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« Unlocking the Door to Democracy in Cameroon II: Rethinking Kinship Perpetuation of Corruption, Poverty, Dependency… | Main | A Report on African Migrant Workers Trapped in Libya »

Friday, 11 March 2011


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Asata Jerome

Prof Emmanuel Konde:
While I find the attempt by you to write about this aspect of African culture interesting, your arguments, to me personally, are, to an extent, flawed. Throughout mankind's history, the attempt to help each other, especially those not fortunate enough, has always been part and parcel of human life. Your argument, it seems to me, is like telling Bill Gates, the world's richest man, that it's okay for him to help the rest of the world, because he is rich enough to do so. But do you really think that if Bill Gates were to look only at his immediate, and perhaps, long distance relatives, his wealth will be enough to take care of their problems? Not at all. What Gates and others are attempting to do, when they offer to help others, is just part of human kindess.Your attempt to quantify human kindess is errorneous. When one chooses to help others, it's not because one has enough or more than enough. I find a lot of Americans hungry, destitute and unable to fend for themselves. Yet you find in Cameroonian villages, American peacecorp volunteers, doctors and other personnel, who leave their homeland in confort, or could help others right here, to go help the unfortunate ones overseas. What would you classify these individuals? That they are stupid, because Americans here also need help too?
Your arguments, although targeted at family relations, also reveal something about Cameroonians: Our slavish mentality that is geared only towards serving Europeans or Americans in their homelands. How many of us overseas, like the Americans I've just cited, do volunteer to help others in our homeland.I find a huge number of Cameroonians nurses, doctors, lawyers and pharmacists living here in the U.S. and Europe. It's enough to be boasful about being a nurse or doctor in the U.S., yet those same indivuals who do so are unable to go to their villages and volunteer a few hours of their time to help the unfortunate sick Cameroonians.Visit Cameroon and go to any hospital there and see if there are any of these Cameroonians there doing volunteer work for poor Cameroonians. When I last visited, I went to a hospital to find out how many Cameroonians were there from overseas who wanted to do volunteer work like myself. You know what I found? A few British medical students there to help our poor folks.

Secondly, to imagine that the persistent fraud by Cameroonian officials is because of these extended family obligations is outright erroneous too. Human greed is all what pushes these individuals to do what they do, not the extended family obligations as you allude. If one is beyond reproach or attempt to be upright in the conduct of one's affairs, nothing else would enable one to do what Cameroonian officials do in order to enrich themselves. I know a lot of Cameroonians who have defrauded the government, enriching themselves in the process, but have no idea who their cousins, nephews or nieces are in their immediate of extended family. What would you say about this? That they stole because they wanted to help the extended family?


Interesting analysis. The two most important factors leading to a crime, are: opportunity and incentive. As I always tell my friends who use Botswana as an example of good governance in Africa; the country is led by a wifeless, childless man. No need to hoard money for future generations; no need to ground the national carrier so that madame can organise shopping trips abroad; no need to reserve spaces in the public service, for your in-laws... Take away incentive and you are only left with opportunity and that alone does not suffice.

J. S. Dinga

The truth is that in Cameroon, we are neither practising Nyerere's type of socialism (equal sharing of miseries) nor western capitalism( unequal sharing of blessings). We just have a Cameroonian situation that favors "strong men" over strong institutions.

The culture of a people cannot be defined by the poor family members dictating to the well-to-do. For it to survive it has to be a two-way traffic. An uncle presenting a burdensome demand on a nephew can be doing the most natural thing if such an uncle wants to harvest some of his earlier investment in that nephew; it could also represent a parasitic exploitation by someone who goes for what is there for the taking. Secondly, almost all businesses fail because those called upon to provide funding hardly ever take a step back to ask or find out what input was presented by those demanding huge capital infusions from them. An investor must do some feasibility and decide if the project at hand is worth his time and money. Uncles and aunts can demand monies to run a taxi business, a shop or some other but what collateral or previous experience do they show for such a venture? Surely if they went to the bank for a loan - which is where they ought to direct their request in the first place - the bank manager would not just dole out money with nothing concrete to support the loan?

