Thursday, July 28, 2011

From Cameroon with Love...and Insights

Been perambulating across neighboring country Cameroon for about a week now. Cameroon, an ex-french colony appears stuck in the past in everything from the moment one makes landing at the more than decaying Douala airport. Here, one will start appreciating the shack Nigeria calls airport in MMA.  The entire airport area is filled with filthy smell, no air conditioning and of course overran by beggars and errand boys. Getting outside, I quickly negotiated a Taxi to the Le Meridien where I was staying as the baggage boys literally begged me to pay them in Naira! Who would have thought so?
Visiting Project Sites with my Team across Cameroon

On getting to the hotel, quickly checked in and made some friends with some fellow Nigerian business visitors. Both human beings Funmi and Taiwo, were such a trip. It made the visit worthwhile to have familiar hob nobs about town. The next few experiences recounted below were somewhat our joint recollections of a country so full with potential yet suffering from a lack of human capacity to exploit them.
Easting fish at Limbe Water Side

"Driving through fields of football playing youths heading from the airport , one can tell soccer is life in Cameroon and you see the very reason why the Indomitable lions have been a thorn on Nigeria's side forever. Here, football is a state supported institution as the long time dictatorship of Paul Biya uses the sport to engage and distract the youths. Another pattern that emerged in Biya's strategy to hold on to power is the use of excessive cabinet positions to bribe the political class. God save you to ask for one date from a Cameroonian official, the long list of ministries and departments will give you a fit.
By far the freshest and tastiest bananas you'll ever get

The bureaucratic bottlenecks and sit tight-ism in this country knows no bounds. We had a raw taste of this as myself and my team hunt data for couple of studies I'm managing across the country. It was not like Nigeria where state secret may be the excuse; here, turf holding and obvious lack of interest to help you because of the protection of little favors is the open reason why you'll never get information out of any civil servant. A visit to government offices will for a split second remind you of a shopping mall in the West. Well, here the government is all powerful and suffocating and it is stifling the private sector.
A typical mountain neighborhood in the West of Cameroon

Speaking about the private sector, whatever that is is controlled by the French (more on that later), and some recently emerging East Asians (Chinese & Koreans). The commercial sector is largely Nigerian dominated in their larger "cities" of Douala, Yaounde and Limbe, and that is about it. Here business closes early, and opens late. It is like the entire country is on vacation. Opportunities abound around them and no appears to be seizing it except foreigners. There is not a single fast food eatery in this entire country, and no one is building any!  Mobile phones abound, but the rates are just plain exploitative!
Live in Yaounde

Speaking about foreigners, the country is an epitome of French loot ongoing at ex-colonies. More than once, we were told tales of progressive projects nipped in the bud because it puts French business out of order. For example, we found only about 8 KM of dual carriage road in an entire country - half the size of Nigeria. The plans to link main city Douala with capital city Yaounde with dual way was turned into a very good single , narrow but dangerous road to protect the snail rail system operated by the French. Projects to pipe petroleum about the country died since the rail and french ships do the shipping about the country inefficiently. A cement plan being proposed in Limbe will import Limestone from Canada and Korea when Cameroon have bountiful of it!
I got this white guy eating ero!

French prime contribution here is supporting an active sex trade industry which begins about dusk and ends at early dawn. Another great contribution is the near ever split between the bilingual country of anglophones in the West (two provinces) and the remaining eight francophone provinces. The Anglo don't feel ownership here, and they are bitter. Oh well, why did they leave Nigeria?

One day we went to a proposed project site at tourist town Kribi, on our way back late in the evening we drove 3 hours and so no electricity. Here this commodity is stable, but only if you're connected. Few are connected to the grid in this country and the southern region specifically is like a black out zone. One other thing here that struck me was how distant their food choice is to neighboring Nigeria. Largely no variety and often mimicking the French, I enjoyed food at Grenada more than this neighboring country. It was only when I got to the Western English speaking region that at least a bowl of ero and roasted fish made up for my forced fasting in the week!

In spite of this tale, what the country don't have in infrastructure and organization, it has in peace. The average city is largely peaceful here and an average Cameroonian is hospitable and goes about their business. One good bottle of drink, and the celebration of a weekend begins here just at the beat of a drum. Welcome to French Central West Africa."


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