September 12, 2013
BAMENDA, CAMEROON – Jude Dopgima, 31, says that because his sister moved abroad as a “bushfaller,” he can earn a living as a businessman in Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s Northwest region.
“My sister’s traveling abroad is the best thing that ever happened to our family,” he says.
Cameroonians call the practice of going abroad for an extended period to advance oneself – whether through study or work – bushfalling. It has become a growing phenomenon among young people as the practice boosts families and towns economically back home.
“My sister traveled to Britain 15 years ago on a student visa,” Dopgima says. “Today, she is working in Britain and also dealing [in] secondhand goods.”
Dopgima’s sister ships containers of secondhand British housewares and appliances to him through the seaport in Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon. Dopgima sells them in his shop in Bamenda.
“My sister and I have been into this business for over five years now,” Dopgima says. “There is high competition as far as secondhand goods is concerned in Bamenda, but the demand for these goods is also high.”
Dopgima’s shop overflows with household goods such as fridges, televisions, gas and electric cookers, pressing irons, plates and microwaves. His sister ships containers to him at least three times each year.
The shop’s sales generate income for their family, he says. Beyond the shop, the wealth from his sister’s work abroad drives many other aspects of their family’s development.
“My sister is the sole breadwinner of our family,” he says. “She has been the one who has been sponsoring us in school, she built a family house for us, and she also owns other businesses.”
He credits his sister for his family’s success in life.
“My sister is a superwoman,” he says. “She has shouldered the responsibility of our family for so many years. If not for her, my siblings and I wouldn’t have seen the four walls of a university amphitheater.”
But the education his sister provided for him and his four siblings is the best investment for development, Dopgima says. Education surpasses the visible businesses that she owns because it will benefit her family members in the long run.
Bushfalling contributes to the economic development of families and towns in Cameroon. This drives young Cameroonians to seek any means possible to travel abroad so that they too can advance economically. But travel agencies and former bushfallers caution aspiring travelers that they need the proper visas – not just a dream – to work or to study abroad. Going further, Cameroonians and former bushfallers say investment in domestic education and employment for young people will be what drives sustainable development in the nation.
The term bushfalling arose in the 1990s, according to 2012 research by Maybritt Jill Alpes, a law professor in the Netherlands. It comes from Pidgin English, a popular local language variety, meaning when people go to the bush, or wilderness, to hunt and to bring back meat. Bush has become a synonym for anywhere one may go to bring back money.
The most desirable destinations for bushfalling are Europe and the United States, according to Alpes. But many bushfallers also go to Dubai or China, which Cameroonians consider less desirable but still offer a chance to earn money.
The desire among Cameroonian youth to migrate abroad has become rampant in the last two decades, according to Alpes. Her research attributes it to drastic changes in the country’s economic situation in the late 1980s and early 1990s because of policies related to its structural adjustment program – mandatory economic policies that countries must adopt to be eligible for loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Like Dopgima, Larissa Tcheunte is a business owner in Bamenda who attributes her enterprise to a family member’s bushfalling.
Her brother traveled to the United States nine years ago through the Diversity Visa Program – a U.S. Department of State program – and now works there as a nurse, she says. She was a primary school teacher in a government primary school when her brother sent her capital to start a business.
“My brother sent me $5,000 four years ago to start up any business of my choice,” she says, which is the equivalent of 2.5 million Central African francs.
She opened a clothing shop and has been able to generate a profit because she operates her store rent-free in a building her brother owns in town.
“Today, I am a successful businesswoman who has been able to make progress in business,” Tcheunte says.
The financial support her brother has provided her thanks to his work abroad has also trickled down to her children and other family members, she says. She uses her business profits to send her children to school and to care for other family members and their needs.
Lum Nchang, a 35-year-old hairdresser, says the impact of bushfalling is visible in Bamenda.
“Bushfallers have changed the town of Bamenda, honestly,” Nchang says. “If you walk through Commercial Avenue and other streets, the new and beautiful buildings you see are owned by bushfallers. The beautiful cars you see around are driven by bushfallers. The shops around are filled with bushfaller goods. Bamenda has really changed for the better. I like what I see.”
