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Another Cameroon is possible!

About the author
Victor Youmbi works for an NGO in Cameroon. Programme D’Animation des Quartiers operates in the shanty towns helping out socially excluded members of society.

The over-arching theme of the World Social Forum which took place in Brazil’s Porto Alegre in late January 2003 was Another world is possible. Another world, that is, from the one where globalisation serves to exploit people and their raw materials in order to guarantee the smoothest path for appropriating revenues. Another world from the one which subordinates man, his environment and culture to the rules of the market and the quest for profit.

The dominant ideology of globalisation, and the economic logic which it sets in train, allows no other way of thinking. The chief consequence of their application is the ongoing immiseration of the poorest and weakest across Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Porto Alegre, where more than 100,000 people attended some 1,700 workshops, seeks to challenge the very foundations of this process. There, wherever I went, I kept hearing denunciations of this model of globalisation; calls for more sensitivity, for organised resistance, for alternatives to this doctrine of neo-liberalism.

As I listened, I was tortured by a single thought: it is urgent that Africa’s people in general, and Cameroon’s in particular, are made aware of how high the stakes of globalisation are. If they are not, we will all disappear like cattle to the abattoir, including those who do not believe today that they and their descendants could ever be in need.

The bad sleep well

Officially, Cameroon has a population of 15 million, of whom about 65% live in rural areas, working the land in the way they always have. What are these people going to do when they are brought up against the latest developments in biotechnology and genetically modified organisms by the five giants of biotechnology and transgenic research?

According to Robert Ali Brac and Franck Seuret in their latest book Suspect Seeds, these five - Syngenta (comprising Novartis and Astra Zeneca), Pharmacia (Monsanto), Aventis (AgroEvo and Rhone Poulenc), DuPont and Dow Agrosciences - control ‘100% of the market in transgenic seeds, and their power is only going to concentrate further’. Without information or organisation, without any means of organising resistance, what are our peasants going to do in order to earn a decent living from their work?

How can we free ourselves from the clutches of these multinationals which are out to reduce our peasantry to a state of dependency; to prohibit them contractually from holding part of their grain harvest for seed? The situation is the more worrying because of the profound ignorance of our civil society, of our political leaders, or those who pass for them. While they wallow in complacent sleep, the rest of the ‘third world’ is busy organising its resistance.

In the medium term, the 65% of Cameroonians who live off the land will have little choice but to make a mass exodus from the countryside. The new rules which the World Trade Organisation drew up at Doha flagged this as the next disaster awaiting the poorer countries of the world.

Yet this is a subject which Yondo Black and his well-fed political cronies of the Cameroonian opposition have never even mentioned. They can’t be bothered with sick, dirty peasants. As for Jean Jacques Ekindi and Hameni Bieleu, they are too busy fighting for power to bother with such matters. Meanwhile, Léger Bieleu Bedzigui may write beautifully, but he writes nothing but press releases. What about Dakole Daissala and his friends from the north? Do they know anything about this impending disaster? I doubt it.

They deplore the injustices to which the Great North, their Great North, is exposed but not that of the peasants who, even now, are suffering from cyclical famines, thanks to the long drought. Are any of these eminent men going to take the trouble to prepare people for the cataclysm that awaits them? I despair even of Shanda Tonme, champion of the Bamileke lost cause. Has this great champion of the peasantry ever gone to a village and spoken to people about this threat to their livelihood? No, he prefers to pursue his struggle in the perfumed salons of Yaounde and Douala.

Protest and survive

As I sat there in Porto Alegre listening to all these debates about globalisation and neo-liberalism, I found myself wondering whether I belonged on the same planet as the other Africans at the forum, all these professors, officials, politicians and social leaders who were flaunting their university titles so insistently. What were they going to do, I wondered, to inform our compatriots that they were just about to be plunged into new depths of poverty?

Last January, against the background of the drought, AES Sonel, Cameroon’s newly privatised, American-owned hydro-electricity corporation, came out with a schedule of power cuts. The admirable Anicet Ekane, Jean-Pierre Mom and Robert Simo did try to launch a campaign of resistance, which was remarkable enough in a country where passivity rules. But electricity is not an issue it is easy to get people excited about, as they quickly found.

What they should have done was just let people know the difference between the price per kilowatt that they were paying for their electricity, as opposed to big companies like Alucam, a re-located French factory which consumes about 48% of Cameroon’s electricity supply. In Latin America, it is campaigns like this that get people engaged in the struggle for social justice.

The courage and determination of intellectual, social, political and religious leaders in Latin America has also resulted in their coming up with an alternative socio-economic model of globalisation. Meanwhile, what do our priests and pastors do? They sing the same old song, beloved of capitalists everywhere: ‘the reward of earthly sufferings will be eternal joy after death’. As for Christ’s revolutionary struggle for social justice, well, that they leave in the hands of God.

It is frightening to compare Brazil’s socially committed clergy, Catholic and Protestant, with Cameroon’s docile priests. The sinister Françafrique arm of globalisation which Francois-Xavier Verschave describes in his book still has a clear road ahead of it. We can only hope that Verschave and the brave organisation Survie do not get discouraged in their long, lonely struggle on our behalf.

Educate, agitate, organise - and dream

It is deplorable that we in Cameroon are playing no part in this struggle. How much we have to learn. We might start by studying how the Brazilian people are setting about trying to escape from the toils of North American imperialism. We might look to Brazil’s new President Lula, who has brought new hope to Latin America.

It is up to us now, and it is urgent. We must make the Cameroon people aware of what is happening to them. A simple example must suffice: during the colonial period there may not have been many vehicles on our roads, but at least they were new. Now, forty-three years after independence, most of the traffic consists of vehicles which have been laid off Europe’s roads.

Either we remain passive and we disappear, or we get engaged, and begin acting in conjunction with Latin America and India. That means also making our people aware of the threat posed to us - and above all to posterity - by the World Trade Organisation, and by the secret agreements imposed by General de Gaulle and Jacques Foccart on Francophone Africa. To take this path is the only way we in Cameroon are going to escape the clutches of the multi-nationals.

I can’t wait for a Cameroonian Social Forum, as another Cameroon is possible. Let us join forces in making it happen.

Translated by Susan Richards

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