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World Bank Africa Region VP Makes Case for Community Empowerment and Decentralization

YAOUNDE, December 13, 2009—Decentralized or local governments and communities empowered to manage their own affairs tend to participate more in and benefit better from development projects.

That was the argument made convincingly Sunday by villagers from two communities in Cameroon’s South and Center Provinces: Ngoulemakong and Comivok. The message was directed at someone already won to the cause, World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region Obiageli Ezekwesili, during her four-day visit to Cameroon.

Both at Ngoulemakong and Comivok, villagers insisted on showcasing the benefits they have drawn from being trusted by Cameroon’s government and by development partners like the World Bank to handle funding and to design, implement, and monitor the effectiveness of three projects: a community-owned quarry, a community forest and a community market.

According to Ngoulemakong’s mayor, fifty jobs for youth have already been created by the quarry.

“This is one of our most promising job creating projects,” the mayor said. “Unfortunately we [have] still to find an investor and have no access to credit to expand the project and increase the workforce onsite to 150.”

The quarry’s most successful income winner for the moment is granite stone sold to the rich in Cameroon’s capital – some 100 km away – and used predominantly for paving sidewalks and driveways. Other products are envisaged should the project raise the capital needed to expand.

The promoters of the quarry dream big. They say they know the day is coming when neighboring municipalities, and perhaps even Cameroon’s public works department, will turn to the quarry with orders to mass produce granite stones for the construction of sidewalks in towns and cities.

As part of her visit to the two communities, Ezekwesili also visited a market built through a World Bank-funded Community Driven Development project. Ezekwesili met with sellers including a husband and wife team of farmers, whose earnings from the yams they sell at market help them care for their five children.

Ezekwesili bought $10 worth of yams from the sellers, Marie Mengue and her husband, and then offered them back to the couple asking that they serve them to their children for dinner.

Ezekwesili explained that a part of the message she brings to Cameroon is encouragement for small holder farming; and a strengthening of faith in the potential of agriculture to lift millions of Cameroonians out of poverty.

“You have to grow your own tomatoes right here in the village,” Ezekwesili said, “instead of buying them from Yaounde, where they are already expensive, and trying to sell at a profit to already poor farmers in the village.”

At her next stop in Comivok, Ezekwesili visited one of Cameroon’s first community-owned forests, officially recognized in 1996, two years after the community forest law was adopted in the country.

“We are not only interested in ensuring that revenue from timber harvested in this forest promotes our village’s development, we are one of the rare communities anywhere in Cameroon committed to and effectively taking action to do reforestation,” the village’s project leader told Ezekwesili, as he pointed out rows of young saplings planted by the community as part of their contribution to fighting climate change.

The hard-to-earn and long-awaited gains from managing one’s own community forest may not yet be palpable to the household, village women told Ezekwesili, but the belief is widely shared here that such benefits are to come. Significantly, revenue from transforming timber into planks in the village is 12 times higher than it used to be when timber was hauled away as logs for export.




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