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Cameroon: From “kind” thieves to mobile credit as legal tender

The nearly 20 million inhabitants of Cameroon are facing rising levels of criminality. Bandits even stormed the national headquarters of the police and the Ministry of External Relations (Foreign Affairs) in the capital city, Yaounde.

PNT Attitude shared her experience with crime in a recent post describing how her hand bag was stolen from her car:

…I pulled over to buy some mangoes. Mangoes bought, I open the door of the vehicle to put the mangoes on the back seat. Just then I saw this guy loitering on the other side of the car.

I paid him no attention. Suddenly he opened the passenger door, grabbed my red handbag lying on the front seat, and dashed into the market. I initially thought he wanted to do a carjacking, or was he just trying to make me uncomfortable by getting into the car? Could he be mentally deranged? I screamed “voleur” and ran after him with the mangoes, which I threw at him before he made the corner, thereby getting out of sight. Yes, you might be thinking I was careless leaving the bag there, fyi, it was hidden beneath that same seat until when I thought I had finished shopping!”

But the beautiful twist in her story is that some of the thieves in Yaounde could be really “kind”. Even the police know that if one is lucky they can have their personal belongings back by visiting the place where they were robbed (mugged). So she drove there:

I was told that a guy with a red bag came a few minutes after I left asking “where is the lady whose bag was snatched”. Since they didn’t find me, they took it away.

My friend and I searched around the escape route for a little bit and another person advised that we check with the nearby radio station. We went there and the receptionist said: “…yes we received a bag this morning and the contents belonged to…Ntemgwa…!” that was it, I was SOOO RELIEVED that I found the bag, she brought it out, I checked the contents and I said everything was in tact, unless of course the money and fuel voucher. She added “10.000frs, withdrawal fee”. I tried to argue and realised whatever was still in that bag had more value than the amount requested. I however negotiated for 5.000frs and I got the bag, went back home, happily.”

After such an experience here are some of the lessons learned by PNT:

- Not all thieves have evil intentions, some are opportunists who are just hungry;

- There exist organised (petty) crime in the Mokolo market, beware in all you do whenever you find yourself there, organised because all they want is your money, and everyone around knows where you can find your bag after the incident, who knows if there is more to the whole setup than meets the eyes?

- It is normal to be attacked in such crowded markets, the policemen played down the whole drama, wondering y I was feeling bad (at all), yes there is no service to take care of trauma victims in the police station since it is “normal” to be victimised like that…
– I miss those mangoes and I have nothing against them;”

Speaking of buying fruits in Yaounde, a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer blogging at Adventures of Aubrey seems to have been haggling a bit over the price of apples. The conversations with those selling the apples certainly reveal a lot about the perceptions associated with race which engender misconceptions:

During my trip to Yaounde this week I went to buy apples, twice. The first time I was walking down the street and saw a man with an apple cart. I asked him the price and then told him that was the white person's price and apples should cost this and that I wanted to buy these two apples for this much. He laughed and went down in price but not enough. We talked back and forth a few minutes and finally he wanted 50 more CFA (like 10 cents) and I wouldn't pay it and so I grabbed a plastic bag and bagged my own apples and left the money on his cart while we both laughed and I walked away saying thank you and that I would come back next time (this is a common way to leave a conversation in Cameroon – saying thanks, next time).”

…I saw another man with an apple cart outside of a white person store in downtown Yaounde (that was mistake one, trying outside a white person store). I asked him how much the apples were, went into the store with my friend and her mom, and we came back and I decided I wanted apples and began to bargin. He got angry and started screaming at me that why would I assume the price could change – he told me the price and I should have accepted it and blah blah blah. So I laughed it off telling him, this is Cameroon you discute for all the prices and tried again to bargin with him. He got angry again. Then, I got mad. I told him he was very rude and that I didn't care what his apples cost now I wasn't buying any from him. He yelled back that I was rude to try to bargin with him when I was rich (aka white). I repeated that he was rude and wouldn't get my money today or in the future and left. A year ago that interaction might have upset me but now I simply ran to catch up with my friend and her mom and repeated it while laughing and saying that I guessed it wasn't my day for apples.”

Instead of nearly running into trouble haggling, maybe Aubrey (or anyone else planning a stay in Cameroon) should use pay-as-you-go mobile airtime credits as legal tender. It seems a much easier way of buying things without cash if one goes by PNTs Attitude:

I almost finished buying the items on my list when I decided to go into a lingerie shop to look for an item that has been on my shopping list forever: a seamless wireless bra.

I was very lucky to find it in this shop, and as fate would have it, it was the last one available and I hadn’t seen it in any other shop. The salesperson said it cost CFA 4,500. Behold I had just CFA 3,500 on me! I tried to haggle the price to the amount I had on me, in vain. I thought of taking a much dreaded along walk to the car and also the possibility of paying partially by a telephone credit transfer. The latter option seemed more likely.

So I asked her if she had an MTN phone so I could complete the payment through a phone credit transfer. She said no, she had an Orange phone. However she added, “I have a friend on the MTN network you can send the remaining CFA1000 to”. Problem solved, I went away with the much-sought-for bra, smiling as I walked away.”

2 comments

  • […] with a conscious? Apparently so, in this French and English speaking, West African country. An article on Global Voices outlines the story of a young woman who had her purse snatched from her car while […]

  • So, what? There are more violent thieves in Dakar, Johannesburg, Brixton, New York, Chicago, Moscow…..What’s the essence of this discussion?

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