Finding a common ground for a social movement is essential to collective action, hence, solidarity between those directly affected by the issue at hand (i.e. not having access to pipe borne water) becomes increasingly important as the movement grows. Herein, I will describe a story, that surrounds the idea of welcoming solidarity as a means to promote collective action within a group of five villages in an isolated area of Cameroon, who are struggling to meet their basic need of access to clean water.
In Cameroon, there is a common phrase “we are together” or “nous sommes ensemble” used in the Anglophone and Francophone regions respectively, to ensure togetherness in any occasion where it is seen as necessary. Optimistically, this translates into working together to face the reality of the problems the villages face on a daily basis, like no access to clean water, and solidarity amongst all the villages for this common concern can shine through. However, throughout this narrative, we find a disjointed reality, where people should be working together towards their development goals, but instead the area has shown disorganization and division amid the populace.
Hereafter, I will be discussing the challenges and opportunities of bringing water to five major villages in the Bakossi area, all under the Kupe-Muanenguba Division: Ebasse-Bajoh (where the water catchment is already installed), Mekumme, Mbensok, Mwedimme-Bajoh, and Ekanjo-Bajoh. Among other major actors involved we have the international/U.S.-based organization and NGO Fat Pipe, The Water Collective, respectively; a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in Bangem working in association with C.A.D., Community Action for Development (a local NGO); the French NGO Aquassistance; the international company Guiness Cameroon; and B.R.D.A., the Bajoh Rural Development Association. Given all of the actors that are currently involved there are naturally a variety of interests at stake, but the central issue continues to be water.
Those who are engaged in the issue have been struggling to gain attention and support (i.e. funding) from the government, however, since the funding is entirely derived from international funders, the lack of support from the government has left the issue in the hands of intermediaries and the traditional leaders from the various villages. Thus, the latter group has become the central actor in this story, while the former group is now the major link connecting international funders to the work that is being done on the ground.
The original problem was that two separate water projects were simultaneously taking place in neighboring villages, which is a massive waste of resources. The first project started because a dynamic student wrote a proposal to the Water Collective to request funding to install a catchment system in Ekanjo-Bajoh in order to deliver water to this village and its primary and secondary school, as well as its local health center. The NGO approved the proposal and gave its initial funding to begin the water project; and the national NGO C.E.R.U.T. (the Centre for Environment and Rural Transportation) was put in charge of conducting the feasibility study for the catchment. However, their study failed to state there was another water project already in place in the neighboring village, Ebasse-Bajoh (funded by Fat Pipe). Soon thereafter, the previous P.C.V. in Bangem and the NGO C.A.D. became aware of the inefficiency of having two separate projects and, thus, brought it to the attention of all of the funding entities involved. Rather than having the water flow to one village by the time the project culminated and one village receive all of the funding, at this point, the projects would be unified and handed over to be administrated by the B.R.D.A. Henceforth, the initial inter-village rivalries begun, giving way to a “domino-effect” of rivalry against the efforts of C.A.D., P.C. and the B.R.D.A. amongst the population of the Ekanjo village.
After a third set of funding came from the Water Collective for the newly unified water project, Guiness International worked alongside the NGO to provide technical assistance. Also, throughout last year’s rainy season, the previous P.C.V. and the Director of C.A.D. managed to transport the pipes into the village. It became a nightmare to do so since the truck used for the transportation of the materials to the village, was constantly stalled by the muddy roads. Much of the administrative work would now be done by the B.R.D.A., but the buying of materials, the finding a driver to venture onto the roads and the assessment of what materials and manual labor were still in need, were done by the P.C.V. and C.A.D. Having them act as the intermediaries was also a means by which to increase transparency and communication with the funding partners in terms of the expenditures and work being done in the villages.
After the two projects were joined, sustained interaction was promoted by e-mailing everyone involved and it became essential to create a sense of clarity and ideal exchange of ideas between two countries and the role each actor was expected to play. Nevertheless, throughout this preliminary process, a key component of initiating collective action was still absent, solidarity amongst those villages involved, despite the fact that most of the people engaged in developing the project were aware of their common goal and intention. Presently, the movement is at a stage where everyone is expected to continue to enact their role throughout the progression of the project, while enabling the communities concerned to join in acknowledging the common purpose as a means to mobilize “ensemble” (together in French).
As of now, a number of new projects are arising as the project continues to expand. For instance, Aquassistance, a French-based NGO, has conducted a water quality assessment and a feasibility study on the impacts of the current water system for surrounding villages. Furthermore, they are interested in work that is closely linked to our goals as P.C.V.’s. We will be adding our knowledge, alongside that of C.A.D., to conduct trainings on health/sanitation and environmental awareness for the villages involved. Also, the Water Collective is ever present in enabling this project to succeed and is asking that we conduct surveys, on-the-ground, to specify the problems these villages face with regards to their current use of water and its accessibility to further assess their impact after the project has concluded. Moreover, we have gotten more funding for pipes, and, after a treacherous ride transporting them, we have been struggling to now relocate them from Bangem into the villages before the rainy season really begins.
Two villages that have always been supportive, Mwedimme and Mekume, have expressed the togetherness explained earlier, thus making the process a bit easier in some areas. Not withstanding, although the support from the Ekanjo-Bajoh population begun somewhat hesitantly, recently we found supporters like Principal of a secondary school and, now, the Priest of the Presbyterian church. He stated after holding a sermon in the village and promoting togetherness for this project rather than petty rivalries, to attain the development they need and desire, some villagers expressed remorse. Also, the Chief vowed to gather the village for a meeting to rekindle ideas of how they can help move the project forward rather than hinder its progress. This incredible support is slowly bringing the necessary cohesiveness to advance even with the normal difficulties of poor road conditions and a general lack of governmental support.
The hope is that once clean water reaches all five villages, the population will be aware of the importance of having this resource at their disposal, and mobilization to protect it will come as management committees are created. The Division representing these villages is known to have major difficulties standing collectively to file requests to the government based on their needs. Therefore, it is essential that key national/local actors like the B.R.D.A. and C.A.D. demonstrate how working cohesively for a common purpose, like that of delivering clean water to these isolated villages, can actually bring about the development they deserve as human beings and enhance the livelihood of future generations even when the government is not partaking in the efforts. Since government agencies have played a small role in carrying out this project, they will likely choose to become involved only once the success rate of the project increases and the entities involved express togetherness. Thus, mostly through resource mobilization and collective action can the villages take advantage of some of the political opportunities available in order to enhance their collective voice for future action and policy framing.