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Cameroon Looks to Its Diaspora to Save Troubled Economy

YAOUNDE (IDN) – “You are welcome back home”, said Cameroon Prime Minister Philemon Yang, setting the tone for a five-day event intended to woo the Cameroonian diaspora to invest in its country of origin.

With eyes set on 2035 as the year Cameroon should attain emergence status, public authorities are doing what they can to fast track the country’s economic growth, constrained as it is by a draining battle against terrorist group Boko Haram and falling oil prices on the international market.

As a result, Cameroon is now turning to its diaspora to help the troubled economy of the Central African country.

Even though this is a diaspora that has been frequently criticised for tarnishing the country’s image abroad, the government is finding it increasingly difficult to raise the money for investments or attract investors, and is calling on Cameroonians living abroad to step in “with the innovations, the ideas and the resources” they have amassed over the years and “help build a better Cameroon”, in the words of the Prime Minister.

He was speaking at the first Cameroon Diaspora Forum organised by the government from June 26 to 30 under the theme of “Cameroon and its Diaspora: Working Together for the Nation’s Development”.

Amid general willingness to find common ground in the country’s development effort, participants came forward with some 300 project proposals in various sectors, including finance, agriculture, food processing, water and energy, and mining.

“I came to this forum with a project to set up a Diaspora Bank,” Dr Mbang Sama, Executive Director ofCoalition Digitale, told IDN.

With remittances from the diaspora estimated at 65 billion dollars annually directed towards Africa, Mbang believes such money could have a bigger impact if it was channelled through such a bank.

“Our approach is to turn this money into an investment fund for development,” said Mbang. “It is a simple principle. If 10,000 Cameroonians from the diaspora each drop 1 dollar in a bank per month that means we are collecting one million dollars a month. In five years, we would have collected an enormous amount of money.

“That can enable the start of several local economic activities at local level, and people in the diaspora will find it easy returning and settling permanently in their countries of African without having to wait for funding from international banks. That alone will create the necessary dynamics between the diaspora and locals in terms of sharing experiences.”

Cameroonian electrical engineering graduate Dr Ernest Simo, who works with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States, told IDN he had come with proposals on how to use digital technologies to change the economic dynamics of Cameroon, and perhaps of Africa.

“When you look at the products we import (cars, electrical appliances; smartphones, etc.), they are all made by man,” he said. “But look at what we export (cocoa, coffee, cotton or wood) which are God-given. We can use digital technologies to change from being consumers to being producers.”

But those proposals could still flounder in a climate that is not sufficiently favourable for investment, and many diaspora Cameroonians have already tried and failed.

Killian Mayua, a Nigeria-based IT specialist from Cameroon, recalls how he had a disheartening experience when he tried to set up a business in Cameroon two years ago.

“It took me a little over three months and about 2,000 dollars to incorporate an IT services company. We started off with a major client that required software customised for its use. We worked on it for about eight months and at the end of it all, the client decided we did not deserve to be paid tens of millions of francs because we were too young.

“We went back and forth with them in several forums and sought redress in the courts. As we speak today, no verdict has come out of that. The only resort for me was to pack my bags, count my losses and start all over again.”

Cameroon has frequently figured very poorly when it comes to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Ranking. For 2016, the country was ranked 167th, with procedures for registering businesses, paying taxes or obtaining land certificates identified as particularly constraining factors.

Surrendering is not an option

Despite the challenges, Miranda Oben, CEO of a project titled The Returnees, believes the better option cannot be to leave. Her project seeks to encourage diaspora Africans to return and settle or at least invest in their respective countries.

“Our focus is to highlight and shine the light on the returnees, people who have packed their bags from the diaspora and come back home,” she told IDN, saying it would be an eye-opener for the hesitant diaspora.

“If we shine the light on these Cameroonians; on these Africans; we celebrate and the diaspora sits watching and thinking…wow!, you went back home! Are there challenges? Yes, they will tell you there are challenges. Yes, there is power failure, yes, the roads are bad; yes there is too much heat; yes there are mosquitoes, but you know what? Home is home. I love being here and to every cloud there is a silver lining.”

However, for the diaspora to become fully involved in Cameroon’s development process, a wide range of measures need to be taken.

