Started the day in fine fettle – crossed over the border into the Central African Republic (and got tapped for €20 for my endeavours) then kicked Rocco out of bed for the trip to Yaoundé, back to the capital.
The roads were nowhere near as bad as yesterday and we even had a little space to stretch our legs. Halfway through our journey we stopped for lunch and a change of bus in a town called Bertoua. I decided to go and do a little filming (of a roundabout) when I was approached by two men in plain clothes (who had, up to the point of seeing the white-skinned cash machine with the camera, been boozing in the Obama Café behind me) who claimed to be policemen and demanded to see my passport. Not being born yesterday, I showed them a photocopy and asked to see their ID. One showed me his national identity card, which didn’t tell me much except for the fact that he was in the military. He could have been the bloke who peels the spuds for all I knew, so I flatly refused to co-operate. Luckily a police car was going past, so I flagged it down. Turns out they were mates with the police.
I was under arrest.
I ran over to Rocco, picked up my bags out of the bus (and Rocco) and was driven to the police station, where the horrible bastards who pass for police around these parts shifted through our ‘papers’ and attempted to invent some reason to extort money out of us.
I’m going nuts here over the balls-out greed and stupidity of these people. These moronic bureaucrats whose failure to see the bigger picture is staggering. Do they think I’m EVER going to come back here willingly? Do they think I’m going to go home and tell all my friends to head over to Cameroon on the next flight because it’s such a hip and happening place? No, of course not. Out of the twenty countries I’ve been to in West Africa, I have to rank Guinea and Cameroon at the bottom because of these stupid thick ignorant thieving scumbags in uniforms who ruin the place for every tourist who dares come near.
What the hell is going through their heads?
Rocco put it this way – he said this was a microcosm of what it felt like to be a Jew in 1930s Germany. Every time they examined our ‘papers’ (which was every couple of kilometres along the road) we were made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome and small. It’s mildly terrifying – they have guns – are they going to ask for one dollar or fifty? Are they going to throw us in a cell for the afternoon or the night? Are they just going to take us out back and shoot us through the head?
The governments of these countries have given these dreadful people carte blanche to steal with impunity. There is no other term for it – it is armed robbery. And what can we, unarmed tourists, do to stop them or gain redress? Nowt. But you’re reading this, maybe the word will filter down to the powers that be and maybe, just maybe, one day the blundering fools in charge will see that tourists are a 100% net gain for the country. All they do is turn up for a couple of weeks, spend the money they have earned working in another country and leave the nation a few hundred dollars richer.
But then the scumbags in charge around here are little more than armed robbers as well, so I’m not holding my breath.
In the end, they fleeced me out of €20. I was worried about missing the bus and having to wait a day until the next one, so I paid up just so we could go. I can’t wish enough bad things to happen to these bastards. They deserve nothing more than to be bludgeoned to death with their own legs.
We arrived in Yaoundé angry and despondent (after being tapped for another €20 in bribes along the way). It’s really cast a cloud on our time here. Cameroon is a beautiful country and the people are wonderful, but until they sort out the unchecked corruption and nasty, nasty targeting of tourists I recommend you stay away.
This Post Has 6 Comments
First of all I lived in Cameroon for over TWO years and only had to pay a bribe once, when I forgot my travel papers.Do you know anything about the lives of Cameroonian policeman and how long they go WITHOUT being paid? Bribery is just part of the tourism fees in my opinion. Yes it sucks that they live in a kleptocracy but believe me, it starts at the top. When I lived there, I respected the fact that filming and taking photographs should be done with permission. How do they know who you are unless you tell them — it is better to ask permission than just cruising around filiming traffic, buildings, etc.?
I guess I just don’t understand what the hurry is. WOuldn’t it be better to spend more time in these places than to rush through just to colect a passport stamp? I read the comments of the person from Colombia who was upset that there were only a few seconds of his country shown in the TV show, and I understand.
Why on Earth are you apologising for these creeps and justifying the fact they take bribes?? And when I say ‘take bribes’, this isn’t for turning the other way when an actual crime has been committed, this is literal daylight robbery we’re talking about. What is wrong with you?
