A neighbourhood looking nothing different from the ordinary, situated at the heart of Cameroon’s political capital, Yaoundé originally known for being the residential area for students of the University of Yaoundé 1, Ngoa-Ekele.
Bonamoussadi, otherwise known as Bonas, is nothing like the dilapidated structures that characterize the area. In fact, Bonas is considered as the centre of almost all underground dealings in the whole of Yaoundé ranging from the trafficking of drugs to the falsification of national and international documents of nearly all sorts.
‘Bonas qualifies the unqualified’
One might think that such an area will be a likely target for law enforcement agents. That is not the case. Bonas has qualified many civil servants in the country. Many may be shocked to realise that many civil servants seated in state offices are there thanks to the underground service rendered at Bonas.
The forging and production of fake documents in this neighbourhood are among the most lucrative underground activities that have gone on for years unhindered.
I had the opportunity to meet some of these fraudsters and in my talk with two of them; I was quite perplexed about the huge amounts of money they make from these illegal dealings. One of them told me he lives exclusively of this in Yaoundé.
Millions at play in Bonas fake documents trade
I talked exclusively to two of these agents undercover as a client, and the things they said were indeed striking. I met Carlson (not his real name) who revealed to have been falsifying documents for more than three years in Bonas.
He bragged to me about the quality of work he does for people and loads of money that he has made from these people.
“In Cameroon, all you have to do is to be smart and ready to take risks to succeed. Let me shock you… I am a former student at the University of Yaounde with very good grades. But who told you that I needed to attend classes for me to have my Certificates? Everything here is how you negotiate…,” he told me.
‘Organised crime syndicate in Yaoundé’s epicentre’
One of the most intriguing things about these people is how careful and secretive they are in all their dealings. As an intruder or a spy in their business, you stand a very big risk, as they are capable of doing anything to stay away from the dragnet of the law.
Before I was involved with them the message was clear. “If we find out you are aimed at sabotaging us we will deal with you. You should ask the person who referred you to us. We don’t joke,” he threatened. You could tell from the way they all sounded that they are serious. It is almost as if they have an organised syndicate amongst themselves.
From my discussions with these fraudsters, I realise that just any document could be falsified with them. Their most frequent clients usually are students of the University of Yaounde 1 who come to produce fake documents.
Competitive entrance exam, peak season for fraud
The second fraudster with whom I communicated told me that he particularly gets many jobs coming his way when public examinations are launched around the country.
“I often receive them in their numbers. Some people who have never completed High School will come for me to produce for him a certificate so he can apply for an examination. I usually do not know how far they go with those documents but the truth is I do not care. So long as you pay the money I ask of you then I’m fine… many that also have opportunities abroad but no valid documents and no time to get them simply come around here. I do not do international documents but I have a friend who does them. It usually looks exact with the originals. They are often inching accurate,” he told me.
I asked him about the possibilities of being caught by elements of the law and his response very intriguing.
“Police! They know about what happens but why should they stop what they benefit from?” was his response.
Whatever that meant I did not want to ride my chances too far. When I asked him about the amount of money they charge on an average basis for any document that they make, he categorically told me that the lowest amount he would charge for a document he produces is 50,000 FCFA.
“I even consider myself being very cheap compared to other persons you might be referred to. I have a friend who does this equally. It is with him where we print most of the forged documents. The least he charges for a document is 150,000FCFA. It also depends on the type of document you want him to do for you. Mostly, we have scammers who come to us with fake documents layout they want us to design as authentic proof to their victims. Those types of documents usually cost higher than the ordinary student who wants us to rectify some results on their slip or certificate”.
Bonas, Cameroon in miniature
In all, what one realises from the decaying structures in this neighbourhood is a satirical summary of what Cameroon is.
The negligence, corruption, insecurity, the stench from dirty gutters, the poor infrastructure, and an extremely poor drainage system.
Bonas is a perfect “ghetto” and survival within the confines of this neighbourhood is only for the smartest and the fittest.
By Leopold Werner