YAOUNDE (Reuters) – Cameroon riot police arrested dozens of farmers and dispersed hundreds of others in the capital on Tuesday to prevent a march of protest over bad roads and low state support for agriculture.
Frustrations have been on the rise in the central African oil and cocoa producer country ahead of an October presidential election, with critics of long-serving President Paul Biya disappointed by what they call a slow pace of reform.
Thirty-seven farmers were detained by police while several hundred others were blocked from reaching a planned rallying point in Yaounde, said Bernard Njonga, head of Citizens’ Association for the Defence of Collective Interests and organiser of the march.
Cameroon officials were not available to comment but a police commander on the scene said his forces had been ordered to prevent the demonstration to ensure public order.
“I am sorry the government does not want to listen to us because we did not come here to create trouble,” said Simeon Fandio, who farms near Bafoussam in the West region. “All we wanted was that they should hear our cry.”
Farmers have long complained about the poor state of Cameroon’s roads — unpaved and deeply pitted by seasonal rains — as an obstacle to marketing their produce.
“What we want is farm-to-market roads, because much of the food crops we produce are perishable,” said Valentin Amba Miasse, who headed a group of 25 demonstrators from Mboma village near Abong-Mbang, 160 km (100 miles) southeast of Yaounde. He added that the farmers were also seeking subsidised fertilizers and access to high-yield seeds.
Cameroon is the world’s fifth-largest cocoa grower, and one of Africa’s oldest oil producers.