At the start of 2015 I shared some views on 2014 stock take – in which I focused on some personal financial management issues. I like to share some of my observations about Cameroon’s economy in 2015. I am not going to be writing about GDP figures or about what the World Bank and others have published about Cameroon. I want to write from my vantage point, as one of the many Cameroonians trying to make a positive impact on the country’s economy. When you watch news on the international networks you get the impression that this is Africa’s time – the continent is growing economically. But one seems to see a different version of this on the streets of Cameroon. For example, the lack of constant flow of pipe-borne water in the following towns: Bamenda, Limbe, and parts of Douala. So as part of my work at 25-45 Business Consulting SA, I have been doing a lot of research and fact finding, in order to diagnose the problems that face the local economy, especially those faced by small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). As we all know, medication is only administered after a proper diagnosis. I will present my diagnosis for your assessment and comments in four parts (editions) as detailed below.
Part 1 – Introduction and analysis of three key barriers to economic growth in Cameroon.
Part 2 – Personal Financial Management issues that impact on the economy.
Part 3 – The role played by the Diaspora (Bush fallers) in the economy ofCameroon.
Part 4 – The impact of Religion in the economy of Cameroon.
PART 1 - THREE KEY BARRIERS TO ECONOMIC GROWTH IN CAMEROON.
In one of my write-ups in 2015 I talked about lack of relevant education being an economic growth barrier in Cameroon. This received a lot of positive comments and prompted my company 25-45 Business Consulting SA to organise a seminar at the University of Buea on the 22nd of November 2015. The seminar theme was: Is the Education you are receiving relevant to the economy of our country Cameroon? The reaction to this seminar was also very positive and my company is poised to continue doing more work around this issue.
I am tempted to name Cameroon as the country of ‘’qualifications’’; everyone seems to be more interested in obtaining a qualification; no matter how relevant it is to the economy. There are a multitude of schools in Buea, Douala and Bamenda that offer degrees that are completely based on foreign content to Cameroonian students, in Cameroon.
The reason we spend so many years in school (from primary to university) is because we seek to gain knowledge and skills that we can use (through working) in our country. It is therefore imperative that the learning process (education) is aligned (relevant) to the needs of our country. Otherwise we will find ourselves with many abstract qualifications that cannot be used to boost the economy of our country.
I have been taken aback numerous times in 2015 when it was almost impossible to find a plumber, electrician or builder on time when I needed to repair something at my business place. This had serious negative economic consequences for my business. I can only assume that many other small businesses face similar problems.
I have also employed a young Cameroonian (a degree holder) and to my greatest dismay; this person could not write a simple letter nor use a computer. I recently attended the opening of the new stadium in Limbe and it was unbelievable to hear the English commentator continuously refer to female soccer players as he. You see a display of lack of skills in almost all the sectors in Cameroon – at the hospital, driving in the streets, government administrative offices, restaurants, schools, bank etc.
Schools and training centres within the country need to reassess their training content (syllabuses) and approach. Employers are urged to frequently organise training programs in order to enhance the skills of their employees, especially senior employees who occupy leadership positions. Consulting businesses are also urged to do more in terms of free relevant education and skills development. The media has a huge role to play in developing the skills of Cameroonians – they can develop educative programs on both TV and radio.
My assessment of the local economy in 2015 is that it is difficult for SMEs to succeed in Cameroon without a huge amount of supervision from the owners of the SMEs. In other words the concept of stewardship is almost non-existent. I am tempted to say that Cameroon has a culture of disloyalty. This negatively affects development of businesses as investors do not trust employees.
Corruption is at an entirely different level from what one used to know. So instead of hammering at the fact that there is corruption (something that everyone is doing), I decided to take a different approach to understand what causes corruption from the local perspective. I had interviews with many Cameroonians from various sectors: Police officers, custom officers, business owners, employees, government officers (hospitals, divisional offices, councils, utilities etc.) and noted two key issues that surround corruption in Cameroon:
a) Personal incomes (salaries) are grossly out of line with the needs of Cameroonians.
For example, The rental cost of a decent one bedroom apartment in Limbe is about 40,000 – 60,000 XAF per month. This is also true for cities such as Douala and Yaoundé; Accommodation in Bamenda is also getting more expensive by the day. The cost of food has also been on the rise, especially in 2015, a year plagued by security threats and a very strong US dollar.
The official minimum salary as per the law in Cameroon is just below 40,000 XAF. Junior officers in the police, customs, gendarmerie and military do not earn above 100,000 XAF. Waiters and many in the hospitality industry earn between 40,000 – 100,000 XAF. How are these citizens expected to survive with such a situation? Income levels are far below living expenses. It is no wonder that everyone everywhere is looking for other income generation routes and most often it’s through corruption and dishonesty and out right theft. Many businesses have been forced to shut down due to misappropriation of assets by employees. This is a very big disincentive for investors especially within the SMEs sector.
b) Lack of controls and widespread impunity.
Many SMEs display lack of strong internal controls and this has favoured the culture of corruption in the nation. At the State level it is even worse – traffic officers actually collect money from drivers in plain view, with no fear of being caught. It is very possible that lack of skills is to blame for lack of controls both at the level of the state and SMEs.
It is my believe that if you have a job that you enjoy doing and earn a salary that can afford a decent lifestyle; the incentive to steal or to be involved in corruption will be very low. This is something that the government and employers within the country need to seriously consider.
In conclusion, a qualification that equips the holder with relevant skills and knowledge permits the holder to excel at his/her job. When this excellence is adequately rewarded through a pay system, the employee develops a deep satisfaction and his/her creativity is ignited. This leads to innovation and hence a positive contribution to the economy and country.
Watch out for Part 2 in the coming weeks.
Collins Mazu is the CEO at 25-45 Business Consulting SA – a proudly Cameroonian company.