Photo: Reuters/Yves Herman. 16 April 2019.
Notre Dame. There is fire in the Metropolis. Like the documentary reads, ‘Paris is burning’. A great tragedy. Our Lady. Our Cathedral. Notre Dame. That special Gothic architecture. The artistic masterpiece of Our ancestors – nos ancêtres – Les Gaulois. Triste. Tristesse. Tragic. Hundreds of millions of euros pledged to rebuild this global jewel, symbol and icon. A great effort. Great generosity and kindness. Remarkable human spirit. See Our Cathedral. Au feu, les pompiers!
In August 2017, more than half a dozen schools in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions were torched in just one week, the result of a deepening crisis in the region that continues to ravage infrastructure, farms, lives, entire villages, relationships, communities and futures. On Thursday November 16 2017, a large fire ravaged through Cameroon’s National Assembly in Yaoundé. Hundreds of firefighters battled the late night fire and by daybreak, four of the seven floors had been consumed by the blaze, with no human injuries. In Cameroon’s Far North region, Newspaper L’oeil du Sahel reports that on Monday, January 21, 2019 a hundred houses were set on fire in the locality of Aschigachia. On February 11th this year, several patients were burnt alive after being trapped in the facility and considerable damage done to infrastructure as fire consumed the Kumba District hospital in Cameroon’s South West region.
As if this is not enough, for some traders, the past few months have been even more devastating. Many were forced to look on as their shops burnt to ashes in some of the biggest markets in Bamenda, Douala and Yaounde. In February 2016, at least 15 shops selling basic commodities were consumed by flames in the Ndokoti market in Bassa, Douala. In April 2017, 50 shops were destroyed by fire in the Limbe market. In August 2017, a massive fire burned down more than 100 shops in the Yaoundé Central Market, the capital’s largest shopping area. In June 2018, another fire burnt down one shop in the same market contrary to rumours of a total collapse. In December 2017, 10 shops were completed razed to ashes by fire in the Bonamoussadi Market in Douala, one of the biggest markets in the Littoral region. In August 2018, fire caused significant damage to the same market, totally consuming an estimated radius of 1,200 m2 in a manner making difficult to determine the number of shops destroyed. In November 2018, a portion of the Bamenda food market in the Northwest region was completely destroyed by a third fire outbreak in a period of less that 2 years. At 3 am on March 4, 2019, fire broke out in the textile section of the Elig Edzoa Market in the Yaoundé destroying about 200 shops. On 15th March 2019, the second fire in less than a month and the 33rd in 12 years broke out in Marché Congo, Douala, destroying about 230 shops.
These market fires each time activates memories of the November 2005 incident in the South West region in which 500 stalls were gutted by fire in the Kumba Main Market, destroying an estimated value of FCFA 20 billion. Just the other day, 3 offices of the Centre Regional Delegation of the Ministry of Public Works in Yaounde were ravaged to ashes by fire. In the destabilised areas, reports of burnt bodies, torched houses, fire ravaged villages, schools, buildings and schools trickle in every day. I will leave it at that! Inferno! This Cathedral, shall we rebuild? And, like you I think – yes, these are not comparable. Yes, the terms of recognition are different. Notre Cathedral. Our very own Cathedral. We shall rebuild! Shall we? Au feu, les pompiers!
Divine Fuh is an anthropologist and Head of Publications and Dissemination at the Council for the Development for Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA). He is on secondment at CODESRIA from the University of Cape Town, where he is a lecturer in Social Anthropology. His research addresses questions related to youth, urbanity and the politics of suffering and smiling.