Friday, February 09, 2007

It's our African way

There are many things they do here in Cameroon that make no sense to me, when you question them about it they say ' it is our African way', 'that's Africa' or 'its just what we do'. One example of this is overcrowding. In taxi's 2 share the front passenger seat. In Clando's which are private cars for longer journeys they have 4 on the back and 2 on the front seat. Which is illegal but the drivers just pay bribes to the police to continue or even worse the drivers are the police so they just get waved through check points. How will they ever beat corruption if one day the police man is stopping cars for being overfilled and the next driving one.

Anyway I digress in to the post about corruption. I was drawn this week to one of the first headlines I have seen on the BBC about Cameroon. It is about a boat that capsized off the coast of Cameroon near Limbe. It was sailing from Tiko to Nigeria. Tiko is a town not far from us, we have only ever been to the market and all we ever hear about it is being told it has a golf club. Anyway the boat capsized the numbers are pretty inaccurate but it is thought about 40 have died and only 20 were saved. With no emergency services here it was down to fishermen from Limbe to rescue the survivors. Many stayed in the water for 10 hours trying to keep alive. Today the BBC have published one of the survivors stories. This man says the boat was overfilled with people and cargo but when he told the driver they were overloaded before they set of the response was 'it's normal'. Will they learn from this sad experience, I hope so but truly doubt it. My guess is next week they will do the same journey with the same number of passengers and cargo.

Much of Cameroon's problem with development lies in the fact they do things they way they have all ways done them - the African way. They are happy this way and no one will be able to change that.

3 comments:

alison said...

unfortunately you don't have to go further than Europe to find this kind of lack of safety in ferries.

Hev said...

When I think of Euroup I always expect companies to think saftey first (or maybe that is covering our backs to prevent sueing first) however for many it is profits first safty later

Anonymous said...

"It is the African way" is not really about being happy with the status quo, but about being helpless in the face of very bad options. Do you refuse to get into an overloaded taxi, or just suck it up, deal with the discomfort and get to your destination? Do you refuse to get into an overloaded canoe, knowing full well that this is your only way to get to your destination, and that the next boat will be just as full?

The problem in Africa boils down to the indiscipline and corruption that has been institutionalized by regimes who turn a blind eye to the crimes of commission and ommission of the police, the army and the elite because tolerating these crimes is the only way they can hang on to power.

Create the right enabling environment, take away the culture of impunity and you will have a different Africa. I've lived in the US for 15 years and not once have I run a traffic light. But I do this regularly in Douala when I go home to Cameroon. Why? Because I know there are no consequences; there will be no stain on my driving record; I will bribe my way out of jail if necessary, etc.

So it is not about people, race, or even continents. It is all about institutions - or about "the way in Africa" and not "the African way".