Many Cameroonians who leave the continent in search of greener pastures either don’t want to come back home, or find it hard re-integrating when they do return. A German-based project promises help.
Killian Mayua is still thoroughly disenchanted even today, a few years after a failed attempt to set up a business in his country of birth.
“It took me a little over three months and about 750,000 francs to incorporate an IT services company,” the Cameroonian IT specialist, currently based in Nigeria, told DW, adding that his firm spent eight months working on customized software for a major client.
“In the end, the client decided we did not deserve to be paid tens of millions of francs because we were too young,” Mayua says. He took the client to court, but says there has been no verdict to this very day. “The only resort for me was to park my bags, count my losses and start all over again,” the IT expert says. And he is not alone.
Cameroonians in the Diaspora who decide to return home to invest face the stark realities of corruption, and bogus procedures for setting up businesses in the country.
That is exactly the situation Miranda Oben is intent on changing with her Returnees Project. It is Africa’s premier networking arena linking its diaspora to their respective countries with the purpose of promoting the exchange of mutual resources. The project also shares success stories in documentaries.
Originally from Cameroon, Miranda Oben is a German-based IT expert who has in fact become the leading campaigner for the return of Diaspora Cameroonians.
When youngsters leave at the age of 16, they haven’t yet had to deal with bureaucracy, but when they return 20 years later, they bristle at expectations of bribes and money changing hands, the initiator and CEO of the Returnees Project told DW. “They are not used to it, and find it difficult to cope with a new world.”
To make matters worse, taxation is far too high, Oben argues, adding that it inevitably results in businesses folding “in about three or five years.”
But Oben has faith in the returnees, and is using her network to shine a light on “people who have packed their bags from the Diaspora and come back home,” she explains.
She highlights as the inspirational stories of those who have returned – stories aimed at the skeptics, hoping they will come to the realization that despite the challenges, Cameroon could still be a land of promise for its sons and daughters.
“Those who have returned understand the two worlds,” she points out. Born and raised in Cameroon, they left at a young age, “went out into the world” – and came back.
The German-based CEO says that is the aim for the diaspora: come back home or invest at home.
Showcase returnees’ work
Shining a light on and celebrating Cameroonians who have returned might show those who are still abroad that while there are challenges, and power failures, bad roads, heat and mosquitoes – home is home. “I love being here and to every cloud, there is a silver living,” she said.
The Cameroon government has meanwhile also realized that the contribution of the Diaspora to national development can no longer be ignored.
In 2006 for instance, remittances to Cameroon from its Diaspora constituted 1.5 per cent of the country’s GDP- significant sums for a poor country that has set its eyes on 2035 as the year it should attain emergence status.
Bearing that in mind, the Cameroonian government held its first ever Diaspora Forum at the end of June, bringing in more than 400 Cameroonians from abroad.
The forum ended with various recommendations designed to encourage Cameroonians from the Diaspora to invest in the country – including , says Kennedy Tumenta, co-founder and CEO of the African Business Information Bank, the creation of a state secretariat responsible for Diaspora issues, an investment fund and incentive mechanisms to urge investments and create jobs.
He warned however, that “to do all these things, we need to reduce certain administrative bottle necks.” Laudable proposals, says Miranda Oben – but they “require swift political will to be implemented.”