The Rambling Mind of a Patriot
And I sat on my desk again today refusing to be bombarded with information that proffers no solution. Motherland Cameroon would not let me be. I so love this country I care every inch about it. You may challenge my love because you use your measurement of love differently from mine. Love is complicated in the way it manifests itself. Some accept every condition it offers and refuse to question, some question in order to improve, some just go ahead doing the improvement even without an analysis. But and everyone has a right to their opinion and their love for their nation, I reflected. I breathe Cameroon. Every breathe punctuated by thoughts of the land in which my navel is buried. My people say where your navel is buried you will never forget and no matter how far and how long you wonder, your heartbeat is determined by this land. And one will have to return to this homeland.
I sit thousands of kilometers away, hemmed up and wondering how the country is having increasing numbers and how the pandemic is ravaging, wishing I could do more that I am already doing. I could not help but wonder and analyze the pains of motherland with COVID-19 is exposing its flaws. My mum used to say when the wind blows it exposes the anus of the hen. Healthcare is now political. While it pains many of us, especially those who are still lucid enough to see the dangers of COVID-19, and who truly want to reach out to help the most vulnerable, others are still looking for pollical gains and fighting political battles. Even at the brink of collapse, can we not for once stand up as a people and forget our differences for a battle against a common enemy? Why are we fighting in dispersed ranks?
Over 5 years ago, when Boko Haram was a threat to national security, it was ok for every Cameroonian to contribute even a 1000frs to fight against Boko Haram. Several hundreds of millions were raised without questioning the source. When the Anglophone crises raged on, some people contributed to government coffers for a so-called Humanitarian Fund (which had never been accounted for). When the ruling political party had their conference, they allowed for contributions to support re-elections of the President Paul Biya.
Why can’t we, without wrangling replicate such efforts? I hear they call in Frenc ‘Effort de guerre’. Now the new Corona Virus, baptized COVID-19, has come and knows no political party, no rich nor poor, no anglophone nor francophone, no Beti no Bamilike, no Minister nor truck pusher. And who is most at risk? The poor nurse who is paid 50,000frs a month, who feeds a family of 6, who can barely pare the rent, who cannot afford nor perhaps never known what personal protection equipment is, who is now face with a disease that is merciless, who interacts with the patient at the closest range.
COVID-19 will not spare that nurse not even with prayers, nor will it spare her family which she must go back to, nor the medical doctor. Yet we sit in air-conditioned offices, in swivel chairs, in body guarded chauffeur driven cars, on in the comfort of our luxurious homes, away from the hustle and bustle of the steaming markets of Mokolo, the human sea of Marche Mboppi, and Mache Congo. And write and sign ministerial orders.
The state actors want to be in control of COVID-19. It is impressive the Ministry of Health is trying to take some measures (albeit not seen as enough) in managing the pandemic. But this pandemic needs multisectoral and multilevel interventions with the civil society deeply involved. Being a pandemic, it requires governance differently from regular state government. Regulating help from non-state actors is good but clamping down and controlling how the help comes in and who gives the help is another matter, having bottle-neck procedures to help is problematic. A lot of people have help in their hands and require to channel this help to those most in need without having to go through a corrupt system of embezzlers and wine drinkers who do not care or have not shown care for the good of the common person.
A cacophony of voices and multiple instructions, a mess of conflicting interests of leadership at the expense of the public, signaling a failing state management system. When the head of government calls on different state leaders – ministers and directors letting them know there is a central processing body of instructions before they are made public, we see a desperate effort at managing not only COVID-19 but governance in Cameroon. governmental effort is no longer concerted with calls and counter calls, measures and counter measures. Has COVID -19 come to unveil the weaknesses of the system?
The multiple dissenting voices, the absence of leadership, a much-demanded signal of a ruling president in comparison to other nations raises questions as to the model of leadership the government of Cameroon is using in times of crises. A pandemic that has seen state leaders in the frontlines signals the absence of active leadership in Cameroon.
The COVID-19 guidelines in Cameroon are very up to date and seek to mitigate not only the spread but the general management of the disease. But how does policy result in action when these policies are not designed against a backdrop of a situational analysis. For example, every citizen is expected to wear a face mask with a heavy penalty for default. Also, what economic analysis and economic measures have been carried out to ensure the citizens are not only able to afford a mask but also survive with limited economic activity? The governor of the littoral region for example proposed alternating selling and shopping, with food market on A day and cloth shopping on B day. How well thought out is this measure what means are put in place to enforce this? Considering the economic culture, which is basically subsistent for the average Cameroonian, it truly is difficult to have a complete sheltering in place, but can the proposed measures mitigate the spread of the virus? Are these measures commensurate with the way the virus spreads and respects the social distancing norms?
These are all questions that cannot be answered. These questions signal we are groping in the dark.
On an educational scale, Cameroon shut down schools immediately they found cases, and this was done in every region of the nation with immediate effect. Was this a copy paste measure or were there alternatives? A situational analysis would have been carried out to determine which parts of the country required school shut down. Looking at what happened in the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon, school shutdown has a lot of negative effects especially one that does not offer any alternatives to the children. We will notice the diseases, albeit social that will crop up will be more that even what COVID-19 would give in some of the regions are low risk. The reason for school closure is ensure adequate social distancing. But here we have children who have left schools that could be safe zones in a context like Cameroon to the streets of Marché Central, Marché Mboppi and other major crowded markets without any form of protection.
The insistence that face masks are compulsory is an excellent idea but like any other measure taken by the state, a situational analysis is not done to ensure provision of these to every body especially the most vulnerable populations who are the poor with women, children and persons with disabilities making the majority. First of all are these masked going to be distributed to these vulnerable populations? Is there data available? Are there enough masked in the country available for people to buy even if they were able to buy? The other side of the coin is that the vulnerable poor are those who will not have the masks. A penalty of 6000frs (approximately 15 dollars awaits anyone who does not wear the mask. Where would these people who cannot afford masks get the money for the penalty from? Million-dollar question. These are clarifications the government will have to make. Were this a possibility, it would be a good public health policy given the Hong Kong example which claims the number of cases of COVID-19 are very few because everyone in the community wears a mask. Thus a policy of compulsory mask wearing is applauded.
Collective community action is when a population is sensitized to carry out a common action for a common good. We ask what strategies of communication are put in place to reach the depths of the society, amidst a context where there is no electricity or electricity shortages. How much has been put in place for the social marketing of the disease? What strategies can be effective in attaining social compliance to the Ministry of Health advice on the disease?
COVID-19 is calling on all, even more so the academia, to show proof of all their wealth of knowledge. This is time for African and Africans to rise up. The fire burns and rages on in every house, so the west will not come quenching our fire when theirs is even hotter. This is the time to stop blaming the west and stand up to face our problems the African way. A cut and paste strategy is no longer the way. This is time for African problems and African solutions.
Haven’t we been talking of this for a long time? COVID-19 is giving us that opportunity, to stand up for ourselves.
Lilian Atanga Lem
Lilian Atanga Lem is a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the Department of Linguistics. Lilian is the Chair of the Department of Linguistics and African Languages at the University of Bamenda, Cameroon. She holds a PhD in Linguistics from Lancaster University, UK and her broad research interests include gender and language, political and media discourse using a critical discourse studies approach.