Cameroon’s Second Largest Employer, CDC Wobbles Towards Extinction

By Andrew Nsoseka

CDC oil palm plantations, now, part of the land is privately owned by local administrators or sold out, at the expense of CDC and natives

Administrative indifference from the Cameroon government, as well as personal egoism, and other ills have placed one time prestigious employer, and second largest employer after the Cameroon Government, the Cameroon Development Corporation, CDC, in its dying throes.

The CDC whose woes predate the Anglophone crisis, has been placed in a very tight spot, with the Anglophone Crisis that has raged on for over four years, making things worse for the giant agricultural corporation, as most of its activities have been halted from time to time, or entirely stopped in unstable areas.  

Government officials on their part, have seemingly failed in their duty to protect, maintain and ensure the survival of the agricultural giant, in an era rife with unemployment, which has on its part, lured thousands of youths to join the separatist movement in Anglophone regions of Cameroon. Rather than salvage what is left of the corporation, government Ministers and officials, have rather brazenly joined other unscrupulous individuals, to plunder the corporation and make away with what they can.

A scheme said to be aimed at giving land of the corporation back to the indigenes, who are predominantly Fako natives, has seen thousands of hectares taken from the agricultural giant, and most chunk of it has ended up in the hands of administrators. The crisis which started in 2016, also saw alleged separatist fighters attacking workers of the corporation for not respecting separatists imposed lockdowns. This discouraged many from working, and also forced the corporation to shutdown most of its farms, and factories. Due to the crisis, the workers have gone for years without pay, and with the farms not very functional, the land surrendering racket moved on, with administrators and traditional leaders chipping away the CDC’s lands and making billions from it sales, to the detriment of the CDC and indigenes to whom the land is guised to have been surrendered to.

Consequently, following recent workers’ protests, founded on an imminent demise of the corporation, a flurry of orders were recently issued, restricting what had become a spate of expropriation of huge hectares of CDC lands by speculators and other Shylock interests. The big question however, is whether someone really cares whether the CDC carries on as a going concern or dies off like many other enterprises upon which the economy of the former West Cameroon was hinged.

 From the look of it, the action from Yaounde may be tantamount to buying time for the sting to wear off before the “CDC auction bazaar” is resumed like before. For one thing, many such orders have been issued in the past, only to be surreptitiously dumped in the dustbin or casually cancelled with indifference by the same pen that issued them. Law courts have gone back on their own learned decisions, consequently throwing back CDC interests to the wolves without appeals or petition from vested litigants or defendants.

It is feared that the recent cancellation by way of Ministerial orders of “CDC land surrender” may also be just a facade. This is because, as at Friday, September 11, effective felling of CDC palms was still ongoing at Bimbia. Those carrying out the act were protected by heavily armed gendarmes who chased away CDC guards and dared anyone else that to question the dastardly act. As it stands, a rather helpless CDC may have to wait, pray and hope for yet another Ministerial order to arrive from Yaounde, most probably only after many hectares of palms in their most productive stage must have been destroyed.

It is becoming more and more evident, going by official approach to its dilemma that the Cameroon Development Corporation, CDC, the much touted second-largest employer after the State, has been abandoned to wear out. After all, in its time of great difficulty, it has, unlike many other State Corporations, been shamelessly, if not callously ignored, with administrators rather trying to pluck what they can, as the corporation rapidly dwindles in its fortunes, leaving its over 20,000 workers and teeming numbers of dependents in the lurch.

With its troubles that were sparked by a global economic meltdown and exacerbated by the armed conflict in the English speaking Regions of Cameroon, where the CDC is situated, political gladiators and economic predators could be rightly said to be just waiting in the wings to see the giant corporation fall and shatter for them to pick up the pieces like was the case with the Marketing Board and Cameroon Bank, to name but these. Unlike other corporations like the national oil refinery, SONARA where Ministers and other ranking officials trooped in, and its workers are still paid even though it is no longer functional; the national airlines company, CAMAIRCO, that has, to put it bluntly been a company of flying coffins, but government pumps in funds to sustain it, the case of the CDC is different; state authorities are rather helping themselves with what is still left of the ravished and looted corporation, even as it still could be brought out of its comatose state to revert to its traditional role of providing succour to  the thousands of families that have depended on it over many decades.

