FOR KATHERINE: REPLAY (CAMEROON OR HOW WE DO WRONG)

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I have a friend in Loum, Cameroon, where I live. His name is Alphonse, and he works in a Banana plantation which belongs to the French company PHP Penja. So, you might think, OK, so what ? The thing is that he's 35 years old, and he looks 50. I didn't know that when I met him first, and I hope he didn't notice the expression on my face when he told me. He's actually a friend of my friend I live and work with, and everybody knows him, he likes to play with our children, and he usually shows up in the morning to drink coffee with us.

 

He works at PHP Penja, a 10 minutes walk from my home, and there you can see banana plantations, they cover 4'500 hectares. PHP Penja is the only big employer in the region, half of Loum works there, in fact.

 

And half of Loum is sick. You can see one of the reasons almost every morning when that airplane is cruising above our heads, looks like a 1950's model, propeller and all, a lot of noise and that yellow stuff falling all over the place, VERY close to our house. Pesticides.

 

The picture above is exacty that plane.

 

And Alphonse works there, 10 hours a day - doing the same work on the ground as the plane does above - spraying pesticides. I remember meeting him October 2013 first, when I started our activities in Loum, we were talking about his job, and when I was asking him about protection clothing at work he just shrugged his shoulders. That's one of the reasons he looks 50. But now, apparently, some workers have gotten appropriate work clothes. But that's not the only problem there is. His salary, as a plantation superviser's right hand, is CFA 50'000 a month, that's about 100 US$.

 

Now, we have CFA 100'000 for our family to live on. We pay CFA 20'000 for rent, about 10'000 for water and power (including power breaks every day in the rainy season, or, when PHP is on full power, they cut us too), take off school fees and clothes, we eat on CFA 5'000 a day, that's 10 US$ for 12 people. So we eat once a day, in general, at midday, and heat up the rest at night. Ndolé, Fufu, Plantaines frites (fried cooking bananas) and whatever the earth allows.

 

Now, imagine how Alphonse is doing with his 50'000 salary for a family of 6 ? Another reason for his looks. The other day he told me a story of a plantation worker who was sick. He was asking Alphonse if he could go home (plantation workers get around CFA 30'000 a month, BTW). Alphonse told him go see the boss. He did - and came back with a bruise. He didn't tell more, but he kept on working until the shift was over. And beatings are frequent, as Alphonse told me. Several NGO's already have reported to the human rights commission - ironically that's in Geneva, Switzerland - my country.

 

I don't think anything will happen. Offficials are bribed to keep shut and block further investigations (by whom, actually....?), the French have strong ties to Biya's regime, and right now we're preoccupied by Boko Haram up north, and several outbreaks of Typhoid fever, Malaria, Cholera (due to PHP's pollution of ground water, actually) and other sicknesses. Ebola is no subject, though. Luckily.

 

A couple of weeks ago, Alphonse asked me:

 

"Why don't you apply for a job at PHP ?"
"Me ? As what ?"
"We need IT people."
"I don't have diplomas."
"Don't need them, you're white..."
"Ah, ok. And who's my boss then ?"
"Mr. ..... , a French guy."
"I don't like the French too much, they're arrogant."
"But you could do something for us."
"How do you mean that ?"
"You live here, you have an African family, people trust you, and you speak French."
"What could I do for you ?"
"Write. You know how it is here. Nobody cares or listens. We're afraid to lose jobs, that's why we shut up."
"So you mean, I work in IT, and besides I observe and get information."
"Yes. And you have connections. You use Internet."
"I don't know. Could it be dangerous for my family and others ?"
"Not if you don't go public until you have proof. We need someone in the inside, and as a white..."
"Let me think about it. I'll be back in summer for sure, you know that."

And that's how the discussion ended finally. When I came back to Switzerland, I didn't think about it anymore - first. He called two days ago for a chat. And now it's come back - and I think I'll accept.


(Note, January 2019: PHP Penja still exists, nothing has changed. As long as Paul Biya is president, all efforts to make such stuff public won't get published on MSM. I did actually pass by there in 2016, but the boss was not present multiple times for an interview. I suspect that somebody told him that a white guy lives around here who puts his nose into things that doesn't concern him. I'm in steady contact with Loum on Whatsapp, and as I said, nothing has changed.

 

People there still also say that the bosses there are part of the Masonry and do strange rituals. One of the directors there died of "unknown causes" when I was there, at the age of 51. Some said he wanted to leave the order but wasn't allowed to. But since Africans are very superstitious, I regard this with caution).

