11 Dec 2005
In November 2005 the Kumba main market was consumed by fire. Many of the traders that lost their shops to the flames also complained that they lost a sizeable amount of cash alongside the goods in those shops. Some un-informed people started blaming these traders for keeping much cash in the market. Anybody that understands this country perfectly should not blame them. If they keep the cash at home, armed robbers will come for it. Before you suggest that they keep the money in banks, do read the following.
During the first wave of bank bankruptcies in this country some fifteen years ago, I can still recall a very moving incident I encountered while working in a community pharmacy in Limbe. A relation to a man admitted at the Limbe provincial hospital approached me and pleaded that I should supply medications on credit for his patient. This patient was not an ordinary poor person but a man (I was told) that had more than 250 million cfa ($125,000) that was stuck in the Cameroon bank-a bank that was under ‘liquidation’ as they often say in Cameroon. This gentleman eventually passed away and his ‘son’ finally settled the pharmacy bills from his paltry salary as lecturer at Yaounde University.
Thousands of Cameroonians have similar experiences with the more than two dozen major financial institutions that have gone under since then. The latest bankruptcy and the one that has a more far-reaching impact was the 2004 collapse of the post office bank. This bankruptcy stands unique because of the colossal amount involved and the fact that it touches many households in the country. Countless number of people have died and even a higher number have had their dreams shattered due to the collapse of the post office bank. I have come across young people that broke down and weep because they stood the chance of obtaining the very elusive American visa but were disappointed by the fact that the money required to initiate and complete the process was blocked in the post office bank. I know of many people that cater for HIV/AIDS patients and some patients themselves that are dying in silence and cursing those that have held their money hostage.
The managers and directors of all these looted institutions profit from a culture impunity that reigns in the country to do as they please with people’s money. Cameroonians, especially the poor ones do not know what to do in order to survive in this country. Earning money honestly is already a difficult challenge. Knowing where to hide the hard earned income is proving to be even harder.
Njei Moses Timah