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Central Africa Mayors Confront Population Growth Problems

FILE - Bags are arranged for sale along a road at the Mokolo main market in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon.
FILE - Bags are arranged for sale along a road at the Mokolo main market in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon.

Tsanga Etoga Emile welds pieces of rejected household metal to produce window protectors in Etoudi, a neighborhood in Cameroon's capital, Yaounde. He says the work enables him to take care of himself, his wife, three children and parents.

Emile, 27, says he and his two elder brothers left their village of Ntui in Cameroon's center region because their parents were not able to send them to school. He says living in Yaounde is easier because he can pay his water and electricity bills, rent a house and save some money.

Emile is just one of the thousands of youths who leave the hinterlands of Cameroon every year for better lives in the cities. Mayors from Chad, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Congo Brazzaville met Saturday in the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde, to try to find solutions to problems they encounter as huge numbers of people like Emile rush to cities in search of better living conditions.

Cameroon's national institute of statistics indicates Yaounde now has a population of more than 2 million, up from barely one million 10 years ago.

Celestine Ketcha Courtes, mayor of the Cameroonian town of Bangante, says such movement toward cities is exerting pressure on social infrastructure and natural resources. She says it has failed to bring inclusive growth and has resulted in a proliferation of slums, urban poverty and rising inequality. And, she says, there has not been any corresponding increase in social housing programs, markets, road infrastructure, schools, hospitals and leisure establishments.

FILE - People shop at Mokolo market in Yaounde, Cameroon.
FILE - People shop at Mokolo market in Yaounde, Cameroon.

Courtes says local councils are supposed to take care of the immediate needs of their growing populations, while waiting for central government support. But, she says, local officials lack financial resources.

"I am not sure that 80 percent of our population are paying their taxes," she said. Local authorities need revenue to fulfill their mission of delivering essential services. "That means water and sanitation, that means education, so paying taxes is bringing the citizen to be in participation [in] local development."

The U.N. Development Program reports that urban population growth has been very rapid in central African states. According to the most recent data compiled for the region, the population increased 48 percent in 2013, with 85 percent in Gabon, 24 percent in Chad, 54 percent in Cameroon, 40 percent in the Central African Republic, 39 percent in Equatorial Guinea and 65 percent in Congo Brazzaville.

Francoise Collet, head of the European Union delegation to Cameroon, says her institution has urged central governments to transfer power and resources to local councils to enable them to meet the needs of their growing populations.

"We do support decentralization indeed," Collet said, "and we also provide subsidies to local authorities for water and sanitation, rural electrification. You understand that for contributing to the budgets of local authorities, we need transparency and security of our funding. We think it contributes to the real improvement of the lives of people."

At the conclusion of their meeting Saturday, the mayors called for strong political commitments from their governments. They also decried the political instability in the Central African Republic and terrorism in Cameroon that has continued to push youths to cities where they seek safety.