Country FilesCentralCameroon Country Profile 2015: Promises and Passivity


Posted on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 09:00

Cameroon Country Profile 2015: Promises and Passivity

By The Africa Report

altWith Boko Haram and the impact of the war in Central African Republic (CAR) proving the largest threats on the domestic front President Paul Biya's government is trying to deliver on its promises as the country moves into 2015 with few Millennium Development Goals achieved.

There are many challenges: economic growth is narrow, unemployment remains high and the 
ruling Rassemblement Démocratique du Peuple Camerounais (RDPC) continues to monopolise the political space.

Biya, 81, shows no sign of planning for the succession and he is set to run again for another seven-year term in 2018. He remains aloof and has not selected a successor.

Should he remain in the post, RDPC secretary general Jean Nkuete will be well placed to influence the competition to replace Biya.

Regular cabinet reshuffles and the country's regional and language dividing lines make it difficult to predict how the succession will take place.

The government has very slowly implemented the changes brought in by the 1996 constitution, including the senate and the constitutional council.

Biya says that his priorities for this term in office are employment and the population's living conditions, but the government has not been clear about how it intends to achieve its goals. 

Opposition disarray

The leading opposition party, the Social Democratic Front, faces the same problems of an unclear succession as does RDPC.

The party is struggling to make an impact, and the SDF's John Fru Ndi, 73, has won a smaller share of the vote in each presidential election since 2004.

The country's many small opposition parties have not been able to form a united front in their attempts to counter Biya. Biya's 32-year-old regime has weak governance credentials.

altFaced with international criticism for using the Opération Épervier anti-graft programme to silence rivals, Biya unexpectedly pardoned some 24,000 inmates of the country's overcrowded prisons in February 2014.

One-time presidential aspirant and secretary general of the presidency Titus Edzoa and Franco-Cameroonian Thierry Atangana regained freedom alongside a host of people charged with stealing from the public purse.

About 40% of Cameroon's 22 million inhabitants live below the poverty line.

People complain about the rising cost of living and gross inequalities as the government plans to make the country an emerging economy by 2035 via a spending spree on infrastructure.

Nowadays, blackouts and water cuts are common. The government's lack of capacity in managing major projects, however, will be a stumbling block to its stated goals.

Fuel price hike

In order to find the money to spend on projects, the government has been implementing unpopular decisions.

On 1 July, it decided to cut some fuel and cooking gas subsidies, prompting a 14% hike in the cost of a litre of petrol and a 15% increase in the price of a litre of diesel.

Government spokesperson Issa Tchiroma said the subsidies have been costing the state more than $600m per year since 2009.

Amid consultations to avert a transportation strike as well as a 5% civil servants' pay raise to cushion the burden, trade unionists and farmer organisations were angered by parliament's adoption of a draft law authorising Biya to ratify an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU.

They fear that the agreement, which took effect in October 2014, will engender lopsided competition, reduce customs revenue and hurt the country's struggling industries.

The government argued that the deal will extend the reach for the country's exports and lower the price of imports.

Meanwhile, output woes persist in the agricultural sector, which employs 70% of the population and represents 42% of gross domestic product.

Harvests of coffee, once a flourishing cash crop, hit an all-time low in 2014, with a more than 50% slump from the previous year.

Figures from the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Cacao et du Café revealed a drop from 38,000tn in the 2012/2013 season to 16,000tn in 2013/2014.

Growers, dealers, experts and farmers' organisations have called for government subsidies and improved agricultural policies.

Elsewhere, the Office National du Cacao et du Café announced in September 2014 that cocoa exports sank by 3.4% from 180,722tn in the 2012/2013 season.

Problems in the sector include climate change, lack of access to quality planting material, primitive farming methods and ageing farms and farmers.

Actors in the sector are still waiting for the promised state-run agricultural bank that was supposed to be launched in 2014.

Cameroon's natural gas sector is taking off.

Plans being discussed include a liquefied natural gas plant and a fertiliser plant.

The inauguration in November 2013 of Rodeo Development's gas production plant in Douala was a crucial step for the industry.

The Société Nationaledes Hydrocarbures (SNH) reported that production hit 4.3bn cubic feet in the first quarter of 2014, up from 93.4m cubic feet during the same period in 2013.

Delays for Dangote

The plant's growing list of clients includes Dangote Cement.

The country's third cement producer delayed its planned July 2014 start of production due to problems in energy supply and the ongoing construction of access roads.

The plant, with the capacity to produce 1m tonnes per year, was due to come online before December 2014.

The SNH also reported that national oil production had risen to 8.8m barrels by April 2014 due to new production in the Dissoni Block and the Douala/Campo-Kribi basin, a 24.5% increase on the first quarter of 2013.

altThe government expected oil revenue to reach 718bn CFA francs ($1.4bn) for the 2014 budget.

The government is investing in the construction of new dams and ports, but progress has been somewhat slow.

The 30MW Lom Pangar Dam, partly financed by the World Bank, was about 50% complete in March 2014.

Cameroon's installed capacity stands at about 1,000MW.

The government has set a production target of 3,000MW by 2020 to boost industrialisation.

In the meantime, Britain-based investment fund Actis became the majority shareholder of electricity distributor AES-SONEL in 2014.

The new management announced it will spend 170bn CFA francs between 2014 and 2018 to boost output and expand coverage amid nationwide complaints about load-shedding and blackouts.

In July 2014, the Kribi deep-sea port welcomed its first vessels.

According to the project chairman, Louis-Paul Motazé, the ultramodern port will not be completed until 2040, but it is already helping to decongest the port at Douala.

The government selected Louis Berger in August 2014 to oversee construction of a highway between Yaoundé and Douala and began paying indemnities to dislodged landowners.

In Douala, Sogea-Satom and Soletanche Bachy made progress on a second bridge with a rail line over the Wouri River.

In the mining sector, the government recruited Geotech Airborne to examine the country's mineral potential.

The surveys should be completed in June 2015.

The launch of the venture, with funding from the World Bank, coincided with the suspension of the issuance and renewal of artisanal mining exploration permits after it emerged that many investors were mining rather than exploring.

In late 2014, Australian miner Sundance Resources announced it would push ahead with its $3.5bn Mbalam-Nabeba iron ore project despite price slumps.

Boko Haram exploits weak Borders

Cameroon's porous borders expose it to refugee flows from the conflict in CAR and to attacks from the Boko Haram Islamist militants from north-eastern Nigeria.

Prior to 2014, Boko Haram had little impact on Cameroon. Attacks intensified early in the year and climaxed on 27 July when militants stormed the Fotokol home of deputy prime minister Amadou Ali, abducting his wife and some 15 others. They were released in October.

Reports from Cameroon's Extrême-Nord region said that Boko Haram has been recruiting young people from the country's most-impoverished region.

The fighting in Nigeria also provoked the influx of more than 11,000 Nigerian refugees.

The UN warned that the plight of the refugees was deteriorating amid a cholera outbreak and floods from heavy rains.

After declaring war on Boko Haram on 17 May at a summit in Paris, President Paul Biya proceeded in August with the reorganisation of the army.

He dismissed senior officers, created a semi-autonomous combined military force in the Extrême-Nord and deployed more troops.

The instability in the north has contributed to political infighting. Regime barons from the south, led by Henri Eyebe Ayissi, accused the northern elite of using Boko Haram to destabilise the country and eventually topple Biya. 

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