Bakossi Tribe in Cameroon – BACDA, working for its empowerment and development

By Denise Nanni and Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following our interview with Dr. Ekomenzoge Metuge of the foundation BACDA caring about the development and empowerment of the Bakossi people, living on the western and eastern slopes of Mount Mwanenguba and Mount Kupe in the Bakossi Mountains of Cameroon.
 1What are the reasons that brought to the foundation of BACDA-NRW (BACDA Germany) and what are its activities?
Bakossi Cultural and Develpment Association — North Rhine-Westphalia and BACDA Germany visions are promotion of our Bakossi cultural heritage, mutual assistance, development of our communities, where people, regardless of the social and political divides, come together for mutual benefit, living in peaceful co-existence.
BACDA – NRW or BACDA Germany works to reduce poverty, injustice and inequality and to further economic and social development in partnership with people and communities throughout the Bakossi Land in Cameroon. BACDA does this by sharing and developing skills and ideas, facilitating organisational and social change and building awareness of development issues. Promote educational programmes and give assistance to schools and colleges in the Bakossi Land.
Self-determination: We value the right of people and communities to determine and develop their own future.
Empowerment: We are committed to collective and individual empowerment.
Partnership: We believe that working in partnership is central to effective economic, social and organisational development within Europe and local organisations back in Cameroon.
1.       Respond and adapt to development challenges in the Bakossi Land
2.      Promote and protect the rights of disadvantaged communities.
3.      Support our partners to engage in policy development and debates in line with our shared vision and values.
4.      Run increasingly effective programmes and continually improve in all areas of our work.
5.      Provide the neccessary support or assistance to our communities in need of help.
6.      Promote gender mainstream
7.      Provide assistance to schools and colleges in our Bakossi land.
Our Target Audience
1.       Rural and Urban Poor
2.      Women
3.      Children and Youths
4.      Retrenched & Retired Workers
Who are the Bakossi people?
The Bakossi tribe is said to have been founded by a man called Ngoe. He was a hunter. He got married to a wife by name Sumediang. Their children founded the various clans not only in Kupe Muanenguba Division but also in some parts of Meme and Mungo Divisions. It is believed he was buried at Mwekan.
The Bakossi tribe is an affluent group of people made up of a myriad of families and clans, all of whom share a common ancestry and culture. Bakossiland shares boundaries with our cousins the Arbors, Mbohs, Bassosis, Bafaws, and is under the administrative division of Kupe-Muanenguba of the South West Region, and parts of the Littoral Region. Fertile, rich and shrouded in no small mystery, our land has great mountains, rivers, lakes and dense forests. The Kupe Muaneguba range, the twin lakes on Muanenguba and the gentle cool breeze that have washed them over the ages are the source of many a great story, song, and native as well as modern medicines.
The Bakossi tribe is found in the Tombel, Bangem, part of Nguti Sub Divisions of Kupe Muanenguba Division in the South West Region and part of the Moungo  Division of the Littoral Region.
The altitude ranges from 200 to 2,396 meters above sea level. The area has two outstanding mountains, namely, Mount Kupe (2,050meters) and Mount Muanenguba (2,396 meters). These mountains are of volcanic origin. In fact, they are extinct volcanoes.
The slopes of these mountains are made up of mainly fertile volcanic soils, which are good for the cultivation of a wide range of crops, and sustain a high dense tropical forest rich in both flora and fauna.
Generally, the Bakossi land is of low gradient, punctuated with a few ridges and hills, whose valleys had been deepened by run-off. The two sub divisions are drained by a few rivers, with River Mungo being the biggest and longest. There are a number of crater lakes, including the Muanenguba twin lakes and, Lake Bemweh, which are a very significant tourist attraction.
Climate and vegetation
The Bakossi land, like most areas in the South West Province, has two distinct seasons: the dry season, which runs from November to March, and the rainy season, which stretches from April to October. The rainfall is high, with a yearly average of about 3,000 mm, spread over an average of over 150 rainy days.
