For many in predominantly Chrisian Cameroon, Christmas without new dresses, playthings and extraordinary food is unthinkable. Family breadwinners must provide them all for their spouses, kids and other dependents to guarantee a happy and peaceful holiday.
Across the country this year, the traditional hustle and bustle that usually heralds the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ started off slowly. Until a few days ago, traders grumbled about poor sales, fearing they may end up with piles of unsold stocks of the seasonal Christmas goods.
Civil servants complained the government had failed to pay their salaries on time. Others said they were waiting for the last minute rush and a possible drop in prices. As a result, most markets nationwide only recently witnessed an upsurge in sales in the final days to Christmas.
In the country’s most-populated city and economic nub Douala, the vast majority of Christmas shoppers prefer low-priced Chinese goods. Many said imported products from other parts of the world like Europe and America are far beyond their reach. They addedthat with as little as little as five dollars, it is possible to buy a dress and a pair of shoes.
Throughout the streets of Douala and other major urban settlements, the soaring demand for Chinese dresses, toys, medicines, motorbikes and electronic appliances among others has led to cutthroat competition for street-side commercial space between Chinese nationals and their Cameroonian hosts.
Economists say the failure of the country to manufacture consumer goods and the heavy dependence on imports has favored the steady influx over the years of Chinese products.
Calixtus Fuh Gentry is the Secretary of State in the Ministry of Mines, Industries and Technological Development. He said the situation is not peculiar to Cameroon.
"China is bailing out the whole," said Gentry. "The U.S. owes China lots of money. China is bailing out Europe. So it’s not that we’re rushing to China. The very partners we started with, who are internationally renowned companies from very highly industrialized countries are heading to China to get financing, or they’re bought out by the Chinese."
However, a fraction of Cameroonian consumers said they would not, for anything in the world, spend a dime on Chinese goods for Christmas. For them, the more expensive products from Europe or America are better because they last longer.
Demand for consumer electronics
Despite the ongoing debate, Chinese products have clearly topped the wish lists for many this Christmas in Cameroon. Among the choice items for shoppers are educational electronic toys and gadgets including laptops.
Many parents say they have noted with delight the absence of toy weapons on the markets this season. They say it is an indication that years of lobbying against them are finally paying off.
Elsewhere, some are frowning at the increasing commercialization of Christmas over the years. Ursula Njefrey, a member of the Holy Trinity Choir of the Presbyterian Church in the capital Yaoundé, said the growing attention on material at Christmas is blurring the real meaning of Christmas for many.
"Christmas is a season for reconciliation, for peace, for love," she said. For those who cannot afford to buy gifts, or don't believe in purchased ones, she offers songs,and greetings, of the season instead.