Understanding The Babadjou-Bamenda Road Saga

By Kini Nsom

Pundits are wondering if there is a deliberate attempt to cut off the Northwest from the rest of the country.

The Babadjou-Bamenda road which observers describe as a byword of neglect, is part of what was referred to in 2010 as part of the Bafoussam-Bamenda road project.

The contract to construct the road was awarded to the French company, RAZEL. RAZEL constructed the road from Bafoussam to Babadjou in Bamboutous Division of the West Region.

As soon as RAZEL got to Babadjou, it declared that it could not continue with project because what was left of the money allocated to the project, was only FCFA 1.9 billion. The company said such a paltry amount was too small to enable them continue with the project.

In a bid to solve this pecuniary equation, RAZEL wrote to the Cameroon government, proposing that funding could be sought from a French Bank.

In reaction, the then Prime Minister, Philemon Yang, asked for advice from the Minister of Public Works. According to inside sources, government finally rejected the RAZEL proposal on claims that the interest rates of the French bank in question were too high.

Government finally resolved that the remaining FCFA 1.9 billion be used for maintenance of the Babadjou-Bamenda stretch as the state searched for funds to construct the road. RAZEL finally left.

The maintenance works were carried out by two Cameroonian enterprises, MAG and EDGE up to 2017. Government later signed a loan agreement with World Bank to finance the construction of the Babadjou-Bamenda road.

According to government prescriptions, the 35-kilometre stretch from Babadjou to the gateway to Bamenda where there is a billboard with the inscription: “Welcome To Bamenda”, was going to be constructed as modern highway.

From there, there was going to be the construction of a double carriage way (between 19 metres to 30 metres wide in some sections). This double carriage way has to pass through Government Bilingual High School, GBHS, Mendakwe, the new Governor’s residence, the Chantal Biya Foundation, Hot spot and Amour Mezam junction along the new road.

The dual carriage way will continue through the Bayelle junction at Mile 2 Nkwen, Mobile Nkwen, Finance junction, Ngen Junction, Veterinary junction, Sonac Street, City Chemist Round-About, Metta Quarters, T-juctison, Ayaba Street and Veterinary junction.

The Babadjou-Bamenda road project was estimated to cost a circa FCFA 55 billion. Given that RAZEL had quit the project, the contract for construction of the road was awarded to another French company, SOGEA-SATOM.

The project was launched in a solemn ceremony in Santa, Mezam Division in the Northwest Region in September 2017. The Minister of Public Works, Emmanuel Nganou Djoumessi, who chaired the ceremony, said the road construction would go on as planned.

Almost all the property which was earmarked for destruction in order to construct the road, had already been paid off by 2018.

SOGEA-SATOM started work, but eventually stopped due to the burning of their equipment, including five trucks by unidentified armed men in Akum in 2018.

The Minister of Public Works, Factfinder learnt, repeatedly, requested the company to continue work from Babadjou to the gateway to the Northwest Region at Matazem which is 17 kilometres. The company seemingly did not yield to the Minister’s pressure.

It is mooted that it was pressure from the Presidency of the Republic that caused the company to start work on the stretch during the rainy season last year.

Not much work was done since SATOM abandoned the contract as far back as January 14 this year. Going by government sources, the company is asking the state of Cameroon to pay them a sum of FCFA 2 billion as the collateral damages they incurred following the burning of their equipment at Akum in 2018.

SATOM, going by inside sources, equally abandoned the project on claims that government is yet to pay their bills for some projects that they executed a long time ago in the country.

It was even alleged that the company was no longer interested in doing business in Cameroon and has been progressively transferring its equipment to Mauritania where   they have so much work to do in a less corruption-infested environment.

It is such a situation that is a veritable headache to the Minister of Public Works. For one thing, the technical evaluation of the stretch is almost complete.

The evaluation is tailored to enable the government to know how much work SATOM has done so as to award the contract to another company. Yet, the fact stands here that the Babadjou-Matazem road contract awarded to SATOM has not been officially cancelled.

According to experts, such a situation is a little complicated because in tandem with administrative procedures, it is easier to award a contract than to terminate one that is already under execution.  

Given the fact that SATOM had to construct the road only up to Matazem as per the second arrangement, the government took an administrative decision to bring in three Cameroonian companies to construct the stretch of the road from Matazem to Bamenda.

The companies are: BUNS, BOFAS and EDGE. These companies were officially confirmed by the project sponsor, the World Bank. The bank gave a go-ahead for government to speed up the procedure for the award of the contracts.

Since then, the Ministry of Public Works has only issued administrative documents to the companies, not contracts. Such documents which are signed by the Minister of Public Works are called “service orders”.

 Going by the administrative decision, BUNS has to construct the stretch of the road from Matazem to the area where there is the “Welcome To Bamenda” billboard which spans over 18 kilometres.

BOFAS will take the portion from “Welcome To Bamenda” through GBHS Mendakwe to the Chantal Biya Foundation area which covers a distance of 5 kilometres.

EDGE will take the relay from the Chantal Biya Foundation, Hot Spot, Amour Mezam junction, Bayelle junction at Mile 2 Nkwen, Finance Junction, Ngen Junction, Veterinary Junction, Sonac Street, City Chemist Round-About, Food Market, Hospital Round-About, Metta Quarters, T-Junction, Ayaba Street, and back to the Veterinary Junction. This stretch covers a distance of 11 kilometres.

EDGE’s enthusiasm to start work even before its signs an official contract with government, has stirred hiccups in Bamenda town.

According to experts in the Ministry of Public Works, the company did not follow all the administrative and technical norms. For one thing, the outfit is said to have started work without the approval plan.

The company is also faulted for not following the technical specifications prescribed by the project owner which is the government. As a result, some property which had not been paid for, has been destroyed.

Such a misstep calls for another evaluation commission. Such a situation has reportedly sparked off some tension between the Northwest Regional Delegate of Public Works and General Manager of EDGE.

Stakeholders have held several meetings with commissions from Yaounde in an attempt to soothe nerves on the issue.

Another headache is the portion of the road at Akum which often becomes impassible whenever it rains heavily. The BUNS Company would have taken responsibility for such a situation, but for the fact there is no official contract between the outfit and the government.

BUNS did the maintenance of the stretch from Matazem to the gateway into Bamenda in November and December last year, but has not yet received a dime of its payments from government.

The company did the maintenance works after a verbal agreement with the Ministry of Public Works, while waiting for the official signing of the contract.

Cameroon Factfinder learnt that the procedure to officially award contracts to the three companies could have long been completed as far back as November last year, but for some unscrupulous and corrupt officials who continue to play the game of personal interest.

Thus, a combination of factors that equally betrays government’s weak political will, has stalled the construction of the Babadjou-Bamenda road for over seven years.

Otherwise, it remains a curious coincidence that money reportedly got finished only when it concerned the construction of the Babadjou-Bamenda road that links the crisis-hit Northwest Region to the rest of the country.

In many other areas in the country road construction is going on hitch-free. For instance, all the major roads in Dja and Lobo Division of the South Region are either under construction or earmarked for construction and the funds are already available. Pundits are wondering if there is a deliberate attempt to cut off the Northwest from the rest of the country.