The maximum temperature is about 30oC and the Minimum is about 10oC on the slopes of Mount Muanenguba. The climate is warm in the lower altitude areas of Tombel and some parts of Bangem Sub Divisions. In high-altitude areas such as Nyasoso in Tombel Sub Division and most of Bangem Sub Division, it is generally cold. These climatic variations create a favourable environment for growing a wide range of crops and rearing almost all types of domestic animals.
The Bakossi land in Tombel Sub Division, Nguti Sub Division and most of Bangem Sub Division is dominated by dense equatorial forest. There is still a large amount of virgin forest mostly on the slopes of Mount Kupe and the plains of Bangem Sub Division. Most of the forests are protected as reserves, such as the Mount Kupe, Etam and Ekanjo Bajoh–Epen forest reserves.
Some parts of the forests have been transformed into industrial plantations and small-scale farms. The Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC) operates the biggest agricultural plantation complex in the area, occupying vast expanses of land. There is extensive timber exploitation from these forests by logging companies. As a result, a timber processing company was established in Etam, but it was recently moved to another location. Despite the intensive logging, Bakossi land still has a huge potential for timber exploitation. However, the forests offer very little direct economic benefits to the inhabitants.
In some parts of Bangem Sub Division, the Bakossi land lies on the leeward slope of the Muanenguba Mountain. The vegetation here is mainly savanna and stretches to the Melong area in the Littoral Province. It is used for cattle rearing by mostly Bororo herdsmen
Most soils in the Bakossi land are naturally rich. The soils on the slopes of Mounts Kupe and Muanenguba are very fertile volcanic soils, which are suitable for the cultivation of a
wide range of both cash and food crops. In some places, they are interrupted with sandy, clay, loam and sedimentary soils which are also very good for crop production.
Less than 250,000 people live in the Bakossi land, with a significant number from the North West and West Provinces of Cameroon and from Nigeria. The main occupation of the inhabitants is farming, as many take advantage of the fertile soils and good climate. Over 80% of the population is involved in agriculture and agriculture-related activities.
Apart from teaching and trading, there are hardly any other job opportunities, hence the high rate of youth migration to towns and cities in search of white collar jobs. With the onset of the economic crisis in the 90s and the fall in the prices of agricultural produce on the world market, many youths left the villages. It is, therefore, not surprising today to find some quasi-ghost villages in Bakossi land. The rural exodus has left most of the villages with an ageing population.
The settlement pattern is compact, and villages are ruled by chiefs. Chieftaincy is not elective but inherited, principally by first sons. Polygamy is on the decline in favour of monogamy because of modernization, education, economic realities and the increasing adoption of Christian values. This therefore has a direct impact on the population growth. The population of the Bakossi people has been experiencing a huge downward trend over the years, with the attendant political, economic and social consequences.
What are the issues and challenges that Bakossi people face in their land?
The region is handicapped by a poor road network. The main roads that are passable most of the year are the Kumba–Tombel, Tombel-Bangem, Tombel-Loum, Bangem-Melong and Ebonji-Ngombu-aku roads, thanks to regular maintenance work carried out on some of them by the South West Development Authority (SOWEDA). Otherwise, most of the roads are always in a deplorable state, especially during the rainy season. Some parts of the region, especially in Ekanjoh Bajoh, Epen, Ekona Mombo, and the western Bakossi area are landlocked. With the opening and contraction of the Nguti – Bangem Road, villages like New Konye, Babibok, Bemin, Ekanjoh Bajoh, and many more will be accessable though only during the dry season.
Due to the poor state of roads, the movement of people, goods and services is rendered difficult and the extension of government and non-governmental services to the hinterland is hampered, while unscrupulous middle men and women with vehicles that can ply the roads rip off farmers. Other difficulties associated with the absence of good roads in the Bakossi land include, but are not limited to, poor prices for agricultural products, low productivity, disincentive to investment, rural-urban migration, loss of human lives, and disincentive to travel to the region.
