One month after Cameroonian authorities moved to ban shisha, its consumption remains reluctant to take a nose dive as was expected.
Impossible n’est pas Camerounais!
The shisha ban defiance appears to have joined the queue of multiple prohibitions being exercised under the slogan.
But do not take this slogan on face value only. While on the surface it simply tells of how resilient Cameroonians may be, a deeper meaning depicts what really is the Cameroonian spirit – survival at all cost.
It tells of people having their way at all cost, often having to bend the rules to do so. While this applies to the major moves in life like getting a job or getting admission into prestigious institutions, it also goes for the little aspects that make daily life. This includes cutting queues at banks, making past security checkpoints without identification papers, and smoking shisha at joints and public gatherings despite the prohibition.
One of the major reasons why the shisha ban remains a farce to many, is the fact that existing stock was not catered for, leaving it available to consumers. In almost every relaxation joint, puffs of smoke can still be seen emanating from faintly lit corners. Hookahs are still very much in display in smoke shops. It appears there is still so much shisha to smoke before consumers turn to the black market for a taste of its stock.
In addition to the fact that the ban appeared to be too sudden, there was also lack of education and sensitisation. In a country with a high literacy rate like Cameroon (estimated 77.1%) an effective anti-shisha campaign would have gone a long way to play the trick.
Reasons abound, but the ‘damage’ has been done, or like my grandpa would say, the chicken has been slaughtered. How then do we make good soup?
Public relations and behavioural change experts often recommend sourcing the needs of the target group, as well as making available to them more plausible substitutes, before attempting to make away with their pleasure. A gradual approach too would create a more conducive atmosphere for reduction of dependence on the product.
The bigger question however is not how to go about restitution, but whether the powers that be are willing to do so.
Like the ban on indecent dressing and prohibition of use of plastic paper bags, the consumption of shisha just made the list of many items outlawed seemingly on paper only.
Impossible is not Cameroonian, but shisha definitely is.
By Giyo Ndzi