Participants in the Yaounde forum concluded that it was necessary to create a state secretariat in charge of diaspora affairs; set up up a fund to support investments of Cameroonians in the diaspora; establish a data base of Cameroonians in the diaspora (highlighting their socio-professional categories and various competences); establish a public access information system to strengthen government’s policy on communication and involve the diaspora in the construction of a digital economy for Cameroon to facilitate innovation and youth entrepreneurship.

“These are great recommendations,” said Miranda Oben, “but they will need swift political will to implement.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 13 July 2017]

Photo: Returnees pose for the press at the Cameroon Diaspora Forum organised by the Cameroon government from June 26 to 30. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom

IDN InDepthNews

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45 comments

  1. People dont ‘drop a dollar ‘of their hard earned money into any sort of bank.If its got ‘digitale’ in its name ,which sort of implies its got something to do with the internet in a country where that service dissapeared for a good number of users its a bit of a contradiction .
    A database of which companies that have not acted like the one that owes Mr Mayua payment inside Cameroon would be useful for forigen investors . Television programmes on how to do simple buisness agreements,accounting ,procurment ,estimates ,,installment payment percentages could help inside the country .

    • Bros na wah ooh. This kind bank weh no know arithmetic I no want drop ma money there. How can 10 000 people drop a dolar a month and the bank gets 1000 000 a month. Or na me a stupid?

      • I wonder oohhh. I feed say na only me a see am, $1 each from 10,000 and it totals 1 Million dollar. RIP mathematics. I fear that kind bank

  2. Does Cameroon need her citizens in the Diaspora or not? What was the reason for turning back a protesting Pa Zama at the airport while other invitees proceeded to the forum for deliberations? Who are those on the famous list of persona non grata?

    Honesty remains the best policy!

    • Bros Cameroon needs every citizen that is ready to suck up to their corruption, that is francophone, or anglophone that has become francophone by staying quite in the face of indifference.

    • I am pretty sure Pa Zama came with kolanuts. I also ask the same question why was Pa Zama left out? I guess he is not the type of person LRC government can steal from and go caught free. LRC don’t do business with intelligent people…people with real stuff. They kill them or send them to Kondengue. Shamefully the number of former ministers and PM, SG etc at Kondengue prisan is enough to form a full cabinet. “Thief country”

  3. In the last 3 years I can say have spent close to 120 million frs in the Country in construction alone not to speak of buying land and other things that creates jobs and yet one is insulted upon arrival in Douala. The fact of the matter is that whether one has another citizen ship, it is the love of a mother land that drives one back to that 1920 Cameroon that is ruled by 1900 leaders. I just wish for the day we go back to Southern Cameroons where there once was law and order and no stealing of public funds.

  4. From World Bank data, Cameroon is one of the worst places in the WORLD to start a business! After losing my money and property just so that the fledgling economy could get a boost, I packed up my stuff and took off overnight because the next thing they were going to take was my head! Everybody in Cameroon is a taxman! People turned up from the chief’s compound to ask for my tax documents, they came from the Gendarmarie to ask for tax. I got representatives from SOCSINAD(musician’s organization), coming to ask for tax documents! Man!!! What a country! Hell Nooooo!!

    • Senator it is sad to hear that! Remember what Thomas Sankara said “Misfortune to those who gag the people”. Those guys will surely pay dearly for their mischievous activities.

      • My brother Mr. Pan, accursed be that country! Death and Decay be the portion of its brutal and corrupt leaders. May the blood of the innocent ones come back and meet them! After what we all witnessed in 1992 during and after the gangster election, I didn’t know Biya would sit and watch soldiers molesting and raping children with impunity! At least make a statement on national television just as a grand pa sympathizing with his children. Instead the idiot and his gang round up our leaders and put them in jail. We need AK47 and BUK missiles to clear our way so we can come back and invest! Pima!

    • Ma broda na the country that u can not do business and go like that no way u will kepp laying for nonsence things over and over the wost one is at the port small goods u will pay and pay money till u might finally abandon ut container there and run its bad we have countries like Ghana its almost duty free see how Ghanian and nigeria are doing well in shipping things when u pay less at the port people buy cheap u sell cheap and atleat gain also but not lime this in cameroon tax and custom u are dead ma brother no try am a victim i leave contianer run for my head that country ummm

    • Senator@ a small licence fee is due if your open to a paying public and play someone elses music .Its pretty big in Italy based on how many people being there ,the fines even bigger if you dont pay.Still how much is going to Cameroonian musicians ?

