AFRICA: To Romain Crouzet and Mireille Etame, sustainable city is around the corner

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AFRICA: To Romain Crouzet and Mireille Etame, sustainable city is around the corner© Romain Crouzet

During the International Economic day of municipalities in Cameroon (JEICOM23) held in Cameroon from 1 to 3 June 2023, Romain Crouzet, Managing Director of the Paris-based Climate Chance association, and Mireille Etame, of the General Inspectorate in charge of technical issues of Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MINHDU), gave an exclusive interview to AFRIK 21. They talk about sustainable waste and biodiversity management, green mobility, access to drinking water and the development of clean energy - the major challenges facing the city of the future. Romain Crouzet and Mireille Etame also look back at the challenges of inclusive and sustainable housing a few months before the launch of the fifth Climate Chance Summit from 23 to 25 October 2023 in Yaoundé.

AFRIK21: The second edition of the International Economic day of municipalities in Cameroon (JEICOM23) was held from 1 to 3 June 2023 at the Congress Hall in Yaoundé, focusing on “food insecurity”. Do you think African cities are safe? If not, what adaptation or mitigation measures would you recommend to prevent such a situation?

Romain Crouzet: The problem should no longer be posed in the conditional tense, but in the present tense, because it is very real. The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken up food supply chains, and the war in Ukraine, which started in 2022, is also putting certain countries, particularly in Africa, in difficulty, since Kiev is a major supplier of wheat. Prices have soared in Egypt, for example. It is therefore important to emphasise the need to strengthen adaptation through local supplies and a mix of solutions adapted to different contexts. Dialogue is very important, which is why we are here at JEICOM23 to explore ways forward with all the stakeholders. So we need good planning adapted to the local level with the various stakeholders, in particular the indigenous communities, to arrive at a reasoned management of forest areas, for example, which can combine exploitation but also agroforestry.

AFRIK21: On 30 May 2023, a delegation from the Mouvement des Entreprises de France (MEDEF) was granted an audience at Cameroon’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MINHDU) on the sidelines of Jeicom23. Does this mean that you believe the development of partnerships is essential to support urban development? What other institutions, particularly donors, are supporting you in this process?

Mireille Etame: The issue of urban development is a costly one, and it has to be resolved by taking all the different sectors into account. Since Cameroon is in the final stages of decentralisation, we need to think about a multi-level approach that includes local authorities and the private sector. Indeed, with the multiple crises we are facing, it is no longer possible to rely solely on the “welfare state”, but to also reach out to other international economic partners, including Medef and international organisations. It is in this context that the Minister (Célestine Ketcha Courtès, editor’s note) recently received a delegation of commercial banks to discuss their contributions to urban development.

AFRIK21: Is it good to live in Yaoundé?

Mireille Etame: It’s good to live in Yaoundé, despite some negative aspects such as waste management and urban congestion. As you know, Yaoundé is the “city of seven hills” and civil engineers take this into account.

AFRIK21: One of the main challenges facing the city is housing. Housing in the city is an obstacle course, with the high cost of rents and the very scarcity of accommodation? Nearly 15 years after its launch (2009), has the government’s programme to build 10,000 social housing units, which was intended to remedy this situation, achieved its objective?

Mireille Etame: Today, the results are mixed, because the programme has had different fortunes. There was an initial programme aimed at the construction of 1,575 homes by local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), but there were difficulties, notably a lack of professionalism. On the other hand, there was another there was a Sino-Cameroonian cooperation program called the “Chinese program”, which was a success, particularly in Sangmélima and Bamenda, with the construction of several houses. At the same time, the Italian company Pizzarotti is continuing to build 10,000 social housing units in partnership with our government. It has to be said that this project has had to contend with resistance to change on the part of local people, who were not used to living together in a block (apartment blocks).

We discovered the challenge of co-ownership with these pilot phases and now we’re going to accelerate the initiatives.

AFRIK 21: The fifth Climate Chance Africa Summit will be held from 23 to 25 October 2023. It will be held in Yaoundé, Cameroon, on the theme of “Living in Africa in a sustainable and inclusive way”. AFRIK21 will be partnering the event. Why have you chosen Yaoundé and not another African capital? And what will be the highlights of the event?

