Case of Yaounde

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TRANSFORMING THE URBAN LANDSCAPE: THE CASE OF YAOUNDE, CAMEROON

Abstract

The uncontrollable increase in urban population without proportional increase in economic growth in African cities is a call for concern. Most African cities today are faced with this problem. In order to ensure the sustainability of their cities, they are found in the dilemma of colonial past, their cultures and postcolonial problems. This has pushed the urban dwellers to use their available resources to transform and rehabilitate the urban space so as to satisfy their desires. The transformation of the urban landscape in many African cities involves social production and social construction of the urban space which gives symbolic meanings. Yaounde a former colonial city and the capital of Cameroon has not being exempted from the transformation process. In a bit to modernize this complicated urban space and make it sustainable, different agencies have come in, to transform the city not only making it habitable but also sustainable.

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This paper therefore seeks to analyze the different levels of measures taken by the international bodies, the government, private groups and individuals to ensure the sustainability of Yaounde. Emphasis will be based more on how the urban majority (the urban poor) transforms the urban landscape to make it a place of opportunity despite the conditions they find themselves. These urban poor come in as social agents to construct their own reality and give it a particular meaning. The effects of this transformation process will also be critically evaluated.

INTRODUCTION

The number of people living today in cities around the world is increasing every day. It is stipulated that by the year 2020 more that half of the world's eight billion people will be living in cities. With this general increase, cities in Sub-Sahara Africa has been seen as cities in crisis. This is because their rapid population growth in urban centres is not accompanied by economic growth. This increase has not been accompanied by increase in basic facilities such as water and electricity supply, housing, roads and transport networks, sanitation etc.

Problems Faced by the City of Yaounde

After independence, Yaounde was faced with post independence problems like many other cities in Africa. These problems greatly affected development process of the city. The problems range from poor government policies to shortage of basic necessities and also high rates of unemployment leading to social problems.

Governance failure

The way a country's is governed greatly affects it development. The city of Yaounde is the Capital of Cameroon, which means if the city is development it affects the whole country. Yaounde faced the problem of post independence centralization, since all the government offices were located in Yaounde. This centralization led to high levels of corruption, mismanagement of government funds, insufficient of accountability, insufficient democracy which affected the city and the country atlarge negatively. A glaring failure of the Cameroon government is the incomplete l'immeuble de la mort located at the heart of the city of Yaounde. This building was built to house government officials. The reason advanced for the non-completion of the building was that it was built on a risky zone, though it was later confirmed to be false but as a result of mismanagement of funds. Today the skeleton building stands as an empty monument because all the things inside have been looted.

Housing

The shortage of houses. Construction of houses on environmental risk zones. Government built houses SIC highly deteriorated.

Water and sanitation services

Insufficient supply of water and sanitation services is a great issue. Despite the efforts made by some agencies to supply these services, the situation still remains deplorable especially in the low class residential areas. There is usually no intergration between the poor and the rich. The rich continue to settle in the rich quarters with all the basic amenities while the poor can only afford to stay in the poor quarters. There are still rampant shortages of water and most often the water is not of good quality because of pollution. This greatly affects the health of the inhabitants. Even with the presence of HEVECAM (Waste disposal agency), waste disposal is still a problem. Some of the quarters are not well serve by road, so it becomes in accessible for the vehicle to collect the waste. To worsen the already bad situation, most often, waste from the toilet is being drained into nearby streams. Student quarters like Bonamossa experience permanent stinking adour. This doesn't only affect the atmosphere but also the land and water resources which accounts for the deplorable health condition of the inhabitants. “The common assumption that urban dwellers enjoy better health than rural dwellers does not apply to the urban poor, who rarely have the locational position and purchasing power to access adequate urban sanitation and health facilities” (Deborah F. Bryceson 2006:25). This is an ironical situation rural areas actually have the best water supplies of very good quality than the urban poor areas.

Poverty

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The increase in urban population in Yaoundé has led to many problems. Because of the poorly managed nature of the city, there are unsustainable production and consumption patterns. This has led to untold increase in cost of living. It is difficult to have three square meals a day because life is very expensive. Basic facilities are very expensive. Water can be very scarce at times, not to talk of electricity, keeping a section of the town without electricity through out the day so as to ration the supply of electricity. Also with the privatization of the company, electricity bills have become exceptionally high above the level of the urban poor. Most of them have resorted in stealing electricity with is a great offence. The capita per income in Cameroon is . Yaounde ;……. The effects of the structural adjustment programmes. About % live on less that a dollar each day.

Unemployment

Limited investment in the secondary and tertiary sector. Insufficient industries they instead imported processed goods which are more expensive. Not attracting foreign investors, corruption and bribery, increase in foreign debt, economic mismanagement.