Comments

Ryan Messano Added Jan 9, 2019 - 3:19pm
Stop flirting with the ladies on WB, Stone. You are married.
Stone-Eater Added Jan 9, 2019 - 3:22pm
BTW: I wrote a more lengthy article on that in German and sent it beginning of 2016 to the NZZ and the WOZ, the Tages-Anzeiger and a local newspaper in the Zurich region, the "Zürisee-Zeitung". But neither of these Swiss newspapers even replied. And when I brought it up at the chamber of commerce they simply told me not to stir up problems, because "we have several companies in Cameroon who make good business there and help the population to develop, and we are on good terms with the government". I asked myself ..... which ones ? Never heard of any.
 
That's when I really started to be ashamed of my home country.
Stone-Eater Added Jan 9, 2019 - 3:23pm
Ryan
 
Hehe. For a change a nicer one LOL
Dave Volek Added Jan 9, 2019 - 3:28pm
So sad that workers are being treated like this. It seems Cameroon is like the 1950s in USA, when workers were expected to work around chemicals without much protection. But if cheap bananas are what Europeans want, the end justifies the means, right?
 
I also wonder whether the plantation has done any experimentation with pest control. I know farmers are reluctant try new things out after they figure out a way to earn a profit.
 
 
Stone-Eater Added Jan 9, 2019 - 3:33pm
Dave
 
I guess you're right in both. I will ask the situation as it presents itself now. Haven't been talking much about that lately. Hang on.
Stone-Eater Added Jan 9, 2019 - 3:38pm
BTW: If you have connections in the US to make that public (given it's still the same) tell me after - or anybody on WB. Because I don't like such shit and the Swiss apparently don't care at all. Of course the French would not like that, but what the hell.
Dave Volek Added Jan 9, 2019 - 4:00pm
Stone
 
There's a website where I have directed some of my Google ads towards:
 
http://www.trueactivist.com/
 
It's been a year since I looked at the site, and it seems to have changed. There's a section for new writers:
 
http://www.trueactivist.com/writers/
 
 
 
opher goodwin Added Jan 9, 2019 - 4:08pm
Exploitation and lack of care. These pesticides are killing us and the planet. We are full of residues. It would be illegal to sell us as food.
Stone-Eater Added Jan 9, 2019 - 5:17pm
Dave
 
I wrote to them. Let's see...thanks.
Stone-Eater Added Jan 9, 2019 - 5:18pm
Oph
 
It may be a possibility to shorten life spans of people in order to curb population growth.......
Stone-Eater Added Jan 9, 2019 - 5:18pm
;-)
Ward Tipton Added Jan 9, 2019 - 6:40pm
The Ag Farmers are beautiful airplanes. Lots of wing so lots of lift. Great to fly. 
White Hair'd Added Jan 9, 2019 - 6:40pm
That's a tale of shameful exploitation, all right. It would not be a stretch to say that the same sort of thing goes on in every country on the planet, to one extent, or another.
Ward Tipton Added Jan 9, 2019 - 6:42pm
"We are full of residues. It would be illegal to sell us as food."
 
Not to worry, the Soylent Green will probably be exempt from having to include warning labels. That being said, if we can introduce the large scale food forests in Africa, it is going to upset a lot of people ... but as Stone pointed out in another article comment, they really do not care ... they are Africa, not the west where everything beneficial can be regulated out of existence. 
Ward Tipton Added Jan 9, 2019 - 6:57pm
Luther Wu? You mean like Nancy Pelosi getting minimum wage increases all across the nation ... except where she owns fruit plantations in American territories? 
Stone-Eater Added Jan 9, 2019 - 7:17pm
Ward
 
These planes are probably nice to fly, but when you wake up and your small garden shines yellowish it's no fun.
 
Nancy Pelosi getting minimum wage increases all across the nation ... except where she owns fruit plantations in American territories
 
Poor people never get on top. That's what I said in another comment. Lately I saw a talk show with two publicly bitterly opposing politicians of Germany, quite high up people. Then one of them said accidentally: You know, Peter...I mean, sorry, Mr. Altmaier.....
Stone-Eater Added Jan 9, 2019 - 7:28pm
Luther
 
It would not be a stretch to say that the same sort of thing goes on in every country on the planet, to one extent, or another.
 
Not really. Where there are no resources or no strategic advantages (or both) nothing goes on. I mean who exploits Bhutan, Mauritania, Irian Jaya or Botswana ? Nobody. People themselves are only exploited when they can be used to extract what is on the ground or in the forest.
 
Take northern Mali. There would be no struggles for "independence" of the Tuaregs if there weren't the mines of Tessalit and the oil that is buried in the Sahara. Or South Eastern Nigeria where they want to revive Biafra together with their friends from South-Western Cameroon who want to create Ambazonia. Why ?
 
Because both coastal regions have oil...same as Boko Haram in Nigeria. There you find coltan, or and oil, natural forest and diamonds. As in Congo....
 
