President of the Employers’ Business Movement of Cameroon (ECAM) and a leading figure in the insurance sector in Africa, Protais Ayangma delivers in this exclusive interview an analysis of the Cameroonian economy, drawing attention to its strong financial and political dependence on outside.
Interview in Douala by Achille Mbog Pibasso.
How do you read the economic situation in Cameroon?
I would say that Cameroon’s economic situation is structurally deficient in production and distribution capacities, faced with a particularly dynamic demography (25 million inhabitants) and a population density increasingly concentrated in urban areas ( 56.7%). In simpler terms, Cameroon is obliged to massively import goods and services from abroad to meet the consumption needs of a population which desert rural areas and, therefore, agricultural activities which nevertheless constitute the basis of wealth of all countries. This makes the country highly dependent on the outside world commercially, financially and therefore politically. The trade balance deficit stood at FCFA 1,438 billion in 2018, up 22.8%, and observed an upward trend in 2019.
That said, it should be noted that macroeconomic indicators including GDP growth, annual income per capita and the Human Development Index have observed continuous improvement for several years. In 2019, the GDP was globally around 22,000 billion FCFA, with a contribution of 52% from the tertiary sector against 14% for the primary sector and 9% for the secondary sector. Such obesity in the tertiary sector amplifies the structural fragility of the economy and its external dependence. To this already difficult structural situation, we must add the security crises of the North-West and South-West (NOSO) and BOKO HARAM, which still weigh on the meager margins of the State.
The ECAM employers’ organization has made the promotion of SMEs and very small businesses its main focus. What concrete actions are you taking in favor of these categories?
ECAM’s activities are structured around four fundamental axes:
(i) Promotion of the activities of SMEs already operating in the formal sector through major events such as PMEXCHANE organized every two years, business trips …;
(ii) Lobbying with the Government, development partners and other donors and technical partners for the mobilization of financial and technical means to improve the performance of SMEs and support the development of their activities at the local and international level ;
(iii) The design and implementation of collaborative training, information and networking platforms that also make it possible to involve actors in the informal sector;
(iv) The search for partnerships, through numerous partnership agreements signed with banks, public and private higher education establishments, administrations and associations and networks of SMEs around the world, etc.
(v) On these axes which are traditional, ECAM opened two particularly important projects two years ago;
(vi) Female entrepreneurship: ECAM is proud to have a female component called ECAM au Féminin, which is particularly dynamic and autonomous, which develops its own program;
(vii) The Diaspora: ECAM is building a very promising partnership with the Cameroonian diaspora which has resulted in the signing of an agreement with the Association of Engineers and Computer Scientists of Germany (VKII).
ECAM through PmeXchange and the Ministry of Commerce through the Inter progress Foundation have decided to pool their efforts for the organization of FIAC. What are the reasons ?
It should be remembered that ECAM was already collaborating with the Inter-Progress Foundation both within the framework of PROMOTE and within the framework of PMEXCHANGE, before the decision by the Ministry of Commerce to organize the FIAC, to respond to calls from certain operators. economy based in Douala. However, the calendar of this third event coincided with that of PMEXCHANGE which pursues more or less the same objectives and aims at the same targets. We have therefore decided, with the blessing of the Government, to pool our resources in order to provide Douala with a major event commensurate with the city of Douala, the gateway to Central Africa.
Scheduled for April, this business meeting has been postponed to next October due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Do you think that this delay could not have an impact on the participation, where more than 500 exhibitors were already announced?
We are in a forward-looking dynamic that requires us to remain optimistic to avoid locking ourselves into a psychosis linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is clear that it causes a lot of uncertainties, but our objective is at least to set a benchmark to allow companies to keep a window of opportunity, in order to demonstrate when the time comes, that they are still able to meet the expectations of their customers and various technical, commercial, financial partners, etc. Our challenge is at this level. It is also an opportunity for us to invite all business owners and other project promoters to redouble their efforts in strategic thinking and innovation, taking into account the fact that this crisis will significantly change consumer attitudes and behavior. For example, we must ensure that we now integrate into our strategy the constraints related to health, hygiene, safety, environmental protection, solidarity, in short to the well-being of all stakeholders in the company, etc.
Your position as a business promoter and leader of an Employers’ Movement allows you to have a broader vision of the business environment. What impact could the Coronavirus pandemic have on the national economy?