Crime and violence

Arm robbery, prostitution, scamming, corruption, bribery,

SPATIAL LOCATION OF QUARTERS IN YAOUNDÉ

Yaounde is made up of Cameroonian from all the 180 ethnic groups in Cameroon but the Beti people still remain the largest single group though they are not longer the absolute majority except in the rural areas. Other Cameroonians from other parts are gradually occupying the semi-urban region as a result of housing problems in the urban region, especially the Bamilike from the West of Cameroon.

Yaounde has been subdivided into different quarters which are characterized by social cohesion as a result of historical backgrounds, its location and ethnic composition. The following quarters have developed on such bases; quatier Bricketerie made up of mostly Muslims, the Mendong neighbourhood made up of the Bamelikis from the West, Obili/Melen/Biyem-assi is made up of mostly Anglophones from the English part of Cameroon. Most migrants from the other provinces live mostly in the out skirts of the city. The autotones (the Beti people) live around the city center in quarters such as Mvog Beti, Mvog Atangana Balla, Mvog Ada, etc which are typical Beti names mvog meaning mountain. There are also administrative quarters for civil servants, top governments officials as well as military camps. The central town of Yaounde is made up mainly of government offices. Foreigners, especially from developed countries and other diplomats live in high class residential areas of Bastos and these is where all the foreign embassies are located.

TRANSFORMING THE URBAN LANDSCAPE

The transformation of Yaounde is a process that has experience tremendous evolution since from the colonial period till date. This transformation process has gradually shifted from the public to the private. These different agencies are transforming the urban space because they do not know what the future holds for the urban dwellers giving the continuous increase in urban population associated with many problems. Immediately after independence, the provision of basic services in Yaounde was in the hands of the government. But as a result of the problems associated with the economic crisis, the government though is still putting in some efforts, has not been able to sufficiently provide these basic services to all parts of the city. This has left the urban poor in some parts of the city with no choice but to use their own initiatives to mobilize and coordinate members of their quarter to contribute financially, materially and even human resources so as to transform their neighborhoods to make it sustainable. This is because the notion of city planning by a single urban planner is now a fiction. Many people are now involved in the transformation face.

Colonial architecture

Colonial architecture and urbanism played pivotal roles in shaping the spatial and social structures of African cities during the 19th century and 20th century (Fassil Demissie 2007:1). This is the case of Yaounde which developed as a colonial city. The Germans came to Yaoundé in 1888 and started building up some areas into urban settlements. The Germans who colonized Cameroon during this period gave the name Yaounde after the name of the Beti sub-group Ewondo. The Beti named it Ongola after the Germans which means enclosure since the area became the military post between 1888-1917. Areas occupied by the Europeans at that time were considered urban because they had the necessary services. They came up with infrastructural developments such as schools, hospital, prison, churches, agricultural warehouses etc. These European settled areas considered as urban were highly restricted. The villagers perceived it as danger zone. They had to forcefully support the Germans and their troops in building the Yaounde city. This explained why the urban population during this period remained relatively very low.

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During the First World War, the Belgian troops occupied the region and defeated the Germans. Cameroon therefore, became a mandated territory under the League of Nations in 1922 when the Germans were defeated. As a result of this Yaounde became the capital of French Cameroon. As the administrative capital, there was an increase in civil servants and civilian population. In 1926 urban population was about 5500 Cameroonians and 365 foreigners (Franqueville 1974:323) and 6190 and 261 respectively in 19933 (Kuczynski 1939:97). As concerns the infrastructural development not much was done by the French when compared to the Germans. They still continue to forcefully use mostly male French Cameroonians for hard labour through the use of the corvée in the construction of roads. The French also applied their colonial policy of assimilation which was aimed at transforming the minds of Africans through education into Frenchmen. This theoretical ideology aimed at constructing the mind so that African could adopt French culture and customs was a sham because Africans remained Africans whether educated or not. After independence this transformation face took a different dimension from a more public after to a more private affair. The efforts made by the international organizations, the government, NGOs and private individuals will be analyzed.

