This city profile of Bamenda is not exhaustive. It focuses mainly on some of the basic aspects that make up the city. In the days ahead, hopefully, a more elaborate study will be carried out, that will provide more information, statistics and analysis on the city of Bamenda. This should be more in-depth and, therefore, helpful to all those interested in better understanding certain facts about the City and the City Council in its new perspective and leadership. This, in a nutshell, is a basic introduction to Bamenda.
Geography, administration, culture and history
Bamenda, also known as Abakwa, is located in north-western Cameroon and is the capital of the North West Region. The city has an estimated 500,000 inhabitants and is situated 366 km north-west of the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde. Bamenda is known for its cool climate and scenic hilly location. Bamenda is all about a city and a people whose commitment to self-reliance sets the pace in individual and collective development. Metropolitan Bamenda doubles as the capital of the North West Region and Mezam Division. Hospitality is a legendary asset of the people who are also known to be very grateful but rather too sensitive to injustice.
As a regional centre, the city, also an administrative commune, has numerous financial institutions, woodcarvings, bronze statues, local artworks and common craftworks, a wide variety of local baskets and beads, markets, and offices. Bamenda is also about people known to be poor and proud, with few government enterprises to absorb the unemployed. The main industries are the processing of agricultural produce such as coffee.
The Bamenda Prescraft and Handicraft shops display specimens of fine handicraft works. In Bamenda, there are cultural sites such as the Mankon Fon's Palace with its newly constructed museum, and the Bali Fon's palace with its ancient architectural structures. The mountainous terrain around the city affords scenic views such as that from the Sabga Hill over the Ndop plain, some 15km from the city of Bamenda.
As the Regional capital of the North West Region, Bamenda is the melting pot of cultural groups from across the Region and beyond. Some of the streets are named after major tribal groups that inhabit the city, groups that provide diverse cultural animation through their associations and meetings. Community libraries, youth cultural centres, sports academy, museums, handicraft centres, royal palaces, ancient architectural structures make for a very friendly cultural atmosphere. With free public primary education, there is virtually a primary school in every backyard, and the best of secondary education is offered by religious bodies. Two State Universities have their antennas located around Bamenda and private initiative makes for 90% of the over 15 post-secondary tertiary educational facilities, with a bias for technology, vocational training, and mechanised agriculture.
In origin, the city is an amalgamation of three villages - Mankon, Mendakwe and Nkwen. The first was named after the Mankon people, an alliance of five ethnic groups, which founded a chieftaincy (a Fon) known as the Mankon Fon. Metropolitan Bamenda today constitutes the seven villages of Mankon, Nkwen, Mendankwe, Mbatu, Chomba, Njah and Nsongwa.
Bamenda's principal ethnic group is the Tikar. In the past, the Tikar faced invasions from peoples in the surrounding hills, and between 1700 and 1800, they joined a confederation established by the Mbum for defense purposes.
Bamenda was subjected to German colonialism in the late 19th century and evidence of Germany's former occupation of Bamenda can still be seen today in structures such as the Fort at the Bamenda Station. After the defeat of the Germans in World War I (1914-1918) the League of Nations shared German colonial territories among victorious nations. Western Cameroon was administered jointly with Nigeria under the protectorate of the British until 1961 when, following a plebiscite, it attained independence by joining then the already independent République du Cameroun.
Today, many of the city's inhabitants are English-speaking, and Cameroonian Pidgin English is the lingua franca in the shops and on the streets of Bamenda.
Challenges that go with city status
Bamenda gained the status of a city on the strength of a Presidential Decree of 17th January 2008 that created the Bamenda City Council (from the defunct Bamenda Urban Council). On the strength of another Presidential Decree of 8th February 2009, Mr. VINCENT NJI NDUMU became the pioneer Government Delegate to this City Council with the challenge of charting a new way forward, towards a city that should be the dream of all.
The cosmopolitan city is expectant of a fresh push in development since the Presidential Decree of 17th January 2008 dissolved its urban status and created Bamenda I, Bamenda II, Bamenda III Councils and the Bamenda City Council. The Bamenda City Council is in dire need of development, land use planning, road infrastructure, public lighting, greater access to potable water, urban forests, green spaces, et cetera.
The mainstay of the Bamenda economy is small businesses and agricultural produce from the neighboring Divisions. Industrial presence is very minor, but human endeavour and ingenuity are enormous. In the past, Bamenda town served as a major market and avenue for the processing and channeling of coffee to other main cities such as Douala and Yaounde for direct sales or for export. The Bamenda city, therefore, boasted of the North West Cooperative Association and the Cameroon Produce Marketing Board. But the general economic slum that hit the Cameroonian economy in the 80s did not leave Bamenda untouched. In fact, if anything, Bamenda is one of the major cities in Cameroon that have been very seriously affected by this crisis. In Bamenda, the International Soap Factory and Bambuiy Family Industries account so far for some of the very few industries in this very limited industrial presence. There is as yet any industry that can boast of over 50 permanent employees.
Financial institutions, notably banks and micro finance institutions, have a prominent place in the city’s economy. New banks are gradually making a head way into Bamenda. Meanwhile, existing competitors keep reinforcing their existence, and in some cases, are considering expansion possibilities. A case in point is the Cameroon Credit Union League, spread all over Cameroon, with headquarters in Bamenda. It is worth noting that the Azire Credit Union, which is so far the biggest micro finance institution in the whole of West Africa, has its headquarters in Bamenda.
The city of Bamenda has road links to Yaounde and Douala and an airport, though without any scheduled services. To the north of the city is the Bamenda Ring Road, a 367 km (228 mi) circular route through some of Cameroon's most spectacular mountains. Along this road is Mount Oku (3,000 m/9,800 ft), the Kimbi Game Reserve, the Menchum River waterfall, a huge chief's palace at Bafut, and a pyramidal thatched shrine at Akum (also known as Bagangu).
Besides being noted as the political hot bed of Cameroon, Bamenda has also come to be noted for its active civil society, with the presence of several civil society organisations and Trade Unions. These mostly take the form of social, cultural and economic interest groups and associations. Many international non-governmental organisations equally have a representation in Bamenda.
A value potential analysis of the city of Bamenda
(land, water, forest, tourist, educational and social resources)
Bamenda’s land, forest and social resources (cultural and educational) make it a continuous attraction for investment. This is heightened by the rich presence of numerous cultural groupings in Bamenda, and the hospitality of the people. Bamenda hosts and harbours some of the most prestigious Secondary and High School establishments in Cameroon, to which an increasing heavy influx of students, especially students from French-speaking Cameroon, is continuously on the rise.
Meanwhile, Bamenda’s environmental/natural resources, notably water and land resources, require urgent attention in order to safeguard and maximise their usefulness both in the short and long run. The general tendency had been for most institutions to focus their attention on the rural areas, thereby leaving the city to itself in terms of efforts required to access land and water resources (catchments areas, existing forests, etc).
The Bamenda City Council is the biggest and only City Council in the North West Region of Cameroon. In this position, the City Council has a major leadership responsibility. Thus, the City Council, with its new leadership, is considering several development options that should once more change the face of the city in considerable ways and make Bamenda a major attraction and tourist destination in Cameroon. The growth of the city of Bamenda is directly interwoven with that of its environs. To this effect, the City Council is considering the option of industrialising the city in an inter-connected way with the other neigbouring Councils within the basic considerations of available resources, investment attraction, and the organisation of feasible demand and supply chains. This will certainly require enormous resources and participation from diverse stakeholders with the main view of reviving, promoting and attracting in an unreserved way, the setting up and growth of Small and Medium Size Enterprises in both formal and informal sectors of the economy.