17 Jan 2006
On the 16th of January 2006, I took a three-hour bus ride from Cameroon’s economic capital Douala to the political capital, Yaounde. The area between these two cities geographically belongs to the equatorial rain forest.
On the outskirts of Douala is an area the Francophones call bois des singes (monkey woods). It is said that a couple of years back, this place was home to many primates. Now, the stretch of land has neither monkeys nor even trees but still retains its now misleading name.
As we drove along, I tried to critically observe the surrounding to see what is left of the forest. What I saw was a mirage or at best the shadow of what we know as the equatorial rain forest. Where I could see no farms or human settlement, the trees that were left were tiny and mostly sparsely distributed. The demise of our forest is akin to aging (though in an accelerated form) hence many Cameroonians do not easily notice it. Many of my compatriots driving from Douala to Yaounde psychologically assume that they are driving through the forest. The truth is that they are moving through a former forest that logging companies are done with. As we crossed the river Sanaga at Edea and I observed part of the hydro electricity generating plant, I started to imagine the future of hydro electricity in Cameroon knowing that deforestation leads to waterlessness.
Receding forest along the Douala-Yaounde road and inset: Electricity dam at Edea.
If image cannot open, view photo at this link
Meanwhile as we moved along, I counted the timber trucks that were hurling wood to the port city of Douala from the direction of Yaounde. There were 19 trucks carrying whole timber and 9 carrying semi-processed timber that we met during our three-hour drive. You can guess the volume of traffic in a day knowing that these trucks ply 24 hours daily.
(See photo of typical timber truck at this link).
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, Cameroon lost an average of 220,000 hectares of forest per year between 1990 and 2000. The same source indicates that the area covered by forest in 2005 stood at 21,245,000 hectares and the deforestation rate stood at 1%. If the deforestation rate is maintained at this level (and there is every strong indication that it may go up) the forest will be cleared in 96 years. If that happens, we would have created an unenviable record- i.e. by eliminating a forest that has existed for some 350 million years within a very short time.
Copyright©2006 by Njei Moses Timah
Njei Moses Timah