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Cameroon for Sale!

By: 
Kangsen Feka Wakai
Date Published: 
November 01, 2007
    Neoliberal “reforms,” exported to Africa from the US and Europe, have accelerated poverty and helped to ensure domination by the global north. Kangsen Feka Wakai gives one example of the way these policies have worked on the ground.

The government of Cameroon recently embarked on a transnational campaign touting itself in western eco-politico circles as the Gulf of Guinea’s economic and political success story. Its recent “attainment of the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) completion point,” exhaustively promoted by the government in investor circles, has been the basis for this expensive campaign. The HIPC Completion Point is a set of economic reforms imposed by the western donor institutions on heavily indebted and poor countries, mostly African, to revamp their economies as a prerequisite for debt relief and debt cancellation. “The IMF did not err in classifying Cameroon among the 35 countries where investments are best protected,” said Amadou Ali, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Justice, a presidential appointee. In fact, Cameroon now tags itself as an oasis of political stability in an oft-troubled region and continent. In more succinct terms, Cameroon is seeking foreign investment and is paying big money to do so. This year, the government bought multiple pages of advertisement space in the New York Times Magazine and The Africa Report to officially open the bid for investors in the auctioning of the country’s resources to foreign investors. “We are blessed with abundant and diverse natural resources and qualified human resources. There are numerous investment opportunities for the U.S. private sector in Cameroon…my country has enjoyed peace and stability, which are prerequisites for investment. Cameroon is today a modern democracy where fundamental freedoms and free enterprise are guaranteed,” said Paul Biya, Cameroon’s head of state since 1982, in the New York Times Magazine advertisement supplement. Highest bidder Cameroon’s decision to auction its resources to the highest bidder is not an anomaly for this neocolonial experiment. In Cameroon, corruption is endemic, abuse of power compliments bureaucratic inefficiency, and accountability is nonexistent for the power wielding oligarchy. Since gaining its independence from France and England in 1961, Cameroon has demonstrated a penchant for foreign aid and dependency that has baffled economists and political observers alike. “The operations of the present Cameroon regime in the economic sphere consists chiefly of seeking to attract foreign capital, at any price, by guaranteeing the best available conditions for the rapid realizations of investments,” wrote Abel Eyinga, a Cameroonian economist and political scientist in a study on the country’s political economy twelve years after independence. This dependence on foreign investments in a country where 67% of the adult population is literate is a trend begun by Ahmadou Ahidjo, Paul Biya’s predecessor. “Whatever may be the doctrine or the formulae chosen, nothing can change this situation of our country, which is an underdeveloped country, a country lacking sufficient capital, a country lacking sufficient technicians,” posed president Ahidjo barely a decade after independence to justify the state’s economic policies. Even though Cameroon is endowed with modest oil and natural gas reserves, agriculture still accounts for about 70% of the country’s economic output. And the consequence of this dependence has triggered dire ecological, sociopolitical and cultural consequences for the indigenous in the areas of exploitation, and the country as a whole. According to Tatah Mentan, Associate Professor of politics and political science at the University of Yaounde, Cameroon’s economic problems began in 1979 at the end of the cocoa and coffee boom. “In the same year, the national budget changed from a balance to a 3 percent deficit and domestic credit expansion was reduced, due to overdependence on cash crops whose prices were determined by international buyers,” wrote Mentan. Mentan attributed this disaster to Cameroon’s fixed exchange rate and its membership in the CFA Franc zone, imposed by France on its former African colonies, with the exception of Guinea-Conakry, in the form of cooperation agreements that have kept these former colonies in France’s economic and political grip. After almost half a century of independence, Cameroon seems to be reassessing its economic ties with its colonial master and in the process seeking new masters. According to the government, Cameroon is bent on significantly improving the business climate and improving protection for life and property. “These are primordial for attracting more direct foreign investment in general, and Americans in particular, to Cameroon,” said Prime Minister Ephraim Inoni, a presidential appointee. The re-branding of Cameroon is one of the many steps the administration has taken to attract the Americans. Even Paul Biya, its president since 1982 is now being portrayed as a benevolent democrat whose obsession for peace and stability has steered this potential hotspot into a beacon of peace. However, this portrayal of Cameroon seems confined only within the hollow walls of power. Scholars, journalists, commentators and dissidents alike think otherwise. Essentially, this altering of the reality of Cameroon for investors is one of many initiatives the government, like so many African governments before it, has taken to auction the destiny of its people to multinational corporations and their local cohorts. About the Author Kangsen Feka Wakai is a writer from Cameroon residing in Houston, Texas. His first collection of poetry Asphalt Effect is available on www.lulu.com.