By Neil and Nikki
17.10.2017 - 26.10.2017 28 °C
I love Africa. And it was wonderful to travel once again to Cameroon to meet up with my good friend Jacob Bah Njeko and his wife Anne.
Why Cameroon? I first landed in Douala, Cameroon in 1991. Since then, it’s had a big place in my heart. I have been regaling Nikki (and everyone else!) with stories about Cameroon for the past 10 years, as well as Kenyan and Nigerian ones. What was I doing in Cameroon? It all started with this:
Guinness Foreign Extra Stout
It was our German friends in about 1700 who discovered that hops, as well as giving beer a bitter taste, also helped to preserve the beer. Bitterness is measured in “International Bitterness Units (IBU’s). Victoria Bitter (Australia), Budweiser (USA), and say Stella Artois (Europe), all have an IBU of about 12. Guinness has an IBU of about 45. This meant that it travels very well. Guinness in the 1800’s exported lots of beer. Up until about the 1980's, when the volume drunk in a particular country reached a certain level, Guinness would build a brewery there. It was probably helped by this label:
One of the slogans that was put onto the necks of Guinness in Africa up until a few years ago. Another that I saw when I was working in Cameroon, but that has strangely disappeared, is “Guinness. A baby in every bottle”. Even today Africans are still of the belief that Guinness helps a man’s ‘vigour’.
Guinness built breweries in Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, and Cameroon in Africa. By the way, the country that brews the most Guinness in the world is, of course, Nigeria. There are 6 Guinness breweries in Nigeria.
I worked at Guinness Cameroon with my best mate Dave and, after 26 years, we still meet up regularly to discuss life, the universe, and everything! Whilst we were in Cameroon the Assistant Personnel Manager for Guinness was Jacob Bah Njeko and he invited Dave and I to visit to his village, Ngyen Muwah, in the north-west of the country. At the village we were received by His Royal Highness Fon Teche, the chief of this village and now senator in the Cameroon parliament. And, we were honoured by being made nobles of the village.
In 2008, I returned to Cameroon with my then 9 and 12 year old sons, Alex and Michael, and we stayed with Jacob and his wife Anne, visiting the village again, as well as climbing the 4,100 metre high Mount Cameroon.
So, of course Nikki and I wanted to travel to Cameroon again to meet up with Jacob and Anne again….
Back in Douala, Cameroon. Nikki’s first real taste of Africa.
Having overnighted in Nairobi, where the presidential election was being re-run after the Kenyan Supreme Court had deemed the first election result invalid, the Kenyan Airways flight to Douala was via Bangui in the very troubled Central African Republic. On the ground in Bangui the only planes at the airport were those from Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) and the United Nations Food Program. One of the largest groups of refugees coming to Europe at present are people fleeing the violence in the Central African Republic. Now, let me show you where Cameroon is:
Cameroon is in the west of Central Africa and is bordered by the troubled countries of Central African Republic, Congo and Nigeria. It also shares it’s currency, the Central African Franc with the first two countries, and as we found out the hard way, it is worthless the moment it leaves the country. We tried to exchange it in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania to no avail!
And also, a map of Cameroon:
Cameroon. The south is largely Christian and is a bilingual country with 10 regions; 2 speaking mostly English and 8 speaking mostly French. The north is predominantly Muslim and has been affected by conflict caused by Boko Haram spilling across the border from Nigeria.
We landed in Douala (on the coast) in the morning and our hard-won Cameroonian Visa worked a treat. (Similarly to Russia, the only way we could get our Cameroonian Visas was through the Cameroonian Honorary Consul in Australia. Hence, we’d had to give our second passports to Nik’s parents when we met up with them in Bordeaux to take them back to Australia. They then posted them to the Consul, who sent them to our friend Mel, who we met in Greece and Bob’s your uncle! Piece of cake!)
My old friend Jacob met us at the airport. After first meeting Jacob 26 years ago, it was great to meet up with Jacob again and for Nikki to meet Jacob for the first time!
My old friend Jacob who I met over 25 years ago, when he kindly invited two young 20 somethings up to his village for an experience that would last a lifetime. This picture was taken in the village a few days after we got to Cameroon.
Jacob and Anne had again, similarly to a decade before when my sons and I had visited, invited us to stay in their welcoming house in Bonaberi, a suburb of Douala. It was good to be back!
