In most African countries, small and medium-sized enterprises do not
have the option of leasing expensive buildings or equipment. Development experts say appropriate
legislation encouraging leasing could
boost the private sector in Africa. Now the World Bank through the International
Finance Corporation is working to introduce the concept in Cameroon
and Central Africa. Voice of America English to Africa
Service's Divine Ntaryike in Douala, Cameroon, reports that development experts
say businesses that lease property and equipment in Cameroon could earn about
$800 million (US) annually.
But today the few leasing companies that do
exist earn only about 10 percent of that amount. The situation stands in
contrast to countries like Tunisia, where leasing earns up to $700 million per year -- or Ghana, where it earns nearly $110 million.
Experts blame the anemic
state of the leasing sector in Cameroon on the absence of appropriate
legislation, difficult access to sources of financing and a failure to promote
To change the situation, the
International Finance Corporation (IFC) has taken up development of the sector
in Cameroon and Central Africa. The IFC is an arm of the World Bank. It's
working with bankers and officials of the countries' ministries of finance and
justice to develop legislation to create the legal and fiscal frameworks.
Riadh Naouar is the program
manager of the IFC's Africa Leasing Facility. He says the plan will spur
business activity in the region:
"We started by implementing four
programs -- in Madagascar, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ghana -- and because of the
success of these programs we want to replicate the model in Francophone
countries. We are convinced that leasing is one of the best financial solutions
to help small and medium enterprises gain access to equipment. The first
objective is to implement a favourable legal system. We think that Cameroon is
one of the most potential leasing markets."
Naouar says the IFC will first
lobby the government to adopt the legislation. If it succeeds, it will
encourage local and foreign business people to invest in Cameroon. And it will
provide investors with credit lines and guarantees at local banks.
But challenges remain. The IFC
says nearly all small and medium-sized enterprises in Cameroon are informal or
not officially registered. It notes that repossessing leased property is a
major problem for the few existing leasing companies.
Attorney Paul Jing is counsel for
international investment banks and foreign lenders.
He says, "The thing is that a lot
of lenders do not do prior research on the borrower, the know-your-customer
process. If you don't do that then you are taking a very high risk. You see a
lot of people complaining that the judicial process is slow. It's because some
of these debtors are of extremely bad faith. They don't honor their
engagements. And you know our judiciary is corrupt, so they take recourse to
the judiciary and pay judges and end up not paying. A lot of leasing companies
may even go [bankrupt] because of that."
But Paul Jing is optimistic. He says leasing
legislation and workshops to educate potential leasing businesses should
alleviate concerns about investing in the sector.