Cameroon: The Pope's Visit to Country - a Personal Perspective
When the Pope's visit to Cameroon was announced last December, I was ecstatic and, as a practising Catholic, could not wait to share my joy with my co-workers.
As the details emerged, namely, that the Pope was invited by both the government and the Catholic hierarchy, I became ambivalent and dismayed. Who is he (Pope) visiting and who stands to benefit the most from this visit. As the Shepherd he will be visiting the ever growing Catholic population. As the Head of State he will be visiting the people and government of Cameroon.
If I may recall, the charismatic, highly respected and lovable John Paul II visited Cameroon twice. I t did not make a difference. The same corrupt despots are still holding unto power at all costs and pillaging the country of its resources. During his upcoming visit, the Pope will see masses of young (under 30) unemployed and marginalized Cameroonians who are growing up betrayed and deprived of a (promising) future.
They are utterly confused and, to them, the concept of democracy and political change is foreign. So are the opportunities to develop their abilities and live meaningful lives. Some of these young people are highly educated and, elsewhere, would be in leadership positions or would be undergoing grooming for leadership.
In preparation for the papal and other State visits, sizable sums of money are ploughed into quick fixes and monuments. Once the euphoria of the visits is over, those structures fall into disrepair. A case in point is the Greater Mankon/Bafut airport.
The money spent on these short-term, self serving projects could be used to bring potable water to villages, build health clinics and sanitation facilities or pave roads to serve all Regions. These are basic services that a good, transparent government, even a poor one, does provide for its people. Those are the types of services that make life more palatable.
There are those who argue that Cameroon has enjoyed unprecedented peace under the current regime and that is, perhaps, why the Pope is visiting. I counter that Cameroon has enjoyed a prolonged period of intimidation. Only those who pretend to support the ruling CPDM party enjoy any sense of freedom from fear. Fear permeates the society, aided by the brutal and corrupt security forces (a la Zimbabwe).
One measure of prolonged peace is economic development and general prosperity. For Cameroon, nothing could be far from the truth. Look at the crumbling infrastructure, beginning with Douala airport, the potholes in the towns, the flight of industries (from the Douala Free Trade Zone), a bankrupt financial system and a once promising airline, high unemployment and attendant crime, a poor road system and general malaise.
The only people who can be said to be enjoying are the greedy sycophants surrounding the regime. In short, the country has regressed tremendously over the past 27 years regardless of the indices used. The papal and other State visits will bring no immediate or long term benefits other than to prop up a regime best described as a kakistocracy, that is, a government by the most unscrupulous or unsuitable people.
The papal visit will take place. But I wish there would be some long term outcomes that benefit most Cameroonians.
*The writer lives in Newark, Delaware