      • Mr Phyrne,
        The problem was not lack of the fees or taxes. For SOCINADA, it was a monthly fee of 11,000 frs. As far as paying taxes in cameroon, i kept to the letter. What i found out was the angst these guys had when they found someone with all required and up to date paperwork. They hate when you decide to go the legal way! The gendarme asked if i saw the quarterhead before starting a business in the neighborhood.The guy who claimed to be from SOCINADA kept asking who I saw when i went to pay for the dues in the office. He was trying to make legitimate papers look fake,so i could bribe him!

        • Senator @ okay i get you ,you had people “claiming to be” which isnt actually ok ,However if you get pretty well known for being the only guy that insists on paying in an extremely traceable way ,as in ,you will waste your time to do traceable not cash payments and signiture of who gives you a following recipt of payment ,you can invite the “claimer” to verify infront of any spare policemen in the area who will check his identification .Its good to nitpick in situations like this ,it works.Go to the quaterhead with the Gendarme to ask exactly what extra papers you should be happily owning

        • However always have a couple of friends / wittnesses with you .

    • LRC government has failed countless times to learn and apply basic principles on the economy to achieve growth and satisfaction for all. They prefer to run to the IMF/World bank to foot the bills of blood thirsty monster and certified criminals. It is simple when the economy moves tax it, when it keeps moving regulate it, and when it stops moving subsidize it. All LRC government know is tax and tax and tax and tax…….No wonder LRC gendarmes are now in trouble for killing 97 Nigerian fishermen for not paying levies/tax.

  5. another “coup de Coeur”
    Your money will be put in the day and will disappear in the night. Anything involving pays especially money should be treated with caution!!!

  6. who is fooling who? Care should be taken when responding to making Cameroon an emergent nation in 2035. Cameroon already has what it takes to become an emergent nation within 12 months. I say 12 months. They have to learn how to be disciplined with the use of money. Using Rostow’s growth model as an example, you don’t pay $613 000 as annual salary and close to 9 months of vacation for a president of a country in the traditional stage of development (1st stage). American president gets $400,000 and is in the 6th stage of development (beyond mass consumption).

  7. Another ‘photo up’ and sympathizers of a criminal regime. The regime is on its knee. The days of this regime are numbered.
    You can not deceive people all the time. Puppet Yang, I know you and others are Canadian, French Citizens and you are there deceiving others that you are a PM of Cameroon. We things get bad you will escape to Canada.
    Thugs.

    • If they (criminal regime) care they should escape to France, Canada or the USA. The world is fast becoming a global village, so wherever they go with their loot/ill-gotten wealth we will fish them out! They must give account for the thousands of Cameroonians who died on road accidents because money earmarked for road projects were embezzled, or better still those who die daily in Cameroon hospital because a gang of certified criminals are paying themselves billions of CFA at their expense. Sorry no room for escape. Even Jonah in the Bible could not escape the presence of the Almighty God.

  8. First question is where the money that was invested by civil servants in post office disappeared to? Only a fool will take pea nuts and give the rat to keep it for him. Simple double Nationality, Cameroon cannot sign it knowing the advantages of it in terms of investment. So the state money that these guys are embezzling is not enough that they want us to bring our hard earned money for them to embezzle as well. Thunder fire them. The only investment we’ll do is invest in our personal families, nothing to do with the government. To hell with 2035.

    • Well said Country Man. I lack kolanuts to give you. We should hold this criminal regime accountable. Remember what Thomas Sankara said “Misfortune to those who gag the people”. This is another calculated attempt by this blood thirsty regime to steal from my brothers and sisters who have worked hard under the harsh winters and paid high taxes to support their place of residence. This is really “monkey work baboon chop” or cinema that is coming. I hope they better educate themselves and know in advance that they are about to strike a deal with the devil.

  9. One of our greatest weaknesses is the failure to ask “If it can happen to X, can it not also happen to me?”

    So far no one has volunteered to comment on my remarks above about a certain Pa Zama, turned back from the Douala Airport upon landing for the forum of the Diaspora. Does that ring a bell at all? Does a citizen in the Diaspora need to return and be physically present at home to send money for the government or private undertaking?

