Hundreds of business persons ended their day last Sunday afternoon traumatised by a fire accident in the Congo Market in Douala. Over 40 shops with varied items for sale were burnt to ashes. The Senior Divisional Officer for Wouri, Bernard Okalai Bilia has ordered an enquiry into the incident.
Since January this year, the fire accident frequency across the country has been at a ratio of one fire blaze per month. On January 24, 2010, inhabitants of the Nkomo neighbourhood in Yaounde, Centre Region witnessed a fire blaze from the exploitation of a gas depot that destroyed an entire building material store. By March 2, it was the turn of Tiko Sub-division in the South West Region that saw another inferno destroying over 800 stores that constitute the mainstay of the economy of the whole locality. With no fire fighting unit around the vicinity and no water to fight the flames, the population and business persons only had their tears to shed, helpless in front of the fire.
After Tiko, it was the Muea Market in Buea Sub-division that took over leaving traders once more bewildered. Finally, on May 9, 2010, it was the turn of the Marché Congo in the economic capital, Douala. Eye witness accounts talk of a pressing iron that was forgotten connected to electricity in a shop. The result was some 40 shops with goods evaluated at billions of CFA francs that went into smoke.
Virtually on yearly bases, there are cases of fire accidents in markets across the country that have often had disastrous consequences. Most often, the explanations point to either negligence or accidents. Whatever the explanations, such fire usually comes to blend with the hazardous electrical connections existing in most markets and the unplanned nature of buildings in our markets. The tendency by certain traders has been to economise or make quick dividends by putting up poor structures that serve for business.
While the population takes the blame for such shortcomings, local administrative officials cannot be totally exempt from the hardship that their people face due to fire accidents of that nature. It becomes incumbent on the local councils, who collect taxes from the traders to ensure that the conditions are safe enough for successful business. From simple logic, the shops that go ablaze mean the councils in such areas will lose the income from market taxes needed for development.
With decentralisation effective in the country, council officials have to know that incidents of this nature risk jeopardising their chances for future elections as the people will feel insecure where the authorities fail to protect them.
Consequently, while it is imperative that business persons should be careful about the safety of their business environment, the local authorities equally share in the responsibility of providing a conducive environment for commercial activities.