Potable Water Supply
Only a few towns and villages have pipe-borne water. Communities rely on streams, rivers, springs and rainfall for water supply. Women and girls have to walk long distances to fetch water which is time consuming and labour intensive. Furthermore, there is high prevalence of water borne diseases in these communities due to contamination of water sources. BACDA in this regard donated funded part of  the Muebah water project in Bangem area.
Rural Electrification
Only Tombel, Nyasoso, Ngombu-aku, Muabong and Bangem are electrified. More than 80% of the rural communities do not have access to electricity supply. This is one of the factors of rural-urban migration by youths.
Health infrastructure
The region has very few health centres and only four hospitals. Two Government hospitals in Tombel and Bangem and two mission hospitals in Nyasoso and Baseng. Most of the health centres, especially in the rural areas, have dilapidated structures. They are insufficiently staffed and equipped. Most often, community members carry patients on their backs to the nearest district hospitals for treatment; sometimes, some patients die on the way due to bad roads.
Movement to within and from Bakossi land is by road. The Mungo River is navigable for most of its length. There are more than 600 km of un-tarred roads in Bakossi land but no km of tarred road and the bulk of them are in a poor state most of the year. Besides, many villages are not linked by road. For example, to get to western Bakossi from Tombel, one has to go through Konye in Meme Division. The government just began the construction of Nguti – Bangem road.
Besides the poor road communication, half Bakossi land does not have any telecommunication facilities i.e. fix telephone, fax lines. Thanks to the new world of mobile communication. Most part of the Bakossi land now have network for mobile phone and 3G internet. Even if these facilities were to be available, their usage will be restricted because electricity is supplied to only 20% of the population. Most people use generators.
Poor Banking and Financial Systems
There are just two savings and loans. One in Tombel and the other in Bangem, in Bakossi land. This is understandable because the area is principally rural. However, limited financial transactions are handled by the Post Office Savings Bank, the Credit Union and the government treasury for matters relating to the government. Cooperative banking is still very timidly practised, perhaps because the people have lost faith in the cooperatives and credit union. There are also small thrifts-and-loans groups in some areas while hoarding is still widely practised.
None Existence of Industries
Since the closure of the timber plant at Etam that processed wood to some extent, Bakossi land does not boast of a single industry anymore.
In what ways do you promote community empowerment?
Community-Based Institutions
The region has three main rural councils (Tombel, Nguti and Bangem rural councils). Traditional councils are found in almost all the villages in the Bakossi land. There are a few non-governmental organisations (Center for the Environment and Rural Transformation CERUT), common initiative groups and local associations.
We work with these community-based institutions to promoter community development activities. In the past they organised periodic community labour, to maintain and clean roads, and other community activities. Today, most communities in the region have developed the dependency syndrome, and there is hardly any community mobilisation for effective community work.
Culture Activities
Bakossi land is endowed with a rich cultural diversity. The people are artistic in dancing, singing and handicraft. Among the very exciting and scintillating dances are Mal, Ebenzu, Nkolenge, Ngomelong, Club dance, Asiko (with stilts), and Ngoneh  The people are beautiful singers and marvellous composers of songs in their local language and in English. Choral festivals and competitions (when they do hold) provide an opportunity to admire the art.
BACDA annually organises cultural activities in Germany and promise cultural activities back home in Cameroon. This is helping to keep the culture of the people alive.
Although the variety of bakossi spoken differs from one part of the region to another, speakers understand themselves effortlessly. They share a common culture, which can be displayed during birth, marriage and funeral ceremonies, for example.
The government has opened many primary and secondary schools in Bakossi land, thereby improving the rate of school attendance in the area. There is also a Teachers Training College in Bagem. Indeed, most , villages now have at least a primary school. However, Bakossi land has no institution of higher learning.
