Completesportsnigeria.com’s NURUDEEN OBALOLA was in Yaounde from 29 August to 5 September to cover the Russia 2018 qualifiers between Nigeria and Cameroon. He shares his interesting observations about the Cameroonian capital city…
VIBRANT NIGHT LIFE
Yaounde, as far as I could see during my short stay, has a very lively night life. The city has hundreds of snack and dancing bars that usually open as soon as dusk sets in.
I’m not normally a night person but I stayed at Titi Garage in the Mfadena Quarters, where there are snack bars every 50 metres or so. Even if you don’t go to the bars for drinking or dancing, you will go for the poulet (chicken for those who need French lessons). I usually settled for the delicious grilled poulet that is chopped into tasty bits and garnished with a sweet pepper sauce, topped with large portions of fried potatoes or plantain.
The bars are open every night but are busiest on Saturdays when the whole of the city is in party mode.
I spent seven full days in Yaounde but I did not see one dual carriageway road. Every road has traffic facing both directions without any clear road demarcation like the use of medians common in big roads in Nigeria.
Most of the roads of Yaounde are two-lane roads with not too much room for overtaking. Even the wider ones, like the four-laner by the Stade Omnisport Ahmadou Ahidjo and the ones in the city centre by the Central Market, do not have any demarcations.
Even the little room for manoeuvre does not deter the taxi drivers from overtaking at hair-raising speed in the thick of busy areas. Like Lagos Danfo drivers, the Yaounde cab drivers have no regard for driving rules.
It also takes special skills to cross the roads for a visitor like me as the vehicles dart in and out of the lanes. But long-term residents seem to have some sort of automatic timing when crossing and you just watch in awe as they get through to the other side unscathed time and again.
EASY TO GET AROUND
When you have learned to cross the roads and avoid being hit, it is actually quite easy to get around in Yaounde. There are no ‘molues’ or ‘danfos’ in the city, indeed the state-run big buses are a rare sight, but movement in Yaounde is easy and cheap.
The most common means of public transportation is by taxis and the standard fare is 250 FCFA (about N170) for sometimes very long distances. The taxis, mostly battered normal-sized cars, squeeze in five passengers –two in the front seat, three at the back – and will pick and drop passengers anywhere. No strict designated stops.
You could negotiate the fares depending on how far you’re going. If it is just like 800m or 1km down the road, the drivers will accept 100 FCFA (about N65). If your distance is a bit longer than usual and you don’t want to be continually ignored, you just shout out your destination and 300 FCFA to show the driver you’re willing to pay a little extra. That was the advice I was given when I was going to the Super Eagles Yaounde Hilton base (the building in the background in the main picture) to cover their arrival on Sunday. It worked.
BOLI AND GROUNDNUTS AVAILABLE EVERYWHERE
While it is difficult to get Nigerian food in Yaounde, roast plantain (boli) and groundnuts comes in handy. Maybe I did not look hard enough, but I did not see any Nigerian restaurant in Yaounde despite being told there are some. But I was lucky to avoid the staple of tasteless long, hard bread that is usually filled with all sorts of stuff including mayaonnaise and sometimes beans. I got proper sweet bread at the Casino Supermarche in the city centre, which was quite a distance from my Titi Garage hotel. But it was worth it. I usually bought enough to last two days, then got fried eggs from the Senegalese store owner-cum-chef who sold everything from toothpaste to soap and ran a breakfast bar just beside my hotel.
Food was a hassle but one of my favourite snacks of all time, boli and groundnuts, was thankfully easily available. Just like in Lagos, women raosting boli on charcoal-fuelled wire mesh are all over Yaounde and they make their boli just like it is made in Lagos.
It is quite cheap too. Two big plantains and a pack of roast groundnuts will cost you around 400 FCFA (about N260).
It was boli and lots of poulet in the evenings that sustained me in Yaounde for seven days.
YAOUNDE AIRPORT OF HUSTLERS
The first two things a journalist sorts out when he gets to a new country are his money and communication. You want to change whatever money you have to the local currency and then get your internet connection done.
In most modern airports, this is quite easy. There are 24/7 telecomms companies’ mobile shops and bureaux de change available at the arrivals hall.
This is not the case at the Yaounde-Nsimalen International Airport where you are at the mercy of hustlers who will cheat you without batting an eyelid. Desperate to get going when I landed in Yaounde late in the night on 29 August (well past 10pm), I bought two Orange SIM cards for 1,500 FCFA each from one Henry, who also purportedly loaded my two devices with a combined 8,000 FCFA of credit for both internet and calls. I found out later that Henry loaded a combined 5,000 FCFA and that SIM cards were as cheap as 300 FCFA.
Henry, who attracted me because he spoke some English, took advantage of my exhaustion, lack of knowledge of French and desperation to file my first report that night.
This would not have happened in a well run airport like the excellently run Gnassingbe Eyadema Airport in Lome, where I had two stopovers on my way to and from Yaounde.
