I once read a book that said there was a time in England when young people could count all their career options on the fingers of one hand. Clergy. Soldier. Marine. Lawyer. Doctor. Five. That was it. I don’t remember the title of that book. Blame it on me trying to forget the travails of being a youth at the time. But the writer had spotted the five. The only other option was the dole.
I can’t help but wonder what anyone would write for Cameroonian youth today. Not some patriarchal lecture on what the youth should put their time to. Just the plain truth. The truth as it is, no salt, no sugar, no fancy colours. What options are there for the Cameroonian youth? Let me take a dry try.
Concours. Bush. Triple masters. Army. Use-your-head. There are other contenders, especially ‘church entrepreneurship’. But let’s hold our peace on these five.
A lot of Cameroonian jargon in there. Let us decode.
Concours: French word for competitive entrance exam into the civil service. The majority of English speaking Cameroonians know civil service recruitment by no name other than ‘concours’. Cameroon’s government is by far the biggest employer in the country. Recruitment into the civil service gives you a ‘matricule’, a sort of insurance that you have a job and a regular salary for the foreseeable future. Youths naturally seek this safety net. It doesn’t matter to young people if they have dreams that should be fed elsewhere. The trophy of a matricule is a gold standard.
Bush: Bush is short for bushfaller. In Cameroonian lingo, a bushfaller is someone who travels abroad, usually to Europe, America or some other foreign land to work. The word arose from the trend of young people flocking out of the country in the nineties as the country’s economy reached for the abyss and its politics bordered on chaos with riots and ghost towns as building blocks for democracy. Bush is where people go and labour on their farms. So the word quickly took a new meaning. Economic migrant was too cliché and didn’t capture the full meaning. The English language actually has no better word for it. You go to your bush to labour hard. And so Cameroonian youth hijack their parents’ laborious savings, plunging many into debt, to travel abroad or more succinctly fall bush. To hustle in a McDonald’s, to hide from wolf-ish immigration officials or to be abused by hedonist lords in Qatar’s home jails. But many do manage to wiggle their way into a life of opportunity, constant water supply and electricity that doesn’t blink.
Triple masters: I don’t know how this one made its way in my head as a career option. Blame it on experience, intuition and/or intellect. Don’t know which one of them won. But there’s a growing class of young Cameroonians rich with academic epaulets. Many are on their third master degree in a university in the country. There are few jobs. They don’t want to be idle. So they don’t mind the circular loop of handling less than bothered lecturers, taking exams they’re not sure where it leads to but taking the trouble all the same. At least it keeps them out of trouble, while waiting for their future to finally come even if that might mean at forty or worse.
Army: The country is at war. Waging a war against a new type of enemy called ‘terrorist’ for which no conflict strategist has the complete answer demands human resources. Those whose hearts still pump hard for the fatherland, whose knees won’t surrender at the sight of the first body parts butchered by an extremist’s assault can march on. The nation’s soul beckons for its freedom fighters. But there’s little time. Army recruitments have to happen in your very first few years of adulthood.
Use-your-head: Economic crisis. Youth hopelessness. Youth disenfranchisement. A gerontocracy which pats its back after appointing a 48-year-old director as a sign it is involving the youth. An increase in life expectancy leading to old leaders clinging on to power and money, not forgetting the pecks of an extra teenage girlfriend here and there. Elderly people using fraud to trim their ages and stay in jobs. A fearful social security system failing to look after those who retire. Broken morals. Mix all these in a broth. Add the advent of the internet and smart communications meaning the youth hold a technical advantage over the others. What do you get? Use-your-head. This sad career option produces the country’s scammers, fraudsters, who have managed to put the country on the world map of internet crime alongside Nigeria, Ghana, Britain and the USA among others.
England had a sixth option: the dole a.k.a job-seekers’ allowance. Cameroon cannot afford such heaven. But all hope is not lost. A sixth finger is sprouting up, a salvific growth. The young men and women rising up in social enterprise, in tech innovation, in civil society, in activism, in crying out for a new dawn, in plugging the country’s nerve endings into a world Cameroon can tap from and show its sparkling star. They win global prizes despite being ignored at home. The Nazarene predicted that in one of his sermons.