That religious battle is a simple distraction, and people believe that shit even today. It's about power and getting rich. That's all !
Ward Tipton Added Jan 9, 2019 - 7:35pm
"Take northern Mali. There would be no struggles for "independence" of the Tuaregs if there weren't the mines of Tessalit and the oil that is buried in the Sahara."
 
America lost four Special Forces personnel ... in an automobile accident in Mali a few years back ... nudge nudge wink wink. 
 
Bhutan? The Indian people. Mauritania ... got me ... but I hope to buy a fishing boat from there ... going to need a crew to sail her here. 
 
The rest? Funny how that works eh? Like "Opposing Lawyers" sitting down to discuss how best to rob all the assets of both parties in a case? 
 
And Nancy Pelosi was used because she pushed so hard for minimum wage hikes ... and then had exclusions put in where she does business. She is claiming to be all about those little people ... yet doesn't hesitate to stab them in the back ... and they praise her for it. 
White Hair'd Added Jan 9, 2019 - 7:41pm
That's right, Ward, but that's explainable by the same rules by which a wall surrounds her property, but... never mind. Such things are not to be contemplated by the peons.
 
Stone, what is the average wage of persons not employed in Cameroon, by the large companies which you mentioned.
In the US, we've watched our industries and jobs outsourced overseas for decades. It is always true that the foreign workers are paid a pittance, but the rationale given is that the workers are better off than they would have been, otherwise.
Thus, we see companies in Asia, with safety netting surrounding the company dorms, to keep heavily exploited and disaffected workers from committing suicide.
Stone-Eater Added Jan 9, 2019 - 7:45pm
Ward
 
Mauritania ... got me ... but I hope to buy a fishing boat from there
 
Wouldn't advise that. The only places where you find people and infrastructure somewhat are Nouakchott or Nouhadibou....I mean you can drive down from all the way Spain, but the Western Sahara and the border to Nouadhibou is still a hot treck where you can't get through without military assistance, and inland, forget it. There is only one other road from Morocco though the Sahara, and then down to Bamako, Mali. Wrong place anyway to buy a boat.
 
Just fly to Dakar and get a boat in Senegal. You spare yourself a lot of trouble and bribings.
Stone-Eater Added Jan 9, 2019 - 7:51pm
BTW: As you know, Senegal is only a wee bit further South, and you get in contact with my partner Aliou Badji. He'll help you out on that and you stay with him in Thiès.
Stone-Eater Added Jan 9, 2019 - 7:58pm
BTW2: Mauritania is full of Jihadists and Tuareg separatists. It's a dangerous place, especially for a white guy, even more so for an American. I don't joke. You can try it, but I would strongly oppose that. If you go with a group of people that might be ok, but be sure that they will rip you off. Except when you really know someone you can trust there. I mean that's the middle of the desert, and no one cares for a lost guy there. I don't want to be alarmist, I just wanted to tell you that.
Ward Tipton Added Jan 9, 2019 - 8:01pm
Why do you think I said I needed a crew to sail her here? LOL Though if I can get the funding, perhaps we can discuss that.
Stone-Eater Added Jan 9, 2019 - 8:05pm
No problem. I can give you the phone number of Aliou (French...), and you discuss it. It's up to you. Just a proposal.
Katharine Otto Added Jan 9, 2019 - 11:16pm
Well, Stone,
Thanks for this post.  I'm looking for more along these lines, when you get settled in Senegal.  I believe you will find many interested readers.  Just be careful.  Those exploiters are a close-knit group. They may hate each other, but they hate nosy outsiders more.
 
I would strongly recommend you read The Land Grabbers, by Fred Pearce.  He recounts a lot of similar stories about various places in Africa as well as on other continents.  
Ward Tipton Added Jan 10, 2019 - 3:51am
The writings of Sir Samuel White Baker are still tops on my list. 
Stone-Eater Added Jan 10, 2019 - 12:10pm
Katharine
 
Those exploiters are a close-knit group. They may hate each other, but they hate nosy outsiders more.
 
That's what I reckoned too when I was back, that's why I also waited before sending that article to those papers. I'm on the net with afronum, and for some it would be easy to track where I live when I'm there and who my family there is. No need to get them into problems.
Stone-Eater Added Jan 10, 2019 - 12:14pm
BTW: I'm not sure if I want to read that. Makes me depressive ;-)
Katharine Otto Added Jan 10, 2019 - 8:55pm
Stone,
The book is depressing but also inspiring.  The author says, among other things, that smallholders still produce most of the world's food, are more efficient and better stewards of the land.  He says that historically, in places like Africa, land was always communally held, with decisions about use being community decisions.  Of course, this is harder in larger groups of people, or with modern Western-style governments from afar.  
 
