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When Beer Sells Cheaper Than Knowledge 

By Diane Hacko*

In Cameroon, a newspaper costs cheaper than a bottle of beer. Publishers find it difficult breaking even. Except in very special circumstances, it is not easy selling up to 10.000 copies of a newspaper edition nationwide. But it would be pretty easy to sell out 20.000 bottles of assorted beers in a single village of say, 5.000 inhabitants in a given day.

It is common to find someone, an intellectual, complaining that he couldn’t afford a newspaper because it was too expensive. Yet, the same guy would, in a matter of hours, spend cash on a few crates of beer, without as much as batting an eyelid. When the father of a sick child is referred to a pharmacy for drugs, he usually comes out from there, grumbling about how the pharmacist has robbed him of all his cash, but hardly does the same parent return home from a bar, complaining that the bar attendant overtaxed him or coaxed him into drinking more than he could afford.

Newsrooms in Cameroon are used to individuals turning up long after a particular edition of a newspaper was published. It is very often a sign that such individuals are only attracted to the press when something in it concerns them directly. A typical "drinkard" who has no business reading papers would come asking for "that your edition, which I am told, carried the story of redundant Marketing Board workers whose monies have at last been made available by the government".

These examples and more, paint, at least, the heavy rate at which alcoholic beverages are consumed in Cameroon. It is so high that it has affected family life negatively. There are parents who consider their drink budget before that for school fees or even food and house rents. It is common to find a wife showing up at the husband’s place of work on pay day, just to ensure that she "rescues" the food ration money before he drowns everything in beer. The average Cameroonian’s love for beer could also be said to be so strong to the point that he is pushed to it by some instinct. It is common knowledge that whenever there is an uprising in Cameroon, rioters target the breweries first, where they loot and drink to their fill.

And despite the relatively high taxes imposed on the industry by government; in spite of the losses incurred from looters, the breweries are apparently still able to stay in good business.   Daily, brewing companies supply thousands of crates of drinks to bar owners, who in turn sell off the brew to thirsty customers. A Buea based bar owner Tanyi Ako says it is a very good business. He makes a lot of profit from it, he says. He makes more than fcfa100.000 a day and this has enabled him to invest in another bar elsewhere.

Emmanuel Nfor is this typical Cameroonian who says he has been drinking alcohol for over 15 years now. He is even more dramatic about how he describes the tempting liquid. To him, it is a gift from God, and it provides strength, courage and a feeling of belonging. Another alcohol lover Tiku Ndong says he drinks to relax with friends and discuss social life. One businessman described alcohol as good   for the heart and the functioning of other bodily systems. He says it makes him courageous and bold enough to take certain decisions that would have been otherwise difficult to take were he sober.

"There is truth in a bottle of beer", says Tah, a student of a tertiary institution in Buea. Many others, like Tah hold that alcohol is a stimulant, which facilitates both their thinking and understanding patterns. They also claim that alcohol makes people feel accepted in the society. Still others believe that it proclaims their maturity to the world. For some, drinking alcohol is an adventure undertaken to discover the feeling it provokes.

There is a negligible number of Cameroonians like Charles Beyong who see nothing good in imbibing alcohol. He says alcohol consumption inevitably leads to irresponsible acts such as unplanned and reckless spending and being generally negligent of one’s family obligations.
 Most opponents of alcoholism like Beyong view the practice as leading to unsafe sexual practices, rape and jobs loss. Scientifically, excessive alcoholic consumption by women could end up in infertility. It also disrupts their menstrual cycles, when drunk they are easily raped.

All said, the good thing about alcohol production in Cameroon is that despite normal capitalistic urges, the breweries are prudent enough to constantly warn that indiscriminate consumption of the liquid is not particularly good for the health. They draw consumers’ attention to some of its dangers, like impaired judgement, leading to accidents.

(UB Journalism Student on Internship)

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