This is a text co-written by Girugten member Merle von Bargen and guest author Godlove Dzebam
In one of the first courses for First Years, we started talking about planning for the future, most ideas mentioned in the discussion were about smart cities, clean energy, self-sustaining houses. This seems like a very narrowed view on the future – it is a very Eurocentric or western perspective. I believe we should inform ourselves about the potential, wishes and visions that the people of countries outside the global north have.
I asked my friend Godlove, who lived as my host brother with my family, when he volunteered in Germany in 2015, if he could reflect upon the current situation in Cameroon and paint a picture of how he sees the future of his home country. I then added some background information and some of my own thoughts.
‘My country Cameroon is found in the “armpit” of Africa as some people describe and neighbouring to six other African countries. Cameroon in 1884 was a German colony, and later after the First World War, it was handed over to Britain and France as Trust territories. I recall this for the fact that the country at present is shaped from its past. The country is divided into four geographical regions which are the grasslands, coastal areas around the Atlantic coast, the forest areas, and the Sahara areas of the northern part. These geographical landscapes have affected the architecture of the various regions as well as the culture having a strong influence as well. The diversity of the people, cultures and religion gives me joy.’
‘The country is composed of different geographic regions. In the coastal areas, the traditional houses are constructed with
wood and aluminium zinc is used for roofing. In the forest areas, thatches with mud are used for construction with a thatched roof. In the Northern regions, constructions are built with mud and thatches, whereas mud blocks, commonly called “sun dry”, bricks are used in the grassland part of the country. Palaces, especially in the grassland regions of Cameroon, are still built with sacred places for traditional ceremonies with bamboos, though the trend is changing. With these traditional constructions still intact, there also is a modern trend of building with new architecture styles. The government gets more involved in drawing plans, checking building sites, and have local councils give out building permits. There are people who specialise in engineering work in regard to constructing buildings.’
The current situation in Cameroon differs from the Dutch, and the European situation in general. Historically, the country
did not have the chance to develop as fast as Western countries. Though there was a rise in education and a subsequent
modernisation of the country, in the last 30 years, the political rule of Paul Biya has blocked a lot of the opportunities
for Cameroon. Unfortunately, there is a lack of investment in the country as a whole, and the development concentrates in agglomerations like Yaoundé or Douala, whereas rural regions are left behind.
‘While most of the streets in the country are mapped, less than 20% of the total roads in the country are tarred. Dirt roads, which are very dusty in the dry seasons and muddy in the rainy seasons, are the most common. In some towns where the streets are carved out, due to lack of funds for some people to acquire stands in the market, they turn to use street corners for their own shops; a practice that is increasingly becoming common in Cameroon. In the major towns, waterways are blocked with dirt that is thrown out, and during the rainy seasons, which causes the flooding of peoples houses.’
‘My Cameroon of tomorrow has a physical structure in a way that gives streets in towns the possibility to be easily accessed and recognized. A Cameroon with good infrastructure: where rail transport will develop to connect the cities and villages, as well as expansion of roads. A country where farm-to-market roads are all tarred so local farmers can sell their crops easily without losing perishable farm produce on poor or inaccessible roads. I weave in my mind a future that gives people living in all towns and villages the opportunity to have access to housing that has basic amenities like solar energy or cooking gas generated from waste around.’
‘I want to experience a Cameroon years ahead from now, where the educational system can be tailored to include training in designing different constructions. In the next fifty years, I dream of a modern country, where the present traditional buildings in the rural areas and towns are preserved for future generations to have an idea how people lived in today’s society. I imagine living in sustainable villages and towns where there is an abundance of food, clean water, and clean energy accessible to all at a low cost. A Cameroon where the youth population can afford to have jobs and provide meals. ‘A future in which the tenets of “Ubuntu” – a philosophy often
translated as “I am because you are” – are alive and where we live as a family rather than as a country. A Cameroon where people can afford new cars and refrigerators and do not import very old cars and refrigerators, that really are a burden to both the environment and the economy. I imagine a Cameroon where the rich Congo basin forest is exploited in a reflected and sustainable manner and where tree planting is a hobby for the citizens.’
‘My wishes are due to the fact that there is the rapid loss of what is “Cameroonian” as almost of what Cameroon is now “imported” – mix of traditional regional cultures, globalisation and media. I am sure whatever the mind conceives and believes, it can be achieved.’
Expanding our horizons thanks to other people’s perspectives can help us to improve our plans. In the past, there has been the rise of the western world at the expense of the Global South. We, as future planners, have the chance to strive for improvement beyond our borders. I believe we need strong partnerships and initiatives to achieve a higher quality of life for all people. We are partly responsible for the future of Cameroon to stay and even become more colourful!
This article was first published in the December edition: ‘The future is…’ (Year 51 of Girugten – issue 02 – December 2020).