Originally published on April 20, 2016
On April 19, 2016 I woke up to this article: “Cameroun: En plein débat sur la modification de la constitution, le gouvernement baisse le prix de la bière”. I was jolted awake upon reading this, as though a bolt of lightening traveled through my body. Quite simply, the article states that in the midst of debates on the modification of the constitution with respect to holding early presidential elections as President Paul Biya looks to run for the presidency yet again, the Minister of Commerce is launching a promotional campaign which will reduce the price of beers in Cameroon from April to July 2016. Do note: Biya has been president since November 1982, and prior to that served as prime minister under Ahmadou Ahidhjo’s regime from June 1975 until his ascendance to the presidency.
To the unfamiliar eye, this announcement might seem insignificant. To others, it might even be a source of joy. However, it is laden with indications about the current political atmosphere in Cameroon, the mental state of the Cameroonian public, and the manipulative policies and practices that define the relationship between the government and the citizenry.
My mind immediately rewound to this 2015 report by France 24 on an increase in the price of beer in order to fund the fight against Boko Haram in Cameroon:
One of the most essential points to draw from this report is that, in Cameroon, beer is highly associated with happiness, so much so that the consumption of beer has become deeply embedded into Cameroonian culture to the point where the public reacted to the proposed price hike with a campaign in protest called “Tu touches à ma bière, tu touches à la paix.” (translated into Mboko* English — “you mess with my beer, you messin’ with peace”) Thus, according to the one of the individuals interviewed, it is beer that creates and maintains peace in Cameroon. PAUSE…………………………….reflect on how critical this statement is to grasping, from a sociological perspective, why a reduction in the price of beer is a such a powerful, yet simple, means of averting the attention of Cameroonians from the process of political decision-making, and more so, a tactical means of preventing us from taking civic actions against the institutions at the root of our malfunctioning society.
As a Cameroonian, I will be the first to admit — Yes, I enjoy going to the bar and sharing fun moments over some Guinness Smooth, 33 Export or whatever floats the boat. However, for far too many people the consumption of beer has seemingly moved from an occasional/social indulgence to somewhat of a profession. We could try to rationalize this by pointing to the depressed state of Cameroonian society caused by the turbulence of economic woes and ineffective governance. In that light, it could be said that the excess consumption of beer is a means of drowning our sorrows. I could agree with that; however, accepting and prolonging this state does nothing to change our ailment. Rather, it continues to enable our own destruction.
There are so many disturbing things about the place of beer in our society — why is it that there are more bars on any stretch of a few kilometers than there are centers of learning, whether they be schools, libraries or tutoring centers? How is it that Les Brasseries du Cameroun so deeply understands its value chain and has mastered its supply chain, to the extent that even a person in the most remote village can buy a bottle of Castel Beer without a sweat, meanwhile that same person does not have easy access to medications in that same village? The questions go on and on, and these are questions we must ask and confront.
What we should grasp here is that the conditions under which the government can purposefully and strategically launch a campaign to reduce the price of beer at such a critical period, are not accidental and are by no means simply a result of the emotive needs of individuals or the cultural peculiarities of Cameroonians. The conditions have been created through a series of intertwined political and social processes. As a friend told me while I furiously ranted my thoughts after reading the article that ignited this post: “There are certain tools each government uses to control its people.”
We must start by breaking down and analyzing the above quote, for it is only when one understands the conditions of his plight that he can meaningfully react. I began this process for myself in my Bachelor’s thesis entitled “Understanding the State of Fragmented Nation-building in Cameroon”, which I will soon upload here for easy reading.
My question to you at this point is this: where is our dignity and how do we get it back?