By Yerima Kini Nsom
From every indication, pro-establishment reporting that gives priority to news angles that are tailored to put smiles on the faces of power wielders, is what the ruling class calls “responsible journalism”. News organs that practise this kind of journalism are what the authorities call “responsible press”. Thus, the candour of news organs that hit the facts on the head and call issues by their real names through the people’s angle, only courts the hammer of the establishment’s arbiters of journalism taste.
‘Responsible journalism” as tacitly defined in the lexicon of the authorities, is a jinx that causes the press to lose its noble mission of “watchdogism”. For every story is angled to show how well dressed the king is, even if he is clad in Adam’s suit. In such a situation, the press is no longer the faithful mirror of the society, because it gives larger than real images, especially those that the authorities want to see.
Instead of being the mirror through which the ruling class and the ruled can see each other and the country in its entirety, “responsible journalism” has made the press to become a fatal wedge that puts the government and the citizens in two different worlds. In such a situation, the press can only be a sleeping dog, not the watchdog it ought to be. Such a press is also the reason why the ruling class in many African countries behave as if the people did not matter at all.
The rulers impose the publication of lying statements in the “responsible press” and use them to feign political blindness as to what the people’s plight is. Their decisions and averments are bywords of arrant disdain for the poor and the dispossessed. They look the other way as the people wail under the grunt of the demonic monstrosities of a hyperinflation. When they increase fuel prices and make them out of the reach of the average person, they justify that with callous claims that a poor man is not supposed to have a car. Yet, they have free cars and free fuel.
It is paradoxical that the affluent are those who have everything free of charge, while the poor are taxed to pick their bills. The leaders do not want for the people what they crave for themselves. They seem not to care much about the political health of their countries. In the wake of dehumanising poverty, power wielders do not use their position to fight it, but to escape from it and leave the masses there alone. They give themselves so many advantages that take them thousands of miles away from the poverty-inflicted world of the masses.
They offer to themselves free houses, free medical care, free electricity and water, free fuel, free cars, free drivers, free cooks and huge sums of the State budget. They tax the poor heavily to pay the bills so they continue to eat “awulf”. In their world of opulence, leaders are deaf to the sober whimpers emanating from the poverty-stricken world of the masses. Even in countries that are richly endowed with natural resources, the people are confined to the abyss of poverty. There is the phenomenon of resource curse wherein people in areas where resources are exploited are suffering from extreme poverty.
Let us narrow down to the case of Cameroon where the fuel prices have never reflected the fact that we are a petrol-producing country. The prices are usually inflated beyond the reach of the ordinary person. When will the Cameroonian people enjoy these resources? Even if they are suffering high prices, petrol proceeds would have been trickling down to them in development projects and social amenities.
The oil that the authorities exploit comes from Ndian Division of the Southwest Region. In all fairness, Ndian Division would have been a development Eldorado with many tarred roads, good electricity and pipe-borne water, well-constructed schools and hospitals. But what do we have? The oil has been exploited for several decades without as much as constructing the road that links Ndian Division to the rest of the country.
So, what did the Ndian people not do to be able to enjoy the trickledown of the resources that providence endowed them with? Separatists have taken advantage of the inaccessible nature of the Division and are operating with much ease. The authorities have paid lip service on the construction of the Kumba-Ekondo-Titi Road for several decades until the Anglophone Crisis cropped up in 2016. Hope the same promise that was reiterated recently will be made a reality.
The reason why Cameroonians still pay so much for a litre of petrol, a natural resource that is produced in the country, remains mysterious to many observers. The explanation for such a paradox is in itself an enigma of sorts. We are told that the National Oil Refinery Company, known by its French acronym as SONARA, does not have the capacity to refine the crude that Cameroon produces. Thus, when it produces it, it sells it abroad and, in turn, imports the crude that it is able to refine.
The authorities claim it is this importation that exposes the fuel prices in Cameroon to the fluctuations of the world market. Yet, SONARA’s exportation and importation of crude oil puts the country at a FCFA 200 billion trade balance deficit. For, SONARA exports the crude that it produces for FCFA 700 billion and imports the crude that it can refine for FCFA 900 billion.
It is the Cameroonian people that are paying for these incongruities because the bulk is passed on to them in terms of heavy taxes. Despite government claims that it is using FCFA 600 billion annually to subsidise fuel prices, experts charge it with imposing heavy taxes on the petrol sector such that fuel prices are still beyond the reach of the ordinary consumer. That is why the SDF Shadow Cabinet Minister of the Economy, Finance and Trade, Jean Marie Kakdeu, is calling on government to suppress the heavy taxes on petrol in order to lighten the burden of the consumer. The Minister equally calls on government to reform SONARA and upgrade its capacity so that it is able to refine the crude that it produces. These are the issues that should compel the press to choose aright the topics of public discourse that border on the plight of the Cameroonian masses. That is why the practitioners of “responsible journalism” do a great disservice to the nation when they do the bidding of the ruling class with palliative euphemism explanations on issues of grave national import. For, the “responsible press” has proven to be an accomplice to those who kill the dreams and murder visions of the Cameroonian people.