Politics

AFCON 2021 Projects: How Inability To Rehabilitate East Entrance Into Douala Punished Masses

Japoma Stadium

By Joe Dinga Pefok

Many sports fans in Douala are disappointed that the 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, AFCON 2021, in Cameroon ended prematurely in Douala, as one of the quarterfinal matches as well as a semi-final match initially scheduled to take on January 30 and February 2 respectively at the Japoma Stadium in Douala, were relocated to the Amadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde by CAF, because of complaints about the state of the pitch at the Japoma Stadium.

But, on the other hand, transporters, travellers and part of the population, especially those of Douala III, were happy for the early end of AFCON matches because of the terrible hardship they encountered on match days at the Japoma Stadium. This was due to the state of the road from Douala town, precisely from ‘Tradex – Village’ in Douala III to the entrance to the Japoma Stadium in the outskirts of Douala towards the direction of Yaounde. On match days, the police had to shut down that stretch of road from the public for a couple of hours.

The police explained that the reason for the road shutdown on match days, was to reserve the road for teams, match officials as well as CAF and local authorities to travel to the stadium, as well as return hitch-free to their hotels after the match.

The said stretch of road is part of the very important National Road No. 3 that runs from Yaounde in the Centre Region, to Douala in the Littoral Region, and to Idenau in the Southwest Region.

 The Road Project

Way back in 2009 – 2010, the Cameroon Government adopted a plan to rehabilitate a stretch of over 20kms of National Road No. 3 in the Douala area, including what is known as the East Entrance into Douala. The stretch of road runs from ‘Marche de Fleurs’ Junction located between Bonanjo and Bonapriso in Douala I, passes near the Douala International Airport, passes through large quarters like ”Village’, and moves onto Yassa and Japoma in the outskirt of Douala, and up to the Dibamba Bridge, which is the boundary between the Wouri and the Sanaga Maritime Divisions. The East Entrance into Douala is the main road into the nation’s economic capital, Douala, from the direction of Yaounde or Edea.

First Section Of Project

Due to financial constraints, the Government divided the road rehabilitation project into two sections. The first section of over 12kms ran from ‘Marche de Fleurs’ Junction in Douala I to the end of ‘Village’ in Douala III, precisely at an area commonly known as ‘Tradex – Village’. The rehabilitation project consisted of transforming the old two-lane road to a double carriageway of three lanes each, including flyovers in some areas. The rehabilitation work of the first section of the road project, which cost FCFA 39.4 billion, was funded with a loan from the French Development Agency. The contract was of course executed by a French road construction company, Razel.

 Long-delayed Second Section

The second section of the road project, which is 9kms long, runs from ‘Tradex – Village’ to Dibamba Bridge. It is also a double carriageway of three lanes each, with two flyovers.

Meanwhile, unlike the first section of the project, there was a long delay to start the second section of the road project because the Cameroon Government was unable to raise the funds.

Suffice, however, to say that the contract was finally awarded to a Chinese Group, WIETC – CRCC 14, in 2018 at the cost of FCFA 33 billion. The duration of the work was 36 months. It was the first contract that WIETC – CRCC 14 got in Cameroon.

The Chinese Group started the project in late 2018. But in August 2019, the Minister of Public Works, Emmanuel Nganou Djoumessi, pressed for the contract of the road project to be withdrawn from the company under the pretext that it didn’t have the technical and financial capacity to do the work. However, many observers thought that Minister Nganou Djoumessi was out to settle scores with the former Minister Delegate at the Presidency, Abba Sadou, who awarded the contract to the Chinese Group in 2018, because comparatively, they made the best offer to the State of Cameroon.

Nganou Djoumessi had wanted the contract given to Razel who asked for FCFA 43 billion, that is FCFA 10 billion, instead of the Chinese Group that probably accepted that amount because it was their first contract to grab in Cameroon, and they wanted to use that contract to make an inroad into the country.

Worth noting that Abba Sadou was dropped from the Government in the cabinet shakeup of January 4, 2019, and was replaced by his Northern brother, Ibrahim Talba Malla.