Dubious Land Surrender, Scheming Mafias

The Fako Land Surrender scheme, which was sugar-coated as an initiative to surrender part of the CDC’s land to natives who originally owned the land, for them to expand their villages and settle, turned out to be a well-mapped out bogey by corrupt, overbearing administrators, as well as gullible traditional rulers, and chiefs of doubtful origins and credibility posing as representatives of the locals. It has been established that inexistent villages were created by certain local administrators, and in complicity with some local chiefs and in some cases, purpose-made chiefs enthroned by local administrators and top government functionaries were brought to front as representatives of the locals. Once the land was allocated by government officials, who often do so without consulting the CDC, the administrators collect a huge chunk of it, and the leftovers given to the Chief for his troubles. The Chiefs then proceed to sell what is left, after the administrators would have taken the big bite.

More often than not, the locals emerge the highest losers, even though the land is surrendered on the pretext that it is for them. Talking over a TV programme on a local TV channel, My Media Prime, one of the front line lawyers and Fako native, Barrister Ikomi Ngongi, who is fighting to reclaim surrendered land from administrators and traditional rulers who have turned the scheme into a thriving racket, revealed that for the over 4,000 hectares of surrendered land, Fako natives have not received up to 500 of them.

 “In fact, Fako people have not received up to 20 hectares put together,” he said, alleging that most of the land is in the hands of non Fako indigenes, whom he insisted are administrators who pulled the strings behind the scenes, and at the end, owned lands bigger than that owned by entire villages. To him, rather than surrender land to the wrong hands, the land could be retrieved and kept under the CDC’s custody, for better use and management, and not plundered by administrators for personal gain.

Speaking at several instances since the Fako land saga started, Barrister Ikomi Ngongi has faulted officials, right from the Southwest Governor, Mr Okalia Bilai, his subordinates, to the Senior Divisional Officers, Divisional Officers and dubious or fake chiefs and even court officials, whom he states are all part of the scheme to fraudulently take and own the thousands of hectares of surrendered CDC land, to the detriment of the locals, who are supposed to be the bona fide beneficiaries.

In some cases, traditional rulers have ended up in legal battles with their subjects over land. Often, some have been accused of selling all the surrendered land, and then encroaching into that originally owned by natives, of course, with the backing of all powerful local administrators.

Anglophone Crisis Putting Final Nail of the CDC’s Coffin?

Though effectively grappling with already compromising corporate challenges, the CDC has been hard hit by the ongoing Anglophone crisis. With workers often coming under attack orchestrated by suspected separatists, several production units and farms have been completely abandoned. Even with its well known attribute as the largest employer after the State, the CDC and its workers don’t benefit like other individuals and smaller companies, from any form of security protection.

Unlike most State Corporations where security is ever available, the case of the CDC is different, as workers are always left at the mercy of attackers, who hit and escape at will, thus discouraging most from risking to work. What now appears to be calculated administrative negligence, has cost the CDC lots, including human life as many activities have been grounded, except for the ever-ready land surrender schemes, machinated of course by Shylocks who should rather have been working to ensure the CDC’s survival, especially as communities, thousands of families and the economy of the Region and country at large still depends on the tottering giant for survival.

Helicopter sprays CDC banana plantations in its haydays, now partly ruined or abandoned due to negligence and Anglophone crisis

CDC, Its People, Impact on Generations

The CDC, unlike many other state corporations, has a history and part played in the lives of many. For those who lived out the heydays of the corporation, they narrate stories of communities, with social amenities, hospitals, schools, clubs and others that were enjoyed by CDC workers and the communities hosting them. Even books and literary art pieces have been produced by children who lived and were educated thanks to the CDC. In some prose, like “The Good Foot”, written about life in the CDC, one can through the narrations, picture a corporation which was at the centre of survival for many. A CDC which is not only regarded as a corporation, but a life wire and even community where many can trace their origin and growth.

Will the CDC Be Abandoned Like other West Cameroon Corporations?

With the openly displayed culpable negligence of certain officials in particular and the government in general, having elected not to make the survival of the CDC concern, let alone a priority, many fear that it most likely to go the way of the Cameroon Bank, the crumbled Government Technical College Ombe, POWERCAM, Tiko Airport, West Cameroon Lottery, West Cameroon Development Agency, the Department of Marketing and Inspection, West Cameroon Marketing Board and many more, that were vibrant, but have now been selectively consigned to the compost heap of history.

In the context of the Anglophone Crisis and rife unemployment, many working-age men and women continue to be lured to the waiting arms of separatists and criminal gangs, to be able to make a living or feed their starving families.

Also, the much-heralded initiative of Cameroon’s President Biya, to encourage farming as a means of economic empowerment, has been turned into a big joke because the state has failed to bail out and ensure not just the survival, but the renaissance and upgrading of the CDC, as the country’s lone agro-industrial giant.

*Culled from November Issue of Pan African Visions Magazine

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