The venture, officially titled the Nigeria - Cameroon Multinational Highway and Transport Facilitation Project, will ultimately connect Bamenda in northwestern Cameroon to Enugu in eastern Nigeria via a 433 km-long corridor. It’s being funded by the African Development Bank, the World Bank and Japan’s Agency for International Development to the tune of close to $500 million.
It’s a longstanding project, first discussed in the mid-80s. It received a significant boost in 2008, when donors considered it a strategic catalyst in diffusing lingering political unease between Cameroon and Nigeria after the nonviolent resolution of the Bakassi border dispute.
Work began in June 2010, with completion slated for 2013.
Cameroon-Nigeria Highway Designed to Boost Trade between West and Central Africa
According to the funding arrangement, Nigeria and Cameroon will each contribute 10 percent of the cost of the total project – money known as counterpart funding. Donors say the disbursement of funds by Cameroon has been especially slow. In its 2010 state budget, for example, the government allocated $3.2 million for the project, but only $400,000 was actually released.
Lawal Audi, the project coordinator for Nigeria, says Cameroon’s slow payments – counterpart funding -- are causing donor frustration and delaying the smooth implementation of the project.
"Well, the counterpart funds from the Cameroon government are slow and it may affect the program. The major recommendation is for the Cameroon government to provide [the funding] so the works can go ahead," he says.
Patrice Ngiema Essono is an inspector at Cameroon's Ministry of Public Works and the head of the Cameroonian delegation at the talks. He says there are reasons for Cameroon's tardiness in making its payments.
"You know," he says, "every time African countries have projects, donors ask for counterpart funds. Looking at our budget, it is not possible to do that at once, but as the project evolves, the funds will be progressively disbursed."
The road is expected to increase trade exchanges and strengthen cooperation between Cameroon and Nigeria, as well as the Economic Community of Central States [ECCAS] and the Economic Community of West African States [ECOWAS]. It will also create huge benefits for an estimated 11 million people living along its course. Those who’ve been dislodged are being compensated and resettled. Schools, health centers, markets, women’s advancement centers and farm produce processing units will be built along the highway.
Elsewhere, transport service users are foreseeing significant gains in terms of reduced costs. El Hadj Oumarou represents Cameroon on the steering committee. He is the general manager of the Cameroon Land Freight Management Office.
"We want to access the West African market and the starting point is this road." He says, "There are important exchanges ongoing between Cameroon and Nigeria by sea, but land transport remains archaic. Our major worry now is the disbursement of the counterpart funds, because if the donors get discouraged, it would delay the completion of the project slated for 2013," he cuations.
Delegates from both countries will meet again later this year in Lagos, Nigeria, to assess progress on the recommendations made in a meeting in Douala last month.
But experts say the Cameroon government must show more engagement. Another member of the steering committee is David Kamara, director of transport and telecommunications at ECOWAS.
He says, "In Cameroon, the progress has not been that good. In Nigeria, there’s been some progress, then at the ECOWAS level, we’ve suffered a lot of setbacks, but over the last few months we’ve been able to take care of the shortcomings."
The other committee members say they hope that before their next session, all problems hampering the smooth implementation of the project will have been cleared, including agreements on loading limits for cargo trucks to ply the corridor
The road forms part of the Trans-African Highway, which is intended to link Lagos, Nigeria, to Mombasa, Kenya. The project contractor, the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), is repairing and entirely reconstructing parts of the highway to go through 203km in Cameroon and 240km on the Nigerian side.
The plan also includes construction of a joint border post and a 280m-long border bridge over the Cross River. Cameroon and Nigeria have benefitted from a joint loan from the African Development Bank to erect these structures, but misunderstandings loom over the exact financial contribution expected from each country.