The opening of many schools has not been matched with adequate infrastructure. For instance, many primary schools do not have classroom buildings. Classes are held in dilapidated or abandoned buildings and even under trees. Pupils are exposed to poor weather conditions and their performances are consequently affected. Some schools are virtually constructed by parents, in spite of their meagre resources. In addition, teachers are few, so parents employ unqualified staff under the parent-teacher association (PTA). This has a negative impact on the performance of students and pupils.
BACDA Germany has been in support of infrastructures to some secondary schools in the region. Donating computers and chairs for students and even materials to replace old school buildings, in Bangem, Tombel and Nguti areas
Due to the favourable climatic conditions and the very fertile soils, the region can support a wide range of crops, domestic animals and birds.
Food crops: Some of the food crops cultivated in the area are plantains, cocoyams, maize, sweet yams, cassava, pepper, okra, beans and bananas. This region is the highest producer of plantains in the country and the Mille 20 Market in Tombel Sub Division the biggest plantain market in the central African region. Other crops that do well in the region but are not widely cultivated are potatoes, egusi, and upland rice. Vegetable is very rudimentary.
Export crops: The following cash crops are grown: cocoa, coffee, oil palm, rubber, and tea. The Bajoh clan is the highest producer of cocoa in the Bangem Sub Division while Ngusi and Ebonji areas are the highest in Tombel Sub Division and Nogomadeba, Badun ,Mungo Ndoi and Babibok areas are the highest in the Nguti Sub Division. With regards to coffee production in the Bakossi land, the Nninong and Elong clan are the highest. Other export crops with production potential are green beans and strawberry and fruits such as mangoes, guava, cola nuts and avocado.    
Livestock rearing
In Bakossi land, there is small-scale rearing of pigs, goats, sheep, cows, horses and poultry,mainly as a form of family savings and for ceremonies. Commercial enterprises are non-existent except in the case of the Bororo who rear cows for money in the Muanenguba Mountain region. The native population stopped rearing cattle, in particular the short-horned species known locally as the “muturu”. Increasingly, the culture of rearing goats and sheep is dying out, as people now farm close to their homes, and the local population is not equipped with alternative skills for rearing animals, not least of which is the complementary relationship between food crop production and animal rearing.
The development of agriculture and livestock in Bakossi land is hampered by a number of difficulties, including a poor and largely impracticable road network, low prices of agricultural produce, small farm sizes, lack of agricultural inputs and improved seedlings, substantial post-harvest losses, lack of storage and processing facilities, ageing farms and farming population, and poor farming practices. BACDA is now trying to group small farmers in villages and lobbying for funds so that these communities can be schooled and trained in the area of livestock forming. We are still waiting to read from some of the funding organisations we submitted proposals to them.
What activities do you implement in regards to gender issues?
Youth and Gender
Many youths are unemployed. This gives room to a high rate of juvenile delinquency. When the country was hit by an economic crisis in the 1990s and the prices of export crops such as cocoa and coffee plummeted, most of the youth migrated to urban areas in search of greener pastures, leaving behind near-ghost villages for the elderly.
Over many decades, there has been mounting global cohort on women empowerment and gender equality and noticeable theories, frameworks and approaches to gender and development are being developed. In response to gender disparity and women marginalisation, BACDA Germany is making strides in mainstreaming gender and promoting equality. In partnership with some local NGO´s like Centre for Environment and Rural Transformation (CERUT), Limbe in Cameroon, we lobby for the promotion of small loans for young women between 14 to 25 years of age, to help them set up small business. We have  successfully help women set up common initiative groups or small village help groups for the development and promotion of social capital and some communities women’s groups have achieved their goals whilst in others it is still on-going process.
We plan to open a vocational training centre enhance skill development for drop out of school in the Bangem area if we successfully secure funding. 
Do you cooperate with local authorities and institutions? If yes, how?
As did mention above, we cooperate with local national NGOs to drive development in our communities. We have been in partnership in community development activities with CERUT Limbe and other national NGOs. Still searching for international NGOs to cooperate with in all areas of economic development.