Obviously, we can already see a general slowdown in economic activities, which unfortunately risks leading to shortages of certain mass-consumption products, given the structure of the economic fabric that we have described above. In certain sectors such as hotels, restaurants, transport and timber, we have seen the outright shutdown of certain businesses. The banking sector will take a heavy toll, which could accelerate the effects of a systemic crisis that is already more or less emerging.
Consequently, without extremely strong and determined measures by the authorities, the risk of a greater destructuring of the national economy is to be feared, with an intensification of external dependence coupled with social tensions at the internal level because of the effect. combined with the rise in unemployment, the drastic drop in the purchasing power of the populations and the upward trend in prices on the market.
In this regard, does ECAM have any proposals to make to the Government to both safeguard the production tool and preserve jobs?
The ECAM movement has indeed made proposals in this direction, which can be summarized in four points:
(i) The immediate establishment of a consultation framework to centralize the status reports of all companies and inform their managers of the provisions and useful measures to be taken during and after this period of crisis;
(ii) The creation of a sovereign guarantee fund with a minimum allocation of CFAF 1,000 billion;
(iii) The reduction of the tax burden relating in particular to the forced collection of taxes, duties and other social contributions, accompanied by an adjustment of the current payment deadlines until December 2020 and cancellation of penalties;
(iv) The establishment of an assistance mechanism for households covering their consumption needs in: food, health, transport, communication, water, electricity, etc.
Does the COVID-19 pandemic inspire you to take accompanying measures from donors? Can you back them up?
The systemic crisis that the world as a whole is experiencing calls for exceptional financial measures, because the extent of the damage is such, in particular for African countries, that none of them can claim to have sufficient resources to do so. to face.
Cameroon, as we have already noted, was already heavily dependent on the outside world and on donors before this crisis. The global nature of the latter made it possible to observe that all the countries first used monetary leverage, bearing in mind the risk of dependence induced by the debt solution.
It is for this reason, and in view of the importance of the needs to be covered, that we believe that the Authorities should seize this opportunity to regain total monetary independence, the only one capable of offering the necessary room for maneuver to relaunch sustainably. economy through industrial transformation.
But at the same time, this must be accompanied by more rigor and discipline in the governance of organizations, both public and private.
How do you see an economic recovery in Cameroon and in Africa in general, coming out of this health crisis?
Cameroon, like many other African countries, faces four major economic challenges: structural transformation (i) financing constraints (ii), youth unemployment resulting from strong demographic pressure (iii) combined with low growth (iv), and the security challenge (v). In such a context, economic recovery seems possible to us under five conditions:
(i) Strengthening community ties through the African Union and accelerating the process of operationalizing the African Continental Free Trade Area (ZLECAF);
(ii) Intensive training of young people in exact and formal science engineering to develop an environmentally friendly industry;
(iii) The mobilization of all monetary, budgetary and financial instruments available at the national and regional level, with at the continental level the acceleration of the establishment of monetary institutions adopted by the Heads of State;
(iv) Priority development of activities in sub-sectors such as: health, prevention, hygiene, waste management, water distribution, sport, food, agriculture, protection territories, distribution, trade, education, research, innovation, clean energy, digital technology, housing, freight transport, public transport, urban and rural infrastructure, information, culture, the functioning of democracy, security, insurance, savings and credit.
(v) The support of a strategic and facilitator State which dialogues with the private sector
1- Do you have an observation about the facilitation of foreign trade operations with the digitization of procedures resulting from dematerialization which, in turn, took over from the physical single window?
This digitization approach is part of the dynamic of accelerating operations, which we believe is essential for the revival of the economy. The GUCE occupies a strategic place in the institutional mechanism of economic development and is a first rank partner of companies.Digitalization has a very positive effect in the upgrading of companies and in particular of SMEs, because it requires from them a better organization in terms of their own processes and procedures. All these elements contribute to the consolidation of trust between the stakeholders of the company and therefore to more fluidity in decisions, the movement of people and goods.
Your final word ?
I simply invite all the economic actors and the Authorities to more solidarity and cohesion in the collaboration, because the total crisis caused by the COVID-19 has finished convincing us that we are all fighting for the same cause: our well-being. individual and collective.