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Ottoman gifts: the cost of Turkish trade and investment in Cameroon

On Tuesday 14 August, CAF officially stamped its approval seal on Cameroon as the host of AFCON 2019. While the Cameroonian government has played a huge part in ensuring the country remain the host of the game, the hidden hand of Turkey and Italy in helping the build the main stadiums for the AFCON 2019 games should be obvious to any keen observer. However, while Turkey is helping Biya to host his “idol games”, Cameroonians should not be blindsided by the the joy of hosting the games, and forget the cost of Turkish relations on our country: huge Trade deficits, worrisome loans with murky repayment terms, and displacement of local companies.

Although Turkey is not among Cameroon’s top five trading partners, both countries are deepening their economic, cultural, political and diplomatic relations. Relationship between Ankara and Yaounde have gained momentum over the past decade. In March 2013, Paul Biya visited Turkey,  the first visit by a Cameroonian head of state to the former Ottoman Empire. According to the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the most recent  diplomatic visits from Cameroon to Turkey were made by Cameroon’s Minister of Defense Joseph Beti Assomo on 28-21 January 2018 and Minister of Employment and Vocational Training Zacharie Perevet on 20-22 February 2018.

Turkey provided 35 Cameroonians with scholarship to study in Turkey for  2017-2018 academic year  and 215 scholarships have been granted scholarship since 1992. Meanwhile, more than 700 Cameroonians have graduated from Turkish universities since 2000.

Several popular Cameroonian players such as Chedjou, Mengolo and Kana-Biyik play in top Turkish clubs. Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon’s football legend, announced on August 4 that he was leaving his Turkish club Konyaspor.

Beside these cultural and diplomatic exchanges, Turkey is also making its presence felt on the Cameroonian economy. Data from the United Nations International Trade Statistics, shows that trade between Turkey and Cameroon reached $250 million in 2017, up from $131 million in 2013, with Cameroon recording a $78 million deficit in 2017.

In 2015, Turkey organised the first Turkey Cameroon Business forum in Yaounde. According to Cameroon Tribune, “some 45 corporate companies, small and medium-sized enterprises and independent investors specialised in infrastructure development in the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa, CEMAC, meet with prominent Turkish construction and contracting companies in Yaounde for the pioneer forum for Turkish construction companies in Yaounde”.

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Partly due to these exchanges, Turkish construction companies are one of the most dominate players in Cameroon’s construction sector. For example, in 2016, Business in Cameroon reported that the government of Cameroon had borrowed FCFA 46.5 billion loan from UBA to give to the Turkish company Yenigun, in charge of building a football stadium in Japoma, Douala, and the economic capital of the country.

The 50,000 seat capacity stadium which also will have basketball courts, handball volleyball and tennis courts, an Olympic swimming pool of 8 lanes, conference centers, commercial centers, a four star luxury hotel and a parking lot will cost about around FCFA 60 billion with15 percent of the project financed by the Türk Eximbank. Most Cameroonians are yet to know about the terms of this contract.

Turkey is not just expanding in Cameroon, it is spreading its power across Africa. Yusuf Ibrahim, a researcher for Australian Finance and Banking review, in a research paper titled TURKEY AFRICA RELATIONS: OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES argues an emerging economically powerful Turkey has found allies in authoritarian colonial-left over leaders. One can argue this is the case of Cameroon. He insist that Turkey is establishing economic and diplomatic relations with these countries that create little or no benefit for majority of the citizens in these countries. In fact, Turkish businesses, elites and African elites are the only ones benefiting from the new relationships.

Japoma Stadium under Construction in Douala

This is true in Cameroon. With Cameroon’s economy facing dire financial needs, funds from Turkey are likely to help the country build vital infrastructure. The war Biya declared on Anglophones is proving to be a war on Cameroon’s economy. Cameroon Development Corporation(C.D.C) is grounded, crude oil export figures have plummeted from FCFA 3589.80 Billion in 2017, to FCFA 860.70 Billions in 2018.

However, Cameroonians must re-evaluate the net benefit of their relationship with Turkey on Cameroon. For example, the cost of Cameroon’s trade deficit with Turkey on foreign exchange and local businesses.  The long-term sustainability of jobs created by Turkish companies, and the terms of loans contract signed between Turkey and Cameroon. No other time, than an election season can be the best time to rethink this relationship. For example, the Japoma stadium should have been built by a local construction company.


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