Romain Crouzet: Over the last few years, we’ve chosen to focus on one main theme for our Summits. I think it’s more interesting to have a theme that’s not exclusive to the others. Last year, for example, it was mobility. This year, we responded to an invitation from Minister Célestine Ketcha Courtès (MINHDU), who for some years now, when she was head of the Network of Elected Women in Africa (REFELA), had been calling for a Climate Chance Summit in her country, Cameroon. So in October 2023, there will be lots of workshops and exhibitions on housing-related issues, with the participation of architects, town planners and other experts from all over Africa. The idea is not to impose models imported from outside. So we’re going to be talking about terracotta construction, wood construction, bamboo construction and perhaps also changing perceptions. There is currently a ten-storey wooden building next to our offices in Paris. And the whole thing, on the other hand, is built in a star shape around this central wooden concrete column, be it the beams, floors or pylons.

AFRIK 21: What do you think explains the quantitative and qualitative housing deficit in Africa? According to experts at the African Development Bank (AfDB), almost 90% of the urban population lives in informal housing.

Mireille Etame: There are several reasons for this, including security of tenure and the rural exodus. Cameroonians, especially schoolchildren, are also being made aware of energy efficiency, which is important for the development of eco-construction. We have carried out studies and there is even a Mission for the Promotion of Local Materials (MIPROMALO) based in Yaoundé.

AFRIK 21: These days it’s getting harder to get around our cities because of the intense economic activity. This naturally increases traffic jams and air pollution. In response to this situation, which is compounded by the lack, if not inadequacy, of mass public transport (trains and buses), Climate Chance has organised the 2022 Sustainable Mobility and Climate Week (SMDC) in Dakar, Senegal. What is your view of the urban transport system in Africa? What about electric mobility today?

Romain Crouzet: It’s a very thorny issue, given the rapid development of a number of metropolises on the continent. This requires fairly strong coordination at institutional level to attract investors, as is the case in Senegal, where the World Bank is supporting mobility. I also believe that the informal sector (motorbike taxis) is not sufficiently taken into account, nor is it subject to regulation or precise planning. Yet this sector has a huge share in many cities. As far as electric mobility is concerned, there is a need for international coordination, because the countries of the North also have a responsibility in that, for example, Europe has introduced very restrictive measures on air quality and anti-pollution standards for its vehicles. Kigali in Rwanda (and other cities in East Africa, editor’s note) with battery exchange stations for electric motorbikes.

AFRIK21: In 2022, Cameroon hosted the African Cup of Nations (CAN2021). Over the space of a few weeks, efforts were pooled to clean up the towns hosting the competition, notably Yaoundé in the centre, Garoua in the north, Limbé and Buea in the south-west and Bafoussam in the west. However, the proliferation of uncontrolled dumps and the use of single-use plastic remain a problem. Do you think your sanitation policy is effective?

Mireille Etame: There is always a pooling of efforts, because everyone has a role to play. The urban communities are responsible for collecting and transporting waste. Since 2019, we have been encouraging the arrondissement communes to stop storing rubbish bins on the main roads, and we’re also raising people’s awareness and getting them involved through a number of activities. There’s the National Clean Cities Competition, for example, which aims to bring about a paradigm shift in the area of liquid sanitation. Mindhu has a pilot project called “Green and Clean Cities” in four communes in Douala and Yaoundé to test the different phases of the chain: cleanliness, pre-collection, collection, transport, treatment, recovery and greening. Access to electricity and drinking water is the responsibility of the Ministry of Water and Energy (Minee). However, water points (boreholes) and biodigesters have been built as part of our Environmental and Social Management Plan (ESMP) projects. We have also matured a project with the French multinational Veolia and the Phoenix Environnement company to rehabilitate the Scan-Water stations, with a view to coupling them with solar energy.

AFRIK 21: In your opinion, which African city has a solid climate plan that is likely to boost its sustainable development?

Romain Crouzet: I don’t claim to know all the cities, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Obviously, there are some that have different and interesting initiatives. Kigali in Rwanda is taking concrete steps to reduce plastic waste and air pollution, notably by raising awareness among city dwellers and holding a car-free day every month.  There is also the municipality of Dakar in Senegal, which is making an effort to work with local non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Nothing is perfect in Africa, as elsewhere on the planet, and there is still a long way to go. In any case, we hope to see the sustainable city on the continent as soon as possible.

Interview by Benoit-Ivan Wansi

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