Their hearts beat for Cameroon and theirs is a holy cause for the protection of innocence, a cry for the youth to be allowed to breath and a rallying call for all the country’s souls, green and brown, to stand up and be counted.
Arrey Elvis Ntui is author of ‘Murdering Poverty – How to fix aid‘ https://www.amazon.com/Murdering-Poverty-How-fix-aid-ebook/dp/B019NJAIZA (2016, Sanaga Press)
If you are a typical Cameroonian youth, this is the run down on your life.
You are born; you go to nursery school, primary school, secondary school, high-school, university and then after graduating with all these certificates. You join the thousands out there looking for a job. They tell you: Welcome to Shomencam– the fictitious company of unemployment where non-workers walk their shoes to death “hustling”.
This is your life. But it shouldn’t be. Yes, there should be jobs, but then even if there are jobs, what tells you that you are qualified for them? All the certificates? Those are nothing but paper printed on and credited etc. But in our competitive society you need a lot more than that to impress.
Don’t get me wrong I’m not belittling education. It is necessary very necessary. But it is not enough. It is not enough to have knowledge you need to have the experience of putting that knowledge to use. This is one of the reasons for which programs such as the youth corps in Nigeria is in place for those who have just graduated, and internships are required by some departments at higher institutions such as the University of Buea. We don’t have a youth corpse like the Nigerians do, and internships of one month required to pass a course do not suffice when it comes to gaining experience needed to make one stand out of the average.
However there is a better way. Volunteering.
To volunteer is to opt to undertake a job or offer your service for little or nothing. Why would you want to work for no pay? For the same reason you go to school, to learn. You see, when you volunteer you are actually paying for your learning with your labor rather fees as you do with a school. By volunteering, you gain professional experience, and practice at putting your knowledge to use.Often when applying for a job, a requirement is a certain amount of working experience. And the fresh graduate of Shomencam wonders how he/she is ever going to get working experience if he/she doesn’t get the job first. Volunteer.
When Should You Volunteer?
A good time to volunteer is while still a student. It is very possible with time management to work and go to school. If you can volunteer briefly during the long holidays of High-school then you may be able to test yourself as to what career you appeals to you most.
While in the university you may begin volunteering from your first year; either alongside going to school or during the long holidays. With the experience gleaned over the course of three to four years of the university you would have a great deal of experience to build an impressive CV by graduation. And enough confidence and practical know-how alongside your knowledge to get your self employed or become and entrepreneur yourself.
Alternatively if your program is too strenuous as is, you may take a year after school to volunteer in one or two places.
Where Should You Volunteer?
As a student you are limited to areas around your school. Be it the hospital, a credit union, an NGO or Newspaper. Think of your career choice, and apply to an organization or institution in your locality that would help you gain skills needed to boost yourself into that career path.
As a graduate you have the choice to go farther out of your region. You can volunteer in bigger organizations and institutions from UNESCO and CARE in Yaounde to international volunteering projects via the African Union Youth Division.
Wherever you decide to volunteer, apply well in advance of the time you want to begin, so you give your application time to be processed. And make sure it is a field which would boost you in your career choice and in which you truly have a passion.
Why Should You Volunteer?
Here are the top five reasons:
1. Gain Job Experience.
With volunteering you gain professional experience which cannot be taught in the classroom, Some things are learned only on the field.
2. Meet Real Community Needs.
Volunteering is the easiest way to be a part of national development. By volunteering with a community based organization, you become conscientious of your peoples’ needs and are actively working at making things better
3. Gain Entrance to College.
Volunteering noted on your CV or a motivational letter improves your chances at getting a scholarship and entry into graduate schools. Sometimes even more than your grade point average.
4. Meet New People and Establish Friends, Connections and References.
By volunteering you “put yourself out there” You open yourself to networking, to know and be known.
5. Gain New Skills and Develop Talents.
In the course of volunteering you will most likely learn new skills and find that what you thought was the right career for you may be the wrong one. It is a process of self discovery and personal growth.