If you really loved Cameroon so much, you’d be up in arms about this… that the trickle of tourists that go there are put off from ever going back by these uniformed highwaymen. Or, in the case I talk about in this blog, highwaymen in plain clothes. What? Was I supposed to just GUESS that the guys in the cafe behind me were cops and ask their permission to film a frickin’ roundabout??? Sorry, but I don’t have ESP. Do you?
Your comment is classic apologist nonsense and saying that it’s MY fault ‘for not asking permission’ disgusts me. I wasn’t taking a close up snap of a person (something for which I ALWAYS ask their permission) and I wasn’t filming an airport, military area or even a public building. Even if I felt obliged to ask permission (which no doubt would require me to pay yet another bribe) – there was nobody around in uniform to ask!!
Cameroon may be beautiful, but like most of sub-Saharan Africa it is NEVER going to dig itself out of the ditch it is in until it starts tackling the corruption that blights the lives of millions of innocent people. Instead of helping by publicly condemning the action of the minority, you’re making excuses for these thieves and condemning the victims. How sad.
^^ REAL TALK ftw. I thankfully only had to pay a bribe once thusfar in Colombia and also thankfully never had my camera confiscated living in Sudan while taking photographs that happened to have a bridge in the fore or background (highly illegal for fear of ‘stealing’ Sudan’s superior bridge-building technology). But I completely agree about bribery and the logic of Sub-Saharan African countries. No one can or should be apologizing or justifying crime just because the government that employs its civil servants is incompetent and steals from its employees by not paying them.
First of all, I do love Cameroon and I do complain about the political leadership that has kept the country down for the past several decades. But I can also honestly state that the bribery does not bother me, because I understand why it happens. Living there for a while allowed me to view the situation with cultural relativism as I got to know several soldiers and policemen and have honest and open discussions about bribery and why it occurs. These soldiers are posted in towns and communities far from their family farms so they must buy their own food. They must pay school fees for their children, or else their children will not be able to go to school. Yet they are not paid. When I lived there some of my colleagues had gone more than a year without being paid. I refuse to judge the soldiers for trying to get money to feed their families and pay their children’s school fees when they are also suffering from their corrupt government. Then when they finally got a pay check it was only 40% of their salary. Did you ever try and understand their point of view?? The government in Cameroon rarely pays their employees their full salary and rarely on time at that. Bribery and other fees are part of the informal economy. If the police quit or strike, they will never be paid their back fees. Most of the people who live there get that and bear no ill feelings to the police/soldiers.
Also, you have basically told people to stay away from the whole country because of an issue with a few police/soldiers. That’s hardly fair. I would no more use those few police as a reason not to return to Cameroon than tell people not to visit the UK because of the time that my roommate in London was mugged and the policemen we reported it to made fun of her and blamed her for the crime!
Second, I am not necessarily saying it was your fault, but I fault you for not knowing the rules about filming without permission. The rules may be stupid to you, but it is their right to request that people who film TV shows get permission to do so.
I think your quest is interesting from a logistical standpoint, (especially the Pacific Islands- where I live now, so I know how hard it is to travel between them), but I would also like to see more commentary about the daily lives of people throughout the world and I think it takes time and cultural relativism to really do that properly.
To Fan of Cameroon (and other apologists): If, as you say, the government is too inept to keep its public employees paid, they COULD choose to revolt and install a new government that does not cheat the public that it is supposed to serve. But it’s much easier to just take advantage of the people that are less powerful than you. As opposed to taking on the harder yet more permanent fix of changing the leadership of the country. You talk about “cultural relativism”…forcing someone to give you money for no reason because you have a gun and the power to take it, is NOT cultural relativism. Forcibly taking something that is not yours is wrong in every culture. But you (and they) justify it because someone else higher up than the policemen is doing it to them. Doesn’t make it right.
That is what is called moral relativism…which I don’t agree with at all. Just because someone else is doing something, doesn’t mean it’s right for you to do also. The police are robbing normal citizens and tourists…and they justify it because they are being stolen from by the government.
it is easy to be against moral relativism when you do not have to worry about getting fired for requesting your salary or thrown in jail for demanding your rights. Kindof hard to revolt when people in power have guns with ammunition and you don’t
. Breezing through on a bus and casting judgements does not help at all.