|Shey Jones Yembe|
You are a civil engineer, chairman of the National Civil Engineering Laboratory amongst others, what is your appraisal of the second bridge over the Wouri?
This is a wonderful piece of job and I am so happy to know the President of the republic has put emphasis on it. I was even very elated when he talked of the engineering aspect of it. I said whao, so he is even worried about those details because more often a politician should just be worried about the grandeur of the structure and not bothered about the technical challenges. This will be a huge project for us. It will let Cameroonian engineers touch some of the high technology in civil engineering and make Cameroon grow. What we are going to get from it as engineers or technicians will be great and we will use the transferred technology in other domains; that is talking about engineering. Now talking as the Chairman of National Civil Engineering Laboratory (Labogenie), I am so proud to know that our national laboratory has been taken and was one of the most important laboratories to do the control works. Because the works are very challenging we need to make sure that the quality of the work is well done and choosing Labogenie for us is a mark of confidence that we are doing the right thing or that the Labogenie company; the government company is doing the right thing.
The project is sponsored by the French government, what guarantees are there that Labogenie’s oversights will be respected?
For the works to be paid, it must be the control mission that does the invoices and authorizes payment. The French are financing to the tune of FCFA 120 billion and it is a French company that is executing the work. So it is the control mission that can permit payment after controlling what has been done. It’s true, it is also Egis a French company but they cannot just pay the works without haven guaranteed that everything has been controlled technically. So Labogenie is doing the geotechnical part of it while control mission is doing the invoicing and to do the invoicing it has to see the work done using the technical results from cards that Labogenie would have done before confirming the payment. So there is nothing like they are going to ignore what Labogenie says. And even companies have gone beyond sharing control missions to laboratories as gendarmes rather than people who accompany you because if you do work and in future that work did not succeed and you had to come back on it because there is always a guarantee from the time that they receive the work to final reception, it would cost you more than if you just listened to those who do the technical studies. This is so because the technical test gives you the exact and precise way to mix your concrete with the right quantities of cement and moisture levels. That would help you to make sure that the infrastructure you have constructed even after reception it will not have to do require immediate repairs. So today, companies sometimes even have their own laboratories to be cock sure that the test we are talking about have been truly and properly done, so Labogenie cannot be ignored in this giant structure. On the contrary I can testify with you that SOGEA SATOM which is the construction company will surely have its own laboratory and even make sure that the laboratory is up to date, if possible even better than Labogenie’s laboratory to ensure that they have the best quality. It doesn’t cost them very much sometimes to have the right thing, for example; having good concrete sometimes is not the amount of cement you add to it, if you respect the quantity of cement that was done for the studies, then you can either fix or spoil your concrete by putting so much water or very little water. Meanwhile if the tests were properly done and you calibrated how much water you are putting every time you are doing your concrete, you will have the right thing. Also just by vibrating just to the optimal, not vibrating it too much or too little, you will have good quality. Those are the things that Labogenie would help them to do properly. It would be the Laboratory to accompany the construction company rather than to gendarme the company.
You are also a business man, how will the construction of a second bridge over the Wouri River help business activities in the city of Douala and its environs?
One of the things that make business to grow or not to grow is being able to move goods left and right. A company becomes only important in Douala or in Bonaberi, or around the Moungo or in Tiko or anywhere, just as much as it is possible to produce whatever you are producing; your yogurt or whatever and be able to bring to Douala without having to wait at Bikoko, at the entrance for 2-3 hours; then that company becomes useless. But if you know that you can produce something in Tiko, Limbe, Nkongsamba, Melong, Dschang and be able to bring it to Douala without having to waste time on the way, then you could also have industries in the hinterlands and decongest Douala a little bit. So for us businessmen, we think that this is another opportunity that will make the whole sub region profit and make Douala become that huge mega pole of industries that will profit us in one way or the other. If you open a shop alone in an area your business will never grow. It is better when you have many more business people around you and there is competition then you grow with respect to the environment that has become very good for business.
