Cameroon: The Country's Second Largest Employer Crippled by Separatist Conflict

Abandoned plantation in Buea Cameroon

Cameroon’s second largest employer, the Cameroon Development Corporation, says it has been paralyzed by the separatist conflict in the country’s English-speaking regions.  The agricultural giant has not been able to pay its staff for a year because of falling production and revenue.

The village of Meanja used to be a banana production center in Cameroon’s English-speaking southwest.

Two years ago, 2,000 people lived here, and many worked for the Cameroon Development Corporation’s banana production unit.

But these days, a visiting reporter sees only abandoned houses, empty schools, and silent factories.

Oliver Kogue worked at the Meanja banana factory but says security threats forced them to shut down. Armed separatists attacked the factory in 2017, he says, killing four workers and wounding scores of others.

"This production unit produces averagely 60 tons of banana daily and after this attack, work has ceased.  Workers escaped for their dear lives," Kogue said. "Five-hundred-and-60 workers were working in this particular section. In the course of stopping work we have deprived 560 workers from employment."

The Cameroon Development Corporation is the central African country’s second largest employer and runs banana, palm oil, and rubber plantations.

But the three-year conflict between Anglophone rebels and government troops has forced the CDC to close farms and factories across the western English-speaking regions.

CDC general manager Franklin Ngoni Njie says more than half of his 20,000 workers – fearing attacks - refuse to work, while the remainder work only part-time.

"If you look at the economy of the area, what else do we have? CDC every month directly in form of salaries and wages is 2.2 billion {CFA} francs every month," Njie said. "All of that activity is dead."

Cameroon’s agriculture minister, Gabriel Mbairobe, says the government is negotiating with staff to resume work. He says the government will assure their safety and settle the past year of unpaid salaries.

"I will like to appreciate the willingness of all workers to resume work," Mbairobe said. "I can assure them that the government will take all the measures to pay their salary arrears and to give money so that the plantations and the factory will be back in activity."

The conflict in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions was sparked in 2016 by protests against discrimination from the country’s French-speaking majority in education and the justice system.

The government responded with a crackdown and armed separatists fought back.

The rebels consider state-run companies such as the CDC and institutions such as schools legitimate targets.

Last month, the Cameroon Employers Association said rebel fighters had transformed many CDC plantations into training grounds.

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