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Articles on political and social issues in Cameroon, Africa and the world as seen by Njei Moses Timah > How Things Sometimes Work in Cameroon

18 Oct 2009


It may help you to better understand how Cameroon functions if you follow the journey of this parcel sent to me recently from Mumbai, India. It was sent through DHL and I thus used the tracking number to follow the journey of the parcel online. The Parcel left Mumbai (India) on the 8th of October shortly before 1 a.m and arrived New Delhi (India) at about 7.30am that morning. It departed from New Delhi at about 1 pm on that 8th and arrived at Leipzig (Germany) at about 7pm. The parcel then left Leipzig shortly before 4.am on the 9th of October for Brussels (Belgium) from where it left at around 6.am on that same day for Lagos (Nigeria). It arrived Lagos at Midday on the 9th and left the following day 10th October shortly after 4pm for Libreville (Gabon)—arriving there shortly before 6pm. It finally left Libreville before 6pm on the 11th and arrived at Douala (Cameroon) that Sunday evening.
As I kept on monitoring the parcel online, information on the DHL website showed that the parcel was “processed for clearance” at 10.25pm at Douala on the 11th October. On Monday 12th October, I checked the website in the evening and the information I saw was “clearance delayed”. I was not sure whether the clearance was delayed by me not going to collect my parcel or it was delayed at the level of the customs in the process of assessing the duties I had to pay. I decided that to be on the safe side, I will wait until I receive a call from DHL. The first telephone call I received from DHL came around 3pm on Wednesday October 14th. I informed the caller that I will come the following day since it was almost closing time for the people receiving custom duties.
On the 15th, I went to the DHL office near the Freight section of the Douala International airport. The custom officers attached to the unit assessed the goods and sent me to another section of their office some 500 meters away to go and commence the procedure of payment. I went to the customs office where they were to produce the paper work to enable me pay. When I got there, there was no electricity and I was told to wait until when AES Sonel (the Electricity Company) will re-establish electric current. “What about your standby generator?”I asked. “It has since broken down”. I was told. After idling there for some time with no solution to my problem, I decided that it were better I report the following day. I returned home, and on Friday 16th October, I left for the Custom office and prayed that there should be electricity. I got there shortly before 10 am and encountered a new problem. The computers in the customs office and the nearby treasury were having difficulties starting apparently due to a virus infection. The computer in the first office struggled for about fifteen minutes and started working. My bill was generated and I took it to the next office where I paid and the computer generating receipts refused to open. I got so frustrated and soon found myself angrily exchanging words with the state employees in those offices. “You state employees want to bury this beautiful country”. I told a custom inspector. He tried to defend himself by saying that he was neither responsible for AES Sonel nor the broken generator nor for the non-performing computers. “You may not be personally responsible but another of your kind (state employee) is” I shot back. I met other grumbling customers with my similar problem around the place. Eventually, I had to meet the treasury boss who made it possible for me to claim my parcel by Midday. I was to come another day to collect my receipt.
It is an irony that my parcel took 4 days to cover a distance of about 13,700 kilometers from Mumbai to Douala, while it took 5 days from Douala Airport to my place in Bonaberi- a distance of less than 20 kilometers. In Cameroon, when people confront frustrating situations like this, they usually sigh and ask ‘On va faire comment?’ or ‘What shall we do’? As usual nothing is done and the country keeps on moving backwards.

Njei Moses Timah