YAOUNDE - Thousands of motorcycle taxi drivers blocked streets in Cameroon's capital on Tuesday, after city officials barred the bikers from accessing certain commercial and residential areas. Officials say the restrictions are needed for security reasons. The bikers say the cutoff hurts their livelihoods.
Defying a strong presence of anti-riot police throughout the city, groups of commercial taxi bikers paralyzed Yaounde on Tuesday, blocking streets and prompting many businesses to shut down.
Dieudonne Monono, president of the Yaounde Bikers Association, YABA, said the bikers are protesting the city's decision to ban them from the main commercial centers and neighborhoods where they pick up most of their customers.
Monono said the bikers need the access to make a living.
"Most of those people riding the bikes are university graduates and then just because of lack of [government] jobs, they have decided to create jobs for themselves so that they can be able to live, but when the government just get up and say they do not want bikes in town, then I consider that a very bad move," said Monono.
Monono said the government should appreciate commercial taxi bikers for being self-reliant and paying taxes, instead of leaving the country for Europe as some of their unemployed peers have done.
The decision to prohibit bikers from doing business in the city center, in front of embassies and residential areas where senior officials live, was made by the governor of Yaounde's Center Region, Nasseri Paul Bea.
Bea said he wants the city to have better security and more order. He said the restriction is part of plans to give Yaounde a facelift for international visitors.
He said it is imperative for the bikers to help the government in keeping the capital city clean, especially now that Cameroon is preparing to host several international meetings, including a meeting of heads of state of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community, and several sporting events, including the African Football Cup of Nations. He says insecurity must be deterred.
The Yaounde City Council reports there are at least 30,000 bikers in Yaounde. Most of them transport people from neighborhoods that do not have car taxis, due to the bad state of roads leading to the city center.
Forty-year-old businessman Gerimiah Njoya said the business has been infiltrated by robbers.
"A cross section of them create very alarming situations in the city of Yaounde. They attack people at night and even during the day. They seize bags from women. Most of them are armed robbers," he said.
Monono acknowledged that a few bikers were arrested by the police and had been found guilty of crimes. But he said in every profession there are bad people, and it is the duty of government to fish them out and protect the public.