Douala Seaport: Photo: Cameroon Business
By Joe Dinga Pefok
Five of the six Paramount Chiefs in Wouri Division, Douala, have in a Declaration backed an operation launched by the Douala Port Authority, PAD, with the support of Government, to demolish a total of 10,000 houses in Essengue Quarter in Douala I, part of Youpwe Quarter in Douala I, as well as part of Mabanda Quarter in Douala IV commonly known as Bonaberi.
The houses are claimed by PAD to have been built on part of the total land surface of 1,000 hectares, said to be State land that was allegedly allocated to the Douala Port back in 1974 by the then Ahidjo regime, but which the port had since not exploited.
PAD, which has so far exploited only between 600 hectares of the land, says it now needs the remaining 400 hectares of land that had for several years been occupied by the population, for the realisation of a huge project it has adopted to expand the Douala Port, in a bid to enable the port to better position itself before rivals like the Brazzaville Port in Congo, and the Cotonou Port in Benin.
The demolition operation started in Essengue Quarter in Douala I on March 5, 2022, and is raising a lot of dust and tension in Douala, as over 2,000 houses have already been demolished, sending thousands of people, including families, into the streets.
PAD and Chiefs’ Communiqués
Meanwhile, The Post has noticed a semblance between a communiqué that PAD issued to defend its action to demolish houses in Essengue Quarter, to the Declaration by five of the six Sawa Chiefs in Douala supporting the action of PAD.
In fact the declaration issued by the five Paramount Chiefs of Canton Akwa, Canton Bele Bele (Bonaberi), Canton Bakoko, Canton Bassa and that of Canton Deido, HRH James Frederick Ekwalla Essaka, who is the current President of highest traditional institution of the Sawa people known as Ngondo, looks as if the draft was written by PAD.
Both PAD and the five Sawa Chiefs used the word, ‘deguerpissement’, which means chasing away intruders, to qualify the operation that PAD has launched to demolish thousands of houses to recover the pieces of land it claims belong to Douala Port. The chiefs like PAD insist in their Declaration that all those who built houses in Essengue Quarter, as well as part of Youpwe and Mabanda Quarters, are illegal occupants.
Contrary to claims made by many of the victims at Essengue Quarter where the demolition operation started that they were told to quit the area at short notice, the Sawa Chiefs like PAD say the population is lying. They claim that both PAD and the Government organised several sensitisation meetings in the past to inform the population occupying the land of Douala Port illegally, to quit.
The Chiefs like PAD, said that the sensitisation campaign which PAD carried out, culminated with a meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Adhoc Working Group on the boundaries of the land of Douala Port, that held from February 8 – 12, 2021 in Douala. The chiefs said the meeting was also attended by local traditional authorities that they are, as well as by the representatives of the quarters that had to be affected by the operation to recover the land of the Douala Port.
The Sawa Chiefs insist in their Declaration that a compromise was reached by all the parties, on the rights of PAD to recover the Douala Port’s land occupied illegally by the population.
The Sawa Chiefs while sympathising with the victims of the ongoing demolition operation however, reminded them they were illegal occupants of the land. The chiefs also warn the victims to abstain from all forms of violence and disorder that can cause a breach of peace and calm in the country’s economic capital, Douala.
Chiefs Disown One Of Theirs
Meanwhile, the Paramount Chief of Canton Bell, HRH Jean Yves Douala Manga Bell, did not sign the Declaration of Sawa Chiefs of Wouri supporting the ongoing demolition operation by PAD. This was because the Palace of Canton Bell strongly contests the claim by PAD that the land of Essengue Quarter belongs to Douala Port.
The Palace insists that Essengue land belongs to Canton Bell and not PAD. It should be noted that the Head Quarter of Essengue and population have, over the years, been paying allegiance to the Palace of Canton Bell. Worth noting that Canton Bell includes quarters and villages like Bonanjo, Bali, Bonapriso, Bonadoumbe and Bonadouma among others.
Scandalously enough, the other five Paramount Chiefs of Wouri, in their Declaration, disassociated themselves from their colleague of Canton Bell, HRH Chief Jean Yves Douala Manga Bell. They say the Chief of Canton Bell together with them participated in all the meetings that PAD organised in the past to sensitise the population of Essengue and others. The Chiefs say all of them fully participated in the meeting of the Inter – Ministerial Ad – hoc Working Group that took place in Douala from February 8 – 12, 2021, at the end of which a compromise was reached on the rights of PAD to recover the land of Douala Port occupied by the population.
Many Anglophones To Be Affected In Bonaberi
One of the three quarters in Douala where PAD is claiming land is Mabanda, which is known to be the largest and most populated quarter in Douala IV Municipality commonly known as Bonaberi.
It is also the municipality that host the highest number of Anglophones living in Douala, with thousands living in Mabanda Quarter. Not surprisingly too, it is the municipality that also host the highest number of Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, from the Northwest and Southwest Regions, that fled from the Crisis that has been rocking the two regions for some five years today.
Almost 5,000 Houses To Be Demolished In Mabanda
The area claimed by PAD in Mabanda, is commonly known as the APICAM area, which is close to River Wouri. The piece of land is said to be 96 hectares. According to the Quarter Head of that area 4,875 houses are in the marked zone. The structures include residential homes, business premises, schools, churches, health facilities and so on.
