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Analysis: Power To The Rural Poor 

By Peterkins Manyong

Friday, October 15, was Rural Women’s Day. It was celebrated under the theme: "The rural woman at the centre of innovations". As usual, there was a lot of cacophony on the state media all designed to give the impression that the New Deal Regime is fighting poverty, whereas, it is effectively fighting the poor. The same singsong had characterised previous years. If there is anything to admire in those who craft the themes, or discuss them, it is their ingenuity in being able to find so many different ways of articulating the same thing.

In Bamenda, it would have ended like any other international day if civil society organisations did not take the initiative to organise field trip to innovative sites and a round table conference held at Natamulung Church Centre to take a critical look at the day. During the round table discussion, moderated by Charles Blassius Nji, Director of Charmers Media and Communication, CHAMMECC, participants were unanimous that there was more of diction than action on the part of government and NGOs.

The spirited defence of the NGOs by their chief representative, Eric Ngang, of the Northwest Associations of Development Organisations, NWADO, did little to erase the scepticism of media men present. Everyone, however, agreed on one thing; that the rural poor, especially women, can only be rescued if the media and the civil society organisations work in tandem. As no disease can be effectively cured without proper diagnosis, it is difficult to assist this helpless, but economically vital category without first understanding their plight.

Contrary to what many think, rural women the world over are plagued by the same disadvantages: poverty, ignorance, disease and neglect. But unfortunately, those who don’t understand their plight think they are in an earthly paradise. George Crabbe, an English poet, mocks the Utopian perception of village life as in his poem "The Village" when he says that only those romanticizing on them are those who don’t know their pains.

Perhaps, a sterner and more realistic picture of the rural woman has been painted by Samuel Chop, a Bamenda-based writer, in his novelette, "Marimi Died". Matimi is the wife of a Kom villager called Bobe Tufoin. After a whole day of toil, Matimi returns home, carrying her baby on her back, a bundle of firewood on her head and foodstuff in her hand. She is the one to cook for her husband and perform her conjugal duty of "carrying him". But that is not the end of her troubles. Her husband beats her mercilessly on the flimsiest excuse imaginable. She finally dies after being tortured on the mere accusations of Bobe Tufoin, her husband’s friend, who decides to victimize her for refusing to "carry him".

On most rural settings, the rural woman is not only obliged to share husbands, but sometimes to escape the pressure of her husband, labours excessively to marry another woman for her husband. In Baba I, the village of this analyst, greatness is often measured on the number of dishes a man has on his table at a time. The dishes symbolise the number of wives he has.
The greatest embarrassment, however, is that while the man beats his chest as formidable, the children’s education is almost the exclusive responsibility of their mother.

The decline in soil quality is another source of headache for the rural woman. She is obliged to cultivate the same piece of land every year because the increasing population makes shifting cultivation impossible. The practice of burning the grass along with the soil called "ankara" has worsened matters. Those who visit the village sojourning to distant lands find it a very different community than the one they left a few years back. The philosophy of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere has replaced the epicurean culture of prolonged feasting of yesteryears. "Treat a person as a stranger the first two days. On the third day, give him a hoe to go to the farm".

The New Deal has further complicated matters by exploiting the poverty of the masses. Rather than provide the necessary facilities to fight poverty, salt, soap and other scarce needs are provided only at election time. Not contented with employing rural youths for ambulant voting, these commodities are used to buy consciences. The regime knows that the best way to manipulate the masses is to impoverish them.

Today, Takumbeng, the elderly women’s group, is doing for the CPDM what it did for the SDF in the early nineties. In principle the Regime is alleviating poverty; in practice, it is elevating it. Instead of "power to the people and equal opportunities" it is "power to the people who lack economic freedom".Long live the rural poor!

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