YAOUNDE - A new 403-kilometer road linking Bamenda, Cameroon, with Enugu, Nigeria, is nearly finished, but it is already transforming the lives of local merchants and residents.
Part of an ambitious six-country economic corridor, the road is being built between Lagos to Mombasa.
The village of Kandem on Cameroon's southwest border with Nigeria has become a bustling market in the past two months. It sits along the new road linking Bamenda to Enugu.
Palm wine seller Tikuba Andrew crosses over on his motorcycle from southern Nigeria with the 20 liters of wine he taps daily.
"We use to travel in mud and go and sell at a very cheap rate. But now that the road has passed, people have come in and we are selling very, very high and we able to pay children's school fees. Formerly, nobody cared. You carried it on your head, trek three miles to sell 250 francs [CFA] per jug. But now I can take 1,800 francs, 2,000 francs per jug a day," said Andrew.
The boost to commerce is creating jobs as local plantation owners recruit workers for their expanding operations.
Locals say the most enterprising merchant is young farmer Nyah Gideon. He has a 30-hectare cocoa plantation along the new road in Cameroon and is still expanding.
"In the past since there was no road, all products were very low in price because you buy it, it stays on the road and spoils. Even people who were milling oil here, the price was cheap but now as the road has come, the price is a bit up," said Gideon.
Cameroon supplies Nigeria with food and farm produce, while Nigeria supplies Cameroon with basic commodities and clothing. But Cameroonian authorities worry the road may degrade fast if truck drivers continue to haul more than the authorized weight.
Peter Tieh Nde, the most senior government official in Cameroon's Manyu division where the road passes, said he is stopping overloaded trucks.
"Such vehicles would destroy the road even if they are promoting economic activity. I can't just sit by and watch that happen," said Nde.
Cameroon and Nigeria signed the agreement to build the road in 2007 with $423 million funding from the African Development Bank.
It is part of a larger highway conceived three decades ago to link Lagos to Mombasa on the Indian Ocean. That highway would stretch 6,300 kilometers from Nigeria and Cameroon into the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Kenya.
The African Development Bank estimates that highway is about 60 percent complete, but says negotiations continue as political differences and insecurity slows the process.