YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – In a country where corruption is endemic, the Catholic Church in Cameroon says graft must be tackled in everyday transactions, too.
“We know how much damage corruption causes in our society, and the Church can’t remain insensitive to that which hurts the human being,” said Bishop Bishop Sosthène Léopold Bayemi Matjei of Obala, in the center of the country.
The local Church is liaising with the country’s National Anti-Corruption Commission, CONAC, to tackle help tackle the problem. A series of workshops and campaigns were organized in March and early April in several parts of the Obala Diocese to educate the public on corruption and to give them the tools to help fight it.
The first area was the country’s transport sector, where truck drivers have often complained about demands for bribes as they do their work.
In a report published in early 2018, the transporters’ unions operating on the Douala-Ndjamena corridor claimed that the 78,000 trucks on the road must pass through 120 checkpoints set up by the police, gendarmerie, customs, and road prevention officers every trip. At each stop, they are expected to pay bribes, costing the transport industry over $320 million a year.
Jean -Yannick Ze, a motor-taxi rider, told Crux that after the seminars, he understood that not having all the documents required to do motor-taxi business opens him up to corruption.
“I used to think that corruption is only about big people in government asking bribes, but I now understand that even we, motor-taxi drivers are also guilty,” he said.
“When you don’t have your driving permit, there is a tendency to propose bribes to traffic police or road control agents once you are stopped. So if we could get all our documents as it should be, maybe we could avoid being trapped in the corruption cycle. But traffic control police and road control agents are also guilty. Sometimes you get to a checkpoint and no one asks for the documents. All they ask us to give them is ‘beer.’ It’s a code that everyone masters,” he said.
Taxi driver Alphonse Mbida told a similar story.
“When I get up and hit the road with my taxi, I already know that I have to pay [a bribe] at each checkpoint linking one part of the town to another. It’s not a question of car documents, insurance or driving license. No one asks you for that. If you have all the books and refuse to pay, they will come up with other accusations. It could be overloading, illegal transportation etc. … they always have an excuse with which to pin you down,” he said.
And Jean Ngono, a transporter in Obala, said the seminars had taught him the virtue of honesty.
“I learnt about honesty and responsibility in my area of activity. There are many in my sector who think that to be a motor taxi driver means their lives have come to an end, but I’ve learnt that I am offering an important service in society, and I need to be responsible,” he said.
According to the Mayor of Obala, Simon Pierre Ediba, the little acts of corruption are what drain the council of needed financial resources and stunts the development of the city as a whole.
“Let me give you an example. Take a bus for instance that is supposed to pay 700 CFA francs [slightly more than $1] at a checkpoint. When it gets there, the driver pays 300 or 400 francs to the control agents, and no receipt is ever issued. All that money doesn’t go into the council coffers which really needs it to finance local projects. We hope that at the end of this campaign, transporters will come to understand that they play an important role in our economy, and they can turn their backs to these acts of corruption which make the council lose so much money,” he said.
The president of the diocesan Justice and Peace Commission, Pierre Mvogo Bikele, said the lessons learned about corruption will strengthen his faith.”
“I got acquainted with the various institutions and instruments the state uses to fight corruption that constitutes gangrene for our nation. From now on, my life should act as an example to my neighbor, my parishioners, and my community,” he said.
Bayemi Matjei said he noticed that very often, the fight against corruption targets only the big guns in society, whereas the vice is also rampant among the ordinary folk. He said even during elections, a Cameroonian will often sell his vote for as little as a beer.
“After [seeing electoral malfeasance], I wrote …the president of CONAC requesting technical assistance to train members of the Justice and Peace Commission as well as the general public on the dangers of corruption and how they can effectively fight against it,” the bishop told Crux.
The Justice and Peace Commission of the Cameroon Bishops’ Conference said such programs will be replicated in all dioceses of the country.
Sylvanus Shulika Binla, the commission’s national coordinator, said wherever there are God’s people, the Church cannot be insensitive or indifferent.
“This capacity-building wants to equip ordinary people with knowledge of what corruption means and where the Church stands on matters of corruption. At the Justice and Peace Commission of the Bishops’ Conference, we are already thinking about how this initiative could be scaled to include all dioceses across the country,” he said.