectors are ill-defined. Kumba could be said to be a tax free zone.
Most pick-ups have no log books. Many cars run on chassis number until they become the single pieces they once were on the assembly line. Better not to have car documents.

But if you must cross the city council line, you prepare to cough out between FCFA 500 and FCFA 1000. "I say, wetin di worry you? You no di see my name for your morning register, eh? No be I don pay FCFA 500? I beg, move dat gate make I pass…" You will hear bus drivers snap at policemen at check-points. And if you want to be straight with the law; you go to Transport where you might pay FCFA 4000 for a receipt that shows FCFA 1000 on its face.

The okada boys rule the streets. If the police dare take a little grease from an okada; he will say: "Oh, it is you? We know where you live; we’ll come for you…" In Ekona they arrested some policemen and locked them in a community hall, disarmed them and said if they dared escape, they would not see the end of the day. Gendarmes and police operate mainly outside the city precincts.

But monsieur, K-Town is not all that! Pas du tout! John Goat and his disciples keep the flesh pots boiling round the clock at strategic spots; breakfast goat pepper soup on Buea Road Street. There is daytime goat pepper soup at Goat Kingdom and the evening session kicks off on Krama Street and somewhere in front of Canton. Meanwhile, Fiango offers heavy-duty pork besides ‘burning fish’. And giggling girls.

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