Screen shot showing a man under the influence of drugs after having sniffed glue. Douala, Cameroon.
Douala, Cameroon’s economic capital, is increasingly becoming a hub of illegal drug consumption and trafficking. Many local youths are turning from cannabis to harder drugs, such as cocaine and heroin. By posing as a user, our Observer investigated Douala’s lucrative drugs trade.
The Atlantic coastal city is a strategic port for Cameroon. With thousands of containers passing through each day, the docks are a hive of activity, making it easy for drugs traffickers to distribute their goods. As with Cotonou in Benin, Lome in Togo and Lagos in Nigeria, Douala is a transit point in the illegal global drugs trade.
Official statistics do not exist, but regular drug raids on Cameroon’s coastline indicate the scale of the problem. In August 2011, 141.5kg of cocaine was found inside bottles of vegetable oil on a cargo ship at Douala’s port. Moreover, traffickers do not rely solely on sea travel: in 2012, more than six kilos of heroin were seized at Douala airport.
Not surprisingly, it is increasingly easy to find a variety of different drugs on the streets of Douala. Sniffing a type of glue has proven particularly popular. According to our Observer, a brown liquid form of the drug is kept in a little bag, and is taken by sniffing it from a piece of tissue paper. Users suffer dizzy spells, similar to those displayed by the man in the video below, before succumbing to severe tiredness.
Video showing a man staggering, after having sniffed “glue”. Douala, Cameroon. Video posted on Facebook by Zack Tatem.
Theodore Kommegne, a clinical psychologist who specialises in drugs and alcohol research, carried out a study of drug use among high school students in 2008. The results showed 5% of the 1,200 pupils studied admitted to having taken drugs, with a special preference for heroine (64% of those using drugs) and cocaine (57%). For the psychologist, this growth in consumption can largely be explained by the drugs' plummeting prices. He says a dose of cocaine, also known as ‘caillou’, now costs between 1,500 and 2,000 Central African Francs (CFA), the equivalent to 2.30€ - 3€. A few years ago, the same dose would have cost 3,000 CFA.

“They’re using ‘tchap’, glue or cocaine”

Frank William Batchou is a 28-year-old journalist and blogger who lives in Douala. In 2011, he posed as a user in order to gain access and understand the local drug trafficking scene.
After hearing of people being arrested for drug trafficking and consumption, of drugs seized at Douala’s port and airport, I wanted to understand how drug trafficking worked in the city. So I went into the neighbourhoods where drugs are sold. Introducing myself as a journalist made the dealers distrustful and they wouldn’t answer my questions. So I decided to go back and pretend to be a user.
First I went to the Congo Market, an area known for being a hotspot for dealers. I found one quickly. I told him I was a singer and because I had a concert two days later I needed something to prevent stage fright. He asked me to give him 1,000 CFA in advance and to come back later. That’s a technique widely used when the buyer is new, so that the dealer can be sure the person is serious and is, above all, not an undercover policeman. I went back in the afternoon, and another guy gave me some heroine in exchange for my 1,000 CFA.
There are names and codes used to identify the drugs. Powdered cocaine and heroin are known as ‘caillou’, while drugs that are smoked are often referred to as ‘tchap’, which means ‘leaf’ in several languages spoken in west Cameroon.
Drugs are mostly sold in neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Douala, such as in Makea, nicknamed Dubai because the business is so lucrative there. But they can also be found right in the heart of the city centre, such as at a school that I attended myself. Part of the property is made up of sports grounds, but these are partially deserted and there are weeds growing, so it’s become a popular place for junkies to come and smoke heroine and cannabis, while watching young people play football.
Most of the dealers are from Cameroon. They start when they’re about 15 years old; they come from deprived areas, and often they don’t have families. They’re idle, they spend their days drinking, smoking and making money in various illegal ways, like theft and dealing drugs.