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Articles on political and social issues in Cameroon, Africa and the world as seen by Njei Moses Timah > Living On The Edge Of The Precipice (Africa)

10 Aug 2005



            I will begin this article with a small personal story. Sometimes in 1987, as a student in Nsukka, Nigeria, I noticed that I was having diarrhoea that was not responding to treatment for over three weeks. When I went for holidays away from Nsukka, the diarrhoea stopped only to start when I returned to Nsukka. I was the one preparing my food and I made sure I did not overlook issues of hygiene in my house. I was then at a loss to understand what was the origin of this problem. I took a radical decision to put aside all the foodstuff and condiments in my kitchen and replace them with new purchases. Suddenly the diarrhoea stopped. Upon detailed investigation, I discovered that I had been using cooking oil that was adulterated with some kind of petroleum product! Anyone can guess but will never know how many people were victims of this fake cooking oil and how many of them eventually developed mortal health complications.


            This is just a vivid illustration of one of many death traps that the prevailing African conditions have set for us. Adverse conditions for human survival have been created and nurtured by poverty, corruption and bad governance all over black Africa.  Many people on the continent cannot even have a sound sleep. How can you sleep when your neighbourhood is affected by civil strife or persistent armed robbery? How can you sleep with biting hunger or with noisy mosquitoes sharing a room with you? How can you sleep when you are psychologically tormented by many (mostly HIV-related) deaths and noisy death celebrations? If you do manage to catch a few hours of sleep and get up the following morning in one piece, be sure to wade through many traps throughout the day before another nightfall.


            You could be moving to a destination, maybe a last ride in one of the death traps that are called public transport. No wonder that the Nigerians at one time named one brand of their popular public transport vehicles “coffin”. You can get up on an unfortunate day and become a victim of a frame-up or what is popularly known in Cameroon police jargon as ‘coup monte’ or mounted coup. You suddenly find yourself thrown into an overcrowded cell with people suffering from various forms of contagious diseases. The shock an innocent man experiences for being humiliated that way is enough to break him psychologically and physically. Think of doing a basic thing like drinking water. In Douala (Cameroon) you may sometimes notice that the tap water is neither colourless, tasteless nor odourless yet I was taught in primary school that good drinking water has to be colourless, tasteless and odourless.


            Who can show me how you can lead a normal life and successfully protect yourself from HIV-AIDS in this part of the world that infection rate is about one person every 25 seconds? In addition, if you do escape from HIV-AIDS how can you predict that your neighbourhood will not be the next host to an outbreak of epidemics like meningitis, cholera, Ebola and others? If you are sick who will take care of you now that qualified medical staff is running away from bad governance and instability in Africa to Europe and America. Even if you manage to see a doctor, how do you pay for hospitalisation and medication when you are probably unemployed and without health insurance cover? No wonder millions of Africans die annually from treatable diseases like malaria.


When the World Health Organization estimates life expectancy in many black African countries to be between 40-50 years it looks abnormal. To the European this figure is abnormal because it is quite low compared to their 60-70 years. To me this figure is also abnormal because it looks high considering the crazy maze that Africans have to wangle their way through to attain such a lifespan.


Copyrightã 2005 by Njei Moses Timah


Njei Moses Timah [e-mail]