Ban on sachet whisky in Cameroon: Who is fooling who?
This is September 2016, peacefully grinding away. By now all hot drinks in plastic sachets should have disappeared from kiosks and shops across the country. Our health should have started improving with no cheap and readily available whiskies at street corners or in our shirt pockets and handbags. The government banned the product two years ago. The warning was clearly and loudly echoed by the ministers of mines, health and the economy. But the producers teamed up and persuaded the government to give them a two year period of grace which has now expired. But as we say in local parlance “nothing di happen”.
Just like the brand names of the whiskies suggest, the fight to get rid of the spirits from our markets was never going to be easy. Here are a few of them: Fighter, Lion d’Or or Golden Lion, Kitoko, King Arthur etc. Come to think of it, the drinks are really hot. See how bold and reckless our commercial bike riders or “bend skins” are. They suck from the sachets while riding or just swallow a good quantity before hitting the road. Then they become the kings of the road, over loading, over speeding, over taking and overwhelming everyone else on the road. Whilst they overdo these, it’s difficult to overlook the way the traffic police overlook their road rage, the risks they take on the road and their arrogance towards other road users.
Yes, we were so cheerful when the ban on sachet whiskies was announced, but not everyone was fooled. Who could really have expected the government to enforce the ban? After all, was this the first time the authorities had prohibited a dangerous practice but later looked the other way while the public carried on doing things the old way? So who could not predict that the disrespect of previous government bans would be repeated with impunity? It happened with the ban on indecent dressing to which six cabinet ministers gathered to launch a campaign against the phenomenon. Today our streets are still full of ladies parading with their pawpaw which are begging to fit into undersized bras. We still see their catapults or string panties in different colours dipping into their backside cleavages – distracting men.
The government announced maximum rents for student hostels. But all of that came to naught and students have been left at the mercy of Shylock landlords. Plastic bags were prohibited within the same period by the minister of environment and nature protection. But what obtains today? Plastics are still pouring into our markets. They come in different sizes, shapes and colours. And, because these plastics take more than ten years to decay, the harm they cause to the environment, on farms, animals and marine life is still very visible and worsening. The bags are everywhere. Visit the stores in your neighbourhood and buy a few things from sweets to soaps or onions and you will conveniently walk away with several small plastic bags.
Even the whisky plastics litter just every corner of our towns and villages. The consumers still get their steady supply of the hot stuff. School children have it in their trouser pockets and are causing problems of discipline in their schools. And they freely shout at and threaten their teachers after slurping Fighter whisky. Bullying at school has become a habit for many students who regularly drink Kitoko. A few of them have been dismissed from school for crimes they probably would not have committed had there been no Lion d’Or whisky flowing through their veins and shaking their brains.
In producing sachet whiskies the companies knew exactly what they were doing. They know the product is highly addictive and the consumers would soon become dependent of it. And that already is the case. The streets are still bustling with drinkers and street vendors are happy. They make the most rapid turnover from selling condoms and whiskies in sachets compared to any other articles they sell. So the best they can wish for is long life for whiskies in sachet. See what we consume at our weddings, funerals and other public events. The sellers of sachet whiskies are always around. Once we have cleared the drinks our hosts provide for us we start buying from whisky vendors.
Government’s failure to implement the law against sachet whiskies is good riding for the producers. But life is getting short for those who abuse alcohol. Visit some hospitals and doctors will tell you of patients whose livers, eyes and lips etc. have taken devastating blows from whiskies. Unfortunately, many of the victims are young people who are unaware that what is killing them is the same liquid that cost them just 100 Frs to get high. You can find chronic drinkers at Swine Quarter in Bamenda and Wum. Their lips are reddish, their hands shaky, their skin dehydrated and their speech sometimes uncoordinated. Small wonder, death comes knocking rather too swiftly.
The worst of it is that babies are being fed with whisky. I find it shocking each time I come face to face with mothers who find nothing wrong suckling their babies with this harsh liquid. Don’t be alarmed. This is a common sight in the East Region amongst the Baka pygmy communities. First, the parents have become addicts and in their frequent drunken stupor they let their kids pull from the sachets. Now, if babies can feed on whisky, just imagine how ruined the generation they will grow into will be.
Whisky was introduced to the Pygmies by the Bantu population. They would recruit Pygmies to cut the bushes, till the soil, plant and later harvest the crops. But for their intensive labour to cultivate the fields, they would be paid with Kitoko and cigarettes. So the Pygmies, remained perpetually poor and hooked to alcohol and dependent on the Bantu farm owners. The Bantus treat them like sub humans good only for odd labour and no real pay. Some pygmy labourers have told me and I quote “The Bantus treat us like wild animals. We work long hours just to be paid with whisky. They beat us when we ask for our money”.
And whilst this goes on, the producers of whiskies in sachets are once again at their game. Instead of announcing the end of the production of the banned product, they rather held a closed door meeting with the minister of the economic and planning last week. Nothing filtered from the meeting but state radio said their resolutions will be forwarded to the prime minister.
Of course the regime in power is clearly aware of the sedative effect alcohol has on a big youthful and unemployed population that could easily revolt. So don’t be surprised if the government keeps playing pranks with us, as long as no one is threatening to unseat he regime in power, thanks to the power of beer and sachet whisky. So as we await the Prime Minister’s next move, we can already predict another administrative tolerance. And while we wait for this to become official, the producers are continuing to distil more killer whiskies for more profits. And the damage on our health and environment goes on, unchecked. You ask, who is fooling who? Well, aren’t they fooling the rest of us? What happened to the ban on illegal churches; ban on importation of old refrigerators, ban on smoking in public places; ban on certain pesticides and fertilizers; ban on bars near school premises, ban on security company uniforms? Bla Bla Bla.
By Randy Joe Sa’ah