20 Aug 2005
CAMEROON AND CORRUPTION
It is a very beautiful country strategically placed between West and Central Africa. This country has almost the same population with the Netherlands but has a surface area 10 times the size of this European country. It is one of the few countries in the world that has almost everything that other nations lack. Geographers, anthropologists and sociologist all describe this triangular nation as Africa in miniature. If you are looking for the equatorial rain forest, the savannah or the sahel, you will get all of them in this blessed country. If you want diversity of culture, ethnic groups and languages, you will get a colourful package in Cameroon. Cameroon is self sufficient in food production, has abundant fresh water, petroleum, very fertile soil, enough rainfall and good weather. She has never been at war for more than three decades. Her citizens are very hospitable.
One will expect a country with all these qualities to look like a paradise but the situation that Cameroon finds herself today is indeed pathetic. Corruption has brought our beloved country to her knees and exposed us to international ridicule. Our country has held the first position as the most corrupt nation on earth and it is on record that those governing us actually lobbied that the country be classified as one of the poorest highly indebted nations on earth! One really needs to be courageous and shame-proof to make a request like this for such an apparent rich nation. This act alone qualifies us to be in the hall of fame of corruption. The issue of corruption in Cameroon has gone past the level that can be described only as a social ill. It has effectively become part of our national culture. Corruption is embedded in every facet of our national life and it has effectively thwarted and dislocated our path to nationhood for generations to come.
The size, depth and complexity of the issue of corruption in Cameroon makes writing on the topic a little bit tricky. On May 10th 2001 a UN sponsored report was released in Vienna on the state of detainees in Africa. Cameroon’s and Burundi’s pre-trial detainees (highest of 34 countries surveyed) stood at 82.3%. This alarming revelation was more an indictment of peacetime Cameroon than of Burundi that is perpetually at war. Will we be wrong to suspect that some people have something to hide by refusing some of these detainees trial in an open court? And why is there not an outcry from the rest of society? The answer is probably that Cameroonians have experienced so many absurd and shocking things that their consciences have been corrupted. The things that will cause protesters to pour on the streets in many African countries will pass relatively unnoticed in Cameroon.
This is a country that children grow up knowing that they can not aspire for certain positions in the public or private sector because they do not have godfathers. A colleague of mine told me how, some years back she applied to work with the Social Insurance (CNPS) hospital Yaounde. During the interview she was asked whether she had been referred there by someone at the ‘top’. The interview ended abruptly because she gave a negative answer to that first crucial question. Such is the frustration visited on Cameroonians that the only recourse is for many to seek for green pastures beyond this miserable triangle of a nation.
Recently, I had to be traveling from Douala to Limbe in a car with some policemen from the Netherlands. These officers were sent to Cameroon to accompany a Cameroonian deported from Holland. On the way to Limbe, they saw the rubber, banana and palm plantations. They also saw the National Refinery Company, the beautiful scenery including beaches and apparently concluded in their mind that this country was certainly rich. As I expected, one of them turned and asked me what is really the problem with Cameroon? I replied sincerely that our problems have nothing to do with lack of resources [as they could see] but more to do with corruption. I added candidly that I could guess that only a small percentage of proceeds from our resources are used for running the country. The rest simply disappear. I told the young policemen that normally they should be the ones running away from the hostile weather, congestion and social pressures prevalent in their country to come and live in Cameroon but paradoxically the reverse is the case. When they saw their Cameroonian counterparts at the Mutengene police college and wanted to open a discussion on them. I was too embarrassed to discuss anything about them that I had to craftily change the topic lest I may accidentally speak the truth about our men and women in uniform.
It is when you have the opportunity to interact with people from other countries that are visiting Cameroon that it really dawns on you that corruption has rendered our nation sick. How do you explain to a visitor that merit does not really count in our country as it has been demonstrated several times by scandals surrounding admissions into professional schools? How do you explain to someone from a country where there is good governance that, in Cameroon, he has to bribe to be served by a paid civil servant? What will you tell your visitor if he asks you why [rich] peacetime Cameroon is so indebted? Where did we invest the billions of dollars borrowed from abroad or the billions more that were generated from our vast resources that we do not even have basic things like good roads? Why should Botswana, Ghana and Senegal that have fewer resources than us be progressing better than Cameroon? Can we honestly identify natural resources that God has deprived Cameroon of but has given other countries that are more advanced than us? Are we not embarrassed that China [that was roughly at the same level with us in the sixties] with 1.6 billion people is better managed, more developed and has a higher economic growth rate than Cameroon with 16 million people?
Copyright ã 2003 by Njei Moses Timah
Njei Moses Timah [e-mail]