By Tikum Mbah Azonga
This paper is an adaptation of an earlier one I delivered on the Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV) national radio station on the 3rd of April 2003. The paper was broadcast on the occasion of the meeting of the National Monetary and Financial Committee at that time. The piece was one of the daily political commentaries I delivered on the 6.30 a.m. prime time national and world news on CRTV, Yaoundé, between 2002 and 2005.
Whenever the National Monetary and Financial Committee meets, it is an event which economic operators and international donors such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank., monitor very closely because the meeting leads to a reading, if not an analysis of the state of the nation’s economic health, as it were. On the occasion, statistical analyses are done in comparison to previous periods and projections duly made for the period ahead. As such, the forum serves as a vital barometer for measuring the state of the economy.
One major revelation that has emerged from the current meeting is that the Cameroonian economy is alive and kicking. Growth rate is positive, standing at 4 per cent, although falling short of the projected 5.3 per cent. Inflation on the other hand has performed better than expected, standing at 3 per cent, instead of 4 per cent as expected. Real term growth which had marked some key sectors in recent years has continued to firm up. The sector includes telecommunications with one major change within it being the mushrooming of call boxes all over the country. As a matter of fact, the speed with which call boxes as a business have taken hold of the country is breathtaking, compared with the abysmal failure that led to public telephone booths being swept away some years ago, almost as soon as they were installed by the State. Not only were the booths shunned by the public, but they were also largely vandalized by them. Call boxes, on the other hand, have literally received a warm embrace from the public. Perhaps this is because as a privatized business in which those who are capable are allowed to operate, and they do so with their personal touches so that the user can pick and choose.
Public transport is another domain that has done well, with more and more inter-city bus companies taking their place on the market. Concerning urban transportation, taxi fares have remained relatively stable for over ten years at the rate of 150 Francs CFA per drop, on average. In the big towns such as Douala and Yaoundé, private bus companies and motor bike taxis are helping to solve the problem of congestion. Agriculture has continued to be the mainstay of the bulk of Cameroon’s active population. The decades-long support from the oil sector oil has continued unabated, even if there have been fluctuations in production quantities. Nonetheless, there is some feeling of disappointment on the part of some observers who feel that President Paul Biya has failed to lift the veil of secrecy his predecessor, Ahmadou Ahidjo, threw over oil production revenue.
Cameroon’s balance of trade deficit was cut from -CFA114.6bn in 2001 to –CFA64.7 bn last year. The overall situation of the world’s economy has been favorable, thus lending the national economy a shot in the arm. For instance, the world economy has grown at 2.8 per cent, better than the 202 per cent growth rate registered two years previously. In the CEMAC region, GDP stood at 3.7 per cent, with projections for this year put at 4 per cent. Inflation is expected to level at 3 per cent. Furthermore, it is expected that once the Douala Stock Exchange goes fully operational, the overall reading of the economy will improve even further.
Even so, it has not all been a bed of roses for Cameroon’s economy. The vexatious question of endemic power cuts from the national supplier, AES Sonel has put a sour taste in the mouth of many a Cameroonian and even businessman. The aluminum parastatal, ALUCAM, for instance, has been so rocked by inconsistent electricity supply that it now functions on only 30 per cent of its normal capacity. What is even more baffling about AES Sonel is that it is largely a “private” sector company which bought over the former SONEL when it was put up for privatization by the government. Paradoxically, many are those who wonder today why in the days when SONEL was owned by Cameroon and run by Cameroonians, power users were never subjected to such “torture”. On another sad note, the national carrier, Cameroon Airlines, has seen its turnover drop by 8.3 per cent to 37.9bn, mainly as a result of stiff competition from airlines such as SN Brussels and Swiss International Airlines. Although privatization has taken place at SONEL – despite the hitch – the same result is still awaited of the national telecommunications giant, CAMTEL, and its water distribution counterpart, SNEC.
The state would do well to address these thorny issues, in order to place the economy on a better footing. Even so, no amount of first aid is likely to yield the desired results unless it is accompanied by indispensable accompanying cleaning up measures such as good governance, including and especially the intensification of the fight against corruption. It is only then that sustained economic growth can have any meaning for the country.