This paper is an adaptation of an earlier one I delivered on the Cameroon National Radio Station on the 12th of September 2002, as the world joined America in marking the first anniversary of the tragic bombing of the Twin Towers in New York by terrorists. The paper was one of the daily political commentaries I delivered on the 6.30 a.m. prime time national and world news on Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV), Yaounde, between 2002 and 2005.
It was a drama that few would ever forget. Thanks to advances in modern technology, the world was able to watch how plane after plane nose-dived into the buildings that had become the unmistakable symbol of American economic might and pride. For American to have relived that nasty experience yesterday, much courage must have been mustered by them. It is therefore not surprising therefore that since the attack, security has become something of an obsession to the American government and the shocked citizens who in their helplessness, look up to the government. It is to be recalled that when the attack took place, the American President at the time, George Walker Bush, swore that as far as he was concerned, the perpetrators would be brought to book.
What happened to the United States, incidentally the World’s most powerful country, took the world by surprise and got other countries into a state of perplexity, for they now reasoned that if it could happen to the giant, what more of them? For that reason, it is incumbent on other countries not only to step up security in their own territories, but also joining forces with America to track down the bombers and even go as far as helping to forestall any similar future act. In other words, 9/11 as the incident has come to be known in America is far from being “an American crisis”. It is a global calamity.
Naturally, our President, Paul Biya, was in New York for the commemoration, thus also showing his solidarity and that of the Cameroonians to the American counterparts. There is no doubt that pundits will continue to ponder and make suppositions about the cause and effect, as well as how America should respond to this “unprovoked act of aggression and humiliation”. While that happens and the rest of the world reviews its security system, it is vital that Cameroon jumps on the bandwagon and thus make hay while the sun shines. In the case of our country, Cameroon, there is one comforting fact: not only is the country in peace, but it is also reputed to have one of the best security systems in Africa. That is why unlike the case of most African countries, the entry of foreigners in Cameroon is very tightly controlled.
But then, an accident is an accident and usually strikes like a thief at night while everyone else is asleep and no one is suspecting anything. Undoubtedly, Cameroon has had its own share of disasters, although mainly natural ones such as the Lake Nyos explosion that led to toxic gas nearly wiping out entire villages, the Nsam fire disaster in Yaounde which involved a fallen leaking petrol tanker catching fire while profiteers attempted to siphon oozing petrol. In the end those caught in the ignited fire were reduced to unrecognizable charred bodies. There is also the case of the Mount Cameroon which erupted, although not for the first time. The Cameroon mountain, nicknamed “the chariot of the gods”, because when it erupts, it spits fire, is the tallest in West and Central Africa.
Even so, Cameroon can not exclude itself from a possible terrorist attack from outside of the country. After all, are we foolproof? Do we believe we have crossed the Rubicon in terms of security measures? Surely, a look around indicates that even if some ground has been covered, a lot still remains to be done. For instance, thousands of Cameroonians still live and work in storey buildings whose safety measures are far below standard. If there were to be an outbreak of fire in the building, many would perish because not only are security measures inadequate, but also because unlike in the more advanced countries where occasional fire drills take place so that those who work in the premises should acquaint themselves, just in case, many would perish. Furthermore, far too many despite warnings, still illegally bottle petrol and sell it to drivers along the highway, as nonchalantly as if it was ordinary harmless water. The risk of disaster in such circumstances is very high.
Clearly, the best lesson we can learn from the American catastrophe, while fully sympathizing with the American people is by reference to ourselves: We must reexamine overhaul our own security systems. As the saying goes, a stitch in time saves nine.