Last week we met up with a couple of our Cameroonian friends in Nkongsamba who also happen to be police officers; we all met for drinks after dinner. They had just returned from a trip to Douala to participate in a ceremony where President Paul Biya laid the foundation stone for one of his biggest construction projects of his 31 years in power – the second bridge crossing the Wouri River at a length of 820 meters long in the economic capital of Douala. As I understand it, this new bridge will be called the “Gateway into Central Africa”.
It is long overdue as the current dilapidated two lane bridge can be an absolute nightmare to cross on the best of day. This bridge was actually constructed 60 years ago by France, the former colonial ruler of that area of Cameroon. To give this some prospective the population of Douala is roughly 5 million, or close the population of the entire state of Oregon, and the only way to enter or exit the largest city in Cameroon is over this bridge. How many bridges do we have in Oregon again?
I am told the old bridge is one kilometer long, the longest in the Central African sub-region, for whatever that is worth. It was originally constructed to carry 2,000 vehicles per day as the city didn’t have a lot of taxis and moto men back then. The bridge today carries more than 45,000 vehicles per day, with only one lane in each direction, transporting a variety of goods from Douala’s seaport to landlocked countries like Chad and the Central African Republic as well as throughout Cameroon including to our lovely city of Nkongsamba.
While laying the foundation stone for its construction, Cameroon President Paul Biya said the bridge will be one of the most beautiful in the world. Sadly, given the speed at which Cameroonian construction is done, I doubt we will be around to see it. That is unless it is contracted out to one of the many Chinese construction firms in the country now, in which case it could be done before Lunar New Year.
“Ladies and gentlemen, bridges are art objects that gives testimony of technical progress like the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco. This second bridge may be as important as the one I have just mentioned,” President Biya is reported to have said. A bold statement from a bold man. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this second bridge won’t be printed on postcards the way the Golden Gate is…but, alas, this is Cameroon, this is Africa.