One evening last summer, as I strolled along the promenade in Limbe, a small, scenic port town in southwestern Cameroon, I was stopped by a well-dressed young man who greeted me warmly and took me by the hand.He introduced himself as Jonas and told me that he worked in marketing, going door to door selling American skin creams and hair care products. This was his first time in Limbe. It was a new, strange, wonderful place for him. Behind us were the muscular foothills of Mount Cameroon, West Africa’s highest peak, before us the small bay that opened onto the Atlantic’s wider waters. The day’s heat had diminished, and a cool sea breeze blew against our cheeks.For a few minutes, we stood silently gazing out to sea, where an oil derrick sitting a few hundred feet offshore did little to obscure the view. Jonas wondered aloud whether the derrick belonged, like so much in Cameroon, to the Chinese. “In this country, we believe everything is privatization,” he said. “We now believe the sea is owned by the Chinese.”On the beach below us, a pack of teens was playing a rough game of soccer, their bunched-up T-shirts serving as goalposts; a young girl approached us, carrying a tray of hard-boiled eggs. I had spent a few peaceful days in Limbe, strolling along the promenade, eating grilled fish and cassava, drinking chilled bottles of “33” Export lager at sidewalk cabarets. It was a blessed sort of life.Jonas told me the story of his brother, also a salesman, who had once traveled to Burkina Faso. It was a bad place to do business, he said, because the people were so poor. “Here we have the natural resources, so we don’t have to rely on the government,” said Jonas, as if the oil and the palm groves and the forests were something Cameroon had created itself.
“Well, you didn’t put the natural resources there,” I told him. “That’s why they’re natural.”
“That means God bless us,” he said.