24February2023 Cameroon: the power of “doing” networking


Interview by Calogero Messina, ARCS Cameroon Country Representative, with Georges Modeste MEKUI, Director of the Water and Energy Agency (AMEE) of the municipality of Dschang.

CM: Good morning Modeste, I would like to have your opinion on the recent and important collaboration we had with AMEE, Municipal Water and Energy Agency of Dschang municipality,  regarding the realization of the water infrastructure that ARCS – Arci Culture Solidali has implemented in Cameroon within the framework of the project “ENTER – Renewable Energy and Appropriate Technologies for Access to Drinking Water in Rural Areas” and the project “API-Drinking Water and Sanitation for the Internally Displaced Population of NO-SO and the Host Communities of the Border Departments of the Western Region,” co-funded by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS).

GM: Thank you for the opportunity, I am the Director of the Agence Municipale de l’Eau et l’Energie de la Commune de Dschang (AMEE), which was created in 2011 to ensure the management of water in the commune of Dschang in the West Region of Cameroon.

CM: What is AMEE in fact? Are there similar experiences in the Western Region?

GM: The Agency (AMEE) is the technical arm of the Dschang Municipality, i.e., the technical service that deals with everything related to water works, basic sanitation, and energy. The agency was modeled after the Kindia Municipal Water Agency in Guinée Conakry as part of a program held in 2013 with a twinning with the city of Nantes, France. I as Director started working at AMEE precisely within the framework of this project (2013-2016), with the aim of putting in place a service that would ensure effective management and maintenance of water facilities on the territory of Dschang.

The Agency was also created for the purpose of accompanying other municipalities that do not have the same capacity in the creation of similar services: to date, similar management systems have been created in both Bangangtè and Fokouè Municipalities in the Western Region on the model of our Agency. Representatives of the affected municipalities regularly come to us to learn from our experience, to “not fall where we have already slipped”; this is AMEE’s role in a nutshell.

CM: The NGO ARCS implemented the ENTER Project in partnership with AMEE. Do you think this partnership has been interesting? What were the benefits gained from networking with an international partner such as ARCS?

GM: Part of AMEE’s mission is to seek out new partnerships, active in the same areas of interest as our agency. In fact, we came into contact with ARCS through an EU-funded project, through which we were asked by a departmental delegate to share our experience (2011-2015). It was during this exchange that I realized that your NGO was working in exactly the same field as ours and that we could join forces to devise new projects and seek funding. The gap between the Agency’s possibilities and user demand for services is still large, so it is in the Agency’s interest to join forums, associations, and groups to devise new projects to bring water to people in need.

CM: ARCS thinks that the water issue here in Cameroon can only be solved through networking involving multiple stakeholders. Primarily the municipalities (Decentralization Act 2018), but also decentralized sectoral services (MINEE, MINAT, etc.), appropriate technical services, Civil Society Organizations, and affected populations. Do you share this vision?

GM: Yes, we need to associate because the demand for services is always growing and municipalities cannot cope with it alone. When we are together, we are stronger, and to regulate water issues, municipalities, associations, and public and private institutions need to cooperate with each other, as well as with sectoral departments, which are the state’s experts and implement public policies, defined by the government, for the water sector. For example, we work closely with the Departmental Delegate of Water, who represents a sectoral service, precisely because he or she has a specific expertise that is crucial for us. In addition, the advantage of cooperating with NGOs and associations is that they have a high level of technical expertise to share with municipalities: we need this, and we are very interested in new technologies that allow us to improve the quality of water systems for the benefit of populations.

I also believe in the importance of carrying out projects that involve everyone, starting with the populations themselves; to date we talk about participatory development: we cannot go far without the support of the populations benefiting from our services because it is these populations that will then continue with the management of the plumbing systems.

What is special about Dschang is precisely that once the construction of the hydraulic works is done, we will put a special emphasis on the management of the facilities to ensure their long-term smooth operation. In this sense, the 2010 law that recommends municipalities to ensure the good management of water networks also legally encouraged the municipality to have a local service for water, electricity and basic sanitation. Here, then, are all the elements that motivated the municipality to mobilize in this regard, thus also anticipating the general framework for Decentralization, validated by the government in 2019, in which the responsibility of individual municipalities to supply their areas of responsibility, both urban and rural, with potable water for the population is emphasized.

The AMEE encourages users to contribute to the water supply service by mobilizing small sums to enable quick action in case of need to ensure continuity of services. To all intents and purposes, one can speak of a “test” of solidarity: the AMEE runs 30 management committees that pay a percentage to the agency, thus enabling it to act on minor problems. In this way often one committee, by paying a portion of its resources, helps another in need. This mechanism saves us from going through the municipality-which we rely on only in the case of larger expenses-and ensures a more immediate response.

