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Soaring Urban Disorder, Delinquency Hinged On Swelling Slums 

By Divine Ntaryike Jr

Unless Africa embarks on urgent measures to check the surging proliferation of slums, urban chaos and delinquency will continue to escalate, experts convened to an international workshop in Cameroon’s largest city Douala have submitted.

The urban affairs experts summoned from various West and Central African countries began strategizing on ways to prevent surging urban disorder and misconduct Tuesday, April 17.  They will compile their recommendations in a blueprint expected to shape future urban development plans.

Meantime, statistics revealed at the start of the conclave blame the situation on uninterrupted rural exodus and economic migration over the last half-a-century.  Africa’s urban population has increased tenfold, from 30 to 300 million since 1950.  And two-thirds of that number [200 million] today toil in horrible inferior living conditions marked by skyscraping poverty.

“They generally lack access to basic social amenities. Statistics show that 70 percent of the slum dwellers have been assaulted in the last five years,” French Ambassador, Bruno Gain and participant at the workshop remarked.  “I’m not the one saying it.  These are UN figures and we think that to combat the problem, local authorities and especially mayors and government delegates should revise the way the plan their cities, else it will only get worse,” the diplomat added.

Officials at the Douala City Council indicate that over a hundred thousand people come to settle in the metropolis yearly.  Others project the city with a debatable [government-declared] population of about 2 million will count 4 million inhabitants by 2025.  Experts warn pressure on housing and the scramble for land is engendering rapid and messy urbanization that is fueling the development of more shanty towns.

“Yes, Douala is a shining example of all forms of urban chaos which bring high risks of catastrophes. That’s why we’re verging on on resolving the problem through an inclusive approach.  We’ve created a coordination unit for the fight against urban disorder and civil protection,” the government delegate to Douala, Fritz Ntone Ntone explained. 

“It is proposing solutions including the construction of a new town, low cost housing as well as is campaigning against settlement in dangerous areas.  After the sensitization phase, we will intensify repression against those building anywhere without authorization, those encroaching streets to sell, etc.,” he added.

Meantime, Housing and Urban Affairs Minister, Jean Claude Bwentchou who chaired the Douala brainstorming noted that while urban disorder and delinquency are typical problems in all major cities in the world, the situation in Africa remained striking.  According to him, the government is leaving no stones unturned to ensure that the situation is scaled down to acceptable levels.

“Urban disorder can be readily felt across Cameroon.  But municipal authorities and the government are bent on finding appropriate solutions and that’s one of the reasons we organized this workshop, which convenes some of Africa’s best urban affairs experts,” he said.

But away from the posh seminar venue, Douala’s slum dwellers held that until the escalating joblessness among the youth is reversed, slums will continue to grow.  For many, all the talk about slowing the growth of slums will remain a pipedream until city dwellers are sufficiently financially empowered.

“A one-room shack costs 20,000 to 25,000 FCFA in the city center, not to mention a studio and then add water and electricity bills.  How much do people earn to pay that kind of amount?  Many have no choice but the slums, where they pay monthly rents of 5,000 FCFA for the same,” Gabriel Tchatchouang, a resident of the marshy Mboko neighborhood on the city’s outskirts argued.

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