Anne and Nikki enjoying the sea breeze in the evening out the front of Anne and Jacob’s house, in Bonaberi.
We were welcomed into the heart of our Cameroonian family with hugs and laughter.
At Jacob and Anne’s house with Anne’s sister Miryam and her daughter.
Ah, Douala. I was expecting the heat to be stifling; 35 C and 95% humidity, but I’d never been in Douala in October. It was hot, but not stifling. How to describe Douala? How to describe Cameroon? The Lonely Planet has an apt description of Douala; “sticky, icky, and frenetic”.
Hordes of motorbike taxis carrying two or three passengers. No-one wearing a helmet. Pavements are non-existent. Rubbish is everywhere. Roads in a desperate state of repair. Markets crammed with one metre square stalls selling plantains, peanuts, papaya, clothes, haircuts, dried fish, rice, coco yams, bananas, ….. TV repair huts. Metal workshops. Oh, but wi-fi is available. You just have to go to the Internet “shop”.
Me accessing the wi-fi.
Nik and I had remarked that in the tropics keeping mould at bay is a titanic battle. The maintenance needed is three of four times what would be needed in a non-tropical area. This was true at sea level at the equator in Brazil or French Guiana in South America and it was true in Douala.
Up to the Village – Ngyen Muwah, North-West Cameroon
Upon leaving Douala, however, things quickly improve. The roads are good. We pass kilometres of palm tree plantations (for palm oil. Does the brand “Palmolive” ring a bell?), rubber plantations, plantain farms, banana farms, maize.
Infrastructure is being built:
Jacob and Anne on a bridge on the way to Ngyen Muwah.
Us with Anne. Note the rainforest in the background.
Ngyen Muwah is about 350 km from Douala and is at around 1,200 metres elevation. On the map above it is close to Bamenda. Look north of Douala.
After a 7 hour drive, we arrived at Jacob and Anne’s house in the village.
When my mate Dave and I first went to the village with Jacob in 1992, we drove for hours on a dirt road. There was one school room in a mud brick house with a blackboard and a dirt floor, and the village did not have a water supply. 10 years ago, me and my sons Alex and Michael arrived on a tarmac road and there was an infant, junior and senior school in the village. I do remember the school principal saying that the school would be better if it had electricity.
This time, whilst the village was much the same, the main street of the village was just about to be paved. There are about 4000 people living in the village proper and the surrounds that make up Ngyen Muwah.
We went for a walk around the village:
Us with one of the oldest men in the village
A view over Ngyen Muwah. The white roof you can see in the background is the school.
I mentioned the Palm Nut plantations earlier on. In the foreground of this picture are the palm nuts and I’m standing by the machine that crushes the nuts into palm oil. ‘Red oil’ as it is known in Cameroon is used for cooking and is an important part of the local diet.
Ngyen Muwah, and Cameroon in general is incredibly fertile. Virtually all you have to do is throw a seed on the ground and in no time at all you have a banana tree, a plantain tree, a coco yam plant, etc. It is a vibrant and colourful place!
So it’s just a chair right? No. Well, yes. It’s a chair made out of old conveyor belt from the brewery.
Nikki made a new friend in Ngyen Muwah. Cats have the sole function of catching mice in Cameroon and this one was beside herself at getting cuddles and some protection from the broom…
In 1992, Dave and I were made noble’s of the village by His Royal Highness Fon Teche, the King/Chief of Ngyen Muwah Village. His Highness, now a Senator in the Cameroonian Government, very kindly agreed to meet with us in the village and it was fantastic to meet up with him again. His Highness gave us a very warm greeting and showed us through to his audience room.
Us with His Royal Highness Senator Fon Teche of Ngyen Muwah Village. He travelled back from the capital of Yaounde where he spends much of his time as a senator in the Cameroonian parliament, to receive us at the village.
Us with the Cameroonian statue outside of the Palace. I know it is very important, I just don’t know why. Although as a noble of the village, I had better find out!
We were invited to dine with His Royal Highness, his wives (he has four) and some other senior people from the village. He gave us interesting insights into Cameroon and his work in the Government. He kindly also gave us some beautiful gifts of a mask, a drinking horn, and a traditional bag.
Afterwards, there was a get together at Jacob’s house. As the Senior Noble of the village he is, after the Fon, the most important person in the village and many people came to show their respects.
