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Selling to Survive in Cameroon
University graduates do what they can to stave off unemployment
Christopher Ambe Shu (chrisams)     Print Article 
Published 2006-06-19 16:24 (KST)   
Felix moves from door-to-door and street-to-street selling second-hand dresses. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in sociology from a university in Cameroon.

"I have not had even a low-paying job despite my search and efforts to secure one. I have dropped applications for jobs here and there until I am tired. I felt I must start doing something to keep me somehow busy, so my brother gave me some financial assistance, which I used to begin this hawking. It's strenuous and not profitable," he says.

A hawker is someone who travels about selling goods. I doubt anyone goes to university in hopes of becoming a hawker upon graduation. The dream for many graduates is to land a good job: whether white- or blue-collar. Of course, some might prefer to be self-employed, to control their own business and maximize profit. In Cameroon, hawking goods is considered a mean, low-paying job -- definitely meant for the less educated.

Despite being a country endowed with both natural and human resources, unemployment in Cameroon is quite appalling. Felix is not alone in having been reduced to a hawker of wares. Reportedly, thousands of Cameroon university graduates have been forced to embrace hawking as a way out of joblessness. They hawk cosmetics, shoes, cutlery, foodstuffs -- anything that they can sell.

According to the results of a survey on employment and the informal sector, released earlier this month by Cameroon's National Institute of Statistics, the unemployment rate in the country stands at 9.3 percent. Underemployment stands at 68.3 percent.

According to the institute's director, Joseph Tedou, up to 36.5 percent of university graduates are unemployed. Even the minister of state for planning, programming and regional development, Augustine Frederic Kodock, who chaired the ceremony for the presentation of the survey results, expressed regret that a university degree is no longer a passport to employment in Cameroon.

But why are more and more graduates engaged but in door-to-door selling? Are there no other odd jobs they can survive on?

"Becoming a hawker is very simple. All you need to do is get some capital, go straight to the market and buy whatever you want to carry along for sale," said one female graduate who's been hawking cosmetics for two years now.

"By selling from place-to-place it also provides you the chance to meet different people. You can introduce yourself to some influential person who ends up connecting you to a better job," said Ernestine Tanji, a law graduate.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic seems to be encouraging many female graduates who might otherwise have resorted to prostitution, to embrace hawking. Although illegal in Cameroon, prostitution is common in urban centers.

"Many girls today know AIDS is real," said one commentator. "They have seen people die of it. Many are saying no to unprotected [sex] and prostitution. So they look for another easy job, which is hawking. Just like in prostitution, you don't write an examination to become a hawker."

Although Cameroonian President Paul Biya on several occasions acknowledged the rough times the youth are passing through, and has called on them to take advantage of the fertile soil of the country and engage in farming, few graduates heed his call. Some complain that there are no credit facilities to secure loans to undertake agriculture. Many other graduates do not see why they should get into farming, which not only is strenuous but also does not expose one to opportunities. Some argue that they have not been trained as farmers.

Even Cameroon's recent completion of the Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) Initiative, which permitted the Bretton Woods Institutions (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) to cancel its huge external debt, is not a panacea to the country's high unemployment problem, as has been reiterated often by government officials.

There are many factors contributing to high unemployment in Cameroon. But corruption, mismanagement, and embezzlement of public funds with impunity, together with an underdeveloped private sector and high taxes (discouraging foreign investment) have been identified as major contributors to the problem.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Christopher Ambe Shu

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