“What the soldiers make us see on the way is unbearable. You can even leave a load of coal and go somewhere else. The parafiscality is substantial,” says Martin Minko, president of Network of Coal Producers from the Forest Concessions of the East (Rechacofest).
“Recently, my truck was stopped in Edea from 4pm to 4am. I was not notified of any situation. I had to call the State Secretariat of Defense (SED) at 1501 and threaten to have a bailiff come to get us released,” said Lazare N., a coal buyer in Lomié. Painful opinions, cries of anger, and dismay is expressed by the legal coal operators in the Eastern region of Cameroon. In this region of the rising sun, the activity is focused on the carbonization of sawmill waste, which was long discarded and burned, and is now used by local people to produce charcoal. Over the years, the marketing of this fuel has become a real struggle.
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“The Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (Minfof) has clearly explained to us that the consignment note is the only required official document that allows charcoal makers or buyers to freely transport their charcoal. But we are facing another reality on the ground,” explains Ze Banga Levy, deputy secretary general of the CIG Ayi-Yind of Abong-Doum, a group of charcoal miners.
36 checkpoints between Lomié and Douala
On the road, legal charcoal trucks are harassed at every barrier: Minfof forestry posts, joint police-gendarmerie controls, gendarmerie checkpoints, especially the famous “road controllers,” weigh stations, and even road safety agents. A road user who regularly buys charcoal in Abong-Mbang and Lomié for resale in Yaoundé and Douala, anonymously said:
“At the forestry posts, although I have my consignment note, I am obliged to pay 1000 or 2000 F CFA. The same goes for the mixed control, but once they forced me to give them 5000 F CFA. With the 'road controllers,' it is more complicated. They are greedier. On rare occasions they accept 3,000 or 5,000 CFA francs, but they are more adamant about 10,000 or 20,000 CFA francs per control. A road controller even required 75 000 F CFA once because of the overload of the truck. To finally take 60 000 F CFA after a very long discussion,” he laments.
Martin Minko reveals that a recent study made by his organization on 6 legal coal trips between Lomié and Douala showed that there is an average of 36 checkpoints between the 2 towns. And that one can spend between 2 to 3 days between these two cities because of road harassment.
“Amounts ranging from 250,000 CFA francs to 400,000 CFA francs can be spent by charcoal makers in the course of a single trip to negotiate,” says Géneviève Djento, who heads an association of charcoal producers in Lomié.
Sanctioning dishonest agents
The agents of the administration who are singled out very often mention reasons that are considered spurious. “A policeman once told me, and I quote, 'If you don’t give me 5,000 CFA francs, you won’t bother me anymore. You can even sleep there.' There was no apparent motive,” said Alex N., a legal coal buyer in Abong-Mbang.
In this whirlwind of corruption, it is the production and the marketing of legal coal that is paying the price. “Because of the parafiscal levies and road hassles, we have no return on our investment because we are forced to sell our coal at low prices. We are working on projects for the development of our organization, but we are unable to carry them out due to lack of resources,” complains Ze Banga Levy.
Some solutions are proposed to address the situation. Martin pleads for an awareness and training of the armed forces:
“They should be given the knowledge of the texts. We need to paste posters at checkpoints so that the guys can take a look every time they are there, so that they understand what to do when a truck pulls up in front of them,” he explains.
For Ghislain Fomou, in charge of the Natural Resource Management program at the Local Development Initiatives Support Services (SAILD), a civil society organization, it is necessary to punish corrupt agents:
“There is a big job of sensitization and repression to be done against the agents of the water and forests and the forces of law and order who in reality are those who complicate the chain of transport of legal coal,” he maintains.
This report was produced with support from Rainforest Journalism Fund and Pulitzer Center.