    You be the judge!

    • Secondly, people are obsessed with the idea of a dual nationality with the erroneous notion that it confers immunity from prosecution and imprisonment, etc. Lies!

      The case of Thierry ATANGANA and Lydienne Youm benefitting from a presidential pardon for embezzlement leading to imprisonment was unique – unique in the sense that behind their pardon was pressure exerted by the president of France. One tree does not become a forest. It is unlikely that such a pressure can be applied for every dual citizenship in France or other countries on the globe, so faulty generalization should not mislead.

  10. 3rd to the last paragraph, is a very good trick set by gov`t to lure fools.
    A patient dog eats a fat bone. If this is true, then let`s wait for when the political
    dust would have settled. Remember, that some who are in exile today because of the
    Anglo resistance, have their accounts blocked by this same LRC.
    For now, the advice can be that anyone itching to invest, can buy land through a reliable
    person and keep, so the money doesn`t evaporate.

  11. The government should work on the taxation sector in order to encourage diaspora to invest home.This is the most vital sector to work on, which will give diaspora that appetite to invest home.Secondly, it is a matter of been courageous to invest in Cameroon.The is nothing you can access verbally without doing it practically.The most essential thing is to go on the field and experience how thing move.You will enjoy investing in Cameroon if an only you endeavor to, depending also on what you invest on.

    • You arw right bro the custome at the airport is killing it its really really bad bunch of thiefs u ship small good u pay all kinds of bills where as in other african countried like Ghana kutuno nigeria especially in ghana duty free it encourages peopke to invest or do business u want to help the citizens usless people at the port will want to kill u with all kinds of mafia for their selfish interst its painful

  12. A confused gov always seeking solutions to problems rather than avert them from sprouting. Address the issues that in the first place promotes the mass exodus of Cameroonians. A problem is never solved if the branches are cut.U are composed of leaders who are so dull to reason. Sorry say garri don tight wona for hand…

  13. Well said Kinsmann. This fey man LRC government wants to rob these guys. They are wolves in sheep clothing. I have asked the same question! why do you need these guys now? You caused them to leave because of your corruption & now you want their monies. “Na really cinema I di siam or na monkey work baboon chop”. It is not right for LRC government to continuously borrow from IMF/world bank to foot the bills of criminals & blood thirsty monsters. Who will pay for this borrowed money. My guess is future generation and now they are using another tactic to steal from hardworking youth in diaspora.

  14. GET REAL NEWS FROM SCBCTV.COM

  15. Vaiocomputers

    Another illusion with delusional leaders

  16. Biya thought he had minerals at his balls to sell to the whites .. he didnt need our taxes or our voice .. that’s why they treat us worst than dirt … now his turning back to us when he has no one to depend on ? Let’s them keep taking loans one days the whites will hold only him responsible for that … for every service there’s a bill .. you will certainly be served one if not to you personally ur children will be serve … remember that as a defunct mason

  17. Biya and LRC and his beti useless henchmen should sell embezz led asset , stop paying colonial tax to master France. Change it’s useless francophone mentality and at that time ..

  18. First of all to encourage people from the diaspora ur custome has to drop down drastically try and ship little goods to cameroon u will spend all your money to remove tue goods just extra phone caught in ur bag u maight pay more than 30000 for one phone and then tax if u want to open a business its too bad i have friends from Ghana kutonu and nigeria their custom duty very encouraging esoecially Ghana u can ship cars or goods or container for no cost but not for our own country i tried before but i regretted till now we shoukd have duty free so we can help the country not individuals

  19. After wuna don chop the money finish. Wuna want money. Na God go punish wuna.

  20. After wuna don chop the money finish. Wuna want more, na God go punish wuna. I remember how them d ask tax for 200000 for common table market way man set up for manage life.

    • Harley
      Even after paying that 200k, don’t forget the number of tormentors who will turn up almost daily from the chief, the gendarme, etc to claim ‘taxes’. Massa I was one of the people who believed that if we had better leadership, Cameroon would be the best in Africa. Hell no. It is simply IMPOSSIBLE to deal with people from la Republique! Period! I had two businesses in Yaounde, these guys simply hated the fact that we try to develop their place. Imagine a chef du quartier coming to your business just to drink free Tuborg! A Bamenda man would not go that low my man! We must cut off!!!