Underemployment fuels spike in robberies in Cameroon

By Comfort Mussa  |  Feb. 25, 2013 at 5:21 PM
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BAMENDA, Cameroon (GPI)-- Emmanuel Akum, a radio disc jockey in Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s Northwest region, says that armed men robbed his family’s store three years ago. A salesman at the store, he had been sleeping there when robbers broke in around 1 a.m. “I suddenly discovered that armed men were in our shop, and I was ordered to lay on the floor,” he says. “They carried bags of beans, cooking oil, rice and other supplies, which they loaded into a truck that was packed outside. They also carted away 827,000 francs [$1,700].” He says he contacted his neighbors after the robbers left. “We reported [it] to the police in the morning,” he says, “and they started investigations.” The police didn’t make any arrests, Akum says, so he and his family tried another method. “We reported the incidence to a witch doctor so that, through his art, the thieves will be caught or will return our goods,” he says. “A few months later, two men confessed to the act, and we think it is due to the witch doctor's intervention.” Police officials link an increase in robberies and thefts in Cameroon to high underemployment. People are easy targets because they carry or store large amounts of cash in their offices and homes instead of using bank services. Schools in Bamenda are introducing more secure methods for tuition payment after several prominent robberies last year. But rural areas still lack banks, leaving their money susceptible to theft or damage by the elements and insects. Banks offer growing cashless services, but people don’t trust them while rural areas lack infrastructure to operate them. A high-ranking police official, who requested anonymity because he’s involved in investigations of recent larceny cases in Bamenda, says that thefts and robberies occur on a weekly basis now. He says the number of incidents has been increasing, which he linked to declining social conditions and high youth underemployment rates. In Cameroon, 3.8 percent of the population is unemployed, according to the World Bank’s January 2012 Cameroon Economic Update. But 70 percent are underemployed, which includes people who are unemployed, work fewer than 40 hours a week or earn less than the minimum hourly wage. The National Institute of Statistics’ 2010 survey of employment and the informal sector found that 13 percent of young people ages 15 to 35 were unemployed, according to an African Economic Outlook 2012 report. More than 70 percent of this same age group were underemployed – nearly 55 percent in urban areas and almost 80 percent in the countryside. “When social conditions breakdown, crime goes up,” says Paul Nchoji Nkwi, a professor of African anthropology and the deputy vice chancellor for academic affairs at the Catholic University of Cameroon, Bamenda. The Bamenda police official says that people are easy targets for larceny because they carry huge amounts of cash. They also store it in unsecured buildings, including their offices or homes, instead of banks. “I remember this case of a businessman who was traveling with his driver to one of the villages for some business project,” he says. “This businessman had over 25 million francs [$51,000] in cash in his car. On their way, robbers waylaid them and made away with the money.”

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