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Mobile Phone Misuse In Cameroon 

By TazoAgbor, Mirabel Etta & Hugues L.T Kamga — The usage of mobile telephones has exhibited a rough mélange of good and bad practices. Besides the normal use of the phone for communication with loved ones and for business, people make negative use of the phone like lying, using it at the wrong time in the wrong places or using it to scam people,among other malpractices.

Mobile telephony was introduced in Cameroon in 1999 by Mobilis [now Orange Cameroun], when very few people could afford it. But less than decade later, at least five out of every 10 adults in urban areas own mobile phones. The positive impacts of mobile phones include: improved communication, increased socio-economic standards with the creation of new jobs and strengthened family and social ties since members can now talk to each other easily.

Mobile phones have various uses especially among youths: make calls, play games, take and store pictures, messaging and now with smartphones one can download, upload, search, email and make use of the internet. Despite these laudable benefits, mobile phones have facilitated lies telling. “I tell lies over the mobile phone in order to save situations and avoid clashes with boyfriends,” one Melvis said.

She recounted a situation where she told her boyfriend that she was in Yaounde, whereas she was in Buea. The boyfriend had seen her and later on confronted her but she denied the accusation. Lying on the phone is also done in order to get money from parents and guardians. One Florence Agbortold The Post: “I lied on phone because of a particular shoe I wanted for a party. It cost FCFA 15,000 and the only option I had was lying to my father.

I told him we were going on a field trip and he sent me the money.” This is in contrast to DivinaOke, a student of the University of Yaounde I, who also lies on the phone to get basic needs. When she asks money for food, her parents won’t send, but when she asks money for text books, they oblige. Lying is not the only bad habit mobile phone users have imbibed. Making and receiving calls while driving is very common nowadays. 

Ernest Njie, a township taxi driver in Buea, said: “When I get important calls such as from my boss, I answer after asking permission from my passengers. I also slow down before answering the call.” He added that he makes calls when something ‘pops up’ and he needs immediate response from, for example, his family members. Some drivers agree that making calls while driving distracts them. Accidents have been reported to have been caused by using mobile phones while behind the wheel. Regulations in many countries even ban phone usage in vehicles by drivers. 

Pedestrians, drivers report, answer calls while crossing the road and worse, use headphones to listen to music while walking on the highway. In such situations, they cannot hear the horn of an on-coming vehicle. This sort of behavior predisposes all the road users to accidents.
Off the road, at home and also in classrooms, the use of mobile phones as a source of distraction is very evident.

Young people spend time listening to music on their mobile phones instead of using it essentially for communication. Educators have posited that answering calls in classrooms, besides being disrespectful, distracts the learner. Another use of mobile phones for nefarious purposes is impersonation.  Scammers, ‘fey men’ or ‘ 419ners’ call potential victims, pose as businessmen and trick unsuspecting individuals  into sending money or providing vital information such as bank account numbers and passwords. holds that: “The use of cell phones has escalated well beyond the occasional use of yesterday. With smart phones giving easy access to apps and the Internet 24/7, people are constantly in a state of cellphone attachment, which has resulted into annoying cellphone habits. Good manners have gone by the wayside when it comes to using a cell phone, and respect for others around can seem to dwindle.”

The source also provides solutions to such habits: “If there are special family members who have made a trip to visit, turn off the cell phone and put it away. People won’t always be face to face, and sometimes there aren’t second chances to be able to see them.” The source continues: “Be a good, true friend and don’t answer calls if you’re visiting with someone. If it is school, work or an expected call that warrants some urgency, then, by all means, take the call. Be respectful.”

The mobile phone revolution on the African continent began in the late 90’s. In Cameroon in 1999, communication credit was FCFA 500 for a call unit and the lowest amount of airtime rechargeable at the time was FCFA 2,500. Not everyone could afford using, not to mention, owning a mobile phone. After Mobilis, MTN Cameroon came a couple of years and then CAMTEL, which was operating only the land lines joined the fray of the mobile phone network operators.

According to , in 2007, 251,157 people per thousand owned a mobile phone. This is as compared to 2002-9, 412 people per thousand owned mobile phones.  Six years later, with competition between the mobile phone network operators, call rates dropped and the mass production of mobile handsets by Asian, European and other manufacturers, has made them relativelyaffordable.

*(National Polytechnic & UB Journalism Students on Internship)

First published in The Post print edition no 01454