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Cameroon Youths Unemployment: What Future? 

By Azore Opio

He shuffled wearily along the deserted street. The hot, humid air smelled sweetly of braised fish and grilled skewered meat wafting from the busier quarters of the university town of Molyko.
Dusk brought a bite to the evening air. He held his jacket closer to his body.

The footpath was not unfamiliar to him. He often took this route when he felt like being alone. His walk took him to his favourite watering hole, Da Crown, where he could watch Cable TV and may be juggle a beer or two from friends.

This evening he was particularly depressed. There was too much noise going on at Da Crown. And there was a war raging in his stomach. Between soldier ants and bonamukenge. And the walls of his stomach being their main target were taking their bites with bleeding agony.

He strolled away and, somehow, found himself standing, looking, at Mama Fish turn the glassy-eyed mackerels over. He willed himself not to think of the juices rolling off and hissing in the charcoal fire. Conditions in Elango’s room are very primitive. Here and there, the rain finds its way in and his few belongings suffer from the damp. His domestic conditions too, are Spartan.

The single light bulb hanging from the ceiling sheds weak light on a chair and a rough table on which sits a kerosene stove. The condition leaves him apathetic, indifferent to the claims of life. Everything including cutlery is green with mould. Elango is one of thousands of Cameroonian youths who have a university degree in their pockets but do the hardest job; looking for a job.

"I tried driving a taxi but I just didn’t seem to be getting anywhere," he says, "I am always up at 5 am and close only at 11 pm, seven days a week but I can’t lay a finger on it." Mabel graduated in 2006 with a degree in History. Then she landed a kid, not a job. She lives with her auntie in a single room in the outskirts of Bamenda in the Northwest Region. And sells miondo for a living.

"It’s the best I can do to survive. I have looked everywhere for a job and I am tired," she says.
Every year, the University of Buea in the Southwest Region of Cameroon, passes out at least 2000 graduates – sparing the other five universities the woe of being cited –  more than two-thirds find themselves back in the loving, but frustrated arms of their parents.

Half of the two-thirds go back for post-graduate studies; some find jobs through patronage connections and leave the country for "greener pastures" abroad. Those who can hustle local odd jobs are usually overworked and underpaid.

Tansa read Geography at the University of Buea. But after graduating he decided to "fall bush" (work abroad). His parents sold their cocoa farm and gave him FCFA 2.5 million (circa US$ 5000) to travel. Unfortunately, he fell in the hands of scammers. Tansa never travelled. He never returned to his parents in the village for fear of reproach.

"So I started riding a commercial motorcycle, (bendskin) for someone. I labour for my daily bread, while paying off the owner of the bike so that I can eventually own it. My life is hopeless. I am only depending on the grace of God to help me and may be still travel abroad and continue with my education," says Tansa.

To add to Tansa’s consternation, he turned 41 when Government recently announced the recruitment of 25,000 youths into the public service. The age limit was 40. Most youths coming out of school are practically trained to do nothing gainful; hence they end up on the streets, easy and willing conscripts into the underworld of criminology.

To make matters worse, says Dr. George Chuyong, a botanist at the University of Buea, there is no vibrant private sector that could absorb students on internship and possibly employ them. The worst case scenario is that the public service is filled with people who cut their ages and have worked for more than thirty years without retiring. "Our graduates, therefore, have no place to go," says Dr. Chuyong.

Nsailai Awa graduated in Journalism and Mass Communication in 2002. Since then she has not been able to get a job. She says life has been very miserable as she has been living with one relative after another. Awa says she has deposited applications at many institutions and companies without any responses.

"I tried selling in a store but the pay was skimpy, to say the least. I could hardly feed myself," says Awa, adding that she can’t even raise capital to start her own business. Last year she fell terribly ill and almost died had her parents not intervened. Awa’s last hope was vested in the 25,000 public service jobs announced by Government. And now it has been pushed further ahead to December. The jobs may come. They may never come.

Although in 2004 the Cameroon Government espoused a new national policy on employment and professional training, and the then Minister of Employment and Professional Training, Zacharie Perevet, appealed for employment to be considered as a national concern, the Government seems instead to have adopted a knee-jerk policy, albeit regularly recruiting and training the armed forces.

In the past three years, Cameroon has recruited nearly 4,000 soldiers, most of whom joined the elitist Rapid Intervention Brigade, specialised in fighting piracy. Even then, the youths join the army not for the love for the military uniform, but because they don’t have other job opportunities, explains Baba Issa, a corporal in the Cameroonian Army.

Most Cameroonian youths also suffer from political patronage and social welfare through the provision of public posts to loyal followers and deserving clients. They now constitute a societal phenomenon, representing a group feared capable to incite destabilising social upheavals. Their future, bleak as ever.

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