Yaounde city faces tough choices over planned motorway

Building a modern capital city based on existing urban planning and disorder seems costly and challenging to the Cameroon government as a future motorway project that will run from the Yaounde Nsimalen airport to the city faces planning stalemates.

Building the highway will require demolition of homes on the road’s path and government will be forking out millions of dollars in compensation.

“The options differ in terms of the number of buildings to be destroyed, the cost involved in compensation and the actual building cost. It is a decision that is taking the project coordination committee a lot more consideration,” says Serge Mbarga Enama, an infrastructure engineer at Yaounde City Council.

Population growth and private development has put pressure on the existing 9-metre wide road leading to the airport, causing serious circulation difficulties within the city and traffic congestion en route to the airport.

The new highway will be three-lanes wide and 20-kilometres long, running from the Nsimalen international airport, passing through the city centre and to the presidential palace.

Construction at the periphery of Yaounde has already begun but the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development is faced with difficult options to choose the path the road will take once the first phase of the project finally reaches the city centre and presidential palace.

Some experts say that building a three-lane highway with four overpasses in Yaounde will lead to loss of existing infrastructures and the town is ill-adapted to the present architectural plan.

Critics also say that planning for the road suffers from political flip-flopping.

“There is still a political dilemma on which stretch to pass the road once it reaches the central town and is moving to the presidency,” said George Mbonte, a political development analyst based in Yaounde.

Politicians who have buildings on the road’s proposed paths prefer that it is built where it does not threaten any loss of their existing investments, he said.

Deliberations regarding which parts of the city the road will pass through are ongoing but work on the first phase of the project began in May. The first phase of the highway, a 10km road from the airport to Ahala-Nsam, is expected to be complete by 2017.

The first phase of the project will cost 36 billion francs CFA ($70 million) and is contracted to the Chinese firm China Communication and Construction Company (CCCC). Five other tendering companies were rejected mainly due to high estimates.

A total of 69 people are claiming compensation for the loss of their land and properties found on the road’s path and 121 million francs ($232,000) has already been paid to people whose properties will be destroyed during the first phase of the project.

About 66 billion francs ($127 million) is estimate to be earmarked for compensation and demolition of 1675 houses found on a total of 558 hectares of land. Indemnity and demolition alone represent 42 percent of the whole project cost, which is estimated at over 154 billion francs ($295 million).

“This is a huge cost and waste of tax payers’ money just because the leaders did not plan our cities well in advance and people went on building in chaos and even on land reserved for road expansion. It might be better if a new capital is built instead of destroying to rebuild,” said Mbonte, the political analyst. “Nigeria succeeded with this idea by moving its capital from a congested Lagos to a new planned city in Abuja.”

Valentine Acha, a senior civil engineer and transport infrastructure specialist at the Ministry of Public Works, argues that, “public infrastructures are not built to last forever and even big cities like New York were broken and rebuilt. After 50 years which is an expected life given to public infrastructures, it can be renovated and adapted to city’s evolution.”

Acha added that, “Everywhere in the world, when cities evolve, they grow with a lot of problems and urban disorder. Most of the town was planned but the inhabitants went on building without respecting regulations and on forbidden land. Due to this, expansion has become more difficult and costly.”

Urban planning lacks vision

At the National Urban Forum (FUN) held in Yaounde from October 11 to 15, Cameroon Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Jean Claude Mbwentchou told urbanafrica that, “we want the Cameroonian mayor and other stakeholders to understand that we need planning and elaboration in order to build our cities. We need rules and regulations to be respected and administrative documents such as building permits and land titles must be acquired. Habitation should not precede urbanisation.”

The forum was organised under the theme “Planning and managing urban development: Turning ideas into action.” It is hoped that stakeholders will develop a shared position on the problem related to managing and controlling the development of Cameroon’s cities, the consequences of uncontrolled urban growth, and more especially to advocate for coordination in land management activities and urban planning.

At the forum, critics highlighted the issue of poor urban planning.

“Our cities look like abandoned cities. The town survives in the prevalence of disorder, people move from market squares to build stores and trading along the highways. This anarchy favours most council authorities who are collecting taxes from these roadside traders,” said Nchinda Simon Fobi, architect and parliamentarian from the North West of Cameroon, who was attending the forum.

He explained that the main cause of Cameroon’s urban disorder is the lack of vision and if there is a will, a full vision for the 312 towns in Cameroon can be established within three years. But this must be backed and reinforced by legal instruments.

“What we need is a vision for our cities. We don’t know what Yaounde will look like in 20 to 30 year. Nobody can tell you where subways will pass, where piped water and electricity will pass,” said Fobi. “We must mobilize the necessary funds, the high level technicians and people to give us the vision of our towns. Nigeria, for example, looked for a world class architect to design its new capital.”

The world became more than 50 percent urbanized in 2010, according to UN-Habitat, In Cameroon 52 percent of the national population now lives in cities. From 1990 to 2010 the population of Yaounde grew from 1 million to over 3 million.

Participants at the Yaounde Urban Forum were crafting new strategies to better manage urban sprawl.

“The present town planning and growth marginalizes the poor and this forum will enable us to develop strategies to build sustainable cities through better planning and the coordination of both private and public actors involved in urban development,” said the Ministry of Public Work’s Acha.


Monde Kingsley Nfor is journalist and international development consultant in Cameroon. He is also a correspondent for the Inter Press Service (IPS) and the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN). Monde holds a master’s degree in International Relations and a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. His email: [email protected]

Main photo: Yaounde’s 20th May Boulevard, through which the future auto route will pass. Monde Nfor.

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