CM: How are these committees actually composed and how did you create them?

GM: Management committees are associations of direct beneficiaries of water works. They are groups of volunteers who have agreed to monitor that the facility operates sustainably and continuously. Since these are voluntary associations, it is up to us to organize a series of assemblies to inform the population about the ongoing project and to communicate the need for the municipality to identify seven people (chairman, speaker, treasurer, accountant, technicians) who can form a committee with the task of monitoring the operation of the water point.

This mechanism ensures that communities actively participate and feel directly affected by the smooth operation of the facility. So there is a financial reading and a second political reading: the message cannot and should not go out that the construction of a facility on the territory of a community is imposed by the municipality; on the contrary, it should be a shared need to which the population actively contributes. Decentralization after all is also about participatory land management, if the population expresses a real need-through the village head or the chairman of the development committee-we take it to heart and take charge of it.

CM: Who takes action in case the built system needs maintenance?

GM: If the water system encounters a problem, the management committee reports it to the agency, which provides specialized staff trained on the subject. Because of the wide area of operation, we also have people in the committees called “repair craftsmen” who work locally. We train them so that they acquire basic technical expertise for minor interventions; this way the Agency intervenes only in case of major failures.

The repair artisans, who are required to have a minimum of initial technical expertise (plumbing, masonry, etc.), are accompanied by the Agency, which organizes training sessions aimed at strengthening their technical skills. The revenue generated by the management committee (which pays only 35 percent to AMEE), ensures there is reimbursement for the repair technicians in case of intervention.

AMEE uses the remaining funds to provide material means (vehicles, equipment renewal, etc.) and also organize training sessions for management committee chairs to improve their managerial skills and strengthen their role as coordinators.

CM: Did the Regional Forum of Water Actors of the Western Region of Cameroon held in Dschang on September 21-22, 2022 and attended by many WASH actors, including ARCS, serve to give visibility to AMEE and the Municipality of Dschang? What results did it bring? Will other mayors replicate your model within their municipality?

GM: Yes, many people attended the Western Region Regional Water Actors Forum. There were industry people, technical people, ministries, civil society organizations, and all 40 mayors of the Western Region. The Forum is an exchange platform that was created within a program of the European Union. One of the goals of this program, which brings together seven municipalities in the West, is precisely to set up a platform for the various WASH actors active in the Region to come together and share their experiences. All municipalities in the Western Region to date are engaged in establishing water supply services, more or less similar to our model. Water is essential for life, and all municipalities have a duty and willingness to implement services in this regard, in order to enhance the state’s public expenditures on their territory.

CM: With the ENTER Project, we have jointly implemented eight mini-water networks in the municipality of Dschang and various trainings for both AMEE and the municipality’s technicians (chlorine production, ferrocement construction, biological filters, etc.), while raising awareness of other municipalities in the West about AMEE’s management model and the importance of participatory water management. What benefits have arisen from working with ARCS in general, and within the ENTER Project?

GM: Within Project ENTER, AMEE had a very specific mission to do training, and I myself, as Director, organized two trainings to talk about water management regulation in Cameroon. In general, our agency has certainly benefited from many trainings under the ENTER Project, in areas such as cartography, new techniques in ferrocement, and the transformation of salt into sodium hypochlorite to disinfect water. The latter technology is definitely innovative for us and has greatly helped communities because salt is readily available and affordable for everyone.

The ENTER Project in general has allowed us to get in touch with a number of experts, who have accompanied the implementation, such as the Association of Engineers without Borders, which organized a training in Dschang. Being a partner in the ENTER project brought important added value and strengthened our capacities.

As well as allowing us to weave a close relationship with the neighboring municipalities of Fumbot and Batcham, which will continue to benefit from our support beyond the project itself. In addition, through the ENTER Project we have been able to implement water works that will never die because the agency will ensure their long-term management and sustainability.

CM: What are the still unresolved problems and needs of the people that you need to continue working on for the good of the communities and what is your vision for the future?

GM: There are still so many villages waiting for water, about 70% of villages in rural area still remain without potable water, getting their water in streams and ponds contaminated with various pathogenic bacteria that cause disease and high infant mortality, and the imbalance between supply and demand is still too great. So we will continue to seek collaborations with international organizations like ARCS in the future. We need to continue to collaborate because there is still a lot to be done and there are still many villages suffering from lack of water.

The Agency and the Municipality of Dschang alone do not have enough resources to cover the important demand for drinking water made by the people, and therefore we need the participation of all our communities, if we act as a network we act more effectively and achieve concrete goals: “alone we are weak, in a network we are strong.”

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