MAY DAY AND CAMEROON MENTALITY

2 May

By Nwanatifu Nwaco

As I watched the news from around the world on how the international Labour Day (May 1st) went down around the globe, I felt very sorry and revolutionary how the point and objective had been super missed in Cameroon. On May 1st, while workers unions and syndicates elsewhere seized opportunity to champion for better wages and working conditions for themselves, Cameroonian workers became willing accomplices to their own exploitation at the hands of employers and labour services.

In Cameroon, many are yet to understand the political economics of labour, wealth creation and distribution of capital. The party and electoral system still runs along the lines of ethnicity and territorial factions. Cameroonians are yet to found political parties based on ideology and the forces of production. This explains why the day is considered just another eat and drink public holiday paid on company and private expenses. In a country where unemployment rates surge above 20 percent of the working age population, it was a call to tears to watch how troops of unemployed Cameroonians binge drank and got wasted, chanting ‘’happy labour day’’ to their peers. Companies rented crowds to go match for them in promotional and company branded T-shirts, after which they will be offered a meal and a few drinks and left to their misery in the unemployment market.

Usually in Cameroon, getting hired on a job requires a lot of clientelism and patronage. When you do get a job, you spend months in probation and then get to negotiate your salary at a subsistence level because there’s the real and ever present danger of being fired. Employers know this employment market reality and as such have exploited the Cameroonian worker based on this free service requirement, below category salary proposal and the threat of firing at the slightest excuse to blackmail the worker to surrender its rights.  When one is hired by a private sector enterprise there is a characteristic tension in stability of tenure despite worker output and productivity. The Cameroonian market is flooded with so many qualified persons who are ever willing to drop their salary expectation and take on longer working hours.

We need to educate the masses to come out of this routine and start thinking of the future of decisions they make today. Labour day in Cameroon has turned into an occasion where people are giving motions of support for decisions that have been taken by people put in positions to take such. It is easy in morning on your way to work to see people still in bars drinking, yet we want Cameroon to become an emerging economy by 2035! A nation isn’t build by drunkards. We need to control the sale of alcohol and other substances that influence people and the time places that sell can sell and to which age group. Employers use this day to rally more support from their employees by giving the small allowances, food and drinks. Over-heard one employee saying we have the best manager.

In a labour system where the government is the most prestigious and first choice employer despite the reigning inertia and failed customer relations in services offered and rendered, what were Cameroonians really celebrating on Labour Day? Very few incentives exist in terms of welfare for the Cameroonian worker, social insurance, pension schemes and career advancement procedures remain too bureaucratic and often inaccessible to many. In the private sector, in mostly unskilled job placements, many people are hired and fired without a social reward system to cover for workplace injuries and after work life living costs.

Being unemployed has been a defacto job for many. Word! Our labour market has a huge problem as well. It’s too patronised as such people are willing to sink beyond their salary expectations or enter into labour contracts without social welfare benefits or coverage.they chant happy labour day and rightly so! Do you think it’s easy to be unemployed? It’s hard labour!! So they have to celebrate this difficult and sweaty work once every year….On a serious note though, over the years, cameroonians have reclined to the hand to mouth situation, one day at a time philosophy. Whenever there’s a feast, be it 20th May, 25th Dec, 1st May or 8 March, it is considered an opportunity to load up the tank for that day. They don’t give a crap about the next day.. people have casted votes for a party against a bottle of beer, of course that party goes on to rule them for 7 years. When you organise as an NGO and go out to educate, they’ll ask for transport and perdiems and food, without which, no one will come to listen to you. Even if they do come, they take nothing away and just go do the same thing the next day. I believe it’s a hopeless situation for this generation of ours…hopefully in 4 or 5 generations to come, we may gradually evolve positively.

Besides it is very common to find minors in adult professions or to see children of compulsory primary education age hawking after dusk hours in very vulnerable to abuse environments. The payment of workers death and retirement benefits takes a very longtime to be ever paid to beneficiaries, which brings in lots of corruption and unscrupulous middlemen exacting fees and percentages to chase workers files in the over centralized government ministries. The department of labour and social security is however aware of these numerous shortcomings but due to its elitist bureaucratic nature, limited personnel and material resources to intervene, the Cameroonian worker continues to fend for themselves.

That tells of a country that lacks education. It is a continuation of all the other days, Women day, Workers day and even the national day. They are all public drinking days and the real history behind those days are not part of the system. Its all about mentality and the lack of education. I love my country, i hate its governance infrastructure and the national mentality that is so narrow minded and only aimed at ”chopping” or swindling others at the slightest chance or sensed need. we hoard opportunities and our sense of service is extinct! Few see long term opportunity in business proposals, its all about cheating others to make a few undeserved francs and then be celebrated as a great head man!

Even if local government placed garbage bins and toilets every 25 metres, Cameroonians will still piss in gutters and anywhere else, throw refuse on the ground when the trash can is empty, honk a pedestrian on a zebra crossing… what annoys me most is that everyone is well patronized, is super arrogant and will cough out an insult if corrected or reproached. Our problems in Cameroon are more mental than infrastructural. Ethics,Civics and citizenship should be made a compulsory subject from primary, secondary, tertiary education through refresher courses in public and private work spaces! A national Youth Service program should be put in place to infuse these values into people after high school or university.

 In my dissenting opinion, I think they should have brandished placards and banners like a newly hatched proletariat to decry the impunity with which public and private employers use and dump the Cameroonian worker. The wealth of the nation belongs not only to state elites and their troupes of political dependents, it most of all belongs ‘The people’ of Cameroon in whose name authority and sovereignty is exercised. Cameroonian labour unions and syndicates need to grow above their petty leadership disputes and see the founding of a labour (social-democratic-liberal) party that seeks to acquire and exercise political power to unlock the worker as an agency in the wealth creation and distribution of the nation.

If all of us can act like ambassadors in our own little corners, that can help to shape the future we dream of having tomorrow. Our today’s society is the food and drinks society. Even in conferences and seminars, people keep on waiting for item 11. You know amongst educated people, we have educated people. Thus let’s not stop the burning flame but add fuel to it. The truth about our country is that most of the people holding on to power are now noticing that the strength they used to have is fading. Thus we the younger generations will soon find ourselves in this positions and we need to instigate change. Give them just between 10-15 years from now, they will be unable to lead. I feel to bring change we have to first of all be the change factor! Let’s not relent our efforts on capacity building. Change in Cameroon if it was a matter of urgency, I believe has to start with changing mindsets first. Ignorance for many is bliss. Cry the beloved country!

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