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Cameroon’s Infrastructure Dilemma: A critical component to the 2035 Emergence Dream

We understand infrastructure to be the basic systems and services that are necessary for a country or an organization to run smoothly such buildings, transport networks, water and power supplies and communication apparatus. According to the American economist Robert Barro, heavy public sector spending on infrastructure is a favourable component to boost economic growth. A focus on infrastructural development will bring positive externalities that have the effect of increasing a country’s performance. Simply put, Barro’s model stipulates that a sustained growth mechanism is justified due to the fact that public expenditure permits an increase in income, which causes an increase in the tax returns base. This in turn induces a certain amount of growth in public spending which renders the accumulation of capital possible. When this capital is properly managed, then development follows. The Cameroon government policy on infrastructure development as a source of endogenous growth is part of the Growth and Employment Strategy Paper (GESP) for 2035. The government seeks to invest in infrastructure through the domains of energy, buildings and public works, transport, information technology and communication, postal services and ameliorating access to portable water. To meet this dream, there are projects that span the national territory such as the Mem’vele hydroelectricity power station project, the Limbe deep seaport project, the tarring of new roads as well as the is the optic fibre project.

However much remains to be done. As the government tries to forge ahead to realise this dream, the population remains exposed to the many challenges it has faced for several generations. Perhaps while time is spent on thinking, and acting, there are priority areas that deserve emergency subsidiary measures. If we look at road infrastructure alone, an average four Cameroonians die everyday as a result of road accidents as revealed by a Douala-based road safety advocacy non-governmental organization, Securoute. It is evident that the state of our roads is very poor, many remain unmarked and many major intersections and carrefours do not have a traffic control system in place. Many vehicles that ply the roads are frankly not road-worthy but off-course these vehicles have the “vignette technique” certificate. These all contribute enormously to the many lives lost through road traffic accidents. Many more accidents are caused by articulated lorries, trucks and tankers which at times have only one wheel instead of the two on each side as designed by its manufacturer. As such, many of these heavy-duty trucks lack stability especially when breaks are suddenly applied. Inadequate training of drivers some of whom blatantly flout traffic rules is also a major factor. The enforcement of road safety regulations leaves a lot to be desired. Government must direct a lot of attention to its road safety policy if Cameroon wants to attract foreign investors. Narrow roads and traffic congestion are major impediments to our development. It is easy to waste an hour or two in traffic in the Ndokotti – Douala or in Ngousso – Yaoundé for example and if such is the case every day approximate eight hours could be lost by an individual every week. What about the thousands who ply those roads in thirty days and then a year? If you do the arithmetic you will find that many hours of direct and indirect labour is lost because of our traffic problem. Flyovers need to be envisaged in many places. The government and responsible agencies should station informants at strategic avenues where traffic congestion is rife. These informants should be provided with information technology devices to send out signals to vehicles on the traffic situations in the most busy parts of the town so that these road users can change their courses and opt for where there is less traffic congestion. This is of course a short term measure.

The Ministries of Domain and Housing, Credit Foncier, SIC and all housing policy stakeholders should come together and see into the housing problems. A number of permanent homes ought to be constructed in the most sustainable manner. In Yaoundé as in Douala today, it is not uncommon for a landlord to ask for twelve, fifteen even twenty months of rents from a potential tenant. If such a tenant has a meagre income of fifty thousand francs a month for instance how can he/she be expected to make a down payment of twenty thousand francs of monthly rent for twelve months? It is true that the government is doing much in the housing domain but take a look at those who occupy these houses and you will mostly find the civil servants, like doctors, teachers, magistrates, directors in state-run corporations. This policy needs to be changed and should also cover the most vulnerable in our society such as widows, orphans, the homeless and the elderly. Let this jungle situation of survival of the fittest be a thing of the past and those who can stand on their feet economically give way to the helpless and destitute. There should be no “connection” as per our Cameroonian parlance to have a home in these state-owned buildings. It will take collective effort to uplift those who are in the doldrums of society so that poverty alleviation and sanitations will help us forge forward towards development.

Communication is increasingly a problem in Cameroon. In spite of the many telephone networks, the cost of making local calls is still high. Sometimes the amount of money deducted from a call does not really reflect the time spent and the call tariff in operation. At times it is much higher. Our inter-urban highways have a continuous interruption in telephone network. Some of our telecommunication companies spend more time and resources on publicity, and various promotions. Communication and information technology is a tool of the century and our communication regulatory boards should make sure the terms of operation contracts are respected by these companies. For development to take place, economic agents have to communicate effectively. This is necessary for the smooth functioning of the market systems and for growth.

Energy is another sector that leaves much to be desired. As government implements its run term and long run policies to contend this, it appears the economy is facing the last kicks of a dying horse, which can be very devastating. While countries are celebrating decades of improving power supply, we in Cameroon cannot boast of a single week of uninterrupted power supply. Water and electricity supplies come and go as desired without any permission at all. Neighbourhoods in Douala and Yaoundé go for months without portable water. Most of the time, it is difficult to understand the billing process itself or justify the exorbitant rates. The population left destitute turns to other doubtful water sources and the ugly face of health pandemic results as we have seen many times with recurrent cholera outbreaks. If we have such dire energy problems, we believe new strategies should be created and old unproductive ones either revised or completely abandoned. It is time for water and sanitation hygiene to be implemented at local councils. The state, non-governmental organizations or foundations should encourage systems of harvesting rainwater from roofs especially in local areas. These are short-term measures that can be taken so that the population is protected from cholera, dysentery, diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases.

There are several areas that need very short term attention. However, the areas discussed above do not guarantee the list is exhaustive but are among the most common. As we act in the short term so as to improve on the long term, let us remember that infrastructure development is a corner stone of rapid economic expansion. If this is done, then Cameroonians will raise their voices in collective unison to applaud a transformation that many believe is long overdue.

Obed Fung is the Director of the Denis & Lenora Foretia Foundation and a Fellow at the Nkafu Policy Institute. He can be reached at [email protected]

15 july 2013 |

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