Magil Construction Replaces Chinese Group

In his controversial complaint against the Chinese Group, Minister Nganou Djoumessi sparked the fear that, if the Chinese Group, WIETC – CRCC 14, was allowed to go ahead with the road project,  the project would not be through before the 33rd edition of AFCON that Cameroon was then scheduled to host in 2021. That reportedly frightened the new Minister Delegate at the Presidency in charge of Public Contracts, Ibrahim Talba Malla, who allowed the Public Works Minister to have his way, by replacing the Chinese Group with Canadian company Magil Construction in October 2019.

No Money To Fund The Project

It is not known why Minister Nganou Djoumessi decided to give the road contract that he seized from the Chinese Group to the Canadian Company instead of the French Company, Razel, which he proposed in 2018.

By the time that Minister Nganou Djoumessi gave the contract to Magil, the Canadian Company had just finished the rehabilitation project of the Douala Omnisport Stadium and was waiting on Government to complete the payment. Also, the new Minister of Sports and Physical Education, Prof Narcise Mouelle Kombi, had in the style of his colleague of Public Works, also used a pretext to withdraw the contract for the construction of the Olembe Stadium from an Italian Company, Piccini, and gave to the same Canadian Company, Magil Construction.

So Magil Construction was loaded with contracts, but, at the same time, the Government would not disburse the required funds for the execution of the projects to progress. Rather, the Government asked Magil to look for funds and go ahead with the projects, assured that the Government was eventually going to pay.

In the face of such a situation, and following the pressure from the Presidency as well for the execution of the Olembe Stadium Project, Magil Construction focused more on the stadium project with funds that it was able to raise. In fact, in early 2020, Magil completely stopped work at the East Entrance of Douala, because of financial constraints, but Government would not provide the funds

Minister Nganou Djoumessi came under strong criticism as he was accused of placing his selfish interest above that of the country. The allegation was connected to the Minister’s highly controversial decision to withdraw the contract for the road project from the Chinese Group, WIETC – CRCC 14, to give to the Canadian Company, Magil Construction. The Douala population believed that if Nganou Djoumessi did not withdraw the contract, the Chinese Group would certainly look for funds to execute the entire project and wait for payment, considering that it was their first contract in the country.

CAF Complaints About The Road

In October 2020, the Government gave an undisclosed amount of money to Magil, to carry out urgent maintenance work on the rehabilitated section of road at the East Entrance of Douala, ahead of the African Nations Championship, CHAN, that Cameroon had to host in January 2021. Magil did the work together with Razel, because of the urgency.

Meanwhile, during that period of CHAN, CAF observed that there was often traffic congestion on that road (East Entrance), and raised the issue with the Cameroon Government. The Government promised CAF that the East Entrance of Douala road project would be effectively executed before AFCON 2021.

Controversial Loan from British Financial Institutions

Hope appeared on the horizon in February 2021, when President Biya signed Decree No. 2021/101 “to authorise the Minister of Economy, Planning and Regional Development, to sign a loan agreement with Standard Chartered Bank of London and UK Export Finance (UKEF) for an amount of 135,889,754.1 euros, approximately 88,889,591,078 CFA francs to finance Phase 2 of the Project.

The President’s decree however immediately sparked strong controversy, as Cameroonians could not understand how the Government was out to borrow the colossal sum of FCFA 88.8 billion for the second phase of a road project, that the Chinese Group, WIETC – CRCC 14, demanded FCFA 33 billion for the entire project (Phases 1 and 2). The Minister of Public Works, Emmanuel Nganou Djoumessi, tried unconvincingly to say that part of the money would go for a project to construct a new Dibamba Bridge of six lanes, as well as for a few other things.

However, critics reminded the Minister that the decree that President Biya signed was clear that the money was meant for the second phase of the project to rehabilitate the East Entrance into Douala. Many people suspected that a bulk of the loan was probably meant to fund the war that the Biya Government has been waging against separatist fighters in the two Anglophone Regions of Cameroon. The Government has often been accused of often borrowing money in the name of funding development projects, and secretly diverting it to fighting the war against separatist fighters. It was rather surprising that, throughout 2021, the second phase of the project never took place. The Minister of Public Works said several times last year that they would soon resume. It is not known what became of the loan. It is not even known whether the two British Financial Institutions effectively granted the loan or not.

