Cameroon’s National Day on 20 May 2015 marks 55 years of independence as a peaceful united sovereign nation facing future development challenges with greater confidence.
The Republic of Cameroon is a country with many achievements, often nicknamed ‘Africa in miniature’ for its geographical and ethnic diversity, with some 300 recognised ethnic groups. It is now a model nation for the continent underpinned by over five decades of social harmony, maturing democracy, a sound legal system and dynamic civil society, as well as progressively improving health facilities.
This African nation has not experienced the inter-ethnic conflict that has plagued some of its neighbours. Relative to comparable nations, Cameroon boasts a diversified and prosperous economy, with tremendous ‘value-added’ opportunities in the mining, hydrocarbons, agricultural and service sectors. Despite the tough global environment, it has preserved economic stability with real GDP growth of 5 per cent per annum and sustained low inflation, as well as manageable public debt (20 per cent of GDP) in 2014.
Foreign direct investment is flowing into both natural resources and non-extractive sectors thanks to attractive fiscal incentives and business-friendly policies. Indeed, Cameroon is the hub for companies targeting the Central-West Africa markets of 300 million-plus customers. The returns on FDI are among the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. Gas and mineral exploitation offers favourable prospects. With reported findings of 52 different ores, Cameroon is arguably among the world’s least charted mining regions. About three-fifths of its territory (twice the size of Britain) has never been fully investigated. Major mining investors include: Rio Tinto Alcan (UK), Hydromine Inc. (US), Glencore Xstrata (Anglo-Swiss), Dubai Aluminium co. Ltd (UAE) and Cameroon-Korea Mining Inc., among others.
The country’s track record of socio-political order is commended by our development partners, including The World Bank, which stated in May 2006 that: “Cameroon has notably pursued a process of decentralisation and peacefully handled Nigeria’s handover of the Bakassi peninsula. In the economic sphere, the results obtained in terms of the improvement in the quality of the macro-economic framework enabled Cameroon to receive debt relief under the HIPC initiative.” This, in turn, has provided fiscal space for spending on poverty-reduction measures and growth-enhancing public sector investments over the years.
Cameroon has one of the best educational systems in Africa, serving a large, youth population (41 per cent of the national population is less than 15 years old) and the adult literacy rate is 83 per cent. The government has created several technical colleges to train over 10,000 middle-level managers every year, in addition to 50,000 graduates from the country’s eight state universities and six private universities, across all sectors. In early 2014, a new highly prestigious institution called the Centre of Excellence of the African Institute for Mathematical Science in Cameroon was inaugurated. As His Excellency President Paul Biya explained: “Cameroon has talented, ingenious, well-trained and entrepreneurial men, women and young people who are able to take on the challenges ahead for the development of our country.”
The authorities have also allocated substantial funds for improving healthcare services, including building new hospitals – along with the creation and outfitting of specialist medical centres for people suffering from chronic illness – thereby speeding up the progress of the Millennium Development Goals. Meanwhile, a major investment programme is underway to increase power generation from the current 1,000 megawatts (MW) to 5,000MW by 2020. China’s Sinohydro Corp Ltd and others are building giant hydro-electrical dams across the country. Furthermore, Victoria Oil and Gas Plc (UK) has produced continuous gas and condensate at the Logbada field onshore since 2011, thus contributing significantly to enhance local energy supply.
According to President Paul Biya’s vision, by 2035 Cameroon should be transformed “into a country that creates wealth and redistributes it fairly; into a country that offers blossoming equal opportunities to everyone; into a country of strong and sustainable growth; into a country of strengthened food security. In short, into a land of happiness for one and all.”
The government seeks to achieve higher rates of equally shared growth. Cameroon’s long-term strategy ‘Vision 2035’ envisages the country as an “emerging nation, democratic and united in its diversity.” Its principle goals are: becoming a fully-fledged middle-income country; being classified as an industrialised economy; combating poverty to less than one-tenth of the total population; and consolidating democracy and national unity.
Today, huge projects are under construction in key sectors where Cameroon enjoys a ‘competitive edge,’ notably mining, energy and agriculture. The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates arable land potential at 5.9 million hectares, and only 20 per cent of that is currently cultivated. The country’s hydropower capacity is tentatively estimated at 55.2 gigawatts, second only to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which if fully developed can make Cameroon a major regional electricity exporter. Some 110 possible hydropower sites have been identified.
The Government has taken concrete steps to address infrastructure bottlenecks (particularly in electricity supply and transportation where the lack of related infrastructure constitutes a major barrier for sustainable development); promote sectors with high employment potential; improve the business climate; expand access to financial services; and strengthen State institutions.
Cameroon’s National Agenda is articulated around three major pillars: (i) effective implementation of key structural projects including roads, deep-sea ports, bridges, and thermal and hydroelectric power plants, funded mostly by public private partnerships; (ii) human resource development and efficient delivery of public services; and (iii) supporting micro, small- and medium-sized enterprises, engine of job creation and deepening regional integration. Cameroon is critical to the overall development of the six-member Central African Economic and Monetary Community. It accounts for two-fifths and one-half, respectively, of the zone’s GDP and population.
Road construction projects linking Cameroon to Chad, Central African Republic (CAR), Gabon and Equatorial Guinea will further expand the road network. The Ministry of Public Works plans to tarmac half the country’s roads within 15 years. A grand National Railway Master Plan has been unveiled (costing an estimated €23 billion) to connect several cities, major ports and border crossings with neighbouring states, whilst increasing connectivity of the mining and agricultural production areas. It has the potential to raise nominal GDP by 4.7 per cent a year by 2040, according to official sources. The plan is to double the existing rail network by 2025, with an additional 1,670km of track.
Additionally, large-scale investments in port facilities will underpin Cameroon’s geo-strategic position as a hub for trading with other Central-West African countries. Built in 1881, Douala Port accounts for 80-90 per cent of foreign trade of landlocked Chad and CAR. A new deep-sea Kribi Port will be able to handle big vessels with a maximum capacity of 100,000 tonnes. The first phase of the project (costing an estimated €370 million) was completed by China Harbor Engineering Company in late 2014, and phases two or three will be financed on the Build-Operate-Transfer system. The renovation of Limbe Port is due to be complete by 2018.
In partnership with multilaterals and private investors, the state is building giant hydroelectric dam projects, the most important of which are at Mekin, Memve’ele and Lom Pangar. The latter in the eastern region, with a storage capacity of six billion cubic metres of water could ultimately generate 3,000 MW. The full impact of infrastructure projects is anticipated to take place after 2020.
As President Biya said on 15 June 2012 while laying the foundation stone of the Memve’ele dam project: “Without energy, there cannot be any development. There will be no industries, transformation of our primary products and minerals. Without energy, we would not talk of a modern economy.”
Our young, vibrant nation blessed with abundant human and natural resources is a land of tranquility and a beacon of regional stability in Central Africa. Cameroon has laid the foundations for achieving its National Agenda by investing in human and capital resources.