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Fire Ravages Douala Central Market 

By Joe Dinga Pefok

A fire incident that sparked off at the Douala Central Market in the evening of December 15 has ravaged a large part of the market.

The fire is said to have razed the market, which is considered the biggest in Cameroon and in the Central African Sub-region. The real cause of the fire is not known, though most traders suspect a short circuit. Traders who turned up in the morning of December 16 discovered that the entire market had been cordoned off from the public, by a combined troop.

In a press briefing following the incident, the Government Delegate to the Douala City Council, Dr Fritz Ntone Ntone, said he could not immediately put a figure on the number of stalls that were ravaged. He talked of dozens of stalls having been reduced to ashes. There was fortunately no lost of lives, though a total of four fire fighters collapsed due to the heat and thick smoke, said Dr. Ntone Ntone. They were rushed to the hospital.

Several dozens of elements of security forces were deployed to the scene to assist persons in difficulties and to protect the remaining property in the market. The security forces also chased away some unscrupulous people who tried to loot property. A number of looters reportedly sustained injuries as they tried to flee from law enforcement officers. According to the Government Delegate, four supposed looters were arrested and detained. 

Market Closed

Meantime, the Government Delegate has issued a communiqué closing down the market. He also said measures would be taken to secure the goods left in the market.

Poor Management

Of late, the Douala Central Market has suffered from several fire incidents. Some accuse the electricity company, AES-SONEL, that disconnected electricity from the market, due to accumulated unpaid bills.

A few weeks ago, dozens of traders at the market staged a protest march to the Wouri SDO’s office, to complain about growing insecurity following incessant burgling of stalls at night. They said the night watchmen were old and often sleep, so deep, at night. The traders said the franchise holders preferred to maintain the old men, because they were willing to accept very low pay packages.

The Wouri SDO, Barnard Okalia Bilai, and the Government Delegate to the Douala City Council, Fritz Ntone Ntone, have for a couple of months now been at loggerheads over the poor management of the Douala Central Market by franchise holders put there by the Government Delegate. Attempts by the Wouri SDO to set up a new management committee for the market was resisted by the Government Delegate.

The manager of one of the franchise holdings at the market was arrested for extorting money from some traders. Instead of FCFA 360.000 that was officially fixed for each trader to pay for some 500 stalls that were renovated by the Douala City Council, the franchise holding demanded that the traders each pay FCFA 1.2 million, or lose the stalls. He is presently in detention at the New Bell Prison.

Commission Of Inquiry

Wouri SDO, Bernard Okalia Bilai, who visited the disaster site, announced the creation of a crisis management committee, with himself as Chairman. The committee held its first meeting at the SDO`s office in the morning of December 16.

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