After a long stand-off which saw drivers on the Douala- Bangui road lay down their tools in protest, long drawn out negotiations ended a few days ago, leading to the reopening of this vital road which is a veritable lifeline for the economy of the Central African Republic thrown into turmoil a few years back with civil strife.
Since July 29 this year, some 450 lorries conveying essential goods to this neighbouring country from the Douala port have been grounded in Garoua-Boulai, the last Cameroonian town before the journey into the CAR begins. The drivers could take it no more. The 600 kilometer-odd journey through CAR territory had become a veritable death trap which only the stone-hearted could undertake. In less than two years, about one dozen Cameroonian transportation staff, notably drivers, have been killed on this highway and several others attacked and wounded in numerous attacks on the stretch.
The entire stretch is infested with highway robbers who do not just steal or loot goods- some of which are such important supplies as drugs or vital supplies for the sustenance of daily life - but also kill virtually for the pleasure of it because in many cases those killed are unarmed compared to the heavy arms many of these thieves and renegades of the numerous armed bands marauding in the territory carry around. The drivers had come to the conclusion that the security measures in place were largely inadequate and their countless pleas to the authorities of the two countries and repeated assurances of the CAR authorities following repeated visits to Yaounde did not yield fruits as the attacks and killings continued virtually unabated.
At a crisis meeting organized in Garoua-Boulai last Saturday, the drivers agreed to resume duty not after having been assured of new security measures which will henceforth guarantee a safe passage from the Cameroon-CAR border at Garoua-Boulai right up to Bangui. The new measures are part of a wider package involving not only the government of CAR which has generally failed to deliver on its promises and guarantees, but now involves the UN Mission in Central Africa, MINUSCA which is playing a leading role in peace-keeping and stabilization in the Central African Republic.
New troop reinforcements are being committed to reinforce the Bangladeshi troops that have been solely responsible for security along the 600-kilometer road. Now, detachments of Cameroonian, Congolese and Gabonese troops are coming into the show while a military base is to be constructed between the localities of Bouar and Baboua which have hitherto been the epicentre of crime and where the highest concentrations of attacks and killings have been recorded. Another measure which will obviously satisfy the Cameroonian drivers is the limiting of convoys to 60, rather than 120 vehicles as was the case before. This will obviously make for closer controls and instill more confidence in the minds of the drivers.
Another important decision taken at Garoua-Boulai last Saturday concerns the prohibition of transporting non-authorized persons because, as it was observed, many attacks have come from people drivers took along the way often considering them to be in difficulty while such people were disguised criminals simulating difficulties. Another confidence-building initiative for the drivers is the decision to register all of them with the national social security insurance schemes so as to avoid the situation involved in previous killings when the absence of social insurance created administrative difficulties sometimes leading to the non-payment of all certain rights and benefits which could normally have gone to the kith and kin of the deceased.
The denouement of this situation is good for everyone, the least not being the CAR, a land-locked country already hit by a terrible internal crisis and which needs constant supplies from the Douala port. The end of the strike also signals happier moments for the UN forces in the CAR whose supplies, in large part, are ferried by land from Douala. It is therefore very necessary to consolidate these important gains by ensuring that the security of drivers on this road is a permanent concern.