I once read a book that said there was a time in England when young people could count all their career options on the fingers of one hand. Clergy. Soldier. Marine. Lawyer. Doctor. Five. That was it. I don’t remember the title of that book. Blame it on me trying to forget the travails of being a youth at the time. But the writer had spotted the five. The only other option was the dole.
I can’t help but wonder what anyone would write for Cameroonian youth today. Not some patriarchal lecture on what the youth should put their time to. Just the plain truth. The truth as it is, no salt, no sugar, no fancy colours. What options are there for the Cameroonian youth? Let me take a dry try.
Concours. Bush. Triple masters. Army. Use-your-head. There are other contenders, especially ‘church entrepreneurship’. But let’s hold our peace on these five.
A lot of Cameroonian jargon in there. Let us decode.
Concours: French word for competitive entrance exam into the civil service. The majority of English speaking Cameroonians know civil service recruitment by no name other than ‘concours’. Cameroon’s government is by far the biggest employer in the country. Recruitment into the civil service gives you a ‘matricule’, a sort of insurance that you have a job and a regular salary for the foreseeable future. Youths naturally seek this safety net. It doesn’t matter to young people if they have dreams that should be fed elsewhere. The trophy of a matricule is a gold standard.
Bush: Bush is short for bushfaller. In Cameroonian lingo, a bushfaller is someone who travels abroad, usually to Europe, America or some other foreign land to work. The word arose from the trend of young people flocking out of the country in the nineties as the country’s economy reached for the abyss and its politics bordered on chaos with riots and ghost towns as building blocks for democracy. Bush is where people go and labour on their farms. So the word quickly took a new meaning. Economic migrant was too cliché and didn’t capture the full meaning. The English language actually has no better word for it. You go to your bush to labour hard. And so Cameroonian youth hijack their parents’ laborious savings, plunging many into debt, to travel abroad or more succinctly fall bush. To hustle in a McDonald’s, to hide from wolf-ish immigration officials or to be abused by hedonist lords in Qatar’s home jails. But many do manage to wiggle their way into a life of opportunity, constant water supply and electricity that doesn’t blink.
Triple masters: I don’t know how this one made its way in my head as a career option. Blame it on experience, intuition and/or intellect. Don’t know which one of them won. But there’s a growing class of young Cameroonians rich with academic epaulets. Many are on their third master degree in a university in the country. There are few jobs. They don’t want to be idle. So they don’t mind the circular loop of handling less than bothered lecturers, taking exams they’re not sure where it leads to but taking the trouble all the same. At least it keeps them out of trouble, while waiting for their future to finally come even if that might mean at forty or worse.
Army: The country is at war. Waging a war against a new type of enemy called ‘terrorist’ for which no conflict strategist has the complete answer demands human resources. Those whose hearts still pump hard for the fatherland, whose knees won’t surrender at the sight of the first body parts butchered by an extremist’s assault can march on. The nation’s soul beckons for its freedom fighters. But there’s little time. Army recruitments have to happen in your very first few years of adulthood.
Use-your-head: Economic crisis. Youth hopelessness. Youth disenfranchisement. A gerontocracy which pats its back after appointing a 48-year-old director as a sign it is involving the youth. An increase in life expectancy leading to old leaders clinging on to power and money, not forgetting the pecks of an extra teenage girlfriend here and there. Elderly people using fraud to trim their ages and stay in jobs. A fearful social security system failing to look after those who retire. Broken morals. Mix all these in a broth. Add the advent of the internet and smart communications meaning the youth hold a technical advantage over the others. What do you get? Use-your-head. This sad career option produces the country’s scammers, fraudsters, who have managed to put the country on the world map of internet crime alongside Nigeria, Ghana, Britain and the USA among others.
England had a sixth option: the dole a.k.a job-seekers’ allowance. Cameroon cannot afford such heaven. But all hope is not lost. A sixth finger is sprouting up, a salvific growth. The young men and women rising up in social enterprise, in tech innovation, in civil society, in activism, in crying out for a new dawn, in plugging the country’s nerve endings into a world Cameroon can tap from and show its sparkling star. They win global prizes despite being ignored at home. The Nazarene predicted that in one of his sermons.
Their hearts beat for Cameroon and theirs is a holy cause for the protection of innocence, a cry for the youth to be allowed to breath and a rallying call for all the country’s souls, green and brown, to stand up and be counted.
Arrey Elvis Ntui is author of ‘Murdering Poverty – How to fix aid‘ https://www.amazon.com/Murdering-Poverty-How-fix-aid-ebook/dp/B019NJAIZA (2016, Sanaga Press)