Also, it is estimated that there are over 10,000 people living in the area, and they are predominantly Anglophones and people of the Bamilleke tribe from the West Region. Logically too, there are said to be over 1,000 IDPs living in the affected area.
The area is marshy, and probably because of that, many people living there are families or individuals that have built their houses, since the area is not very attractive to those looking for houses to rent.
It is not known when PAD will launch the demolition operation at Mabanda, Bonaberi, though there are allegations that after Essengue Quarter in Douala I PAD will move to Youpwe next, and then later cross to Mabanda.
Those living in parts of Mabanda claimed by PAD have been having sleepless nights since March 28, 2022. A communiqué reportedly signed on that day by the Minister of State Property and Land Tenure, Henri Eyebe Ayissi; authorised PAD to take measures to recover the piece of land at Mabanda, Douala IV, allocated to the Douala Port by the State of Cameroon in the 70s.
The affected population say they do not know where to go. They have complained that, when they were first told that PAD wants to use that piece of land, and that they would thus have to quit the area, the authorities promised that they would be compensated. But the population have been crying out that the authorities now say that Government will not give a franc as compensation to anybody, because the population occupied the land illegally.
Fake Land Certificates?
Meanwhile, like in Essengue and Youpwe Quarters, there are people in Mabanda Quarter who claim that they have land. But PAD has, in a communiqué, said the land certificates are fake, questioning how an individual can have a land title of a piece of land owned by the State. In the communiqué, PAD has warned that those claiming to have land certificates run a risk of being arrested and charged for fraud.
On Thursday, April 6, 2022, the population in the PAD-claimed part of Mabanda staged a protest march to the office of the DO of Douala IV. Addressing the protesters, the DO urged them to be calm, saying that there was no indication that the demolition operation at Mabanda will take place soon. He said that the local authorities have not as yet received any such information.
However in his reaction to the protest march, Wouri SDO, Benjamin Mboutou, disclosed that the truth about the operation to demolish the houses of the illegal occupants of the land of Douala Port is that the decisions are taken in Yaounde, and that the local authorities have no say.
He said all that the local authorities do is that, when a decision is taken, they take appropriate measures to assist PAD in the implementation of the decision.
The local administrative authorities in Douala are also accusing people who have houses in the Mabanda-PAD land of trying to exploit Anglophone IDPs, to cover up their illegal occupation of State land. The authorities say the house owners are crying all over the place that the Government wants to throw out IDPs living in the affected area in Mabanda Quarter into the streets, as if the IDPs are the ones that own those houses.
Preparing Plan B
The affected population in Mabanda, Bonaberi, is uncertain on what to do next. There are many families that spent huge sums of money to build their homes at Mabanda Quarter, and have been living there for 30 years or more, only to be told today that they are illegal occupants of the land and that they have to quit the land. Worst still, they are being asked to quit the land without any compensation.
Also, there are reportedly over a thousand IDPs from the Northwest and Southwest Regions that escaped from the ongoing war and took refuge in the homes of family members. Today their hosts and thus them too, are about to be thrown into the streets and into nightmarish conditions.
Meanwhile, as expected, the PAD demolition operation has since been a major topic of public debate in the nation’s economic capital, Douala. Many lawyers have, since March 28, when the Minister of Land Tenure and State Property authorised PAD to take appropriate measures to recover the piece of land at Mabanda, Bonaberi, been advising the affected population to constitute a group, contact lawyers and fight for their rights to be compensated before they leave the land.
It is thought that the advice by some lawyers contributed to the decision that was taken by the affected population on April 6 to march to DO’s Office, to insist that that they must be compensated before they leave the land.
The Case Of Essengue
On the other hand, some people are advising the affected population in Mabanda Quarter, especially house owners or family heads, to take a lesson from what happened at Essengue Quarter, and instead start preparing a Plan B.
It would be recalled that the population of Essengue Quarter resisted several orders by PAD to quit the area. Lawyers, human right groups and politicians like the National President of PCRN, Hon Cabral Libii Ngue, went to Essengue Quarter to express solidarity with the population. There was also the issue of contestation over Essengue land by Palace of Canton Bell and PAD.
Apparently, the population of Essengue thought that, with all that support, PAD would not move come to eject them from the land. But then the story took a very bitter turn in the morning of March 5, 2022. That fateful morning, many inhabitants of Essengue left their houses early as usual for their daily chores. PAD moved in with several bulldozers, accompanied by dozens of heavily-armed security men, and started knocking down houses.
As the bad news rapidly circulated, the inhabitants of the quarter that had already gone out that morning, rushed back. Those living in the area where the demolition exercise started were the most unfortunate, as they rushed back only to see their houses and household properties destroyed by PAD’s bulldozers. Even those who were at home were given no time to collect a few of their properties. Homes, business premises, schools, health facilities and so on, were smashed.
When the first round of the operation ended after a few days, people thought that the demolition operation at Essengue was over, and people in areas that had not been touched, thought they were lucky. But unknown to them, PAD was still coming for the second phase of the operation.
So that is why some people are advising the population on the land that PAD is claiming at Mabanda in Bonaberi to better start thinking of Plan B, in order to avoid facing the type of situation that the population of Essengue suffered.