These are trying times in Cameroon as in much of sub-Saharan Africa. Per capita incomes throughout the subcontinent have fallen continuously during the 1980s while prices have increased dramatically. Economic performance and living standards are now significantly worse than in the 1970s ( Commonwealth Secretariat 1989). In rural Cameroon, the current economic crisis and its consequences are evident in the routine of daily life. Posters in the banks portray an industrious ant piling up savings while admonishing bank patrons to do the same as a prophylactic against the more disastrous effects of the "Crise Economique." Women's lapas are worn and faded, their voices tired and urgent as they gather around cooking fires to share gossip about market prices and strategies on how best to sell dear and buy cheap to maximize time and money. Taxi parks are crammed full of young boys jostling each other in search of the occasional odd job or just passing time--boys who in better times would be sitting in the classroom--while in the bars men drink palm wine in place of bottled beer and regale each other with financial hard-luck stories, complaining of the salaries and coffee money owed them for the past six months or eight months or year.
High prices, low incomes, long waits for salaries and wages already earned: the economic crisis has cast a shadow on the fortunes of most people in Nso in western Cameroon. It has settled most heavily on the lives of poorer farmers and women (categories which substantially overlap) and those who depend on them. The importance of women's informal sector earnings and of crops produced for consumption to total household income has increased dramatically as have demands on female time and labor. Higher prices paid for agricultural products have not increased real
Miriam Goheen is an assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Amherst College, Massachusetts. She has a Ph.D. in anthropology from Harvard University and has done extensive fieldwork in the Grassfields, North West Province, Cameroon.