The past week has been the most challenging week I have had in many years. I happened to be at two places that ultimately challenged my sanity. First, it was on Monday at the Cameroon High Commission in London and Second, it was at an event, which turned out to be meeting of the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM – which happens to be the ‘ruling’ political party of Cameroon) in Birmingham.
Let me begin with the High Commission.
Deplorable Home Away from Home
I was unfortunate to have lost my Passport in Birmingham a week ago and so against my best wishes, had to make a trip to the Cameoroon High Commission to apply for a replacement.
First, I went to the website to get the information I needed. As expected, it was an eyesore and seemed to carry information mostly about President Paul Biya and his speeches, and very little about the Country and its people. I grabbed a phone number from there to make a call to confirm what documents I was to carry along since there was only a poor copy of a PDF on the Website which was dated February 2, 2010. The phone rang many times over a period of a few days that I tried but either no one took it, or I was passed through an extension, to which there was no one to respond. I therefore made the trip armed only with the information gotten from the website.
Upon arrival, my worse fears were confirmed. First, I was greeted in French (absurd because Cameroon is supposed to be a Bilingual Country and given that the UK is predominantly English Speaking, I assumed naturally English should be the first language).
Secondly, I noticed the place was as run down as most places in Cameroon. There was no order, and the person in charge of processing applications could barely manage English.
Thirdly, I discovered nothing about the information provided on the website were accurate. The amount of money I had to pay was higher and they did not take any other form of payment other than cash, so an ATM I noticed on the way there became handy; there was no photocopier there so I had to go on the High Street to make copies of documents; there was no photographer as indicated, so I had to go and get photos elsewhere.
Then the worst happened, while I had been sitting there for over an hour waiting for my turn, the daughter of one of the employees came for her own application and she was ushered in and served while those of us who were there before her, waited. Nepotism or Premium Service?
Finally the forms I was supposed to fill out were barely legible. They seemed to be copies of an original document made in the ’70s with a typewriter. I found myself thrown back to Cameroon where every form of development and innovation seems to have been halted in 1982 when the current administration took power.
The notion of a place being ‘home away from home’ most often carried a positive connotation for me but for the first time, I thought of it in a negative light. It was there with a sigh of relief that I walked out of that High Commission after many hours. I felt like I had just left Cameroon to London.
I thought my week will end in a good note and I will have that nightmare behind me after a friend invited me to a Cameroonian event in Birmingham. I was in for another shocker!
CPDM West Midlands: Sycophancy at Its Best!
I have lived under the mistaken assumption that no right-thinking young Cameroonian will support Biya’s government or the CPDM, especially those in the diaspora. I have always made the argument that the only people who will actively support a regime that has nothing to offer the Cameroon Youth other than fake promises. I was utterly wrong on all counts!
When I arrived the event venue and realised it as a CPDM affair, my first impulse was to get into my car and leave. Curiosity however got the better part of me. I went in to listen to the speeches that were being made. Two things immediately stood out!
First, the speeches were made, not for the audience seated in the hall but for another audience which a keen mind will easily decipher!
It was not surprising therefore that after salutations where made in English, the main speeches were in French and consisted in a large part of praising Biya and his ‘wonderful achievements’.
Many questions however went through my mind when a reliable source told me that the venue cost a whooping £1000 meaning it was about £100 an hour. The event started two hours later than intended yet no one was bothered about the money being wasted. So who was paying for this lavish praise-singing event? There was enough food and very expensive drinks, but I heard no one talk about contributions. Your guess is as good as mine – the Cameroon tax-payers were paying for this event as is always the case the every CPDM event!
While the night was full of many obscenities, one particularly made me sad. At a point, one of the leaders, after praising Biya for many things including making Cameroon one of the most peaceful countries in Africa (which happens to be the most naive thing to say), called on all present to stand and sing Biya a song of praise. Almost 90% of the hall stayed in their seats – when he asked everyone to stand for the anthem, he got a whole house! Question then is: if they do not believe in what they say and represent; if they do not think Biya is worthy of a standing praise; why do they still wear the CPDM uniform which carries nothing but Biya’s image?
This question was answered by another reliable source before I left the event: IN CAMEROON, THE ONLY ACHIEVEMENT THAT WILL BE MOST RESPECTED ON A CV, IS TO WEAR THE CPDM UNIFORM AND PROFESS TO BE A MEMBER!
I guess people like us will never get jobs in that country – unless we decide to wait for that time, very soon when all with change!