Accepted paper:

"You should be able to speak the language of the global development goals". - Young Cameroonians negotiating mobility between institutional master narratives and local imaginations


Marlene Gärtner (University of Konstanz)

Paper short abstract:

Between the institutional master narrative of "coming back to develop one's country after travelling abroad" and the claimed obligation to multiply mobility at home, Cameroonian youth navigate in a tense field of incompatible promises. The paper analyses their narrative agency in claiming mobility.

Paper long abstract:

In the deprived atmosphere of present day Cameroon, with youth facing unemployment, resignation and violent conflict, mobility is an auspicious, yet burdensome promise. Innovative social entrepreneurs and promising students are seeking to gain international exposure by building networks or planning studies abroad. Due to a lack of finances and governmental support, international scholarships and short-term programmes are often the only opportunities to travel abroad. In dealing with destinations in the Global North, Cameroonians are regularly confronted with an internationally entrenched premise, emphasising the expectation of "coming back to develop one's country after acquiring knowledge abroad". When applying, conceptual catchphrases such as "leadership potential", as well as willingness to return to Cameroon are decisive narrative cornerstones for admission. In light of massive visa rejections, this youth is forced to fit into the rhetoric of institutional expectations by learning the required "language". Simultaneously, these mobile Cameroonians are confronted with locally fortified imaginations of "the good life abroad" - its appeal voiced through terminology such as "openings" for the family or "chercher des reseaux" for the whole community. Between the institutional master narrative and the claimed obligation to secure success by multiplying mobility, the travellers navigate in a tense field of two incompatible promises. Based on applied narratological research and drawing from semi-structured interviews in Cameroon, this paper explores the structure and power dynamics of the clashing master narratives. The focus lies on the negotiations of (narrative) agency by young and mobile Cameroonians, trying to find their own voice.

panel Anth54
African global travellers: (dis)connections, policies, and imaginations [CRG Africa in the World]