If I understand the technical specifications of the new bridge, it will have five lanes on one side and two three lanes on the other side. But all the lanes will empty themselves unto the small road on both sides of the river
There will be two bridges side by side; I am not talking about the old bridge; the new bridges. So we are going to end up with three bridges on the Wouri at that point next to each other. The new bridge has two bridges; one for road transport and one for railway. And the railway this time will have two lanes so that a train could even be going to Bonaberi while another one is going to Douala. They don’t have to wait until they have crossed which is a wonderful thing. Then the road has five lanes; you have three lanes coming into Douala from Bonaberi on the other side and two lanes moving from Douala to Bonaberi. You will ask me why they did that. The intension is that the old bridge would be used for the traffic from Douala into Bonaberi which means that you are virtually having 3 lanes into Douala and out of Douala. Now you have all of those wonderful roads and then you most probably don’t have the access roads to it to make the traffic continue otherwise you would have stopped a bottleneck here and created another one on one side or the other. But if you listened to the President and the Government Delegate to the Douala City council, you would have heard that there is this program that has even existed before the bridge which they are going to also execute still financed by the French Development Cooperation. It involves opening the West end of Douala and the East end of Douala (the road from Douala to Yaounde.) You would have noticed at village which is the East end that there have already moved people out of the road and widened it and there are also going to open up the West end; that is the side to Bonaberi. So the bridge will be on while those other projects will be going on. Otherwise it will be useless having a bridge without creating the roads that way. So up to Bikoko for example, the lanes will be opened up to Bikoko, by the time you are splitting your traffic to the Southwest or to the West, you could have had the traffic flow properly.
You are the board chair of the Douala Ports Authority. How do you think the construction of this bridge will help activities at the Douala Ports, especially as you are involved in heavy duty activities?
When the President of the Republic appointed us a few months ago, me and the General Manager; Mr Etoundi Oyono, he gave us an assignment to reduce the time that goods stay at the ports. We have made a lot of effort on that front. We had also to make sure that dredging was done at the proper prices which we have also been able to do. Equally we had to make sure that we can refill the coffers as it used to be which we have also done. We succeeded in getting out goods in good time in collaboration with the ‘guichette unique’ or the one-stop-shop and then the customs office also because all does not only depend on us. It depends on the transit companies, it depends on the customs, it depends on the one-stop-shop, what they call in French ‘guichette unique.’ But we have done all those efforts and reduced the time tremendously. But there was a problem; sometimes you get out goods and there will go and stay in Yassa on the East end for long because of traffic congestion. Sometimes the drivers just don’t move out, they wait till it is night; so they waste the whole day…..sometimes if something happened on a single bridge, then you can be there for two days and they wouldn’t be able to drive out. So with this new opportunity now, I think that goods are going to flow into the hinterlands properly. Countries that we play transit for them like the Central African Republic and Chad would be able to profit from all of this. The Bonaberi road is the most used road in all of Cameroon, you wouldn’t believe it but that is how it is. When they take goods out of the Douala Ports, there are seven regions of Cameroon that use that road and that bridge to carry goods, so it makes 7 and 3 countries; that is, Cameroon itself, Chad, and the Central African Republic. Today that you have this bridge, traffic is going to be able to flow out of and into Douala easily. There is also a program the President unveiled, and the road is already being done, the Foumban-Ngaoundere road. If this road is finally done, because they are presently doing some patches, it will ease traffic flow alot. I had the privilege my company did some bridges on that road also and they are doing it. By the time it is done, travelling from Douala through Bafoussam, Foumban then to Ngaoundere and finally to Chad or the Central African Republic or to go to the Far North; North and Adamawa would be faster than going back through Yaounde to pass through the East. You see that if you did that road and you didn’t prepare Bonaberi properly, then all the goods that you are getting out of the ports will still have to go back through Yaounde. So those are the things that we at the ports are so happy about, because now we can work and be sure that the goods will go in time. Because what is important to an importer from Central African Republic is when the goods finally get to Bangui. The importer is not interested that we got it out of the ports in 2 or 3 days. So if we got the goods out even in one day and they spent another 2 days at the Bonaberi Bridge because there was a problem or in Yassa, for him goods are still not flowing properly and that is very bad for the transit country that we are.
From what you are saying, definitely the construction of the bridge will have an impact on the cost of goods and services
Tremendously, they have been people who have slept in Douala town while they are living in Bonaberi just because there was a problem on the bridge. The construction of this bridge is a tremendous thing, it is so much money but you know for things that have to be for seventy-five (75) to one hundred (100) years, you have to do it. We are doing it for posterity. We are spending a lot of money but if you go to do the calculation of people who are going to spend less fuel, wasting time waiting to cross the bridge, sooner or later the bridge would have faded off. So I think that it is a wonderful thing that happened to us. Unfortunately we don’t always have money to do all those things. There are lots and lots of things that we could still do for Cameroon but we are not going to do all of them at the same time. When I say we, I am talking about us Cameroonians because me I am just a citizen like you, I am just talking about us achieving for ourselves.
Culled from Cameroon Calling, CRTV