YAOUNDE — Cameroon President Paul Biya has laid the foundation stone for one of his biggest projects after 31 years in power. His government will build an 820 meters long second bridge over the Wouri River in the economic capital city, Douala - called the "Gateway into Central Africa." It is expected to reduce congestion on the first bridge constructed 60 years ago by France, the former colonial ruler of Cameroon.
Just above the dark waters of the Wouri River near Cameroon's Atlantic coast lies a one kilometer bridge, the longest in the Central African Sub region. It was constructed by French colonial masters 60 years ago to carry 2,000 vehicles per day.
The bridge today carries more than 45,000 vehicles a day, some transporting goods from Douala's deep seaport, to landlocked countries like Chad and the Central African Republic. Wood, cocoa, coffee, banana and cotton destined for European Countries also pass over the bridge.
Ntube Rachel, who imports textiles, says at times it takes them four hours to cross the bridge.
“When we get to Douala is like a nightmare to cross just the Wouri bridge. You always meet accidents. In fact one cannot explain all of the experiences,” said Ntube Rachel.
Many bridge users prefer saving time by hiring the services of commercial motorcycle drivers because they navigate between the vehicles and trains stopped on the bridge.
Kwete Theophyl, a driver, says that they make brisk business charging at times up to $1 per person.
He says people complain about the price but they prefer to get across the bridge quickly.
The government of France offered a loan of $175 million to Cameroon to build a second bridge over the Wouri and de-congest the traffic on the existing bridge. The government of Cameroon is expected to provide about $67 million for the completion of the new bridge.
While laying the foundation stone for its construction, Cameroon President Paul Biya said the bridge will be one of the most beautiful in the World.
“Ladies and gentlemen, bridges are art objects that gives testimony of technical progress like the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco. This second bridge may be as important as the one I have just mentioned,” he said.
Cameroonians like Elema Ernest, an official at Cameroon's Ministry of Finance, says bridge's construction will improve economic activity not only in Douala, but the entire Central African Sub Region.
“The economic importance of this bridge is more than words can tell because you know that this bridge does not only link the Littoral Region with the South West, West, and North West Regions that are very productive as far as agriculture is concerned. It links West Africa to Central Africa because Douala is the entrance to Central Africa. It links the ECOWAS countries and the CEMAC countries,” said Ernest.
Cameroonians have been expressing concerns that the multinational road construction company SOGEA SATOM, which won the contract to build the bridge, may not include local companies in its construction plan.
Cameroon's Minister of Public Works, Patrice Ambassala, says they had discussed the issue with the company and Cameroonian enterprises. And he promises more than 500 jobs for local residents, many of them to be used as sub-contractors.
The project to construct a second bridge over the River Wouri is one of President Paul Biyas political promises.
In his economic blueprint for Cameroon called "Vision 2035," Biya indicates that he wants to make the country an emerging nation within two decades.
The new bridge will be a slightly curving structure serving as both a road and a railway bridge capable of carrying two rail tracks.
The road is to have five lanes covering 820 meters in length and 34 meters in width.