Regarding the bananas, I wonder what species of bananas are grown there.  I've heard the Cavendish bananas that we get, are suffering from a widespread disease, but I haven't noticed any scarcity, and the price has gone down over the last few years.
 
I also wonder about what pesticides they are spraying, and if other chemicals are also being used.  If so, what?  
 
Luther Wu,
Andrew Carnegie justified his 12-hour/six-day work weeks and wage cuts by making the same argument, that at least he gave these people jobs.  Meanwhile, there was a high accident rate and the jobs aged the workers fast.  Carnegie became the richest man in the world through exploitation of labor.  Are you suggest there's something right with squeezing your labor to the breaking point?  Just because it's practiced around the world doesn't make it right.
Katharine Otto Added Jan 10, 2019 - 8:59pm
Stone,
I agree with not putting yourself, family or friends in danger, but you can certainly get the most affected people curious about what they're breathing, eating, and drinking.  Developing fetuses are often at greatest risk for chemical poisoning.  
Stone-Eater Added Jan 11, 2019 - 12:59am
Katherine
 
Hm....I think about reading it. What we grow there is simply cooking bananas, called "Plantains" in French.
 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooking_banana
 
Further, Manioc, Yams, Mangoes, papayas, melons of any kind, sweet potatoes and all sorts of veggies are cultivated, but mainly plantains.
Ward Tipton Added Jan 11, 2019 - 5:06am
I recently moved back into livestock, beginning with two piglets to be raised for breeder sows and ten chicks ... baby chickens. Soon I will be raising my own meats in addition to my own vegetables again. Little by little, such is the life in the Philippines. 
Stone-Eater Added Jan 11, 2019 - 7:54am
Ward
 
My friend has started a poultry in Senegal as well now. We have enough land. Problem is that many rich Senegalese have a lot of land but don't do anything with it. They do business and put their benefit into nice cars and houses they rent out in the cities. The land just sits there, and the conscience for the common good doesn't really exist in Africa. Family first, then the tribe. That's all. Government ? Who cares ? They don't do anything for the people, so government doesn't really rule the country.
 
Governments in Africa are family and friends business. That's all.
Ward Tipton Added Jan 11, 2019 - 8:20am
I had to sell most of the land we had, we are restricted to roughly fifteen by twenty meters right now, but working on rectifying that. We were absolutely unaffected by the last major government change here, due in large part to local barter. What we are working on doing now is rebuilding to the point that we are relatively well self-sufficient again, trying to recover from super typhoons ... but we build slowly and surely as we can. One day though, I hope to include the Isolated Community Service Centers that are in the book I sent you. 
Stone-Eater Added Jan 11, 2019 - 9:35am
Ward
 
I know that for example a foreigner in Thailand can only own 49% of the land.....while in Africa in general it's 100%. You pay cash and it's for you. How's that in the Phillies ?
Stone-Eater Added Jan 11, 2019 - 9:38am
BTW: Gotta read your book first. Almost have no time to read and I need bright light to read. If not...my eyes...
Ward Tipton Added Jan 11, 2019 - 11:01am
I cannot own land at all, only lease housing on the land. My wife owns the land ... her and my daughter own the business if it gets established ... at least until I can establish myself as a Filipino and become a legal person again. 
 
Land, only Filipinos can own, foreigners can lease in Special Economic Zones, otherwise rent. 
 
Business, foreigners can own no more than forty percent of the business interest, ninety percent of workers have to be Filipino and at least sixty percent of admin and management must be Filipino. 
 
Overall business tax rate, about seventeen percent. 
Stone-Eater Added Jan 12, 2019 - 5:21am
Ward
 
I knew a German guy who put up a big hotel in a tourist spot in Cameroon. He was married to a Cameroonian, and when they divorced he was told that the land was not his because he didn't have a regular "titre foncier", a land register entry.
 
His ex-family "made him leave" with the little help of the village people.....I met him in Douala drinking Rum in the morning.
 
People can fall pretty easily if they simply believe what they're told without making proper researches....
Ward Tipton Added Jan 12, 2019 - 6:02am
I have definitely done my research ... no choice hahahahahahaha. I am currently involved in negotiations I hope will go well ... but we will see what we will see. 
Stone-Eater Added Jan 12, 2019 - 6:18am
Ward
 
I wish you luck !
Ward Tipton Added Jan 12, 2019 - 6:21am
Luck is nothing more than being prepared for the opportunity when it arises. I have done my research, now we will see whether or not I have prepared adequately. 
Stone-Eater Added Jan 14, 2019 - 5:03pm
Preparation was never one of my talents LOL
Ward Tipton Added Jan 14, 2019 - 6:50pm
Be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. Easier for me that way. 

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