World Habitat Day 2022: reasonable accommodation; the new challenge in Bamenda

By Bakah Derick 

Getting reasonable accommodation in the North West Regional capital Bamenda is becoming a huge challenge for those in need as insecurity heightens. 
Picture taken from Nkwase Quarter in Nkwen facing Upstation Bamenda 

According to security maps as a result of the ongoing armed conflict, traditional Bamenda meaning the entire North West Region is largely in red or yellow. A few green spots are only in Bamenda central leading to a huge demand for accommodation therein as many seek refuge from the unsecured areas. 
For many who rush to the city center, basic accommodation is what they need to the extend of tolerating a single room for small families of three, four or sometimes even more. 
"When I came to Bamenda, it took me over three weeks of daily search to get a small room where I could manage before asking my wife and two children to join us from the village. It was becoming too insecure for me to live in our house in the village (Bafut). When I even saw the room with an external toilet and kitchen, the landlady asked me to pay one year at 12000FCFA a month. I had to beg her explaining my situation before she could accept six months." Peter as he accepted to be named told around Hospital Roundabout. 

From the Bambili University area via Bambui and Nkwen mostly student residencial communities because of the functionality of schools, safe and reasonable accommodation is not easy to access. It is also draining the students financially as a result of hikes and insecurity. 
Picture of Mile 2 Nkwen taken from Baptist center

"Most of the houses here are not occupied for security reasons. For the ones that can be accessed like this one, we are paying  15000FCFA a month with full pay for a year plus an extra month known as caution. Before now, we could get good houses just a short distance from here at seven or eight thousand for a lesser period of upfront payment but now it is bad." Francis Ndzelen a student in mile six Nkwen said 

Kidnappings are on the rise in downtown Bamenda forcing many to consider relocating to the greenest zone of the region that is Upstation. Unfortunately, at Upstation,  reasonable accommodation is far more expensive that is the case downtown and elsewhere in the region. 

"I have been kidnapped twice and I decided to relocated from my house in Nkwen to Upstation. I needed at least a three bed room apartment that could accommodate myself and the family. After searching for over two weeks, the cheapest I saw was 120.000FCFA and that is really not close to the road. I was asked to pay at least a year with no negotiation. In fact as I speak to you, I have never seen my landlord. I deal with his lawyer and bank. I have friends who have tried to move up here but we cannot get a good house for them." Francois an entrepreneur explained. 

For private ventures into the housing sector, these prices are determined by security, water and electricity availability and closeness to motorable roads. 

In Bamenda, the sector is largely controlled by private individuals and businesses with huge investments made. 

In mid 2018, the then Minister of Housing and Urban Development Jean Claude Mbwentchou was in Bamenda to evaluate the PLANUT project in the domains of housing earmarked for the C2D program funded by the French Development Agency (FDA).  

Amongst the project sites visited by the state official, was the low cost housing project in Ntabang Bamenda which has since then been abandoned. 

“Low cost housing in the field is about 20%. I was here one year ago and work was 10% that means in one year we have 10%; it is not enough. I am not happy because the contractor talked about insecurity; we are in field and I went into the market with you; what insecurity? The Minister said during his visit. 
Picture of the low cost housing project taken by in 2018. 

“We asked them to double the number of people who are working with him. We asked them to bring more material and more to be in the management of this project. We give them one week to do the new planning with my team…. And we give them four months as from November because the end of this project is November and we see that they cannot finish that means they have until end of March 2019 to finish the job.”  The senior state official instructed. 

Nothing has been heard from a government authority about this project till date either from local administrators charged with the follow up or his ministerial successor. It has been abandoned alongside that of a referal hospital. 

Though one of the housing projects visited seem completed towards the Bangshie neighbourhood along the second access way to Bamenda generally referred to as New Road, this doesn't seem to have provided an iota of of a solution to the housing challenge in the city. 

Minister Jean Claude Mbwentchou (in the middle with a white safety cap) in Ntabang Nkwen in 2018

"How can one live in that place my brother? First I am told that an apartment there is over 25 million FCFA.? Do you know the kind of house I can build for myself with that money? We call it low cost, how many people can afford 25million even civil servants like us? The worst one is insecurity around that area." A state employed teacher who will not want to be named spoke with visible dissatisfaction. 

During a Council Session to examine the 2022 administrative and Management accounts on Wednesday May 4 2022, the Mayor of the Bamenda III Council disclosed that his Council will be embarking on the construction of some low cost houses. According to Mayor Cletus Fonguh Tanwi, the issue of reasonable accommodation is one that needs urgent attention in Bamenda in general and Bamenda III Council is ready to make some contribution in handling it. He has assured land and funding availability igniting some fresh home of possibly low cost housing in the real sense of the word. 

As the world observes World Habitat Day (WHD 2022) under the theme "Mind the Gap. Leave No One and Place Behind" many in Bamenda are basically just concerned about where to lay their heads in peace as the battle of growing social inequalities continue to show their ugly face in a town with poor water supply systems, inconsistent electricity and poor road network. 

Despite being a major challenge, public discussions on issues of reasonable accommodation are rare especially within official government circles. The battle here is around what is summarily referred to as "anyone for himself, God for us all." 


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