Yaounde (National Times) – Cameroon President Paul Biya has promised a new industrial policy for Cameroon, which will focus on developing natural resource processing centres, as well as diversifying Cameroon’s share of export from current oil and timber, to manufactured products.
The 86 years-old President, who was re-elected in October in landslide victory, made the announcement while receiving top national and diplomatic officials as part of the New Year Greetings in the Unity Palace on Wednesday 9, January.
“It would be advisable, process our natural resources here before exporting them, to develop the industrial sector so as to reduce imports, and to stimulate trade between the regions, as well as move to new markets across the world,” the President told his guests.
Over 73% of Cameroon’s public income comes from the natural resource sector. With volatility in the prices of crude oil, timber, and other natural product, the government has been forced to borrow massive sums from foreign banks, as well introduce tax hikes to fund its operations.
— President Paul BIYA (@PR_Paul_BIYA) January 9, 2019
Biya’s promise to diversify the economy will, however, is of little surprise to most Cameroonians. “He has promised to diversify the economy before, but corruption, poor planning, conflict, uncertainty in the policy environment, and most importantly, lack of infrastructure has taken us back more than five decades” an Economist at the University of Douala told National Times.
Besides corruption, Economists in Cameroon are worried that the government’s over reliance on foreign investors is hardly going to allow the country to grow. “The appeal to attract foreign investment will be both a challenge and boon for any industrial policy in Cameroon. We cannot diversify our economy without infrastructure, and we cannot build infrastructure without adequate public revenue. But because the government does not want to discourage foreign investors, they have been forced to suicidal tax concessions to these companies, so I think we should be sceptical as to whether this government has the guts to introduce a trans-formative industrial policy,” the University Lecturer continued.
Other international experts have warned developing countries like Cameroon of the risk of relying on foreign investment. Amanda Janoo who works for The Industrial Policy Organization, has warned that “One of the greatest challenges facing industrial policy in developing countries is that the space to institute effective regulatory or taxation policies is constrained by the allure of foreign direct investment (FDI), the threat of relocation if their demands are not met and, perhaps most importantly, the idea that they can never compete with the economic giants even if they try.”
She adds that “The success of industrial policy in developing countries will be greatly enhanced by recognition of the wealth latent in their own national value chains and of their right and responsibility to limit foreign presence when it infringes on their capacity to build an economy which serves their populations’ needs”.
More than 80% of Cameroonians are under-employed. Even though the country has one of the most educated workforce in Africa, finding a job in the manufacturing sector, a well paying job in the service sector is very difficult.
Sometimes politicians tend to use promises to create manufacturing jobs as well as appeal to the public, rather than a well-intentioned strategy to transform the country.