STREET TRADING THRIVES
Like in Lagos, street trading thrives in Yaounde. It is not on the scale of Lagos, but Yaounde also has pop-up stalls that mostly sell food, phone accessories, etc by the side of the busy streets.
The most interesting ‘roadside’ market I saw while in Yaounde was the one that looked like a full-on Nigerian market day just by the Stade Omnisport Ahmadou Ahidjo in the Mfadena Quarters. Right on the curb next to the stadium and with the stadium in the background, mostly foodstuffs, cooked meals, potatoes and such were being sold and bought like in a regular market. And there was no sign that any authorities would ‘disturb’ the traders.
Kids hawking boiled groundnuts and men walking around flogging plastic products are also common sights in Yaounde, much like in every Nigerian city.
THANK YOU, MR PRESIDENT
Unlike most political leaders who have been in charge for long, pictures of Cameroon President Paul Biya are not spattered all over Yaounde. Or maybe I just missed them.
However, there is a striking banner in honour of Mr Biya, who has been in power since 1982, at the Stade Omnisport Ahmadou Ahidjo.
The huge banner covers the outside wall of a whole section of the stadium and it is put there simply to ‘thank’ the President for building and and rehabilitating stadiums set to be used for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations that Cameroon is scheduled to host.
The banner is so big and colourful that it is nigh on impossible to pass by that part of the stadium without taking a second – or third – look.
In truth if the Yaounde stadium is the standard for the other stadiums meant to host the 2019 AFCON, then Mr President has done quite well.
But isn’t he just doing his job as the country’s leader?
STREET NAMES ARE A RARITY
In seven days in Yaounde, I’m not sure I saw also saw one street name. I am a curious person and I like knowing the names of towns, districts, communities, streets as I pass through them.
But in Yaounde, finding street names is a rarity. You just tell the taxi the area you are going, he drops you off at the nearest junction and you find your way from there.
When I asked Fenando, the very helpful receptionist at the Phenix Hotel in the Titi Garage area I was staying, for the street name of the hotel, he had no answer. He didn’t know.
Fenando said his brother might have an explanation when he came in later. The brother too came up with nothing satisfactory but admitted that it was something the city should have.
For instance, if you were describing the hotel’s location to somebody, you would have to tell them to take a taxi to Titi Garage and tell the driver the hotel is close to Camp Sic, an estate that is the area’s major landmark.
LONG SEARCH FOR DAILY NEWSPAPERS
A journalist usually checks out the newspapers of any new country he visits to get information and also make comparisons with his own country’s media.
But getting any kind of fresh information from Cameroonian newspapers, at least in Yaounde, is a tough ask. Most of the papers are in French and weekly. Even the English and daily ones seem not to have fresh editions for Saturday and Sunday.
I wanted to do a story on the newspaper reactions to Nigeria’s 4-0 victory over Cameroon, which happened on Friday, 1 September. I had my doubts I would get fresh news but I still went in search of the papers on Saturday. It was futile. I went from small newsstands where they hang newspapers in trees to the big newsstands around Casino, a search that took the better part of two hours.
The only news I saw about the match were previews in the weekly papers and Friday papers. No paper had the Saturday edition, not even the Cameroon Tribune.
STRANGE HEAVY TRAFFIC JUST LIKE IN LAGOS
When you live in Lagos you are used to the crazy, unpredictable heavy traffic. Sometimes you feel you have escaped the madness when you are away for a few days. But I was not so lucky during my one week in Yaounde.
Of course you expect heavy traffic in a relatively big city like Yaounde, just not at odd hours. My first experience of really heavy Yaounde traffic was on my second night in the city, Wednesday last week, when there was a long line of vehicles, stretching for over one kilometre from Titi Garage to around Mvog Ada. My new friend Emmanuel had offered to show me a bit of the night life – I also wanted to get some food – and he warned that we might have to walk the whole stretch because of traffic.
I wondered why we didn’t take the ever-present taxis until we walked for a few metres and I saw the absolute standstill that went on for as long as the eyes could see. It was well past 10pm, in an area that normally should have a free flow of traffic.
After walking for about 25 minutes, we discovered the cause of the traffic: the three-way Esse Mobil junction where the drivers all wanted to pass at the same time, nobody cared about right of way. Even Emmanuel, who grew up in Yaounde and has lived in that area for ages, was confounded. It wasn’t usually that bad.
Then, on my way to the airport for my return journey to Lagos, I had a brief panic attack when we ran into a terrible gridlock. I thought I was going to miss my flight. It was just past 6am! My flight was 8.15pm and we left the hotel at around 6am for a journey that should take like 35, 40 minutes. There should not be any cause for worry about missing my flight. But then we started running into small pockets of traffic just a few minutes in and the driver, who spoke flawless English, started explaining he had to take short cuts to avoid even worse traffic. Why is this place like Lagos? Where are people going this early? The driver explained that it was first day of school and Yaounde was going to be like that all through the school year.
Despite all the short cuts, we still got stuck when we got to the one road that led straight to the airport and the driver, seeing my panic, had to squeeze his normal-sized car through into a narrow dirt road. We eventually made it to the airport in time, but only just.