More than 7,000
people have been left homeless in Cameroon’s 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. Voice of America English to Africa Service’s Eugene Nforngwa reports from
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.
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 of the settlements. Many were built
on ancient riverbeds
and are exposed to a high risk of flooding. Also, many of the city’s poorest residents have lived in the
slums for years and have nowhere else to go. Several humanitarian groups now consider them refugees
and are providing aid – among them, the U.N. 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
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 said. "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.”
promised to resettle some of those who can produce title deeds and building
permits. But they make up less than two percent of all the affected residents
and it 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 are squatters.
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
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.