An impromptu gathering on Jacobs porch, which involved stripping huckleberry leaves, playing guitar and general discussions about the day. The kids in Ngyen Muwah will be singing Wiggles songs for years to come….
Some guitar playing and a sing a long. Anne has a beautiful voice and sung for us.
The Church is very important in Cameroon, Ngyem Muwah and in the life of Jacob and Anne. In 2008 my son Alex and I attended a service of the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon in the village. The church at that time was in a mud brick house in the village. However, about 5 years ago a new church started to be built:
Jacob and Anne in front of the new church in Ngyen Muwah. It is now located up on the hill overlooking the village, catching the breeze as well as the view.
The ringing of the bell to announce the service was unusual.
The church bells are an old tyre iron and a metal rod. As the ringing sounded out over the valley, people started to trickle into church. The service went for about 3 hours and people continued to arrive throughout the morning.
Anne had kindly got Nikki a dress for the occasion:
Anne and Nikki sitting among one of the groups of women in the church. There were different groups sitting around the church (the Christian Women's Fellowship, the Christian Men's Fellowship, the Christian Youth Fellowship, the Alliluyah Choir, and the Youth Choir!) and each one would in turn lead the congregation in song throughout the service.
And Jacob had kindly given me a new shirt for the occasion.
Jacob and I in Church in our fine Sunday threads.
Nikki and I were welcomed to the church by Jacob. We had bought a cross in Bethlehem made of olive wood from Bethlehem olive trees and containing some earth from Bethlehem. At the service we presented it to the Chairman of the church along with a donation towards the completion of the church.
A very important part of the journey to the village is to pay ones respects to the church, which forms the centre of this community.
The atmosphere in the church was wonderful and there was no doubting that the church is very important in the lives of the congregation.
The congregation singing, clapping and playing instruments during the service. It was a very joyous affair!
After our return from the village, we headed to the beach town of Limbe for a couple of days. Limbe is on the coast and is marked on the map of Cameroon above. Limbe is on the foothills of the highest mountain in West Africa, the 4,095m high Mount Cameroon.
Mount Cameroon last erupted in 1999 and the lava flow was about 70 metres high, 200 metres wide, and 3 kilometres long.
Me at the top of the lava flow from Mount Cameroon’s last eruption in 1999. It travelled for many kilometres through the plantations for over 3 months after the eruption, stopping just before the road. The light green patch that you can see stretching into the distance is the old lava flow, cutting the palm plantations in half. Now overgrown this was for many years a black smouldering hill.
Looking from the lava flow towards the sea and Limbe in far distance.
We also went to the very interesting Limbe Botanical Gardens where we had a tour of the various Cameroonian medicinal plants including ones used to treat malaria, yellow fever, eye infections, skin rashes and, importantly, increase a mans “vigour”….
The Land Rovers needed a bit of maintenance though….
A Land Rover at the Botanical Gardens that needs a bit of work….
The wildlife refuge in Limbe acts as a home to injured and rescued Gorillas and Chimpanzees although the release of the animals to the wild appears a little hamstrung by funding.
All of the animals in the sanctuary were saved from poaching, injury or cruelty and bought to Limbe for treatment. Whereas many of the reptiles and birds have been released, there are challenges finding safe habitat to release the gorillas, chimps and monkeys and many have been here for decades.
Certainly one Silverback was looking for a way out….
The sunset at Limbe was spectacular:
As was the snapper fish at on the foreshore.
Jacob took us out for a fantastic fish dinner (Nikki, alas, had to be content with Plantains, Chips and Guinness). It was brilliant! A nice 1.5 kg Snapper, slow roasted over a cool BBQ and regularly basted with a peanut oil, ground herbs, carrot, and capsicum baste, and eaten with the right hand. Truly spectacular!
We drove towards the Cameroon/ Nigerian Border past Debuncha which has the second highest annual rainfall in the world. I think it's around 7 metres/ year!
Back in Douala, we spent our last evening with Jacob, Anne and Liz, playing guitar, having a sing and drinking champagne that Jacob very kindly surprised us with for the celebration.
And in the spirit of cultural exchange, we shared our only consumable possession. And we found a convert! To Vegemite! Anne loved the vegemite almost as much as Nik does, and so in the spirit of friendship, Nikki gave Anne her second to last tube of Vegemite! Now there is a friendship for life….
