Landlocked Chad and the Central African Republic have dispatched senior customs officials to Cameroon to look into allegations of corruption in the Atlantic Coast port of Douala.
At the port, heavy equipment is excavating and relocating huge quantities of abandoned material at the Douala seaport.
Some of the containers, with vehicles and other goods destined for Cameroon, Chad and CAR, were abandoned by importers who complain that high levels of corruption, red tape and overpriced services are driving them away from one of Africa's largest harbors.
Pay and pay again
Moise Vokeng of the Professional Transporters Network at the Douala seaport says importers and exporters are looking for alternatives.
"When you arrive at the port and at any checkpoint, from gendarmes to police to customs, you have to pay money, you have to pay heavy money, you do not know why you pay but you must pay before you pass," Vokeng said.
"Whether you enter with empty trucks or you are loaded, you have to pay. When we load we have to wait for the tracking equipment from the customs to be certain and when it is certain we have six hours to leave the seaport to Yassa, which is the first checkpoint. When you arrive at the checkpoint after six hours you have penalties to pay," he added.
Vokeng says clearing procedures are long and cumbersome because of degraded infrastructure and lack of investment. He says to take a car out, an importer needs no fewer than 25 stamps before paying $2,000 to customs officials for a 5- to 10-year-old car. He says to remove a car from the port at times takes two to three weeks.
Yaya Abdallah, a Chadian driver finally leaves the port. He says corruption is not only a problem inside the port, it stalks drivers on the road as well. He says Chadian and CAR drivers say Cameroon's military and police harass them and drivers pay huge sums of money, which makes their businesses highly unprofitable.
He says they spend more than $300 to bribe gendarmes and police between Douala and Ndjamena, and no one seems to listen to them when they complain.
Officials deny bribe-taking
But Ngube Philomene, a senior official of the Cameroon military controlling traffic between Cameroon and Chad and Cameroon and CAR, says that because of insecurity, they have to control the trucks. She denies they collect bribes from drivers.
"We are systematically controlling all vehicles to CAR and Chad because of insecurity and the crisis in CAR. We have to do it for their own security and safety," Ngube says.
Douala is the nearest ocean gateway for Chad and CAR, but importers and exporters say they are fed up and want to relocate to Cotonou in Benin.
Onana Ndoh, secretary general of the Community of Workers at Douala's port authority argues, that Cotonou will be more expensive. He says it would be better for the landlocked countries to meet Cameroonian authorities and negotiate improvements.
"The shippers of Central Africa and Chad cannot leave the port of Douala, the shortest way for them to go to the sea," he said. "I can tell you that the commandant of Gendarmerie in the port has already taken steps to punish all caught in creating complications to shippers."
This week, Chad's director of customs, Colonel Ousmane Adam Dicki, visited Cameroon. He says he first wants goods that have been piling up there to be cleared before negotiations on what his country will do next.
He says his country has sent him to take stock of all merchandise and containers destined for Chad, and to control and organize their transit within the shortest possible time.
More than 2,000 containers have been stuck in Douala for the past two months. In the past 30 years, there has been no major investment to expand the port.