Tuesday, June 22, 2010


This subject may seem hackneyed to a handful of Cameroonians mindful of the oblivion that clouds over the sensitivity of our pacific nature. Nay very commonplace in tandem with everyone else’s experience in their bids to ascertain their daily undertakings.

We lose sleep over instances of corruption, poverty, HIV-AIDS, yet seem nonchalant over the legitimate consumer preoccupation that slyly eats up the progressive utility of our population.

The population is simply defrauded by traders and sellers because consumers’ perception towards their rights and the social legal obligations of businesses and the government alike is very skimpy.

Over the years, our government’s providence and gendarme roles in the economy have slowly evolved from concern over consumer protection to the promotion of economic competition and efficiency. However as a result of this government intervention, we now have an economy based on markets with varying degrees of government regulation. These regulations properly so called have regrettably lost momentum on the subject matter.

The wanting impetus of the latter viz. inter alia the lack of strict control and implementation, inadequate sensitization of these rights in order to protect the consumer in especial against the likes of price discrimination and formation, sellers and providers of goods and services have enjoyed added values scores beyond their real thresholds; at the expense of their end users and considering that these two ills mentioned are merely two grains of sand on the beach.

In Pursuance thus of the foregoing, I have here-forth elected to generously proffer the instances of consumer exploitation in Cameroon and thus bearing witness against the 'contraveners' of these acts to their various physical and moral faces.

The following situations have been inferred from personal and social experiences far below the actual exhaustible proportion. It therefore implies that this list is not finite.

