Covid-19 in Cameroon: Low level of CSOs response in the face of government slip-ups
Africa falls next in line after Asia, Europe and America to experience the scourge of the Covid-19 pandemic. In Cameroon, the first case was recorded on March 6, 2020 and since then, there have been endless cases of infections, quarantines and deaths. As of 6 June 2020, there were 7908 confirmed cases, 2967 active cases, 4735 recoveries, and 206 deaths. In order to curb the spread of the virus, the government of Cameroon has prescribed some response measures that we find quite “inadequate” to the spread of the Coronavirus.
Overview of theImpact of COVID-19 on the Economy
Although the review of the Covid-19 response measures in Cameroon on 11 May 2020 was helpful in resuming some activities, there are still some problems that persist. These include a decline in activities across the economic sector.
Moreover, in the transport sector, motorists have threatened to go on strike to see their working conditions improve. The government was being called upon to review the rules on the number of passengers to be transported. However, the motorists are not the only ones facing difficulties related to the current situation. As an evidence, several companies have put their employees on temporary leave, while the most fragile companies have either reduced their workforce by laying off some of their staff or closing their offices. Other greatly affected businesses include bars, snack bars, pubs, restaurants etc.
The trend is almost the same in many economic sectors. According to a survey by Groupement Inter-patronal du Cameroun (GICAM) on the impact of Covid-19 on companies in Cameroon:
“48% of companies indicated that the human resources have been directly affected. This proportion masks significant heterogeneities depending on the size of the company. In fact, 65% of large companies are experiencing difficulties at this level, compared with 42% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The gap between service and industrial companies is also very significant. 51% of service companies believe that human resources are directly being affected, compared with 44% of industrial companies”.
The shortfall is huge, with a declining economy. Cameroon Tribune informs that: “SMEs and companies operating in services are the most severely affected in terms of loss of sales revenues. The most affected sectors are hotels, restaurants, distribution, trade, tourism, transport, crafts and events”. An observation confirmed by the GICAM survey which indicates that:
“44% of companies reported that their purchases/supplies are directly being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Industrial and large companies seem to be more affected than service companies and SMEs. In fact, 62% of large companies say that their purchases/supplies have been affected compared to 38% of SMEs. Similarly, 56% of industrial companies said that their purchases/supplies have being affected, compared to 38% of service companies”.
As time goes by, the number of infected people increases. Although the measures prescribed by the government to reduce the spread of Covid-19 are increasingly being observed, the situation is not improving. This observation, nevertheless, raises several questions, particularly about the effectiveness of the control measures.
Inadequate support from Civil Society Organisations (CSOs)
In order to complement the actions of the government, some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have decided to support the government’s communication actions. Particularly at the level of dissemination of statistical data to bring both sides to respect the preventive measures. This is the case of Positive Generation, which relays information on confirmed cases, active cases, deaths and recoveries on its Facebook page. Another CSO, Volunteers for the Creation and Promotion of Development Initiatives (VOPID) in Cameroon, works closely with the Ministry of Health, particularly the Ministry’s Regional Delegation for the Southwest and Northwest, with which VOPID holds meetings on actions to be taken in response to Covid-19.
“We have created an exchange platform for actions already carried out and action plans of the different stakeholders”, said Jeannette Benga, Chairperson of VOPID.
Despite this willingness of some CSOs to engage in the response, the low level of engagement of the majority of CSOs must be acknowledged. “We cannot do everything”, explained Van Bisseng, Executive Director of Pep Sans Frontière . “Not everyone works in the same field, so not everyone can be active in certain areas”, supported Jeannette Benga, Regional President of the Association of Civil Society Organisations for the Southwest. For her, it would take courage and a spirit of voluntarism to lead this struggle, which many CSOs do not have. And especially, there is also the fear of contracting the disease.
Furthermore, the reaction of the Cameroonian civil society has been low following the violation of the precautionary health measures by the President of the National Assembly (Pan) Cavaye Yeguie Djibril, which could have endangered the health of the population. Indeed, the PAN had been on board Air France flight AF900 to Cameroon. However, this plane probably contained carriers of the virus, hence the need to have quarantined the President of the Lower House on his arrival in Cameroon. But this was not the case.
“WILPF Cameroon strongly condemns this irresponsible behaviour which is likely to undermine the health security of Cameroonians, as it is recognised that almost all confirmed cases are people from foreign countries, including the one where the Honorable Cavaye Yeguié Djibril Yeguié resided before his return to Cameroon”,has indicated by Sylvie Ndongmo, President of WILPF Cameroon.
Also, some CSOs were concerned about responding to the accusations of the Minister of Territorial Administration (MINAT), Paul Atanga Nji. He had accused some CSOs of being ‘conspirators’. For example, the Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa (REDHAC) threatened to sue MINAT for accusing it and other civil society organisations of destabilising the country and being financed by terrorists.
In general, the actions of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to help populations affected by the pandemic are not very visible. “Many of them do not really have the means to fight against these diseases”, Jeannette Benga points out. However, a synergy of organisations working in the health domain would be appropriate to lead the fight. As has been the case in Senegal where the process of dematerialisation monitoring in the field has been accelerated. And where NGOs make material or financial donations available to the populations. This is an exercise that VOPID is working on in the health facilities that distribute masks, gloves and certain materials. But which unfortunately, is already out of stock.
In view of the official statements and the few public speeches, it is clear that some Civil Society Organisations do not show enough commitment to this fight. The challenges remain unchanged, with little glimmer of improvement.
Low CSO response to the easing of the measures
On May 11, 2020, the government decided to review some of the response measures against the Covid-19 disease. Among these revisions is the opening of bars after 6 p.m. A relief for the owners of these entertainment places, and a great threat to the population. Following this decision by the government, very little information is circulating on the actions and other statements made by CSOs. Almost all local news sites do not report on them. Politicians seem to be the most attentive to this situation. Especially since after the government’s communiqué on easing of the measures, some organisations specialising in the domain of health have not publicly given their point of view on the government’s decision. Moreover, some have endeavoured to provide updates on the situation in Cameroon, while continuing to raise awareness.
Although this decision to inform and educate the population in order to limit the spread of the disease is laudable, the virus continues to claim many victims in Cameroon. But Civil Society Organisations are not really helping to slow down the spread of Covid-19. However, the low level of response by these organisations on the failures and bad decisions of the government are a limit to curbing the disease in Cameroon. On the contrary, these government slip-ups and poor monitoring by CSOs make people more vulnerable to the Coronavirus. Hence, there is the need to work maturely and effectively on response plans so that the measures put in place have a real impact in the fight against the pandemic.