By Hope Nda
BUEA, Cameroon – The National Coordinator of the Presidential Plan for Reconstruction and Development, PPRD, of the Northwest and Southwest Regions, Paul Tasong, has said reconstruction will start by first changing the mindsets of people in the Regions.
“I can’t exactly say for now, in terms of deadline, when it will start happening. We need to prepare the minds of the people so that anyone who decides not to apply to benefit from the Plan knows exactly what he/she is doing,” said Paul Tasong.
Speaking at the end of the five-day awareness mission in Buea on Friday, July 3, Minister Tasong, and his Deputy, Donatus Njong, affirmed that the PPRD-NW/SW, is only a means to end the crisis and not an end itself.
During the closing session which was finalised with a press conference, Southwest elite also read out a 12-point Buea Declaration in which they stated their unflinching support to the reconstruction plan.
The overall outcome of the plan, according to Tasong, who is also Minister Delegate at the Ministry of the Economy, Plan and Regional Development, is peace in the Northwest and Southwest Regions with a proceeding outcome being school resumption.
To attain this, PPRD must follow its three laid down objectives; attain social cohesion, reconstruct basic infrastructure, and rebuild the local economy.
Talking about how crisis victims will benefit from the reconstruction plan, Minister Tasong said the plan is demand-driven, thus, victims must apply to benefit from the plan.
Refugee and internally displaced English-speaking Cameroonians will have to travel back to their areas of origin, and declare their reconstruction needs to the administration to benefit from the plan.
Many Anglophone Cameroonians doubt how Government intends to reconstruct their homes and damaged property amid raging violence, with some seeing the PPRD as a complete illusion.
Participants at the meeting said the minds of the people must first be transformed to embrace the plan, before implementation proper.
Tasong said, for the reconstruction of the mind, community empowerment centres will be set up, and will involve actors like guardian counsellors, religious leaders and non-governmental organisations,
“Changing of mindsets involves sensitising the people, raising their awareness, in order to convince them… We need to help change their mindsets in order to bring everyone on board,” said Mgr Micheal Bibi, Interim Bishop of Buea Catholic Diocese after the meeting.
Some of the infrastructures to be rebuilt will include houses, schools, bridges, roads, potable water points and electricity schemes.
To boost the local economy, the plan will rehabilitate the agricultural sector by providing inputs to farmers through the Southwest Development Authority, SOWEDA. Focus will be on crops such as cocoa, coffee, cassava, plantain and cocoyam.
Long-term reconstruction plans will include the construction of hydro-electric dams, the Bamenda Ring-Road project and the Limbe Deep Seaport.
The 10-year plan to reconstruct the Northwest and Southwest Regions is estimated at FCFA 2,500 billion. The ongoing first phase costs FCFA 90 billion, expected to help the two Regions recover from the devastating impact of the four-year crisis.
With the Build Back Better slogan, Minister Tasong’s plea throughout his stay in the Southwest Region has been that the PPRD is a stepping stone towards peace.
He added that reconstruction will begin in more peaceful areas. As such, he tasked delegates from the various Divisions of Southwest to create an enabling atmosphere in their localities for the implementation to start.
During the 5-day awareness mission, it was also observed that many of the elite of the Southwest Region cannot go back to their localities because their homes have either been burnt or they fear being vandalised.
Traditional rulers were among some of the most affected administrators, with many of them affirming that their palaces have been burnt and they presently cannot return to their villages.
However, the Lebialem Fons were encouraged by Senator Fon Andreas Lekunze, Paramount ruler of the Bamumbu people of Lebialem, to start #My Trip To Lebialem, a brave move towards returning to their Lebialem Fondoms.
Although the Tasong-led team concluded consultations in the Southwest Region, analysts say much is still expected to be done to attain peace, because, reconstruction without peace may only result in a waste of precious resources.
Reconstruction Amid Smoking Guns?
During the 5-day awareness mission in Buea, Minister Tasong was saluted by a Separatist-imposed lockdown which disrupted schools and businesses for four days (Monday, June 29 to Thursday, July 2).
Local media alleged that, amid the gunshots in Buea on Wednesday, July 1, two vehicles were razed at the Buea Central Market area after gunmen stormed the area that morning.
Within the same week, gunmen beheaded two women in the town of Kumba. These incidents, among others, has left many a South westerner pondering how possible reconstruction will take place in the Region.
The PPRD National Coordinator, however, remains optimistic that peace and reconciliation can only be possible if there is a reconstruction plan that will first transform people’s mindsets and assuage their sufferings, by rebuilding their lost infrastructure.
“What we are trying to do is what has been tried and tested in other conflict zones. This is a standard procedure in conflict resolution. There comes a time when you have to stop relying on humanitarian assistance for people to survive,” he said.