1. Underweight and Under-measurements: goods being sold in the market are sometimes not measured or weighed correctly. Many consumers have complained having bought cooking gaz in cylinders whose volume were underweighted. Instances exist also at petrol filling stations where the pump operators under measure liters paid for. The other day, I went to a local grocery shop to purchase refrigerated fish. The seller had a weight whose result gave faulty indications about the weight of the product. Countless are the events where folks like myself have purchased underweighted items such as flour,granulated sugar, callor gazes to name but a few from both retailers and accredited suppliers of these finished products.
2 Sub-standard Quality: The goods sold are sometimes of sub-standard quality. Selling of consumables beyond their expiry dates and supply of deficient or defective home appliances are generally the regular grievances of Cameroonian consumers. Hawkers are commonly seen in markets selling drugs and other essential medications at relatively cheaper prices than those of the mainstream pharmacies. However, these drugs include those whose expiry dates have already come to pass. I have been kept abreast of a mainstream pharmacy (amid a plethora of others) whose proprietor is apprehended overland for trafficking and delivering expired drugs to resident customers. Recently, a friend was stricken with indisposition and decided to seek relief from a local drug seller at the market in Limbe. Upon casting the medication, I advised that he referred to the enclosed leaflet since these off-the-shelf-medications are usually contra-indicated to most patients who have not yet done a lab investigation. Since no leaflet was found inside, I decided to google it and found out that it had been slammed with a black box warning indicating a health hazard to consumers in the United States (see details here). In the late nineties, I’d bought a used television set from a seller in the Briquiterie neighbourhood in Yaounde. The following day, it broke down. I called at the shop asking for a replacement or a refund. The gentleman declined and even the policeman I sought redress from couldn’t help further following the receipt of a tip courtesy of the seller. amid my will to evoke the warranty clause. Border villages and communities as well as some major localities in regions such as the North, Centre, North West, South West to name a few have a handful of the population who have been paying the CRTV tax for over decades but are yet to have a speck of the TV signal there. Having said that, the tax payers of Cameroon have got no say towards the contribution of its quality and programmes though. The other day, I was pulling water from the kitchen when I discovered the colour had changed to a dull yellow. During the raining season especially, this case is frequent. Many folks catch water bearing diseases whereof.
3. High Prices: Very often traders charge a price higher than the prescribed retail price even without the quirks of demand and supply. The brewery companies have been urged by the government to educate the consumer on their price list. Recently, le Brasserie du Cameroun engaged on this campaign and the Price Control inspectors have always been busy checking off-licenses and bars for contraveners. This is very flattering because in spite of this the same bars as a rule would sell at prices superior to those required by law and these very price control inspectors would patronize these bars with impunity every other sunset - what a sham that- save only for some supermarkets and filling station boutiques. Calor gazes and cement are items often sold at superior prices also. These are just a few.
4. Duplicate Articles: In the name of genuine parts or goods, fake or duplicate items are being sold to the consumers. Once I had bought a pair of shoes for 40.000 FCFA believing it was a John Balton ™. It dog-eared the following Sunday after church service. I discovered in lieu of the firm in the Great Britian, it was fabricated in the back streets of the Nkwen city by some ingenious-tax evasive-dubious-copycat-shoe mender.
5. Adulteration and Impurity: In costly edible items, such as oil, spirits of wine etc, and consumables such as gas, adulteration is made in order to earn higher profits. This causes heavy loss to the customers; they suffer from monetary loss as well as spoil their health. It is common use for 'frugalists' who preferred the cheaper gas sold along streets in the municipalities of many towns in Cameroon. But many such promoters have endured monetary losses translated via mechanical faults and premature relapse of their cars thanks to the indulgence to and the consequence of adulterated fuel hoodwinked by these hawkers. Last year, I ran into my neighbour at the Buea High court who was seeking redress following consuming alcohol which was laced with impurity. He had found the torso of a roach in the drink. He also lost the appeal against the brewery company.
6. Lack of Safety Devices: Electronic goods, electrical devices or other motor appliances, lack the required inbuilt safeguards. This causes accidents to the consumers. In many towns in the country, it is commonplace to find vehicles meant to carry four passengers, carrying over seven and treading high ways with speed beyond the required hourly kilometers lest many do not even possess the seat belts nay the election of fastening them. Many township cars have forfeited their seat belts as a supplant for the towing cord.
7. Artificial Scarcity: In order to amass illegitimate profit, businessmen create artificial scarcity by hoarding. They sell it at the later stage at higher prices. Many times, businessmen have hoarded cement and calor gaz to fashion snow ball effects to their earnings.
8. False or Incomplete Information : Sellers easily mislead consumers by giving wrong information about a product, its price, quality, reliability, life cycle, expiry date, durability, its effect on health, environment, safety and security, maintenance costs involved, and terms and conditions of purchase. Cosmetics, drugs and electronic goods are common examples where consumers face such problems. In addition to common cases is that of our local unorthodox tradi-practioners who invent medications christened panaceas but wanting in quality, reliability, life cycle, expiry date, durability, its side-effect on health, environment, safety etc. Many times I have gone to computer shops following a pendulant commercial banner in the city only to find that the prices of the corresponding computers posted on the banners were otherwise. Some when you go there, the salesman would tell you, ‘well, we don’t have computers for that price anymore. But why don’t you get this one for a slight addition’
9. Unsatisfactory service and unsatisfactory after-sale Service : Many of the high cost durable items, such as electrical or electronic equipments, home appliances and cars, need adequate after-sale care. The suppliers do not provide the satisfactory after –sale services despite the necessary payments. I have severally been abused during my bids to travel via the commuter buses which tread the highways between major towns. These buses, some carrying as many as 50 passengers under the stifling heat of a scotching sun save for only the overhead exit window. The interior of the bus is air tight; enclosed with sealed glass screens and the air condition unit originally assigned for this design is ever not put into use. The hazard of claustrophobia and faint have often stricken me. Soaked garments have become everyone’s insult to injury. The companies are oblivious of the plight and have remained steadfast against queries to modify the air-tight windows of these buses by replacing them with shutters.
10. Rough Behaviour and Undue Conditions: In matters like water connection, fixing of a new telephone line, procurement of electricity connection etc., consumers are often harassed and undue conditions are put before them. The other day, I was forced to pay a penalty of 4550 FCFA to the Water supply Company following one day of delay after the deadline. Whereas it is stated in their manifesto that I had to default for over a week to earn me such a penalty and in the stead of this I rather was to pay 560 FCFA for the one day delay. The cashier was very haughty and unruly amid my protestation. Many should also remember the ordeal they went through to acquire an ultimate installation of be it, running water, radio phone lines or alternating current in the neighbourhood. Cashiers, receptionist, front desk civil servants and many more are archetypal to this syndrome.
