Published on Africa Can End Poverty

Cameroon: Time for the Lion to Wake up?

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Cameroon’s GDP growth in 2010 is estimated to have reached 3 percent on the back of stronger non-oil activities, which expanded by about 4 percent (particularly food crops, forestry, construction, transport, and telecoms).  This growth, however, remains too slow to reduce poverty in a sustainable manner. On its current trajectory, Cameroon is not likely to meet most Millennium Development Goals.

Yet, Cameroon is endowed with oil, high value timber, and agricultural products (coffee, cotton, cocoa). Untapped resources include natural gas, bauxite, diamonds, gold, iron, and cobalt. Why isn’t it growing faster?

As explained in the latest Cameroon Economic Update, the answer is that poor infrastructure, an unfavorable business environment, and weak governance hamper economic activity in Cameroon. Central Africa’s infrastructure (including Cameroon’s) is the poorest in all of Africa. Despite major hydropower resources, Central Africa has the least developed power sector on the continent.  Its paved road density is a fraction of already low levels in West Africa. By global standards and when compared with other parts of Africa, Central African consumers also pay exceptionally high rates for infrastructure services. The monthly internet basket in Cameroon, for instance, is four times higher than that in other developing countries.

Simulations suggest that if Cameroon’s infrastructure could be upgraded to the level of the best performing country in Africa (Mauritius), the impact on real per capita economic growth would be in the order of 4½ percentage points of GDP per year. In other words, the average Cameroonian would see her annual income grow more than five times faster than today.

To help finance key infrastructure projects, the country issued its first government bond in December 2010. Time may finally have come for the lion to wake up.


Raju Jan Singh

World Bank Lead Economist & Program Leader for Haiti

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