By Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai
The Cameroon Diaspora has, over the last two decades, grown exponentially as many people from Cameroon seek new ways of kissing goodbye to the humiliating poverty that has become the hallmark of their country.
As the number of Cameroonians living abroad increases, many development experts are still wondering why the country is one of the most underdeveloped in Africa. The country's roads leading to all the regions – are really begging for an extreme makeover. During the rainy season, these roads are simply non-existence. This has affected the country's trade with neighboring countries such as Gabon and Nigeria and farmers, in particular, are feeling the pinch as most of their produce decomposes in their homes as they cannot move it to other parts of the African continent which serve as a good markets for Cameroonian produce. It is estimated that post-harvest losses in Cameroon alone stand at about 70% as the country is noted for its perishables such as oranges, mangoes, cassava, cocoa and coffee. But getting highly needed foodstuff such as beef, cabbage, maize from other nearby African countries such as the Central Africa Republic and Chad into Cameroon is proving to be very challenging as the main roads to the country remain impracticable.
This unfortunate situation is causing food process to escalate, making life unbearable for residents of nations like Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Chad. With regard to healthcare,Cameroon has divisional and provisional hospitals some which became operational in 1972. Over the years, the hospitals have been reduced to consultation clinics with many Cameroonians ending up in the mortuary for little health issues such as constipation and seasonal flus. The outdated equipments and lack of commitment on the part of the Cameroonian medical staff have made Cameroonian hospitals a gruesome environment whose main role is the issuance of dead certificates. Also, as education in the area is unfortunately underfunded, the country which is noted for its talented people has taken a huge blow to the liver. The educational infrastructure is suffering from acute ageing and most of it is crumbling with Cameroonians looking helplessly. This, coupled with the grinding poverty, unemployment and despair is making many Cameroonian to simply bid farewell to formal education which was in the past, the region’s hallmark. However, many development experts remain hopeful, especially as the Cameroon Diaspora grows exponentially, with the majority of them living in Europe and in North America. But what role can and will this growing Diaspora play in efforts at reshaping life and mentalities in Cameroon that is begging for meaningful economic and social investments?
Making the Diaspora part of the development process in many developing countries is an idea whose time has come, even in Cameroon. While Asian communities have been using their Diasporic communities since the 1970s to boost their development efforts, African countries have just recently embraced the idea and, in Cameroon, there has been some reluctance even among members of the ruling CPDM crime syndicate due to past experiences and mentality issues. However, there are efforts underway to help members of the Cameroonian Diaspora to embrace this new idea. Members of the Cameroonian Diaspora have to understand that there is power in numbers and that their little contributions could, if well managed, turn things around for their beloved country. The Diaspora, it should be recalled, constitutes a huge treasure trove of development information, experience and investment resources.Cameroon is mired in abject poverty and the country's Diaspora can work towards rebuilding modern schools, upgrading hospitals and clinics in the region. Their contributions could transform these clinics from glorified mortuaries into life-saving institutions. Cameroonians living abroad have the means to help make their country an earthly paradise. This is, if they change their thinking and believe that working together is an idea whose time has come. They must understand that development ideas might not necessarily be theirs. They should rather look at the merits and good such projects will spin out to the people in the Cameroon. They have to quit their old squabbling and bickering mentality to embrace collective effort which is a notion that is very much alive in their new countries. Little contributions of about US$50 a year from every member of the Cameroonian Diaspora will go a long way in changing things in the country. This implies paying US$4 a month. This sounds small, but its impact will be marvelous. With such contributions, school infrastructure can be built, hospitals could be equipped, scholarships could awarded to smart kids on a yearly basis, programmes to transform mentalities could be launched, and mayors in all major Cameroonian cities could be given an opportunity to travel abroad and learn from mayors in large Western cities. The Cameroonian Diaspora could work for twinning projects with cities in the West. Other Diasporic communities such as those of Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria are already making the most of these opportunities.
Furthermore, the collective efforts of those living abroad can help transform the mentality of those back home. A bad mentality is a poverty generator. Our people are mired in poverty because their thinking has not evolved for decades. They still believe in having many kids and wives including a harem of mistresses! The days when people were proud to have large families are long gone. Fighting poverty requires sharing information with those who are not lucky to have access to that information. With Cameroonian Diasporic communities setting up many organizations abroad, they should understand that those organizations could be used as NGOs for the sensitization of those who have been caught in humiliating poverty back in the Cameroon.
With some Cameroonian organizations clearly playing significant roles in Cameroon's development efforts, these organizations could be empowered to play an educational role in the whole of Cameroon. Our people could be helped to understand that there are educational courses in life that can open more doors. Besides, the students could be made to understand that it is not just enough to have certificates. It is a lot better to have a certificate and be knowledgeable to defend the certificates we have. And this can only be achieved through continuous reading and research. If the Cameroonian Diaspora can build libraries back home in Cameroon, it will be able to make reading a culture and many poor kids in Cameroon will have reliable places where they can conduct research and have access to information that can help transform their lives.
This does not apply that the Cameroon Diaspora is not doing a lot back home. There is much going on right now at the individual level, but most of these efforts are personal and the results are hardly visible. Currently, capital flows from particularly the Nkwen, Manyu, Fako, Kumbo, Lebialem,Bali, Metta, Mankon,Douala, Bassa, Bamilike, Ewondo, Beti and Fang Diaspora are currently spent on education, hospital bills and the consumption of foreign-made goods such as TVs and clothes. However, if the country has to benefit from its large population abroad, the numerous Cameroon organizations abroad have to work hard to bring the Diaspora together. The leaders out there must embrace new ways which are predicated on reliability and transparency. Back home, the Diaspora must ensure that it has reliable partners to work with. Without reliable partners in Cameroon, the Diaspora’s efforts will only go that far.
All across the Sub Saharan African region which I covered as a news reporter some two decades ago, there are huge infrastructure gaps which have made the region less competitive when it comes to trading with neighboring regions and countries. Poor roads, unreliable energy systems and declining state-owned telecommunication systems clearly explain why Cameroon, Gabon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea and even mighty Nigeria cannot put its best foot forward against other regions of the African continent. But some of these shortcomings can be reversed through the transparent management of Diaspora remittances and the Cameroonian Diaspora must shake off old ways of thinking and embrace new ones. Consensus building is an idea whose time has come. Cameroonian leaders – both at home and abroad – must ensure that they and their people are reading from the same script when it comes to development projects. If Cameroon has to develop, the Diaspora must understand that it has a significant role to play and living abroad comes with a huge price tag – that of reaching out to those who are unfortunate in life. That is where annual individual contributions come into play. Cameroon has a chance to move forward as its people migrate. There is power in numbers, but Cameroonians have not yet seen those benefits. The Cameroon Diaspora must ensure that huge development opportunities do not pass the country by. Other Diasporic communities are transforming the lives of their people. The Cameroon Diaspora has to wake up from its slumber and indifference if it has to be counted among the important Diasporic communities across Africa. It must be united and purposeful. Squabbling and bickering will not take anybody anywhere. Like my mentor Chief BisongEtahoben of the Weekly Post newspaper regularly observed " A stitch in time, saves nine"