By Lateu Synthia
Forty-year-old Njie Sophie Ewokolo, a mother of five, never imagined that there would come a time in her life when she will have to drive a taxi before sustaining her family. Now it has been over a year that her family has been faring well based on the proceeds she makes from commercial driving.
Her life before 2021 was wonderful as she was able to operate a lucrative fuel business in Buea, the headquarters of Cameroon’s Southwest Region. She started the business after gaining experience from a filling station at Buea’s Mile 17 motor park for 17 years.
Opening and running her own fuel business was so fulfilling for the 40-year-old. She was able to feed her children, pay their fees, save money and live a good life.
However, her new found fortune did not last long as she started encountering some impediments along the way.
“I got into a series of problems; my goods were being seized by the officers of the Central Police station… and I was left stranded,” Sophie recounts, but The Post could not verify this claim.
But with that, she did not give up. “I had to look for money to start up again.” Njie Sophie says she borrowed some money and revamped her business. Yet, her goods were gain confiscated. Sophie did not tell The Post why the police kept seizing her fuel.
The second incident dashed her hopes and aspirations away as she says she “was unable to pay back” the money she had borrowed
“I suffered almost two years, working to pay interest until I did not even have the money to pay interest again… I had to stop…,” she adds.
However, it is only her goods that were confiscated and not her life. Banking on the saying that “when there is life, there is hope”, she found another means to earn an income.
Since she had a car that was facilitating her transportation of fuel from Limbe to Buea, she quickly converted it to a taxi and started plying the streets of Buea for a pay.
Just like that, she can start recollecting the pieces of her life despite the challenges that come with driving a taxi. “The business is very lucrative,” she says.
The revenue Sophie earns daily is the bedrock on which her family’s sustainability lies. Like every other taxi driver in town, she wakes up early every morning and hits the road, ready to compete for passengers with thousands of other cab driver colleagues in Buea, nearly all of whom are men.
She is beginning to like the job she undertook out of frustration. Sophie says driving a taxi is interesting and fulfilling.
She tells The Post that her job as a taxi woman continues to raise anxiety among her passengers, male colleagues and police officers, some of who are still finding it hard to comprehend why a woman like her should be driving a taxi as a job.
As of now, only two women drive taxis in Buea, Sophie and her peer in a sector that has been dominated by men.
Their minority in the business has given them an added advantage over their male colleagues. “Everybody wants to go closer to them (female drivers),” says Buea branch president of National Transporter’s Syndicate of Cameroon, SYNTRACAM, Denis Mesumbe Etchu. “At the end of the day, they have customers more than us (male drivers).”
He adds that some passengers go closer to drivers like Sophie “to really see whether it is actually a woman piloting the car”.
“It’s very encouraging to see the women” driving a taxi, he says, adding that he is “100 percent happy to see women” joining men in the job.
In the town of Buea, many still consider certain professions exclusively for men. And in a situation where a woman happens to break the barrier, they see it as something unbelievable.
Women constitute about 50 percent of Cameroon’s population. According to the World Bank, female unemployment in Cameroon in 2021 was at 4.3 percent. Research Key, based in Buea, conducted a study in which it states that discrimination still exists between men and women in the domain of employment due to some repugnant cultures, beliefs and gender biases that exist in society.
Sophie, just like women in other countries, has breached that gap. Reacting to Sophie’s case, Kum Paul, a Buea-based driver, says having female colleagues in the sector is impressive.
“We are very proud of them,” he says.
“Driving can be done by anybody. Both male and female drivers are there to serve the public. What matters is whether you do the job in the right way,” he adds.
To Njie Sophie, no job should be isolated to men. She tells people, “Whatever you do it with all your heart, for God and not for man.”
Her family, she adds, has started giving her taxi job a second thought – due to the lump sum she brings home every day – although they did not approve of her becoming a chauffeur.