The Political, economical, corruption and “wellbeing” situation in Cameroon.
The Political situation.
Crikey. The politics of Cameroon. To explain the present, we have to go back to a bunch of old European blokes sitting around a map of Africa in Berlin in 1884.
You see the Europeans (the main protagonists were France, UK, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, and Italy) had been having a bit of a bun fight over bits of Africa for quite a while and decided to get out the ruler and divide it up.
Map of Africa that resulted from the Berlin Conference in 1884 – The split is; White – Ethiopia, the only country that remained independent!, Yellow – Belgium, Pink – Great Britain, Blue – France, Green – Germany, Light Purple – Spain, Olive Green – Italy, Dark Purple – Portugal.
For Cameroon, this meant that Germany got it, an area called Kamerun that included part of what is now Nigeria, what is now Cameroon, and bits of what is now Gabon.
German “Kamerun” as defined after the 1884 conference
Then along came World War I and Germany didn’t do so well. German “Kamerun” got split between the UK and France in 1918.
In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s there was a movement within many African countries for independence and Cameroon was no different. In 1960 French Cameroon got independence and in October 1961, a UN sponsored referendum, the British part of “Kamerun” got split into two with part going to Nigeria and part to the federal state of Cameroon.
All was hunky dory, with Cameroon having an Anglophone area and a Francophone area, until June 1972 when the federal structure of the two Cameroons was replaced with the centralised United Republic of Cameroon. This move was particularly resented by the Anglophones, who have felt like second class citizens.
Following independence, Ahmadou Ahidjo became President, followed by his hand-picked successor Paul Biya in 1982. President Biya, at the age of 84 is still president.
Now to the tricky bit. In Chapter 24 of this Blog “Bordeaux to Krakow”, I wrote about how our French friends and British friends having been have had a bit of an, er, tense relationship for, well, a thousand years or more. But then I wrote that we are like bread and butter, grapes and wine, malted barley and beer, like avocado and vegemite (??). We are better together.
However, the underlying tension between the Anglophone and Francophone section has been inflamed recently and now reached the point of being a crisis…
Yes, it’s tense at present. But talking is better than shooting. Peace is better than war. And I want to believe that peace will prevail. But its like a tinder box…. I’m really worried….
Both sides need to talk and resolve the issues. There are no winners in conflict. Only losers….
We are keeping our fingers crossed and Jacob and Anne in our thoughts…..
Economical situation in Cameroon.
This is a happier situation. The Gross Domestic Product increase over the past 15 years is shown below
And has averaged about 4% which is good. Ok, the total GDP is US$31 billion, which with a population about the same as Australia (24 million), is not very good (Australia’s is US$1,200 billion). So overall, the country is doing ok. The main sources of income are Agriculture (20% - Palm Oil, Bananas, rubber, coffee, plantains, and sugar), Forestry, and factory-based industry. Oil is also a noteworthy contributor to Cameroons wealth creation.
Oh dear, oh dear. My lord. Cameroon ranks 136th out of 176 countries in the list put together by “Transparency International” of the world’s most corrupt countries (where the 1st – Denmark, is not corrupt at all). I don’t know how much money “disappears” but it’s a lot. And it’s a tragedy. Particularly for the average Cameroonian. Cameroon is visibly poorer than all of the other countries we have been to so far in Africa, which should not be the case in light of its economy.
We witnessed some of the everyday petty corruption during out visit, such as local government officials fining motorists for non-existent infringements and pocketing the money, but it is the corruption at the highest levels which is depriving Cameroonian’s of opportunities.
Education, as I wrote earlier about Ngyen Muwah village is quite good with a literacy rate of 75% and one of the highest school attendance rates in Africa.
Health care, on the other hand, is poor with only one doctor for 5,000 people. The reason? Not enough money. Why isn’t there enough money? Please read the previous section…..
Life expectancy? 55 years. HIV/AIDS? 5.5% but there is a strong stigma against discussion and awareness, so this rate is probably artificially low.
So, it’s just really, really sad.
Crikey, I’m trying to be positive and optimistic, but with Cameroon, it’s pretty tough when there is so much opportunity which is being squandered by those who are meant to be looking after the country.
After 10 fabulous days in Cameroon, our true African experience, we returned to Nairobi to join a tour and visit some gorillas in Rwanda, the source of the Nile in Uganda and some white rhinos in Kenya….