National Times – She sat on an old wangle and rusted chair. Five nails had popped out of the wooden chair. Beaten by rain from the previous two weeks, and exposed to air, like all metals when exposed to air and water, the long frail nails used to cramp the roughed-sawed legs of the chairs had been gripped by rust.
Susan sat on the chair looking at the sky through the empty roof. We were at the corner of kitchen that was half water pool, and another half food decomposed by rain. The roof of the house had eloped with the wind six months ago. The open space on the house was as weird as the fact that no one ever found the zinc that had fled the roof. But I was the only one who thought a house without a roof was strange. Anyways, I kept this to myself, as I sat with Susan to discuss about living conditions in rural areas in Cameroon.
I met Susan in 2007 in Makobe, a village in the South west region of Cameroon. Susan is one among 4 million Cameroonians who live in a house without electricity, water, a decent toilet and a roof that protects them from the high rainfalls in villages in Cameroon. Susan is among the hundreds of faces, voices, and people who inspired me to think about the idea of housing in rural parts of Cameroon.
For centuries Africa has often been written and imagined as a place of voids. Void of decent houses, street, electricity, drinking water, well developed and planned cities. A place where instead of factories, we have corruption, and instead of good roads were have heartless youths and leaders. It is true that Africa is lacking in several ways, an Cameroon in particular, but it also true that we have creative and inspiring stories that have changed the face of the continent.
Forgive me for leaping from Susan’s story in Makobe to Africa. Many would say that is the problem with how the media sees Africa. Homogeneous. Void. Changeless. Violent. And Dark. My leap was to tell us that we have ideas that can change not just Makobe, but the South West region of Cameroon, other regions, and Africa as a whole. Of course, taking into account the different landscapes, economy, politics and culture.
The idea of rural housing development and finance scheme I proposed last week has generated a heated debate, as well as anger and resentment among readers of National Times News.The idea is about the government and businesses partnering to build houses in rural parts of Cameroon, with the occupants requested to repay the full cost of the house in installments, or “small-small”.
I have received two questions from readers about the project. The first question is what is the place of the council in the rural housing development and finance scheme (the pay-small-small scheme) you proposed? The second question is how this project helps to address the ongoing Anglophone crisis.
Let me start with the last question. North west and South west regions are currently engulfed in a civil war that has left thousands of Anglophones displaced and killed. Most of us will agree that the conflict is part of sea of misery, despair, and resentment from a people whose region has been exploited and marginalized.
I have not been able to connect with Susan since I last met her in 2007. But I have talked to others who live in villages in Cameroon. Some of them, I visited their houses in 2007 and 2008. I saw the despair in their eyes when then welcomed me to their houses with walls that were rolling day each day, like a heap of sand demolish by sea waves.
Some of these families have seen their sons and daughters join the current Anglophone crisis. Dozens have lost relatives in the conflict. So, the problem I am trying to address here is a problem that sticks on the faces of those intoxicated by the conflict as pimples on a teen’s face. It is there. There are ashamed of it. But there is nothing they can do about it. It has become more of nature, than a man created problem. Thus, as we look for avenues to address the ongoing conflict we must address the root cause of the conflict, which is social and infrastructural underdevelopment.
A rural housing development and finance scheme can be one of the avenues to address the ongoing conflict. First, if Anglophones are going to surrender their weapons to end the conflict, these youths have to be certain that they will have roofs to return to, jobs to do, and sources of income. The rural housing development scheme can address the job of housing for the ex-rebels and also sources of income and jobs for the youths.
It is a hard and painful struggle for most ex-fighters to find a job. One reason is after seeing the horrors of war and dismayed by humans’ qualities of work, trust, justice and harmony most of these fighters find it difficult living a normal life. A program like a rural housing development and housing scheme can train these fighters and provide them with skills that will help them gradually integrate in to the society.
In addition, because these projects are sponsored by the community, the government and international donors or developers, it can help these fighters to transform their societies, this time not through guns but through actual development. This will not only create a sense of fulfillment among the youths who are often dismayed by the absence of tangible achievements to show as their contribution to society, it will also give them a reason not to destroy what they have built.
Overall, I have used this piece to response to the question of how the rural housing development and finance scheme I proposed last week can be one of the thousands of solutions out there to solve the Anglophone crisis. In the next piece, I will return to the how councils and government can design and implement the scheme as part of the grand design for individual villages and cities.