In Cameroon, the word influencer exists in a grey area. It thrives and morphs in the most whimsical of manners. One day it defines a lady who had a sulfurous affair with a sports star and is trying her best to rebrand and get past it, and another day it defines a comic who makes self-deprecating jokes on Instagram. Today it may describe a journalist of international repute, and tomorrow it describes a young scammer in Buea who has attracted online fame via an unending series of cash giveaways.
On Thursday it describes a girl on Instagram whose 30,000 followers have been amassed thanks to the many well-edited photos of her rear end, while on Friday it describes a citizen of Facebook who jumps on, and dissects every morsel of gossip that flies by her timeline. And on any given Sunday an influencer in Cameroon describes a girl who leaked her own sex tape, went to prison, and seeks to rebrand herself as a web comedian in the most Fah-lacious of manners.
Our influencer soup has so many obstacles that it could give Cameroon’s culinary list a run for its money.
In the pure sense of the word, one expects an influencer to be someone who by their knowledge and by their conscious, strategic and consistent effort in disseminating information about a particular topic(s) becomes a leading authority figure that can influence behaviour in that regard. There is a little grey area, some wiggle room to accommodate people who may not really be all of that, but by virtue of their online following, can generate awareness around an issue, which can subsequently influence behaviour. But it can be hard to tell if that happens because of them or despite them.
In Cameroon, however, the proverbial njanga ei back has been straightened out of this tight scope to accommodate a wild crowd of buzz merchants, gossip-peddlers and beauty-products-of-dubious-manufacturing sellers who perfectly, inadvertently, serve this regime’s mandate to zombie-fy the young people of this country as they spend hours and hours in front of their phone screens consuming the worst of what this country’s rag-tag band of ‘influencers’ can offer.
Sometimes, one must admit, it is hard to tell if these so-called influencers themselves are victims or perpetrators. Are they the victims of 40 years, worth of bad governance and the bottom-barrel filth it has to offer, or are they just chronic cases of m’as-tu-vu-laria – people who since the time of the Andals and the First men have always wanted to be seen, to be heard, and to be known; and that by any means necessary? No doubt, a huge fringe of what constitutes this grey area brand of Cameroonian influencers belongs to the latter.
Our society is rotten. To quote Cameroonian philosopher, Ndukong Godlove, in this excerpt from his book titled Monshung, “in Cameroon there are more bars than pharmacies.” It makes sense that the palliative that, for the most part, our young society has chosen to make it through life, is one that dulls the senses than cures them. Every day, we are confronted with this video or that video of one influencer or another saying something that is void of any edification whatsoever. For the most part, there is nothing to learn about these people but some crass jokes about relationships and intercourse.
It took the World Cup to actually see the extent of some of their talent and imagination, and what they could offer beyond stealing jokes from Nigeria. Many of them ran out of what to do and fizzled out ultimately. They ended up doing TikTok dances and selfies in the streets of Doha or as in the case of Cabrel Nanjip, insulting other football fans.
Diana Bouli whom we were all rooting for, somehow got lost along the way and is now a victim of the monsters that her colleagues created. This monster is a huge faceless mass of social media followers who have bought into that buzz and clash culture and have made her the punching bag of their own brand of insults and shading. Their argument is that they made her, elevated her, and are perfectly within their rights to bring her down now that she has dug up her umbilical from the earth of Cameroon. She has since left for Cote D’Ivoire, running away from this wild, faceless crowd of social media users in Cameroon.
But social media doesn’t need a visa. Digital bridges run across the entire world and even the longest bridge takes only a few seconds to cross, depending on whether or not Cam Tel’s optic fibre woke up in a good mood. She was well-reminded a week ago.
It’s been a week since Madame Cooper passed. The spectacle we all witnessed surrounding her death was one that we never thought we could witness. Even from her own colleagues – oh yes, she too existed in that grey area – who are no strangers to trying to break news even before CNN, one would have thought they would have some measure of decorum, some imagine-if-it-where-me-in-these-shoes kind of moment seeing who was at the center of this tragic event.
That, unfortunately, under the skies of Crayfishkistan, is nothing but wishful thinking.
Rumours flew helter-skelter. WhatsApp statuses were updated with chats confirming and denying her passing, and the mortal remains of that poor young lady was published for all to see in a bid to prove to people that “yes indeed, I am a verifiable source and you, my followers, always need to understand that I give only the real news.”
The saddest spectacle of all was the flurry of TikTokers, each one thinking of themselves as an influencer, setting up their ring lights, applying some lip gloss, some light touch of mascara on their eyebrows, a bit of blush on the cheeks, and then proceeding to cry in front of their smartphones, feigning love for the newly-departed. A very sad spectacle.
But none of these clowns came close to this Facebook citizen who jumps on and dissects every morsel of gossip that flies by her timeline. Aicha Kamoise, she calls her. Oh! She took it to another level. She was in a league of her own. In her characteristic high-pitched, ear-drum-irritating voice, she announced the news, feigned some invisible tears that even crocodiles will deny, and then proceeded to talk about how life was short and how we needed to live in the moment. She said we needn’t always keep money for tomorrow because we don’t know what can happen tomorrow, and one of the ways to seize the day and smell the roses along the path was to spend some of that hard-earned money on her own brand of beauty serum (bottle in hand), which she sells via her website, now because no one knows tomorrow.
Carpe diem, indeed. It’s a surprise she didn’t offer a special bereavement discount with COOPER being the discount code. You may think that is far-fetched but with these people, you never know.
We have an influencer problem; a big one. And as technology overall gets cheaper and bars multiply at a geometric rate while pharmacies multiply at an arithmetic rate, it is only going to get worse. A true Malthusian decrepitation of the Cameroonian society.