Revolution tonight? Sorry, Daddy says I can’t.

Some of our friends and family “back home” have been asking us whether we’re seeing any knock-on from the recent revolutionary events in Tunisia and Egypt.

“Could this revolutionary steam train roll down to Cameroon?” they ask.

Despite the fact that the many countries in West and Central Africa are quite different from their North African neighbours, it’s not an absurd question … After all, Cameroon’s President Biya has been in power for nearly 29 years, unemployment rates are so high they are hardly even worth calculating, and corruption abounds at both high and low levels of the government (Cameroon was rated the World’s #1 most corrupt country in 1998).

Also, like in Tunisia and Egypt, large segments of the youth and student community don’t believe there’s a place for them in Cameroonian society – let alone a job!  In Douala – Cameroon’s economic hub – 80% of the hardly well paid mototaxi drivers have at least a high school diploma and 50% have a university degree – according to a recent International Crisis Group report.  Perhaps most telling, 83% of youth there reported they would leave Cameroon if they could.

So, if the conditions are so dire, why don’t Cameroon’s youth follow their North African comrades and head out to their own “Tahir Square”?

For one, there aren’t squares here … there are traffic circles!

More seriously though … one of my friends is a student activist here.  His friends want change. They want a government that responds to their needs. They want a government that respects human rights and freedom of expression. Most importantly they want opportunities.

They will hold meetings talking about their government’s failures.  Sometimes they will even protest.  Occasionally they will march on specific issues.  All of this despite the threat of informants in their midst and the risk of arrest if implicated.  In 2008 protests and riots erupted over food prices and the cost of living.  The youth often led the way.

But would they topple the President?  My Cameroonian student-activist friend says “No way!”

First off, there is a lot of apathy here.  He says a certain people will raise their voices loud and clear. But even these often doubt change will ever happen.  This means many “everyday Cameroonians” just sit back and say “on fait avec – we make do.”

More importantly, however my friend told me that even student activists will only go so far.  Why?

“Because their Daddies say they can’t!” my friend declared.

According to this friend, Daddies (and Grand-Daddies) are the heads of families. Their word is law.  If a student activist’s Daddy says “this family supports Biya”, then the activist simply will have to hop off the wheelbarrow of “revolution.”

That’s his view on things.  I don’t know.

Many North African families also place the family patriarch on a pedestal.  Yet in Tunisia and Egypt their home-grown progeny propelled dramatic change.

Any teenager in the West wouldn’t give a darn what Daddy says.  The question is … will Cameroonians?

We’ll see.


~ by Greg Spira on February 20, 2011.

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