11. Faulty Commercial Practices: For a very long time now, I have dreaded the existence of the commercial motorcycles that tread the busy and dangerous rush hour traffic of cities with school children as young as toddlers on them usually more than one. (click to sign this photo) Mindful of this safety fever bearing in mind the absence of even the helmet, these drivers hardly are endowed with the necessary codes to drive within the city filters, let alone an unruly rush hour. The children are themselves the cabins of the vehicle amid the numerous dispositions of the impending accidents. I have already witnessed two fatal smash ups involving children in my lifetime.
12. Environmental effects of Companies: Most consumers unfortunately are impassive about the environmental impact caused in the production and transportation of goods by industries. When creating products, companies dump a lot of toxic compounds into the environment resulting to an ecological system very unfriendly to the consumers. In the 1980s and yonder, the plankton of the Atlantic sea bordering the gulf of guinea where the sea side city of limbe is home suffered casualty from a spill of tar and crude oil respectively which killed and are still killing them presently (amid the aesthetic frustration of supplanting the colour of the beach sands from white to black nay victims both fishermen and those directly affected health-wise were not paid indemnities by the fuel company responsible). In the circumstance, the consumers of sea products are likely to suffer from health depredations amid high prices of these products in the face of their scarcity. Having said that, certain fishing practices of some fishermen the likes of using poison or explosives to catch fishes for commercial purposes, pose a health risk to consumers and the discretion of conservativeness since this practice is also indiscriminate. The manner and duration of congealed fish products far extends the required and appropriate paradigms of preservation and thus resulting to fatal consequences. see here for a list of foods to avoid eating after being refrigerated.
13. Consumer Exploitation by Personal Assistants Services: Personal assistance, typically provided in the home by a paid worker, has been the subject of media and social complainers alike that have reported theft, physical neglect, and harm inflected upon people especially those with disabilities by their attendants.
14. Fixed Price Bundles amid poor quality services and products: Some subscriptions to telephone services, internet and television signals have fixed monthly postpaid and prepaid bills. However supposedly under the circumstance that every other contingencies besides the fault of the subscriber would be borne by the company. But this is otherwise. A mobile net work whose signal is weak and impedes the subscriber from making calls for a day or a couple more or the case of absolute loss of internet, telephony or television signal for a cumulative period of more or less a third of a month has been reported severally often to the dismay of the consumer. The consumer pays for television signal or a mobile bundle or internet subscription monthly in spite of incurring unsatisfactory services. Countless are times when i have called the attention of my internet provider regarding the events where I endued the pain of going for days without having a consistent supply of internet signal, nay at the end of the month, these predicaments do not cause a compensation to the monthly bundle. No relief is ever enjoyed against redress. Two times the government has intervened and fined both mobile companies in separate instances to pay penalties for poor quality of their networks especially during promotional and festive periods. Albeit this was highly lucrative to the government, it however did not offer relief to victims who suffered under the burden of the predicament.
15. Fuel Quality & Measurement: Sometimes the quality of goods such as fuel and cement imported to meet shortages in national supply is not the best. Many drivers of vehicles have complained having suffered mechanical and health problems. Also the measurements of this fuel are always affected.
16. Nursing & Health Facility: Many hospitals have nurses who are rude and unethical as a rule. Patients as consumers have been forced to suffer very dissatisfying services and some to their own detriments. Once when I was an inpatient, a nurse upon sampling my blood specimen, had elected to use the same stained gloves she had just entertained with another patient in direct succession. I reprimanded her - when she said she had only the pair for the two of us - minding that I had initially paid for gloves as part of the lab investigation routine.
17. Chalatans: Consumers are often beguiled by conmen who ingratiate thenselves by supplying confidence tricks to the former. There is no doubt that both the Chinese and local tradi-practional of native medicine are sometimes experienced as not mediocre but the other side of this coin exists the contrary also. Someone explained this phenomenon regarding the chinese impact on the Cameroonian economy in his book China-Africa relashionship: "An increasing number of Chinese is also operating in the health sector in Cameroon. Chinese medicine and clinics are becoming very popular in Cameroon. Many billboards are noticeable in towns indicating the location of clinics specializing in Chinese traditional medical practices like acupuncture, massage etc. They do not only provide medical services, but equally supply all the Chinese-based drugs needed.... It can also be said that local labour is also benefiting from some skill spill-over by working with the Chinese, though this might only be inadvertently. A case in point is the recent phenomenon of Cameroonians practicing Chinese traditional medicine. They claim to have studied in China, but many are understood to have acquired some minimal knowledge working in Chinese-owned clinics in Cameroon" This latter is basically a cause for concern as recently I was siezed to accompany a compatriot who believed very much in the effectiveness of Chinese medicine, though partly I understood was also cutting his coat respectively. Being a computer guru and a health pundit, I was interested to discover how the young Cameroonian self-proclaimed Chinese doctor would investigate my compatriot's malady without using the mainstream laboratory tools but a seemingly computer-based device with accessories attached to a chair in his office whereupon my compatriot was asked to sit. I noticed first hand that the device was actually manufactured for a similar purpose but  this one was not even connected to the computer, yet the young chalatan was busy playing pre-set animation scenes of the various organs of the human anatomy on Window Media Player, and faking a sense of understanding in that matter. My friend's real problem was blurry vision but the doctor could only diagnose problems regarding his STI status and the alcoholic dependency ratio. Of course, this friend of mine was a teetotaler and a young man who contemporarily was likely to be susceptible to catching a sexually transmissible disease. The Chalatan had a crest in his office on which various chinese branded medications were displayed sparsely. He would look at the collection severally before writing down a prescription as if to say "hmm, what do I have for this guess this time". My friend paid 72.000 FCFA for a prism of a chinese drug collections, achetypal of a kalashnikov round of many stray bullets.......You can also read: (Whither Cameroon Traditional Doctors)
 18. Dumping: Consumer goods are imported to the country with quality inferior to the required threshold elected by the international consumer law.
19. Scam: Globalization's side effect a.k.a. scam is the new order to affect consumers. Cameroon presently has an upsurge of this internet militancy and targets don't need to elect residence locally anymore. see article on scamming here

20. Price Change: There is a widely held view that when the price of crude oil increases, petrol and diesel prices at the pump rise quickly, but that when the price of crude oil decreases, prices at the pump are slower to fall.
I have just presented an inexhaustible list of cases where consumers in Cameroon have suffered from the exploitative schemes of marketers who aimed at maximizing their earnings even at the cost of consumers. I have evoked elsewhere the guidelines where this problem could be solved.

  • Consumer protection Act,
B.E. 2522 (1979)
  • United Nations Guidelines for
Consumer Protection

1 comment:

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