Politics, Parades, and Polygamy --- Our Final Reflections
Over this past academic year, we have shared with you more than 55 web pages of specific snapshots and descriptions of Cameroon and Africa. In this final page about Cameroon and Africa, we decided to talk to you about some topics that are vastly different, conceptually, from what we are used to in America.
Cameroon is supposed to be a democratic country. Yet what we saw there is an absolute-power structure. This may come from its origins which were developed from a tribal system where a chief hold absolute power over his people. While there are some opposition parties on the books, for practical purposes they do not play a role in achieving a balance of power so as to become a driving force to induce improvement competitively. When the politics are all played within one party, it causes only internal polarization and corruption. Sooner or later, they will drag the country down together with the ruling party. We do hope that people with leadership roles realize the situation and are able to steer a course according to their constitution as soon as they can - not using the excuse that the time is not ripe or the public is not ready.
We have already told you that Cameroonians love parades and there is a parade for every National holiday. In every town or city, there is a parade stand. Every governmental official of any importance is there to show his or her power. The parade will not start until the most powerful person arrives, which is always on BMT. It is a show of power, a thread for connections. It is the time to make your political contacts, to lubricate the frictions and other rough spots, and to demonstrate that you are a team player! Certainly this is the opportunity to make sure that the public recognizes your face, if you have any political ambition at all. A parade usually lasts three hours, but for the students, band members, religious groups, military and police participants, the time involved is easily double the amount of time for the parade itself. Beyond the time spent on these parades, the expenses involved can not be a small amount for a country that can not afford to buy books for its students, at any level.
Polygamy is part of life here. Religion is also part of life here. It seems that Cameroonians can easily adapt their law according to Moslem and tribal teaching. Legally a man can have officially four wives; no one will be bothered if one - especially a chief - has more than that number. There is a certain unspoken stigma for a woman without a husband, she is not only not respected, she will be despised or worse "without protection". As a result of this stigma, men certainly benefit. With the pressure on women to escape poverty, Cameroon is certainly a "paradise" for men with means. While Cameroon law permits women the alternative of not agreeing to accept a polygamous marriage, it is not a useful law in reality. Western missionaries wanted to save the souls so much that they have not taught Cameroonians that polygamy and Christianity do not go together naturally. As far as we know, Mormons do not have a big following here!
We hope that the thoughts we have shared are not seen merely as criticism of Cameroon or its people. Our year in Buea was a very special one - very much a life-changing experience. We believe that it has enriched our lives in many ways. However, we want to look at all aspects of what we have learned and we have tried to mention both the positive and the negative in these pages. We suppose that a Cameroonian living for a year in the United States would also find many things to criticize and we would hope that we would be willing to listen and to learn from another's point of view. Our best wishes go out to all the many friends and students who have given so much to us during the last few months - we will never forget you!