As I sat listening to a podcast on Brazil that I had downloaded on my computer before I left the States, my displeasure and frustration for most African governments was reinforced again and again. During the eight year presidency of Lula de Silva, infrastructure was implemented in most of Brazil. The poorer classes were given a $30 weekly stipend, electricity and paved roads are a reality and access to credit and educational opportunities are available. Tax big business, reign in corruption, pay people decent salaries, and create jobs with public works projects.
None of the above happens in most African countries. Over sixty percent of the people in Cameroon have no access to clean water. Most of the country’s water rights have been sold to a French Moroccan corporation so the government is off the hook to supply water.The village council in Fundong, who is supposedly representing the people, does not want to pay the water bills for the town so the taps are turned off. Since I arrived two weeks ago, the electric has been shut off a minimum of five times a day, sometimes for hours at a time. The electric utility was sold seven years ago to AES, a multi-bilIion dollar American corporation. They have no motivation to upgrade the system since they are not making the profit they thought they would. I was told that 75% of the population live in rural areas without roads, electricity or water. Only in the last fifteen years have children been going to primary school. We have a majority of women over 25 years old in rural areas that cannot speak English, only the regional dialect.
In order to send your children to public elementary schools, the cost is 40,000 franc (including books and uniforms)a year, public high school is 75,000 franc a year. If the rural population earns 20,000 franc a month, many families cannot send their kids to school. The government does not build schools or buy supplies. They pay the teachers they appoint to each school but usually that is a not enough so the parents have to find money to hire assistant teachers. I was at the principal’s home last night and met two new teachers that had been appointed to his school. Since the government will not pay them a salary for two years, he gave them a place to live and they ate with the family.
The last three months we have witnessed protests and revolutions all over the Middle East . Most of these countries have a high literacy rate, access to internet, and in Egypt and Tunisia, an educated military. When I was in Douala a few weeks ago there was a demonstration against the government. As we passed truckloads of soldiers with machine guns and helmets returning from the protests, it was obvious the regime had filled the army with young, uneducated boys from rural villages who could be easily trained to kill.
The people here are terrified of the military and the police. In 2009, I was arrested on the main street in Douala for taking photos and no one came to my aid. The police approached with guns and handcuffs and I admit I was scared. I talked my way out of the situation, realizing afterwards, they wanted a bribe.
After spending a total of almost five months during a three year period in Cameroon, I have come to understand what has kept this country poverty stricken, illiterate and powerless.
A real government builds roads, bridges, water, electricity, schools, and provides public transportation to mention some of the basic needs of the public. This government will approve projects and then allocate huge sums of money for these projects. They will award the contract to a contractor that will pay the highest kickback to them. The project money will be taxed at a ridiculous rate before the work is even started. The tax money goes back to the government officials who proposed the project. The contractor will start the project but half way through run out of funds and leave. No one is accountable and if the village demands an explanation they never get one.
Another part of the puzzle is the involvement of European and American, Chinese and Japanese corporations who are doing big business in Africa. Whether it’s oil, diamonds, logging, or minerals, there is always a business deal happening. International oil companies are exploring and pumping oil in many parts of West Africa . In order to do this, they must get permission from the officials in each country and pay huge amounts of money to them .In other words, they bribe the government officials and everyone involved in securing the contracts becomes very rich. The money is never used for the improvement of the country.
Cameroon has hundreds of exotic woods which are being logged by foreign companies who make financial arrangements with government officials.They use local workers and pay them horrendously low salaries even though they will make huge profits when they sell their products.
The last part of this game involves Western governments and China. Our governments train the military in so many of these dictatorships. They give them foreign aid to build up their armies. In the past during the Cold war, it was to fight communism. The United States put Mobutu in power in the Congo. Now we are fighting Islamist fundamentalists and terrorists. In many instances the aid is in the form of weapons, guns and planes. We armed the future Taliban in Afghanistan against the Russians in the 1980’s.
Summing up the situation, the abuse of the African people is a collusion between their governments, our governments and international corporations. As long as money and power is the motivating force for governments and big business, the poor people in the world will remain poor and uneducated so others can stay rich and powerful.
Corruption is rampant with little regard for poor people esp. those of color and for the future of our planet.
Thanks for continuing to speak out, Lois.