This paper is an adaptation of an earlier one I delivered on the Cameroon National Radio Station on the 13th of August 2003. This was on the occasion of the visit to Cameroon of the International Monetary Fund (IMF0) Boss, Horst Köhler. The paper was one of the daily political commentaries I delivered on the 6.30 a.m. prime time national and world news on Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV), Yaoundé, between 2002 and 2005.
It is a well known fact that meeting the goals and objectives of the major international donors such as the IMF and the World Bank is a hard nut to crack and a bitter pill to swallow. In fact, so bitter is the pill that one African country, Zambia, then under President Kenneth Kaunda, broke ranks with the lending bodies by abandoning a programme it had drawn up with them in exchange for loans intended for development of the country. The Kaunda government decided to rescind the accord on the grounds that the amount of suffering the country had gone through was simply unbearable. President Kaunda went further and justified the move taken by Lusaka by saying that no country had ever been taken to court for not paying its debts, the implication being that even if Zambia did not continue with the programme or even refund the funds disbursed, the risk to the country was minimal.
Here in Cameroon, the situation has been radically different because ever since the government in place decided to work with the Bretton Woods institutions in the mid 1980s in order to turn around the ailing economy, the country has never looked back despite the very stiff and painful sacrifices Cameroonians have had to make. These sacrifices include compulsory salary cuts of up to seventy per cent for civil servants, a freeze on the annual increase in salaries which civil servants enjoyed before, slashing of fringe benefits for employees and suspension of recruitments in the public service. Perhaps this is evidence of the validity of the aphorism that nothing good comes easy, or that one can not make an omelet without breaking eggs.
As things stand, the visiting IMF Boss, Horst Kohler, has cited Cameroon among African countries where structural reforms have paid off the most. This view was within the general African context with the observation being made that despite an overall downturn in world economies, Africa had on the whole resisted the rising tide, thus registering some real progress as a result of governments knowing where to focus attention.
As if to encourage other countries to follow suit, Horst Köhler pointed out that countries where there had been no wars like Mauritius, Burkina Faso, and of course, Cameroon, had seen prudent macro-economic policies lead to the stimulation of growth. According to him, such positive results also led to debt relief within the context of HIPC funds.
In a related development, the IMF and World Bank have given the seal of approval to Cameroon’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), that enddorsement being no doubt a crowning of the country’s efforts in the drive for economic recovery.
Our country has therefore come a long way. In other words, it is so far so good. What Cameroonians need now is a measure of patience and forbearance, because the country is definitely getting out of the woods. The economy is alive and kicking with obvious tell tale signs being the continuous shortage of accommodation throughout the country, whether for habitation or business. The situation has prevailed, despite the numerous houses that continue to be built all over the country. Another proof comes from the readily available daily basic necessities such as clothing, household equipment and gadgets, mainly from China and at affordable prices. In fact, it is no longer a secret that with five hundred francs, one can clothe oneself, even if the lifespan of the goods is short. Furthermore, the growth rate in Cameroon is positive, standing at around four per cent. Inflation is better than expected, standing at three per cent instead of the four per cent that was forecast. Real term growth that marked some key sectors in recent years has continued to firm up. Significantly, the balance of trade deficit was slashed from –CFA 114.6 bn in 2001 to – 64.7 bn last year.
Nevertheless, it has not been plain sailing. In fact the IMF boss pointed out the grey areas of the Cameroonian economy which need special attention. These include governance, the fight against poverty, pursuance of financial reforms, attraction of investment , establishment of the rule of law, and the all out fight against corruption which although not described by the IMF boss in those terms, has become endemic in Cameroon.
Whatever is the case, the government must realize that although the battle may have been won, the war itself is far from over. In fact, it is still raging on.