More than 7,000 people have been
left homeless in the Cameroon capital, Yaounde, since city officials began
tearing down slums to make space for development projects. The city is also
cleaning up areas prone to flooding and landslides. The initiative has led to
displacement and protests. From
Yaounde, Eugene Nforngwa reports.
Camped on rubble,
47-year-old Daniel Essono is a heartbroken man. In July, he lost his home to
the crushing force of two mighty bulldozers. The heavily guarded machines were sent to
his neighborhood by the city hall. In a few hours, they flattened an area the
size of three football stadiums, leaving thousands homeless.
Three shantytowns have been pulled
down this year in what city officials are calling a cleanup operation. When the
project is finished, the former slums will be transformed into public gardens
or sold to private developers.
City authorities say they fear a calamity in some the
settlements, many of which were built on ancient riverbeds and are exposed to a high risk of
Many of the city's poorest residents have lived in the
slums for years and have nowhere else to go.
humanitarian groups now consider them refugees and are providing aid – among them,
the UN refugee agency and the Cameroon Red Cross.
Critics of the operation have
sprung up from all walks of life. In early September, the government banned
public debates on the subject planned by a coalition of NGOs.
Over the past three years, Yaounde
has been undergoing a transformation never before seen in the country.
New roads have been opened,
sidewalks have been paved, wild unoccupied lands have been transformed into
public gardens and garbage collection has greatly improved.
Plans have been made to improve
drainage on the ancient riverbeds to protect new structures against flooding.
Authorities call the plan The Paris Dream.
But many say the demolitions are
overshadowing these operations. For homeless residents like Daniel Essono, the Paris
Dream is a nightmare.
"Only the rich and their children
will benefit from the [proposed] gardens," he says. "What we want is shelter and food.
When you send us into the streets, you are taking even the little that we have
away. You do not expect us to be happy."
Authorities have promised to
resettle some of those who can produce title deeds and building permits. But
they make up less that two percent of all the affected residents and would make
very little difference to others losing their homes.
The city government says it
recognizes the problem but says it cannot resettle most of them because they
The demolitions have exposed
Yaounde's long years of chaotic growth. Most of its streets are not paved, and
only about 60 percent of the population has access to clean drinking water.
With a population of more than two million, uninhabited
land has become scarce and expensive. New slums are springing up every year.
And the urban population continues to grow.
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