The Curious Case of National Parks Still in Hiding

Mwalimu Johnnie MacViban

Many tourists are conversant with the Waza National Park of the Far North Region of Cameroon, yet, very few people know about the Bouba Ndjida National Park hidden somewhere in the Mayo Rey division of the North Region situated some 283 km south east of Garoua. The reserve is lost in the countryside with all kinds of wildlife, and, when there, one is cutoff completely from the rest of the country, or is it the world; no network, no radio signals, no television. You might as well be in a 14th century monastery in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.

The lone road or track that leads to the Bouba Ndjida National Park is dusty, bumpy and wrenching with only four-wheel-drives beating the exercise. The surrounding hills are picturesque with boulders in some areas, architecturally placed on one another like some lost Incas civilization. The tufts of alfafa grass are dry and leaning over to one side as if obeying the force of the winds. The trees are spectacular to behold, they look desiccated, devoid of leaves and pretend to be dead, only waiting for the least moisture of the first rains to spring again to life. These are Sahelian shrubs, hardwoods and Joshua trees that qualify as weather beaten.

There are traces of rivers and brooks whose water level is now subzero, only leaving the sandy beds in a Mars-like image. Hidden springs and standing water are a godsend improvement of the atmosphere.It is in this vivid canvas that thousands of wildlife have taken abode. As the name denotes, the animals are wild and live in a survival-of-the-fittest context. You can see gorillas, chimpanzees, lions, elephants, deer, buffalos, warthogs, scaly ant eaters, venomous snakes, thousands of reptiles, and variegated flights of birds in a rainbow coalition. All of these are protected animals.

Geese, Waza National Park, Cameroon- ©Lonely Planet Image

This is then the place that attracts scores of European Union and American tourists in packaged tours. They come here for licensed hunting, bird and game watching and sport fishing for exotic fish.The wildlife safari industry in Cameroon is still in its infancy and our tourism potential is very immense, yet needs to be revamped into an all year round activity. Adventure specialists are always looking for new grounds and frontiers. The more exotic, the better the adventure. Who doesn’t want to be given a run for his money? Can we too join in the fun of discovering our own country, or else a certain Mungo Park will historically say he discovered Bouba Ndjida!

A campaign to identify national artifacts and monuments in the North Region has come in handy as a national forum brain-stormed to revamp the nation’s tourist industry. If we cannot pinpoint our own cherished artifacts, how then will a foreign friend come to appreciate and savour all that we can offer? The North Region is a vast terrain for tourism in view of its history and cultures. The geographical location in the Sudano-Sahelian zone, with its vast valleys, hills, variegated shrubs and grasses and lakes give a photographic picture of Nature manifest, riddled with economic ramifications.The region is also home to two national safari parks— Benoué and Boubangida— whose popularity as home to hundreds of lions, deer buffaloes, baboons, elephants and other predators, still has to be made known to Cameroonians and to a large extent to tourists.

Travelling across the Region gives you the feeling of sights and sounds— the traditional griots or praise singers, the kaleidoscope of the Lamido’s Parading Calvary, the huh-hub of the border market at Mbai-mbom, the ancient caves in Ngong, the Palace of the Lamido of Rey Bouba built in17th century, the infamous maximum security prison in Tchollire and you can go on and on. But then, why is there such a snag in our tourist industry? The reasons are manifold. Experts say our tourist industry can become a major income earner but its seasonal nature reduces the potential. However, there is a dire need to place it as a show-case of Africa in miniature.

This can only come into fruition through the extension of the network of roads, tuning into the latest in telecommunications, re-orienting wild life attractions and organizing packaged tours. Airline and charter flights are known to operate when and where there is a clear need. So, what will make someone from the Swiss Alps in Geneva fly into the North Region to spend his summer holidays? As tourism strategists have engaged in a think tank to untie the knotty issues, there is a need for agreement and cooperation to be signed with countries having potential tourists in a demand and supply curve; and agreements, like promises are meant to be kept, not to be broken by any of the parties.

It is well known that adventure and the new frontiers is the backbone of tourism. Hanno, the Carthaginian sailor came close to our coast and sighted Mt. Cameroon spitting larva and he called the place the Chariots of the Gods. Likewise, Portuguese sailors in the Age of Discovery, upon seeing a lot of shrimps and prawns in our continental shelf called the place “Camaroes,” from which the name Cameroon has been carved out. This then is the touristic Cameroon that is lying fallow and lagging behind. Tourism, wake up!

 

Mwalimu Johnnie MacViban is a senior journalist and news analyst who has worked with the CRTV and Cameroon Tribune. Some of his works include A Ripple from Abakwa(Shortlisted for the EduArt Award 2008) and The Mwalimu’s Reader. In 1986, he was featured in Index on Censorship for being incarcerated for a piece he wrote about ‘The Enemies of Democracy’ in Cameroon.

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