Traders and truck drivers in Cameroon and Chad held a nine-minute protest Wednesday on the N’Gueli bridge that crosses the border, with each minute symbolizing one month since cross-border traffic was restricted in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The group that organized the protest, the Association of Truck Drivers in Chad and Cameroon, called for an immediate reopening of the border.
Forty-seven-year-old Chadian truck driver Mal Goni says the lack of trade has devastated his income.
Chadian drivers should be allowed to transport goods from Cameroon to their capital, N’Djamena, he says, and Cameroonian drivers should be allowed to transport goods coming from Chad.
Cameroon authorities say before March 5, when the first cases of COVID-19 were reported, at least 1,200 people crossed the bridge each day.
Since traffic was restricted, they say, the daily number crossing the bridge is less than 200.
Fifty-one-year-old Cameroonian Chantale Nzali transports palm oil, fruits and vegetables from the Cameroon border town of Kousseri to sell in N’Djamena. But she says her Cameroon suppliers stopped selling her enough goods, as prices have shot up with the pandemic.
Nzali says three kilograms of plantains that sold for $2 now sell at $6. She is protesting for the border to be reopened, she says, so she can at least make enough money to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s.
Cameroon imports food staples such as sorghum, onions and groundnuts from Chad during lean seasons.
Chadian groundnuts trader Abdul Aziz says his business has nosedived since March. He says since movement was restricted across the border, his daily sales dropped from over $2,000 to just $200. He says his family is barely surviving.
Cameroon and Chad sealed their shared border in March to stop the spread of COVID-19, after both countries recorded cases.
Landlocked Chad, which relies on Cameroon for 80 percent of its imports, agreed to allow goods from its neighbor, but only if they were trucked from the seaside town of Douala direct to N’Djamena and if the drivers tested negative.
But after COVID-19 spread further in May, both countries resealed the border.
Etoundi Mballa, head of disease control at Cameroon’s Ministry of Public Health, says at some moment in Cameroon, COVID-19 gave a false impression that it had been conquered. He says if the government is not alert and safety measures are not fully respected, a second wave of infections could be worse than the first.
Cameroon and Chad hope to soon reach an agreement to reopen the border under COVID-19 prevention measures, according to Mballa.
Cameroon’s Ministry of Health has confirmed more than 25,000 cases of COVID-19 and over 400 deaths. More than 2,000 of the infections came as part of a surge within the past three weeks.
The World Health Organization says Chad confirmed nearly 1,800 cases and over 100 deaths.