There is also the question of character. It is not because one is custodian of bank money, treasury funds or other national funds that one should take the liberty to pilfer and help needy relatives. Such a thing is of course possible where the individuals are more powerful than the institutions and so have no accountability to anyone. No reasonable blood relation -uncle, aunt,cousins and the rest - would place an individual in the risky position of embezzling public funds, knowing that imprisonment would be the outcome but in an environment where it is difficult to provide the authrities (police, courts, head of state) with the proof of such wrong doing, well, then of course the Cameroonian culture takes root. But here again, one must hurry to add that this is a new phenomenon that dates from Cameroon's famous reunification and reached its climax at the time people openly sang "c'est notre tour".

Cameroonians in the diaspora are not lacking in volunteerism. What is lacking is the set-up that will enable them contribute. How often have Cameroonians in the diaspora put aside consignments of medical supplies for donation to village efforts only for such consignments to end up in some "big man's" private reserves? Again it is the big man syndrome killing the nation. People in positions of responsibility without accountability end up hurting rather than helping such efforts. It it distressing. This trend will go on as long as the nation has only strong men but not strong institutions to cater for the collectivity. Detractors may argue from dawn to dusk, argue around this crucial issue, but the result remains the same.

The painful consequence is that such practices end up destroying the hens that lay the golden eggs - SOTUC, CAMAIR, ONCPB, etc. I would hardly call it involuntary corruption. It is simply corruption which ought to be given deterrent sanctions but in the Cameroonian context the answer has almost invaribly been a transfer to another unit, where the practice begins all over! If the nation recycles its kleptocrats, how can it ever recover and start creating the right climate for investment and volunteerism?

Louis Egbe Mbua

This article is pure nonsense. West Cameroon State (1961-1972) was run without any thievery. Any person who suggests an excuse for theft due to extended family is merely trying to justify the grotesque and wholesale stealing in Cameroon: on grounds that they want to perpetuate the hegemony of the Biya autocratic kleptocracy and patronage of the CPDM criminal enterprise.

Traditional African Kingdoms, from Egypt to Southern Africa, maintained African traditional families. There is no evidence of institutionalised corruption from 5000 BC.

Let the writer produce evidence of past corruption in African Kingdoms. Without which the hypothesis is baseless as it lacks solid foundation.


I think the writer is trying to make a case for the burden of an extended family as additional incentive (motive) for corruption. Coupled with opportunity (being in a position to handle public funds), this provides a fertile environment for unscrupulous financial transactions.

Would be interesting to know what he thinks of the other side of the solidarity equation: where the extended family chips in to assist a promising family member.

J. S. Dinga

Yet it cannot be denied that the writer has enunciated a core problem that challenges all of us at one point or another - the moral burden of taking care of the extended family.

Seen in perspective, we are living in the twenty-first century and yet applying nineteenth century practices to our daily lives. Yes it was once fashionable to have large, extended families when our ancestors lived on the farm and many hands were needed to plough. All of mainking went through this phase of evolution. Yes it was at one time fashionable to have large families when high mortality swept away many. But times have since changed. Moving to towns and cities means that we no longer have the luxury of unlimited landmass to play with - to cultivate, build large homes - and so logic dictates curtailment of family size.

Also, we human beings do not want to reduce ourselves to the lower forms in reproducing without checks. Invertebrates like worms, insects and caterpillars can produce broods in the thousands because the hazards of life are too many. A simple broom sweep or spray of insecticide can kill many flies at one go, and predators can annihilate many helpless young in a hunting spree. But with humans, not only do we have nine months of guaranteed perfect maternal gestation and protection in the womb, we are nursed from cradle to grave by all of modernity. And so the desire for unlimited brood makes no sense in this day and age, especially so if the burden for raising this extra has to pass on to other hands. Society's survival cannot and should not be predicated on some members stealing from the common till to nurture their offspring! Human beings are supposed to be moral beings.

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