Southern Cameroons War of Independence: Artistes, Bamenda Denizens Seek compensation for Reckless Property Destruction
Spee Arts Gallery and Cultural Centre, located opposite the Baptist Church and school in Nkwen Bamenda, in the troubled Once Independent State of Southern Cameroons, is one of numerous structures recently affected by road construction work under the supervision of the City Council. Financed by the World Bank, the ongoing road expansion project is one of several initiatives taken by the mainly Francophone-led government in Yaounde to try and regain the local population’s support against the war against pro-independence movements in the region.
The company contracted to execute the job went on a rampant demolition of building along the road as directed by the City Council without a duly elaborated compensation scheme in agreement with the landowners. This has resulted in generalized anger, protests, and an avalanche of legal problems. Among the concerned citizens seeking redress is the management of the Spee Arts Center. They are demanding compensation commensurate to the damage incurred to redesign the centre’s structure or better still that they be rehabilitated and relocated to another area.
One of the exhibition rooms at the Arts Centre
Bamenda denizens have gone the more enraged because after destroying people's houses and properties in the name of enlarging the roads, the works have suddenly come to a halt with many gnashing their teeth in anguish. Authorities blame the halt in works on claims that some lawyers filed complaints to the world bank that the owners of most destroyed properties had not been compensated. These complaints, the Minister of Public Works, Emmanuel Nganou Djoumessi said on the national broadcaster, the Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV) recently, forced the world bank to suspend funding for the project until such cases are resolved.
Artistes invited to discuss the future of the Spee Arts Centre recently in Bamenda resolved that they will only be calm if the City Council paid them compensation enough to design a new structure or relocate them to a new acceptable site. The artists emphasized that financial compensation would enable them to restructure the Centre and give it a new facelift.
One of the paintings left behind by Nzante
The Spee Arts Gallery and Cultural Centre was founded in 1985 by a Bamenda-based Artiste, Nzante Spee Sunday. He was an artist/painter/musician of international renown, now of blessed memory. The Center was a source of livelihood for most artists and musicians as well as writers in search of inspiration. Nzante Tracey, the late Founder’s son is also an artist/painter who took after the father and was managed to keep the Centre buoyant.
One of the original masterpiece paintings of late Nzante Spee
Tracey told Timescape Magazine that the Spee Arts Centre is a cultural heritage which should be protected, whatever the circumstances. He said the City Council authorities had not said anything regarding compensation for the destruction, reason why artistes like others and himself who make use of the Centre daily decided to meet and chart a way forward on how they could best preserve “Our cultural heritage,” and concluded on the two options.
“This Centre was put in place by my father when he came back from France after winning an award. It has since then continued to serve as home to many artists, who come here daily to paint, compose, exhibit, and expose their works of art, beef up their talents and connect with the many tourists who visit always. We are not against the construction of the roads or development, but we think and believe it is the responsibility of the Council to protect the cultural heritage of this city,” Tracey said.
Nzante Tracey, the late Founder’s Son is also an artist and painter who took after the Father
He lamented that “Nothing concrete has been said about compensation, yet the Centre has been trimmed. I am even sure that if not for the graves in front of the building they would have brought down the entire structure. All we want is for the City Council to either relocate the Centre or compensate us so that we can do so ourselves”.
The artists have also expressed fears that with the City Council planning on extending the width of the roads beyond the World Bank stipulations from 16 to 30 metres, the whole structure may be brought down.
“I feel like it is the graves holding them back,” Tracey stressed.