Cameroon's President Paul Biya has for the first time sent a delegation to Europe to try to encourage well-off Cameroonians living there to invest back home. But members of Cameroon's diaspora say undemocratic practices and corruption in Biya's government put off investors.
Government officials say a delegation led by Youth Affairs and Civic Education Minister Mounouna Foutsou was dispatched to Germany this week to ask Cameroonians there to invest in their country of origin.
Foutsou said his wish is for all Cameroonians in the diaspora to put aside their differences and help develop Cameroon.
"The head of state reiterated his call to the Cameroonian diaspora to come and build Cameroon. We seize this opportunity to come and exchange with the whole Cameroonian diaspora here in Europe so that we can present the different opportunities offered by the president of the republic and his government so that the Cameroonian diaspora can come back and participate in the development of the nation,” said Foutsou.
Foutsou said the government will offer tax exemptions of up to 40 percent for diaspora investments in Cameroon, and loans of up to $10,000 with no interest rates for diaspora youths who return to invest in agriculture and livestock.
Kennedy Tumenta is a Cameroonian investor who lives in Germany. He said many in the diaspora find it hard to trust promises made by their government.
He said corruption, high taxes and a lack of confidence in President Biya, who has been in power for 40 years, scare investors.
"Freedom is restricted and they are afraid to move around in Cameroon and do their businesses and speak freely. Most diasporans believe that there is widespread corruption when it concerns opening businesses in the country or the Northwest-Southwest crisis is not being taken into consideration seriously by the government in place. It makes them frustrated and the only way to express this frustration is either to withdraw their investments in the country or attacking the head of state,” said Tumenta.
Separatists have been fighting to carve out an independent English-speaking state in mainly French-speaking Cameroon, since 2016. The U.N. says 3,300 people have died in the fighting.
Some disgruntled Cameroonians in the diaspora have become hostile to the government, and at least seven Cameroonian embassies have been attacked or ransacked since January 2020.
Felix Mbayu is a top official with Cameroon’s Ministry of External Relations. He said Cameroonians taking part in such protests are hurting the country’s image.
"Those who left Cameroon unhappy and have not been able to make it there are those who would speak ill of Cameroon. Those who left Cameroon to better their lot in life and have made it there are those who come back to invest in Cameroon. That is why you see medical doctors who have built hospitals, built clinics, who bring back home medical supplies. You don't see them in the idle marches abroad. In fact, when you talk ill of your own home, you tarnish your own image," said Mbayu.
An estimated five million Cameroonians live abroad. The government says the largest diaspora population is in Nigeria where about two million live.
There are also high concentrations in Belgium, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.