Communities Struggle for Fair Compensation in Cameroon

Large-scale development projects destroy property and livelihoods

By Jaff Bamenjo with contributions from Prosper Kouayep  and Jacques Bile | RELUFA, Joining Hands Cameroon

Large-scale development projects are pushing Bagyeli Pygmy peoples out of the forests on which they depend for their livelihoods. Photo by Emile (2017), RELUFA.

Since 2000, large-scale development projects have been on the rise in Cameroon. The implementation of oil pipeline, road , port infrastructure  and agribusiness projects have resulted in the destruction of property and livelihoods requiring some form of compensation for losses.

There are existing laws and regulations for managing compensation for losses, however, the implementation of those laws and regulations falls short of appropriately compensating communities affected by these projects.

The Joining Hands Network in Cameroon, RELUFA, has for the past several years, been working to confront the challenges faced by local communities affected by large-scale development projects.

One such project is the Chad Cameroon oil pipeline, an oil project that involved the drilling of oil wells in southern Chad and the construction of a 650-mile pipeline from Chad through Cameroon to the Atlantic Ocean.

Monitoring the Chad Cameroon oil pipeline project permitted RELUFA to work closely with over 200 villages affected by this project and advocate for the restoration of their rights and proper compensation.

Some indigenous Bagyli communities in the Ocean Department in the South Region of Cameroon were forced to leave their villages and were relocated to other areas due to the construction of the pipeline. As a result, they lost access to the forest resources that sustained their livelihoods. Through RELUFA’s advocacy work, some Bagyli communities have seen their rights restored and livelihood projects financed in compensation for the unintended impacts of the project. For example, Cocoa farms were financed for some families and will serve as a source of income for them.

As a part of the Chad Cameroon oil pipeline project, a marine pipeline was built in the Atlantic coastal town of Kribi to transport oil to a floating storage offloading vessel. The fishermen in Kribi have benefitted from various forms of compensation including the building of a refrigerated warehouse for fish storage and preservation. This resulted from the complaint filed against the oil company by RELUFA and a negotiated agreement between the fishermen and the company.

Such compensation wins were possible because the Chad Cameroon oil pipeline project was subject to strict guidelines and policies due to the involvement of the World Bank. However, current large-scale development projects do not follow such strict frameworks.

Generally, to be eligible for any compensation, the affected individual must prove that he or she has suffered direct, material and verifiable damage. Unfortunately, affected individuals often don’t have access to an accurate evaluation of their property value and therefore have difficulty obtaining fair compensation for their losses. Administrative authorities often fail to attribute the real or cultural value attached to the loss. Compensation for property lost should be calculated through the proper assessment of value and the appropriate assessment of replacement costs.

Many of these large-scale development projects and their compensation issues have led to conflicts in communities.

RELUFA has, this year, engaged in analyzing the existing law on compensation to highlight the gaps that should be corrected, as well as facilitated a dialogue between existing large-scale investors and local communities to find ways to work towards a peaceful co-existence.

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