2 January 2013

Cameroon: Commentary - Improving Living Conditions, an Imperative


Many Cameroonians, especially those of the lower social and economic rungs are almost always at odds to apprehend such notions as a positive economic growth rate or proclamations on major infrastructure projects.

For many, the question is that of daily survival. And yet the field situation attests to an index of human suffering which is getting more and more difficult to bear.

For many citizens, it was a soothing moment when the Head of State, in his state-of-the-nation address last Monday night starkly acknowledged that too many Cameroonians were suffering and that very few were benefitting from the fruits of economic progress which the nation is enjoying today after years of recession. Such economic progress without a real leap forward in the quality of life of ordinary citizens can only be a castle in the air.

And the President of the Republic seemed to have taken the full measure of the depreciating social and economic condition of his compatriots when he acknowledged it in the following words: ... "I am not forgetting that the goal of the progress of our country can pride itself on is to improve the living conditions of our people... In that regard, it must be acknowledged that much remains to be done." No comment!

It is certainly by design that the President of the Republic then went on to cite some very problematic areas, symptomatic of the state of decadence of the living conditions of the majority of Cameroonians.

Take water. The President of the Republic was making his observation in the heart of the dry season which, like a violent current blowing on the back of the hen, exposes its nasty ass. Initially, the problem of water was limited to quality and mostly circumscribed to urban areas. Today, scarcity is across the board. Scenes of young people with empty containers combing city neighborhoods in search of scarce water are commonplace. More-or-less reliable statistics put the access to potable water by the population in the threshold of 50 per cent. Scandalous for a country blessed with one of the best drainage systems in Africa. Access to electricity is also a herculean task. Several governmental initiatives to increase supply have hardly left an impact. As a result, industry is difficult to expand; helping to miss out on huge job openings. Cottage industries and small artisans cannot prosper either. The distress situation has led cynics to postpone Cameroon's progress to 2035 when some magic wand will strike to suddenly reverse every difficult situation.

But facts and figures on the one hand, and a manifest political will inform that, if well respected and coordinated, the huge investments being made in the area of water and electricity should cleanse this dreary picture in the next few years. There are huge dam projects underway in two of the country's ten regions (East and South). So are there large-scale water supply projects underway for the cities of Yaounde and Douala using the capacities offered by the Rivers Sanaga and Mungo respectively. These are relatively short-term projects which will certainly impact positively on the lives of ordinary citizens and make the suffering of today a thing of the past.

The President has clearly shown his vision and ambition for these sectors which are the veritable indicators determining whether or not the country is really on the path of becoming an emerging economy by 2035. The fear is that 2035 could come with Cameroon becoming effectively an emerging economy as per indicators on paper whereas citizens continue to groan under the discomfort of inaccessibility to water, electricity, good roads, quality health, decent housing, difficult communication etc.

The responsibility of those in charge of carrying out these life-changing programmes is enormous. Urgency is begging them in the face.

Economic growth figures may be good but the effective improvement of the living conditions is the real issue. After all, man is at the centre of all developmental initiatives.

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