“Live a day as it comes to you” is the mantra for the middle class citizens and have-nots in Cameroon’s capital with endless struggles to maintain a good home and provide food for a hungry family.
It is a very dull weather at the Obilli neighbourhood in Yaounde, one of the better known for harbouring mostly Anglophones in the political capital, and we met Raphael, a native from Ndop in the Northwest Region.
In our discussion with Raph as he likes to be called, he told us that he has been in Yaounde for over 10 years and has lived in over 4 different houses during this period. Raph initially came to Yaounde as a bike rider but now works as a welder in Mvog-bi.
“I came to Yaounde through my friend in 2010. Then we were renting together in a single-room house in Obili. Before then, I thought we were living from hand to mouth, but when I look back, I consider them as our rainy days because now, it’s a complete hell having to pay for a house in Yaounde,” Raph said.
“I remember we paid a room in Obilli for 10,000FCFA. As of now (chuckles) for a ‘Studio house’ (One room, kitchen and parlour), one has to pay at least 35,000 – 40,000FCFA meanwhile it was easier to live in a comfortable self-contained studio in Yaounde with just over 25,000FCFA before.”
With the weather conditions in Yaounde now very frequently rainy, Raphael revealed to us that his neighbourhood is almost hellish and very uncomfortable.
“In the house where I rent, no tenant has exceeded two years in it. The conditions are extremely very horrible. We have just one common toilet which is used by all the tenants in the compound (about 7 tenants). The toilet is getting filled up and is almost always very nasty with a highly repugnant stench. Sometimes when I receive visitors, I get very nervous whenever they ask to use the toilet because I know how horrible the place is,” Raph lamented.
“…The funny thing is that despite the exorbitant amounts we pay every month as rents, nothing is being done to rehabilitate these structures… let me not even get started on the leaking roofs and the squeaky ceiling, all in abominable conditions. It is horrible. I’m thinking of leaving this place myself. I just need to gather some more money. It is not easy but I have to try,” he weeps.
Managing a family amidst biting hardship
Just a few meters away, we met another Anglophone Cameroonian still in Obili. Sandrine (not her real name) is a primary school teacher with a family she takes care of. Just like Raph, Sandrine is a tenant in Obili, in an apartment which she had just moved into. Sandrine told us in our talk that only when she came to Yaounde did she realise the difference between both worlds in terms of living cost.
“I was in Bamenda with my family when the crisis began, and since I was a teacher, I had to move to Yaounde with my family. The amount of money that I spend monthly on rents alone doesn’t even allow my children and I to feed healthy on a daily basis… in Bamenda where I lived in my own house, I didn’t pay rents. So coming to the capital was where I had to start paying huge amounts on a monthly basis as rents. This has stressed me real bad,” she told us. “Some of my neighbours tell me that before in Yaounde, one could pay for a good apartment for 50,000FCFA. When I came here in search of a house, the least amount for a good family apartment was 75,000FCFA. There are many ordinary apartments even costlier but with very awful conditions,” she added.
Sandrine also has two children and two nieces with whom she lives. She explained to us that running the house, including paying for feeding and children’s transport cost to school has made her life a vicious cycle of unending suffering with nothing to show for it “when I deduct the money spent daily on transportation for the children and me, I realise that there is no possibility of saving even 10,000FCFA. Paying rents alone in a month takes more than 70% of what I earn… I haven’t even paid for the past two months and my landlady has already told me if I do not complete the payment by next month, she will issue me a quit notice”.
Sandrine told us that the frustrations she’s gone through in the hands of house owners is making her think twice about remaining in Yaounde or returning to Bamenda.
Why do rents keep going up in Yaounde?
In Yaounde getting a house to let is never the problem. Buildings are continuously being erected in every nook and cranny of the town, some habitable and others really deplorable.
Nevertheless, despite the growing number of homes in the capital, the cost of living in them keeps being very high and expensive for the average Cameroonian. We also tried contacting some landlords to talk to us and give us an insight on why rents are on a continuous upsurge to no avail.
However, in our talk with two tenants, to know their opinion on what could be responsible for the hikes in rents, the responses were quite intriguing and very logical too.
“When I got to my first studio house here in Yaounde, I paid 25,000FCFA per month for the house. After over 16 months, the landlord without any explanation told me he had decided to increase the rents by 10,000FCFA i.e 35,000FCFA. Fair enough, I thought that was okay so I paid on,” Raph told us.
“Four months later he again added 10,000FCFA more to the rent. That means I now had to pay in 45,000 FCFA from 25,000FCFA and he did all that without giving me any explanations… When I confronted him over the increment, he told me that I could leave if I could not meet up with the payments… I left two months later to another area.”
Anglophone Crisis at the forefront
When we posed the same question to Sandrine, she was straight in her response. To her, one of the major reasons why the rents have risen in recent times is due to the availability of tenants, made possible by the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, which has pushed more Anglophones into major cities, especially Yaounde and Douala.
“…Since I came to Yaounde in 2017, I have realised one thing which has been very common in houses on rent. My neighbours with whom I live in the same compound complained of a steady increment ever since Yaounde started witnessing a steady influx of Anglophones from the Northwest and the Southwest Regions… it gets even worst for Anglophones still looking for houses. The landlords know they are desperate and would do anything for a shelter no matter the slump it is found in or how broken and creaky the structure is,” she told us.
“There is also one reason which I can think of that has made the rents to go up. I can recall there was a time government had passed a law that landlords were going to be paying taxes to government. Many landlords used that opportunity then to increase tenant rents with the excuse that the state had made it law for landlords and landladies to pay in some revenues to the government,” Sandrine also told us.
Analytically, life in major cities in Cameroon for the middle class citizens and the have-nots is an everyday hustle and struggle for survival.
The battle for suitable accommodation for an average family in Yaounde is all there is. Citizens over the years have vented their frustrations over continuous efforts to frustrate them. With an average working Cameroonian earning just about 38,000FCFA monthly, the ambition becomes very limited and future very bleak for the industrious.
Many have equally made an issue with low cost houses that have been constructed by the state. In most cases, the occupants of these houses are well paid and comfortable civil servants, who make it a point to pass on the apartments to their relatives for as long as the cycle goes.