Yaounde (National Times) – Most Cameroonians will tell you that their parents’ generation, mostly those parents born between the 1930s and the 1960s failed them. They did not fight corruption enough. They did not provide them with enough jobs. They kept Paul Biya in power for 36 years. They did not fight for a truly bilingual country, as is enshrined in the constitution. Nor did they provide them with job and good housing. The list of things they complain about is endless.
There is a grain of truth in this broader social conversation and uproar. But did our parents fail us? There are three ways you can look at this, first, by looking at the bigger economic, political and environmental picture. By these we could look at the state of the economy, unemployment levels, economic growth, political stability, governability, among many other indices.
Once one look through this lens it is easy to say that our parents failed us. Underemployment is 84%, Transparency International ranks Cameroon among the most corrupt countries in the world, and tribalism and abuse of rights are more entrenched in the country than paved roads. It is as if our leaders are removing roads and building paths to corruption.
But the picture is more complex to many of us. First, did our parents have the power to do more? Because at the personal, family level, most of us can testify that they worked more than 20 hours a day to give us food, education and health care.
We all know the story that although Cameroon doesn’t have roads, we have food. These food was not provided by the government nor did it fall from the sky. It was farmed and brought by most parents. Cameroon is an agricultural economy because of nature, as well as the hardworking farming parents.
Although classrooms are in quite shabby states, our parents paid our tuition fees, for those that can afford, while even those who can’t afford tell their children, education is the key to success. In fact, Cameroon has one of the highest literate population in Africa. That will be surprising to those who look at the big picture where the government cannot afford to build schools without eating half of the money allocated for schools. Our parents pushed us to thatch houses, no matter was the school structure was.
While marriage and other family relations and unions were not perfect, majority of Cameroonians will say they grew up in a stable homes. That is the choice of their parents. They could be drug addicts, alcohol abuses, as some parents are. What is amazing is that the stability within the family reflected into the stability of the society and even country, I would say. Mothers made sacrifices that to the educated contradicted the basic economic premise that all humans are egoist. Some staved to see their children eat, while some went without smiles in their faces so their children could smile. You cannot honestly say these people failed you. They were giants.
As the Indians say, whether is it an elephant or a wall, it depends on where you touch it. While most people focus on broad political and economic trends, some of us still remember the healthy food, the caring mothers and fathers, and watchful and protective grandparents. To those of us who remember these people and smile, we can’t say they failed us. But we can say it is good that we are touching the elephant and talking about how it feels to us.