01 Mar 2023 /

The AFRICA CEO FORUM organized in partnership with Ecobank the digital event "Invest In Cameroon"

Cameroon is “a country with immense potential” where opportunities abound

 

An Invest in Cameroon online event was held on Thursday 23 February in collaboration with Ecobank and Proparco (AFD group) with a panel of experts and stakeholders from the country. Presenters spoke to the benefits, investment opportunities and the challenges of an economy that represents 45% of the GDP within the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC).

 

Cameroon’s diversified economy has proven resilient

 

Yanis Arnopoulos, Director and General Manager of Duval Arno Distribution – the family business which began operations in Cameroon 60 years ago – has an investor’s outlook on the country. For him, Cameroon “is a country with immense potential”. “We say it all the time”, he continued. Potential is something that is not easily seen. There are numerous opportunities. It’s like we’re going down a long runway, but for the time being, Cameroon is struggling to take off. Both the population and the private sector are very resilient, and it’s true that our company – our family business – has performed very well to allow us to get to where we are. The Group has face many crises, particularly in 1994 when the CFA franc was devalued. Since then, other crises have arisen such as the Covid-19 pandemic and more recently the war in Ukraine”.

 

Gwendoline Abunaw, Managing Director of Ecobank Cameroon, echoed similar sentiments about resilience and spoke highly of the country’s strength. “Cameroon is an economic powerhouse of CEMAC, accounting for 45% of the GDP. Looking at the last couple of years, we have seen that Cameroon has shown incredible resilience in the face of internal and external shocks, and has still been able to grow significantly”.

Another thing that makes Cameroon one of the best countries for investors is the fact that the banking sector is the most mature within CEMAC”, she explained. Ecobank is among the top three in the local market in terms of profitability and total returns. We also have a young and highly educated population. The literacy rate in Cameroon is above 80%, which means that interested investors can find personnel to fit the required skill set”.

Mehdi Tanani, Regional Head Central Africa of Proparco (AFD group), spoke to four key points about Cameroon. “There are four things that make Cameroon unique, he said. Its economy is diversified thanks to the presence of national economic champions and the richness of the land’s agricultural and hydroelectric resources, among others. And of course, the population is highly trained.

 

Numerous opportunities and accelerating digital technologies

 

General Manager of the Investment Promotion Agency (IPA) Marthe Angéline Minja spoke on the investment opportunities targeted by the Government. “There are many priority sectors that have caught the Government’s attention that have the potential to grow Cameroon, she explained. The Investment Promotion Agency, which promotes productive investments on behalf of the Government, has implemented a targeted promotion strategy in industries such as rice, corn and fisheries which are clear investment opportunities. The IPA General Manager also said that the agro-industry “has had the greatest impact on the Cameroonian economy”. “This is followed by the construction and services sector, tourism and leisure, healthcare, chemicals and pharmaceuticals”, she added.

 

When asked, Proparco’s Mehdi Tanani said he also sees a wide array of opportunities in the country also known as ‘Africa in miniature’. He continued, “Cameroon has great agronomical potential since it is present across several large value chains, particularly for cash crops (cotton and coffee) and essential food products such as corn and cassava. Remember that 40% of exports from Cameroon come from the agricultural and forestry sectors, and major waterways such as the Sanaga river make Cameroon the second leading country in terms of hydroelectric energy on the continent. In addition, the advantageous geographical positions of the Kribi and Douala ports make the country a strategic hub to access the subregion. And finally, Cameroon is lucky to be able to count on its highly educated diaspora, who still feel connected to their country and want to invest in their homeland”.

 

Over the last few years, Cameroon has been one of the countries where digitalisation has been on the rise. “Cameroon is one of those countries that has made major strides in terms of adoption and penetration of digital services over the last 10 to 15 years”, said CEO of MTN Cameroon Mitwa Kaemba Ng’ambi. MTN Cameroon has played an active role in regards to that over the last 22 years. We have participated and supported the Government’s strategy in a number of ways but I’ll focus on three in particular”.

She continued, “The first is the investments we have made around connectivity and infrastructure. The population of Cameroon today is 27 million people and MTN Cameroon’s investments in infrastructure have resulted in a population network coverage of 95%. What this means is that 95% of the population are able to make a phone call, connect to the Internet and use mobile financial services. Then, we invested in the digital solutions space. These investments were born either locally or through the MTN pan-African network. This has notably allowed for expansions in mobile money, with over 5 million people actively conducting financial transactions over their mobile phone. This was probably not the case 10 to 15 years ago. This has furthered financial inclusion. The third role that MTN Cameroon has played is to drive ICT penetration”.

 

Recommendations to transform the economy

 

Board Director and Spokesperson of GICAM (the Inter-Patronal Groupings of Cameroon) Jacques Jonathan Nyemb said that his organisation has over 1,000 members that represent 76% of company revenue in Cameroon (43% of the country’s GDP). The organisation made policy recommendations that were published in the 2021 edition of the Cameroonian Economy White Paper.

“The first”, he stated, “is to have financing that best serves the real economy. Today, 98% of Cameroon’s economic fabric is made up of SMEs, but these SMEs only have access to 13% to 15% of the loans granted. GICAM has made recommendations calling for a more diverse bank offering with increased modes of financing.

The second recommendation is to have tax measures in place that foster development. A certain number of investors, both locally and abroad, have often noticed the unequal application of tax measures and the burden they can sometimes pose. Today, 70% of tax revenues come from 0.4% of companies. In fact, it is entirely possible to expand the tax base and better administer taxes.

The third GICAM recommendation is a reform of how we manage the economy. Cameroon has seen a continuous rise in debt ratio, accounting for 46% of GDP. GICAM has looked into the quality of this debt as it relates to the difficulty we have in attracting investments and infrastructure that will accelerate the transformation of our economy.

We have suggested a number of reforms that speak to the optimisation of non-tax-related revenues by increasing digitalisation and modernising our legal system”.

 

Mehdi Tanani of Proparco also made observations to develop the country’s economy. “Despite the diversification of the economy and its major role in Central Africa, Cameroon is behind other countries such as Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana in terms of integrating international commerce, perhaps due to an incomplete economic liberalisation process. Cameroon would benefit from diversifying and strengthening its exports so it can develop its presence across international value chains”.

 

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