I am going to talk about the culture and the economy, touching on things like manners and the daily routine as well as how people make their living and how products are sold and marketed to customers.
First, the fun part. Cameroonians like to dress quite expressive with plenty of colours and shapes and forms. Apparently, there is a social norm which drives people to dress more nicely on a daily basis to convey a certain level of wealth and prosperity to the outside even if or especially if you actually are not wealthy. Simply: as in every society and culture, there is a lot of faking, hiding and disguise. On the contrast, if you do not dress nicely, you wear branded shirts, but not the ones people wear in developed countries with branding from Superdry or whatever. In almost all cases, these are shirts that clearly someone was not able to sell anymore in a more developed economy and sold them down to a lower developed economy. There are plenty of jerseys from all kinds of football clubs as well as election campaign shirts or even shirts from events in very small towns in Germany, which I assume, were 'gifted' to the third world. Continuing the pattern of passing down outdated products to less developed economies, when you go into a supermarket, of which there are not many, probably because they are on the price level of the developed world and therefore not many can afford shopping in them, they, too, sell all kinds of products which I remember being sold in Europe 5 years ago. For example, a supermarket in the very centre of Yaounde sold these very simple 'learning computers', an abomination of low-quality Chinese engineering which were sold back in the developing countries when children and teens were not given smartphones, but also not a fully functioning computer, just something which looked like it and was only loaded with half-baked 'learning' games. They were sold on top shelf, but I can hardly imagine anyone buying one. (I am applying my own preferences here, so I am most likely wrong)
Regarding the development of communication and information processing systems, I have mixed observations. It seems like there is a set of telecommunications providers (MTN, Orange, ETN?) that compete for your mobile phones sim card slot. MTN was running a massive campaign with a prominent football player with yellow billboards dominating the streets. At every corner, umbrellas are set up, offering to 'transfer credit' between these providers. That leads me to another important point.
There is A LOT of waiting and sitting around. The people staffing these mobile umbrellas do not seem to have much business (there are just so many on the streets) and I really do wonder how that kind of activity can fund a life. But, somehow, there must be sufficient transactions to sustain these activities. It is a mystery to me. But there are more than just umbrella people on the streets.
In fact, it looks like the majority of Cameroon's economy takes place on the street. There are plenty of street sellers for ALL kinds of goods: tissues, nuts, food, furniture, cables, tires, fruits (so
many!) and many more, but most of all: the 'code de penal' (correction: "Code pénal", sorry for my bad French, but I will most likely only start a French language course when I am confident with my Chinese!). It is basically the most recent state of law and apparently is quite interested in avoiding punishment as there is a specific street in Yaounde where it is sold on the streets. That is, if you want a new one, you know where to go. That also shows a clear difference to a developed country. If I want the most recent state of law, I do a Google search which pulls up its PDF. No need to drive somewhere and get charged for some pieces of paper.
Speaking of driving, the public transportation system is very different. The streets are flooded with yellow taxis of which 95% would not pass any road test in a developed country. These beat up cars, traffic is rough in Cameroon, are the primary source of transport and it is actually not as bad as it sounds. People car pool by shouting their destination of choice into the cabs passing at the street corner. If the driver agrees on the price you propose and is going kind of in your proposed direction, you can get in. These 5 seat cars are usually occupied by more than 5 people. Seat belts virtually do not exist. There is also a problem with these taxis: they stop at every street corner and in that way clog up the crossings. Many if not the most traffic jams are caused by this inefficient behavior which the police is actively countering, but as it seems, to no avail so far. If you want a quick ride, you can also try a 'moto'-taxi, that is a bike with a driver. It looks incredibly dangerous and it is probably one of the cheapest ways to get a quick adrenaline kick in your life.
So, how do you tell the driver your address? You don't because the zipcode system apparently does not work. If you go on Google Maps you can see street names, but when you actually go there, you can see that only really big ones line up, the others, when they exist with asphalt, usually don't.
I only noticed that on a journey to Kribi, a beach city on the west coast, and Douala, Cameroon's most vibrant economic city. I arrived at Kribi via the national road from Yaounde over Edea in about 6 hours, for a 300 kilometer drive. There are almost no highway style broad streets, you can call yourselves happy if there are not too many bumps in the street for some time. For the national level infrastructure, that certainly is unacceptable. But the beach and the sunset was gorgeous. On the next day, I also saw Lobe waterfall, the only waterfall in the world where a river “falls” into the ocean. The boat ride was scary and wet, but totally worth it. Later, I also saw a bit of Cameroon's newest sea port, that is supposed to turn into West Africa's biggest (more later than sooner as far as I can see!). Here is a marketing video, which resembles quite a lot the marketing videos I saw in China regarding big infrastructure projects: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4npp9yHaUa4 The videos are exaggerating was much as you can imagine, but the pictures are low level. It’s ambitious, and I appreciate that, but it is also misleading.
After that, I visited Douala, a city about 6 hours north of Kribi. Only there, I first encountered this incredible language called 'Pidgin-English' (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pidgin) You can listen to some here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbxDGJ-Zg70 It basically is English combined with whatever local language there used to be before English was introduced. You can listen to it and half of the words will make total sense to you, because they are just plain English, but the other half is just intelligible. It’s a great experience to hear that from first hand (or mouth?).
Travelling through vast lands gave a great impression of a country side which has not been completely developed for commercial use. There are plenty of forest which you would have a hard time working through, because they are so untouched.
Back in Yaounde, I also ran the “Parkour Vita” at the foot of the hill surrounding Yaounde which is training circuit with about 20 different exercises (and two police towers on the way, not sure what that is about).
A clear feature of Cameroon was the in existence of sculptural art in the public. In many countries in the developed world, a certain part of construction budgets need to go art installation to support the overall aesthetic. But in Cameroon, it does not seem like this law is being applied or is even existent. It is something which you only later realise, that “something” missing, where by “missing” I mean it is not like in Europe or the US, which is not a bad thing as such. It’s just different.
In terms of domestic politics, there seems to be quite a big following of the president as a person. People have pictures up on the wall of him and he is certainly well known, but also certainly quite old. It speaks for the culture of the people and their political engagement. It’s not necessarily worse, just different.
China is everywhere. It looks like Chinese companies have taken over the majority of public construction projects and they clearly signify that by putting up signs with Mandarin Chinese only writing. You cannot ignore it, and someone wants to show everyone that they indeed ARE dominating the construction industry. There is a deeper reason to all this Chinese involvement which I have not been able to pin down sufficiently.
Also, who ever said that New York is the city that never sleeps clearly has never been to Yaounde. You can go for a run on an empty Broadway in Manhattan, but you cannot do that in Yaounde, because streets are buzzing 24/7.
Generally, I had this subconscious understanding that a low level of development strongly correlates with a high level of criminal activity. Indeed, you should not be on the streets when it gets dark, foreigner or not. I might have been sheltered from criminal activity during my whole stay, but fact is that I never encountered any criminal activity, which is clearly below what I expected to experience.
Overall, there is no direct benefit in comparing our state of development to the state of a developing country. They have their own means and they make the most out of it in their OWN way. It works, somehow, for now and I really hope for them in the future as well. I am very sure that they will leapfrog many developments as well as go through some developments developed countries go through. Street sellers sooner or later will disappear. They will get a zipcode system working at some point, although it is a nice idea to play with that they might leapfrog to drone delivery. It really would make sense.