More than 300 potential investors from around the world were on hand for the first-ever Cameroon Diaspora Economic and Trade Forum. Many agreed it was milestone in efforts to promote economic growth by encouraging cooperation between the government and its citizens living abroad.
The gathering followed a similar and generally praised meeting last June that was held to convince hundreds of Diaspora researchers to take part in projects back home.
The meeting was organized by the government and coordinated by Trade Minister Luc Magloire Atangana Mbarga.
He says the forum was held to look for the best ways to encourage investment from the Cameroonian Diaspora. He says remittances from Cameroonians abroad constitute one percent of the country’s GDP but they need better organization to optimize investment contributions.
The government says the forum will be held annually and is part of a plan to raise Cameroon to the rank of an emerging economy by 2035. It says there’s vast investment potential in mining, real estate, tourism, transport and agriculture. Authorities say the government plans to grant preferential treatment to Cameroonian investors abroad in helping them set up businesses.
Participants at the Yaounde round-table asked that several hurdles be cleared to reassure them of the government’s goodwill.
Many investors have been pushed elsewhere by such stumbling blocks as corruption, high taxes, customs duties on imported goods and objections to dual nationality.
The trade minister says the government is aware of the problem and is taking measures to address investor concerns.
He says the government is working with the World Bank to improve the country’s business climate and make it friendlier for investors. According to him, the judiciary, customs and taxation departments are undergoing reforms. Mbarga says the government is also devising an investor-friendly code.
Recommendations made at the Yaounde meeting include the creation of a Diaspora Investment Fund. It will among other things, reunite the resources of foreign-based Cameroonians, sponsor their projects in the country and also serve as a center for information on business opportunities in Cameroon.
Skeptics say the venture could be a well calculated move by the government to set up a strong Diaspora lobby to help clean up the government’s battered image abroad ahead of next year’s elections.
Over the years, anti-government associations abroad have blamed the government for stagnating growth, prevalent poverty, rampant corruption, and the silencing of dissidents, among others.