By Tikum Mbah Azonga
This paper is an adaptation of an earlier one I delivered on the Cameroon National Radio Station on the 23rd of August 2002. This article was triggered off by the visit to Cameroon of the then Prime Minister of China, Zhu Rongji and his wife, Lao An. 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.
Although the link between the visit and Cameroonians living abroad may not be obvious, it is nevertheless a glaring one. The visit in question is, of course, just an example. The point is that because of nostalgia, Cameroonians abroad are prepared to embrace any event that can give them information about home. So when they hear of such a call being made to their country by a foreigner, some of them wonder whether it was not time they too undertook such a voyage back home. For some, the thought is so much of a nagging yearning that they feel they should really return home for good, and thus have it over and done with living overseas. However, for many, that lofty dream ends up with them twiddling their thumbs and drawing solace from being left with no option than to recount their tale to whoever is willing to lend an ear.
There are some compatriots of ours for whom living abroad has become synonymous with enjoying the good life. That means fast cars, credit cards, and of course, the green card. For another group of Cameroonians out of the country, the reason for making the place their home from home is that abroad, there are excellent opportunities for child education and upbringing which are unthinkable in Cameroon. The health system in the West is also said to be much better run than that of Cameroon, with a wide range of attractive insurance policies designed to secure the patient.
Observers of the international political scene have remarked that the number of professional Cameroonians who live and work out of the country is significant. We find them among the ranks of lecturers, researchers, executive officers, etc, in prestigious institutions, notably in America and Europe. In these second homes from home our overseas Cameroonians pay taxes which go to swell the coffers of the host country, so that in the process, the native country Cameroon becomes the loser. In other words, our compatriots who work overseas are simply helping to prop the economies of their host countries by boosting development in the host country, while Cameroon their first country, the one that gave them life, nourished and fashioned them languishes and wallows in abject poverty and misery.
Some Cameroonians have lived away from home for so long that they have become cut off from the reality on the ground. Such fellow country men and women remind me of an Equato Guinean with whom I flew from Madrid to Malabo. The man was making his first trip home in thirty years spent in Spain, notably Madrid. When the plane started descending at Malabo airport, he became so overwhelmed with emotion that he burst into tears and had to be comforted by sympathetic passengers.
Prolonged and uninterrupted stays in a foreign country can greatly distort ones view of one’s own country, and even set one up against ones country. This is borne out by the fact that although Cameroon did so well at the 2002 Commonwealth Games held in Manchester (England), one Manchester-based Cameroonian who watched the encounter, far from cheering for his country, instead expressed surprise that the country had done so well in the games. He said he wished Cameroon had done poorly. This is not surprising because sometimes when Cameroon`s national football team is playing, there are some fellow citizens who pray the country should be thrashed by the opposing team.
In a way, making the bold decision to return home after a long stay abroad is a difficult one for Cameroonians living overseas, although to be fair to them, Cameroonians are not the only foreigners feeling out of place in the foreign community. Nationals from other countries have been known to feel the same way. Nevertheless, the scope of this paper is limited to Cameroon because for now and at least as far as the present paper is concerned, it is the Cameroonian community that is the targeted readership. The reason some compatriots give for not wanting to return to Cameroon is that they are not financially ready. For others, it is uncertainty about finding a job, one of the explanations being that they will be frustrated by those already employed in the country and who fear the newcomers may displace them.
Clearly, this is a matter in which government ought to intervene. Perhaps one of the first things that could be done is the setting up of a National Commission for the Return of Cameroonian Manpower Abroad. Such a structure would serve as a think tank, permanently in touch with compatriots willing to return home, by updating on job prospects, accommodation and possible schools for returning children, to name those.
Frankly, we must take urgent action to build a strong and permanent bridge linking our brothers and sisters outside of Cameroon on the one hand, and the rest of us who are back here at home, on the other hand.