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Chinese Goods Top Christmas Wish List 

By Divine Ntaryike Jr

For many in Cameroon, Christmas without new dresses, playthings and extraordinary food is unthinkable.  Family breadwinners must provide them all for their spouses, kids and other dependents to guarantee a happy and peaceful holiday.

Across the country this year, the traditional hustle and bustle that usually heralds the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ started off slowly. Until a few days ago, traders grumbled about poor sales, fearing they may end up with piles of unsold stocks of the seasonal Christmas goods. 

Civil servants complained the government had failed to pay their salaries on time.  Others said they were waiting for the last minute rush and a possible drop in prices.  As a result, most markets nationwide only recently witnessed an upsurge in sales in the final days to Christmas.

In the country’s most-populated city and economic hub Douala, the vast majority of Christmas shoppers preferred low-priced Chinese goods.  Many say imported products from other parts of the world like Europe and America are far beyond their reach.  They add that with as little as five dollars, it is possible to buy a dress and a pair of shoes made in China.

“Chinese goods are affordable. When you have a large family it is best to buy Chinese goods. They are the best for now,” Abel Nduh, a father of five told me on December 24, hugging big parcels full of China-made products. Economists argue that if the demand for Chinese products is a measure of the effect of inflation on the purchasing power of Cameroonians, some would think the country teems with masses of poor people.  And in the streets, many agree.

“I think the Chinese goods are mostly for the average Cameroonians.  Most of us are very poor people.  We cannot even earn 2000 francs a day,” Laure Flore Bengan, another shopper concurred.   “Our traders who go to China acquire goods they deem necessary for the Cameroonian market and for the Cameroonian people according to our purchasing power.  Besides, you don’t expect people to go and steal because they want to buy expensive products,” Michel Ndoumbe, another eleventh-hour shopper agreed.

Throughout the streets of Douala and other major urban settlements, the soaring demand for Chinese dresses, toys, medicines, motorbikes and electronic appliances among others has led to cutthroat competition for street-side commercial space between Chinese nationals and their Cameroonian hosts.

Economists say the failure of the country to manufacture consumer goods and the heavy dependence on imports has favored the steady influx over the years of Chinese products.  Calixtus Fuh Gentry, Secretary of State in the Ministry of Mines, Industries and Technological Development says the situation is not peculiar to Cameroon.  “China is bailing out the whole world.  The US owes China lots of money.  China is bailing out Europe.

So it’s not like we’re rushing to China. The very partners we started with, who are internationally renowned companies from very highly industrialized countries are heading to China to get financing, or they’re bought out by the Chinese,” he explained.

However, a fraction of Cameroonians say they would not, for anything in the world, spend a dime on Chinese goods for Christmas.  For them, the more expensive products from Europe or America are better because they last longer.

“Chinese goods don’t last.  They’re so flashy.  They’re not well-manufactured.  Despite the biting poverty, I cannot spend a franc on Chinese goods.  In fact they are a disgrace,” Nagani Hadjara, a Douala housewife stated.

Despite the ongoing debate, Chinese products have clearly topped the wish lists for many this Christmas in Cameroon.  Among the choice items for shoppers are educational electronic toys and gadgets including laptops.

Meantime, many parents say they have noted with delight, the absence of toy weapons on the markets this season.  They say it is an indication that years of lobbying against them are finally paying off.

Elsewhere, some are frowning at the increasing commercialization of Christmas over the years.  Ursula Njefrey is a member of the Holy Trinity Choir of the Presbyterian Church in the capital Yaoundé.  She says the growing attention on material things is blurring the real meaning of Christmas for many.

“Christmas is a season for reconciliation, for peace, for love.  To share love with one another so that even if we don’t have gifts to give to people, gifts in kind, we could offer songs to them,” she concluded.

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