Academic journal article African Studies Review

Differential Responses to Disappearing Transitional Pathways: Redefining Possibility among Cameroonian Youths

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Differential Responses to Disappearing Transitional Pathways: Redefining Possibility among Cameroonian Youths

Article excerpt

Abstract:

In the wake of the economic crisis in Cameroon and the disappearance of transitional pathways for youth that accompanied it, political and economic uncertainty turned into a new kind of social certainty for young people. Inspired by world-class models of success, and perceiving themselves as the "Unlimited" generation, they reacted by mapping out new biographical trajectories. Besides embracing beat-the-system strategies, they opted for migration to the West, seen as a "final port of call" at a historical juncture when the emphasis was on closure. For those who could not migrate, Cyberspace provided a new space for encounters. With a view to capturing the excess energy of nonmigrating youths, political entrepreneurs created groups that sought to penetrate the state, which is still seen, even while being penetrated, as an unbounded Prometheus. In general, youths have tended to challenge a basic assumption of what has been called the "field of possibles"-that success is determined by one's cultural capital or baggage.

Résumé: Dans le sillage de la crise économique camerounaise et de la disparition des voies transitionnelles pour les jeunes qui l'a accompagnée, l'incertitude politique et économique s'est transformée en une nouvelle forme de certitude sociale pour la jeunesse. Inspirée par des modéles d'excellence et de succés à l'échelle mondiale, et se percevant comme la génération "sans limites," elle a réagi en se traçant de nouvelles trajectoires biographiques. Tout en épousant des stratégies "contre le système," elle a opté pour l'emigration à l'Ouest, considéré comme "dernier port d'escale," à un moment de conjoncture historique oú les pays de l'Ouest renforçaient la sévérité de leurs mesures d'exclusion et d'expulsion. A ceux qui ne pouvaient pas émigrer, le cyber-espace a offert un nouvel espace de rencontres. Dans le but de s'emparer du surplus d'énergie des jeunes non-migrants, les entrepreneurs politiques ont créé des groupes cherchant à infiltrer l'état. En règle générale, les jeunes ont eu tendance à remettre en question une hypothése de base de ce qui a été appelé le "champ des possibles"-selon laquelle le succès est déterminé par le capital ou le bagage culturel.

Throughout most of Cameroon's postcolonial history, the social integration of youths into the society was unproblematic. Biological and social development from childhood, through youth, to the achievement of adult status proceeded step by step. Though usually it is considered axiomatic that the school-to-work transition is one of the prominent features of growing up, this transition is blurred in developing countries, where the early entry of the youth into the workforce engenders "adulthood" early in their lives. This situation changed after 1987, however, when the economic meltdown meant a shrinking of job opportunities for everyone. The problems were only exacerbated by Cameroon's Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) agreement with the World Bank in 1988. Intrinsic to this program was a commitment to reducing the budget deficit and downsizing the state. Practically, this meant the freezing of employment opportunities in an economy in which the state was the main employer. Generally, the SAP has been a macroeconomic catastrophe, engendering high unemployment and limited growth (Stiglitz 2000). It also has marginalized youths or reduced their chances for a sustainable livelihood.

The reactions of young Cameroonians to the crisis-ridden economy have been various, ranging from conformism on the part of some to imaginative innovation on the part of others (Chuprov & Zubok 2000:172). Some have chosen to identify closely with the extant political order, as demonstrated by the formation of the President Paul Biya Youths (Presby), which supposedly sought to incarnate the ideals of the New Deal. Others have mapped out new pathways for their lives, as evident in the spread and normalization of such practices as feymanism (con artistry), occultism, and prostitution. …

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