In Cameroonian towns, bottles of gasoline lie in the streets waiting to be sold at black market prices.
They are also sold in a high-risk environment that benefits dealers but takes revenue away from the state.
On the busy Douala-Dibombari road along the shore, taxi driver Ewane Andrey repeatedly abandoned his passenger-carrying vehicle to look for fuel at a price he couldn’t find at petrol stations.
At his first stop, he refused to pay $1 a liter because he had paid less a week ago.
“There is no fuel. I haven’t sold for a fortnight. This price is not even high compared to the risks and the scarcity of diesel. If you don’t want to buy, go elsewhere”, said an angry saleswoman. .
At the second stop in Bomono, a neighboring commune of Dibombari, he also left passengers waiting while he searched for fuel. It makes a third stop and again abandons its passengers. He borrowed a motorbike and returned 20 minutes later with a 5 liter canister of fuel which he found in a village. Faced with the anger of his passengers, he explained his difficulties.
Andrei’s situation is common in this Central African country. The illegal sale of fuel is on the rise, much to the delight of vendors and drivers alike.
In New-Bell, a district of Douala, Ali Garba, is a fuel retailer with several locations. He gets his supplies from large retailers who sell more than 50 liters a day, while Garba sells around 20 litres.
He placed a liter petrol bottle on a table and sat across the road to watch and wait for customers.
Customers are vehicle and motorcycle drivers. When they stop in front of his shop, it’s an opportunity for Garba to get up.
The strategic position he adopts on a daily basis allows him to escape the police.
“We don’t have the right to sell gasoline or other hydrocarbons of this type. It’s a completely illegal trade. But it’s the best I’ve found in life. So we play hide and seek with the police,” he told Anadolu Agency, but refused to do so. answer more questions.
High risk income
Clethus Mbanga, a fellow from the same neighborhood, goes back and forth with several cans of gasoline of 5 and 10 liters from a hiding place to a table on the side of the road where his two employees, vehicles and motorcycles are waiting.
“We cannot display all the goods on the road. We are gradually taking them out because the police are on the lookout and do not hesitate to come and collect all the goods and transport the sellers to prison,” he told AFP. Anadolu Agency.
He is considered the dean of the sale of illegal gasoline by his peers. For years, he has been doing this job, inspired by a friend.
“Before, I was a thrift store. One day, my friend told me about this business which, according to him, was lucrative. I hesitated and finally, I was seduced by the advantages he described to me. and I decided to go into sales. I started by building a network of customers. I delivered goods on demand. It didn’t happen on the side of the road like it has been for less than three years here in Douala,” he said.
He said selling gasoline was his only source of income. He sells 1 liter between 500 and 650 Central African francs (FCFA) ($0.78 and $1). He refuses to say how much he invests and earns each month but confides that at the beginning, he delivered 20 to 40 liters per week and sometimes 100 to 200 liters of fuel per month to specific customers.
“It’s a business in which you have to invest in small drops. If I invest more than $300 a month and the police catch me and seize all my assets, I will lose,” he said. “It’s a business that allows me to support my family. I haven’t found a better job anywhere else. I’ve been doing this job for four years and selling on the side of the road for one. It can be satisfying when you save yourself the risk.”
The risks are what its competitors across the way also fear. At the slightest suspicious approach, they are ready to flee. They are two young men from the South West, one of the English-speaking regions in the throes of a separatist battle known as the “Anglophone crisis”.
Fleeing the crisis, they settled in the city of Douala where their business allowed them to survive, despite the risks.
Previously, the business was done in hiding — in garages — but now they are not hiding because there are crises that require the magnanimity of the authorities, according to Mbanga.
The war between Russia and Ukraine is favorable for sellers because it has caused a shortage of fuel at legal gas stations.
“Fortunately for us, we have this crisis. Without it, we would be in permanent danger. At the moment, the police spare us because they know the shortage of fuel at the gas stations. If we were not there, the traffic would be Until the whole country is supplied, the authorities let us do our business,” Mbanga said.
Cameroon is supplied by imports because in 2019 and since then, its production tool was damaged by an accident which paralyzed distillation columns which allowed it to refine the products of the National Refining Company (Sonara), according to the company. Cameroonian oil depot.
The scarcity of foreign currency is another reason for the shortage as well as the Ukrainian crisis which makes imports more expensive.
The Cameroonian government announced on July 11 that the hydrocarbon market will soon be supplied with 62,500 cubic meters of petroleum products, to overcome the immediate shortage that has appeared in service stations.
The Minister of Water and Energy Gaston Eloundou Essomba indicated that the quantities will be increased in the coming days by “additional volumes of 88,000 cubic meters of Gasoil and 35,000 cubic meters of Super”, ensuring that 123,000 cubic meters of hydrocarbons are on their way to the coast.
The illegal sale seen across Cameroon is also hampered by shortages and has resulted in periods of no income for traders.
“Besides the risk of being imprisoned, losing money, freedom and family, it is also an unstable activity because we sometimes go two to three weeks without supplies. sell us the leftovers. So when they don’t have petrol, we don’t have petrol either, otherwise we find it outside the country,” Mbanga said.
For Mbanga, refueling outside the country means turning to Nigeria. He described a supply chain from cartels in Nigeria. He cited the port of Idenau in the southwestern region near Nigeria where supplies are sometimes submarined – meaning they are smuggled under water, the method used by Nigerian cartels to obtain supplies to sell to customers.
“In the English-speaking regions, namely the North West and the South West, this illegal trade has always existed. It comes from there. People have always sold diesel on street corners and always filled up in Nigeria and to the national refinery through networks of traffickers,” he added.
Although trade benefits from crises, it is also at the origin of a hydrocarbon crisis which was reported by Essomba, who declared that it “is likely to disrupt the country’s supply of petroleum products, and is liable to the penalties provided for by the regulations in force.
At the same time, illegal exports deprive the coffers of the state, which subsidizes the products sold. For all hydrocarbons, the subsidy is estimated at more than a billion dollars in 2022, according to the Ministry of Water and Energy.
In 2020, a customs operation resulted in the seizure of $15 million worth of goods, according to Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute.
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