Nchang wishes she had a brother or sister who was living abroad to join the residents benefiting from bushfalling, she says.
“I pray to God every day to make it possible for one of my immediate family members to travel abroad,” she says. “I can’t wait to benefit directly from the good things that come from bush.”
If the opportunity arises, Nchang will not hesitate to travel abroad herself as a bushfaller, she says. But she lacks the money to finance the trip.
Didier Mofor, 21, a bike taxi driver in Bamenda, says he also dreams of moving abroad.
“I must make it to White-man land,” he says.
He wants to become a bushfaller to acquire wealth like other Cameroonians he admires have achieved.
“I have one big dream in life: that of traveling abroad,” he says. “If I cannot raise money required for me to travel abroad, my family has to raise money through any means possible.”
Mofor would do all the available odd jobs in any country he succeeded in traveling to so that he could come back to Cameroon a success, he says.
“I want to go out there and make money,” he says. “I want to come back with a big car like others come [back with] every year.”
Elvis Lavert, a Bamenda resident in his early 30s, is the director and founder of Global Professionals Management Consultancy Group, a firm that assists Cameroonians who wish to travel abroad to study or to work. He encourages clients to support their dreams with concrete plans.
“When we receive any client, we counsel them on the right path to take,” he says. “We cannot encourage a client to travel abroad just for the sake of traveling. If there is no prospect for a client to survive abroad, maybe due to educational qualification or lack of skill, we advise you to rather stay back at home and pursue something different.”
For those looking to study abroad, Lavert’s company assesses the clients’ educational backgrounds before filing for visas to popular scholarly destinations such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Finland and Denmark. For other clients seeking work, Lavert evaluates skills, education and work experiences and tries to match clients with employers abroad before filing for the correct visas.
Roland Samgwa, 27, recently returned from studying marketing at a college in Norway. He stresses the importance of preparing the proper visa in order to attain success, emphasizing that bushfalling is not as easy as it may seem.
“I met face-to-face with the realities of traveling abroad,” he says. “If I did not travel on a study visa, I would have met with the biggest frustration in my life.”
When Samgwa arrived in Norway, he met Cameroonians and other Africans who had fallen into illegal activities such as scams, drugs and sex work in order to make ends meet, he says. Some were unable to find legitimate work, others had been unaware of potential challenges when they decided to travel abroad, and some worried about paying back money they had borrowed for their traveling.
Samgwa encourages fellow Cameroonians hoping to travel abroad to pursue education.
“Cameroonians should consider getting into any field of studies when they think of traveling abroad or when they find themselves abroad,” he says. “With education, there is always hope.”
He calls for a greater investment in education and employment in Cameroon to improve citizens’ chances to succeed at home.
“There is no excuse in engaging in criminal activities,” he says, “but then our home countries have a lot to do so as to discourage illegal immigration and encourage home employment, be it self-employment.”
Many Cameroonian young people travel abroad because they were unemployed at home and wanted jobs, says Diana Mantohbang, the coordinator of Positive Vision Cameroon. The nongovernmental organization aims to alleviate poverty locally through capacity building, sensitization, education and advocacy, support, research and the sustainable use of resources.
She also highlights governmental programs. A recent employment initiative by President Paul Biya, Operation 25,000 Youths, has given hope to unemployed young people, she says.
“The employment of 25,000 youths by President Paul Biya has reduced the rate at which youths travel abroad,” Mantohbang says. “The initiative is a laudable one.”
But young people looking to succeed should not just wait for employment through the initiative, she says.
“Cameroonian youths should strive to become entrepreneurs, no matter how small,” she says. “With a positive vision and determination, their business will move from small businesses to big ones.”
Although Ntangsi recognizes the benefits of bushfalling on the economy, he also acknowledges the drawbacks of losing these entrepreneurial youth to other countries.
“We have brain drain of the best talents leaving the productive sector,” Ntangsi says. “This is worst in higher education and the health sectors.”
If people do go abroad to study or to work, Lavert encourages them to bring their education and earnings home to Cameroon to contribute to national development as he did after living in Canada and the United Kingdom as a bushfaller. If a Cameroonian opens a business back home, it may create employment and reduce the number of young people itching to travel abroad, he says.