By Grace Ongey
Is there no better way to earn a decent living?
Begging is an old social problem in Cameroon. In Douala the population of beggars is growing exponentially. This phenomenon has ranked Douala as a town with the highest number of beggars in Cameroon.
Beggars have mastered the art of begging just as people master the art of dressing. Beggars have realised it is very difficult to refuse a begging hungry man money. Many of them therefore hang around popular restaurants or churches. In Douala while a woman begs to save her husband who is lying on a death bed in a hospital, it is not uncommon that her husband is begging to save his wife in the next street.
A pregnant woman tells you her child has died and she needs money for the funeral. Her heart-rending appeal fetches good money, yet nobody knows if any of her children has died. Others parade with the picture of an individual suffering from purported cancer and begging for assistance to permit them pay for surgery. Sometimes it is the picture of someone that has been downloaded from the Internet and these dubious people are simply using it to make money.
Beside rogues, there are also professional beggars who go from one office to another asking for help. Most beggars are women, children, the disabled or the elderly. Their number is on the increase as employment opportunities are drying up by the day.
In some cases entire families beg claiming they have lost everything in a fire accident, landslide or that government agents have demolished their homes. There are beggars in Douala and other parts of Cameroon from some poor West and North African countries. These people, usually fair-skinned, have become a thorn in the flesh for city inhabitants. Their children identify and cling to their “clients” as soon as they alight from a cab or from their cars. One is forced to relinquish a few coins to get them off one’s back.
Have you ever tried to ask yourself how much these children make in a day? Some get as much as FCFA 10,000. These children are insolent and sometimes aggressive, especially when they are not given what they are asking for. In addition to begging, they take to pick-pocketing and engage in petty thefts. Many professional thieves in Douala hire these children either as their assistants, informants, or to peddle stolen goods.
Begging encourages laziness
It is better to teach people how to fish than to always give them fish. Many people know they can survive in Douala from begging. People decide to be lazy waiting to reap hard-earned money from others. Christians usually fall prey to these beggars as they believe giving money to someone who begs is a charitable art. No doubt many beggars shuffle for space in front of churches. Experience has shown most people who are begging on the street are not homeless but simply pretend to be so and raise money for nefarious purposes like alcohol and drug consumption.
Many people in Douala are scared of beggars as tales of people disappearing with beggars are being told daily. This is yet to be proven, any way. When you ask a beggar in Douala why he/she cannot use his/her hands to work for a living, they often retort begging is universal and even rich countries like America have beggars in one form or another.
A school of thought holds that begging is a necessary evil which holds down crime levels and makes the streets a little safer. This is not really true as beggars in Douala attack the same people they beg from.
Street begging in Cameroon today is taking frightening proportions. Just like with cancer when a patient sacrifices an infected body part to save the rest of the body, measures have to be taken to put an end to indiscriminate begging before it spirals out of control in Cameroon.