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Tuesday, 3 October, 2000, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Mission to save Cameroon's roads
The man in white on the beat
Nkoum: Shunned locally but internationally acclaimed
By Francis Ngwa Niba in Cameroon

The state of roads in Cameroon's economic capital, Douala, is simply appalling.

The municipal authorities of this comparatively wealthy council have done little to reverse the worrying trend.

White is spiritual, it reminds me to be clean and neat

But one man decided to take up the gauntlet and single-handedly restore the city's once beautiful roads.

The man in white, Dieudonne Nkoum, is a familiar figure at road junctions, busy working on potholed roads, planting trees or flowers and leading a team of helpers in a general clean-up campaign.

Clean and neat

And his dress code is is to say the least unexpected for someone who spends their days repairing and cleaning roads.

"White is spiritual", Nkoum, 44, told me, "it reminds me to be clean and neat".

Dieudonne Nkoum
Nkoum says there have been attempts to kill him
"I change my clothes at least twice a day," he said.

There are those who consider Mr Nkoum as either mad or belonging to a secret sect.

And the father of three says he has experienced hostile comments from people ever since he began his campaign nearly eight years ago.

He says his campaign was inspired by a ghastly motor accident that happened while he was returning home from work.

A motorist was trying to avoid a pothole when he knocked over and killed a farmer returning from his farm.

The incident compelled Mr Nkoum to resign from his comfortable job as the commercial director of an electronics enterprise to tackle the poor roads.

At first they called me a nuisance and even tried to frustrate my work


International awards

The local municipal council has still to warm to him.

"At first they called me a nuisance and even tried to frustrate my work", he said referring to the council's refusal to sign an authorisation allowing him to receive about $300,000 from an international oil company to repair a stretch of road in Douala.

But that has not swayed the 'man in white' who has travelled far and wide to spread or receive acclaim for his gospel of cleanliness.

He describes himself as 'citizen of the world'.

Naxos, a small island municipality in Greece made him an honorary citizen in 1998 while he was attending a conference there.

And he lived up to his reputation as the 'man in white'.

The mayor of Naxos met him attending to one of the roads in the town.

Mr Nkoum is also a member of several international organisations such as Alliance for A More Responsible World and the Association for Better Living, Serving and Sacrificing.

Mr Nkoum says he has been a victim of jealousy and has twice survived attempts to kill him.

In 1997, a fast passing truck drove towards him as he repaired a broken road junction.

Then in August 1999, explosives were planted in his house by unidentified people. Though the explosives went off, they did not cause significant damage.

And the man in white continues with his mission to save Douala's decaying roads .

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