Hope appeared on the horizon in February 2021, when President Biya signed Decree No. 2021/101 “to authorise the Minister of Economy, Planning and Regional Development, to sign a loan agreement with Standard Chartered Bank of London and UK Export Finance (UKEF) for an amount of 135,889,754.1 euros, approximately 88,889,591,078 CFA francs to finance Phase 2 of the Project.

The President’s decree however immediately sparked strong controversy, as Cameroonians could not understand how the Government was out to borrow the colossal sum of FCFA 88.8 billion for the second phase of a road project, that the Chinese Group, WIETC – CRCC 14, demanded FCFA 33 billion for the entire project (Phases 1 and 2). The Minister of Public Works, Emmanuel Nganou Djoumessi, tried unconvincingly to say that part of the money would go for a project to construct a new Dibamba Bridge of six lanes, as well as for a few other things.

However, critics reminded the Minister that the decree that President Biya signed was clear that the money was meant for the second phase of the project to rehabilitate the East Entrance into Douala. Many people suspected that a bulk of the loan was probably meant to fund the war that the Biya Government has been waging against separatist fighters in the two Anglophone Regions of Cameroon. The Government has often been accused of often borrowing money in the name of funding development projects, and secretly diverting it to fighting the war against separatist fighters. It was rather surprising that, throughout 2021, the second phase of the project never took place. The Minister of Public Works said several times last year that they would soon resume. It is not known what became of the loan. It is not even known whether the two British Financial Institutions effectively granted the loan or not.

Police Release Tough Circulation Plan

Following the failure to rehabilitate the East Entrance into Douala, the authorities asked the police to come up with a circulation plan for Douala during AFCON, precisely on days that matches had to be played at the Japoma Stadium. The circulation plan was particularly for the stretch of National Road No. 3, that is from Douala central town to the entrance to the Japoma Stadium.

According to the Special Circulation Plan signed by the Littoral Regional Delegate for National Security, Senior Police Commissioner Raymond Essogo, a few days to the start of the tournament, the over 20km stretch of National Road No. 3, from ‘Marche de Fleurs’ Junction in Douala I, up to the entrance into Japoma Stadium, was closed to public 2 hours before the start of any AFCON match at the Japoma Stadium, and again closed 30 minutes to the end of the match.  

Worth noting that the closure of the road to the public 30 minutes before the end of each match, also used to last for about 2 hours or even more. While many personalities normally left the stadium immediately after a match ended, the teams had to delay before leaving. After each match, both teams for example had to take a turn for post-match press conferences at the stadium.

The police explained that the Special Circulation Plan was meant to ease the movements of “teams, officials, delegations and other personalities” from their hotels or lodging sites to the stadium for a match, and back after the match.

If the stretch of road from ‘Tradex – Village’ to Dibamba Bridge had been rehabilitated, the police would have simply reserved one side of the road (three lanes) for teams and officials and left the other side of three lanes to the public. The rehabilitation project provides a flyover at Carrefour Yassa and at the entrance into the Japoma Stadium, which means that the four teams that were all lodged in hotels in Banaprisso and Bonanjo, could get to the Japoma Stadium without having any problem with members of the public on the other side of the National Road No. 3 reserved for the public.

Big Economic Loss

The circulation plan brought untold hardship, including huge economic losses to many members of the public in Douala. Businesses were affected.  One can imagine the socio-economic impact to transporters, travellers and the population at large, when a section of the all-important National Road No.3 is shut down just for hours.

Also, many people living in quarters like  “Village’, Ndogpassi,   ‘New Town Aeroport’ or Yassa that use that section of National Road No. 3,  had to trek for several kilometres to get home from central town or vice versa, whenever the road was shut down.

Because of the situation at the East Entrance into Douala, Wouri SDO, Benjamin Mboutou signed an order prohibiting the circulation of heavy-duty vehicles in Douala, especially at the East Entrance into Douala. On match days, only trucks carrying perishable foods were allowed.

Worth noting that the Douala Port serves Landlocked neighbouring countries like Chad and the Central Africa Republic, and so when the circulation of heavy-duty vehicles are restricted in Douala, those neighbouring countries are also affected.

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