International organizations

With the continuous view of the city as a place of permanent opportunity, there was an unprecedented increase in population without increase in basic amenities. The local authorities did not have the means to allocate these basic necessities. This led to increase in foreign debt which became out of proportion. Couple with other problems, the Brettonwood institutions World Bank and IMF advanced the Structural Adjustment Programme which was adopted by African states as set of political, economic and institutional reforms. This led to the reduction of government spending. Cutting food subsidies, family allowances to civil servants were cut, devaluation in 1994 and economic crisis. This led to the emergence of the informal economies. These modes of production are based on the indigenous traditional practices and notions of place of prominent. Brettonhood institutions

The moroccean government

Hamed Toufiq Hjira and Adji Abdoulaye Haman were not embarrassed by statements of good intentions. The Moroccan and Cameroonian ministers responsible for housing issues have used a few hours at the Hilton to realize the continued cooperation, expressed by Mohammed VI, the Moroccan monarch, and President Paul Biya . After work, it was agreed that the Moroccan party will participate in housing programs developed in the urban community of Douala, the local urban district of Douala 5th with Mayor Francoise Foning made the trip to Yaounde, and in the urban community of Yaounde. Apart from these public housing that will bring a breath of oxygen to the cities of Douala and Yaounde, the Moroccans have pledged to complete the ministry building No. 1 commonly known as "the death of building. Consequence of this decay, slums in the heart of a city like Yaounde (Mokolo Elobi, Ntaba ...). Adji Abdoulaye Haman indeed recognized that the new national housing strategy is a goal of giving a new face in our cities, and especially combat settlements and unhealthy. This will, as in Morocco, with the expressed support of the private sector and local officials.

Government

The government though limited has been the main actor in the transformation process. They have put in much effort in transforming the city in terms of infrastructures, schools, roads, demolition of risk prone zones, creating green belts, creating new residential areas, clearance.

This explains why government intervention in the demolition of such sites is seen as great offence. This is characterized by massive mourning for the population like the demolition of the Etoudi area in 2008 by the government delegate. He was considered heartless.

The following has been done by the government to improve on the unemployment level:
• The government has embarked on the launching of public “concours” such as entrance into E.N.S, POLICE (from constable up to Commissioner), IRIC (Diplomacy) E.N.G.S.
• The government strategy to reduce taxes has greatly encouraged investment with the raison d'être of such being a corresponding increase in job opportunities which has to an extend reduced unemployment rates.
• The government through the gradual putting in place of decentralization, evidenced by the changing of provinces into regions has made it possible for local councils to be financially autonomous making it possible for them to provide basic facilities. The government through tax holidays, concessions and avoidance has boost the business sector thus encouraging petit business with the long term result being an increase in employment opportunities.

Non Governmental Organisations

Many Non Government Organizations have been involved in sensitizing the public on the importance of transforming and ensuring the sustainability of the city. They have encouraged environmental sanitation, development of infrastructure through participative planning and also through the use of civic education.

The Cameroon Association of Rural Development in October 2009 planted 200 trees around the 20th May Boulevard in the centre of Yaounde. This was aimed not only to transform the city into a beautiful scenery but also to fight against global warming.

There is also the African Development Bank Group which carried out a sanitation project in Yaounde in 2006. This is because the city experiences poor drainage systems especially around the squatter areas where about 9,000 households are affected by flooding. The specific objectives of this project were as follows; to contribute to storm water drainage in Yaounde; to improve on the living environment of the city's population; and to build the capacities of the sector's stakeholders.
Its should be noted that despite all the efforts made by the NGOs in transforming the city, they are still seen by the city dwellers as money making organizations. Most city dwellers believe that the foreign bodies sponsoring the NGOs often give more funds and only a very small proportion is being used by these organizations. They are considered as money making agencies.

Private Individuals

Private individuals have transformed the city space to suit their own desires. This transformation especially by the urban poor has been both negative and positive.
Almost everything is transformed in the city dilapidated buildings like the immeuble de la mort in central town which is transformed in the night as hide out for thieves and ritual sites for acultic activities. Hazard prone zones are considered as no man's land is happily occupied by people desperately looking for accommodation. These spaces were usually not subjected to government control. Some of the quarters have mobilize to provide some basic necessities like filling potholes on the roads, putting street lights at dark corners and even organizing anti gang movements to fight against arm robbery. On the other hand lack of cooperation in some other quarters has increased the level of slums especially construction patterns and especially waste disposal.

Conclusion

From the above it seen that there are many problems associated in the increase rate of urban population in Yaounde. Though much efforts has been done some of these problems still persist. This means much still have to be done. To ensure the sustainability of the city, planning should be encouraged at all levels.

REFERENCES (others will be added)

Deborah Fahy Bryceson and Deborah Potts (2006): African Urban Economies. Viability, Vitality or Vitiation? Palgave macmillan.

Fassil Demissie (2007): Post Colonial African Cities. Imperial Legacies and Postcolonial Predicaments. Routledge

Paul Sillitoe & Alan Becker (2002): Participating in Development. Approaches to Indigenous Knowledge. Routledge.

Marco Keiner, Martina Koll-Schretzenmayr and Willy A. Schmid (2005): Managing Urban Futures: Sustainability and Urban Growth in Developing Countries. MPG Books, Bodmin, Cornwall.