VOA | YAOUNDÉ, CAMEROON — Leaders of Central African states meeting Friday in Cameroon announced reductions and bans on some imports to encourage local production and create jobs.
The leaders from Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of Congo say the ongoing economic slowdown is stifling development, increasing food and fuel prices, and making living conditions unbearable for a majority the region’s 55 million people.
Daniel Ona Ondo, president of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community, CEMAC, said conference attendees decided that Central African states will tackle the crisis by reducing or stopping imports of clothing, food, and manufactured goods, mostly from China, Russia, Ukraine, and the European Union.
Ondo said Central African states will produce goods and grow food locally to boost their economies following a severe recession triggered in 2015 when the international price of oil dipped below $50, forcing many oil exporting countries to scale back production.
He said in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered one of the largest global economic crises in the world, and in 2022, Russia’s war in Ukraine provoked extreme price shocks and disruptions in the supply of food crops and oil in Central Africa.
Ondo said CEMAC, through its financial reforms program, is allocating about $5 million for projects, including import substitutions, over the next five years. He said the funds will be raised through contributions from member states and loans.
Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Central African states relied on Russia and Ukraine for 80 percent of their wheat imports and 60 percent of petroleum products. Russia’s invasion caused disruptions in supply and price hikes, including a 40 percent spike in the cost of fuel.
CEMAC said most of the imported products could be grown locally.
Cameroon’s President Paul Biya, outgoing chairperson of the CEMAC Conference of Heads of State, said solidarity is needed among CEMAC member states to put an end to several crises that are making living conditions difficult and causing despair among civilians.
Biya said CEMAC member states that are still reluctant to reduce imports should open their borders for the free movement of goods and people, which is necessary in speeding economic growth and development.
He also said CEMAC members want to establish resilient, stable and prosperous communities at home.
The leaders agreed to continue negotiations to merge the 11-member Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) with the six-member Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) in a move to boost trade and growth.
ECCAS consists of all CEMAC member states plus Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Sao Tome and Principe.