A year to the day after President Sergio Mattarella finished a state visit to Cameroon, Paul Biya was in Italy to meet his counterpart and strengthen bi-lateral ties with Italy.
A little over a year ago Sergio Mattarella, President of Italy was concluding what turned out to be a very successful for Italy: Italian firm Pizzaroti signed a €150m deal to build 10,000 social housing units as well an industrial zone where it will manufacture pre-fab housing.
It may not be common knowledge but Cameroon is Italy’s 9th biggest export market, and the central African’s country 8th largest client. Today, some 50 companies are operating out of Cameroon employing 2,000 people. Some of the biggest names such as Ferrero and Iveco have operations there. Ferrero runs a factory for the production and distribution of chocolate whilst Iveco recently signed an MOU with the Ministry of Transport for the Development of Urban Transportation in Douala.
Ties have always been strong with Central Africa’s most established economy. Cameroon is known for its relative peace and stability. It is the region’s manufacturing hub and has significantly enhanced its infrastructure in terms of ports and roads to become an apex for anyone wanting to do business in the region. Its own domestic market, with a population of 25m is important in its own right but it wants to become a hub for the whole region.
Interestingly there are currently some 4,000 Cameroonian students studying in Italian universities, making Cameroonians the largest African community in Italy, outside of North Africa.
Cameroon was seen as an important ally for Italy. There is a general consensus in Europe that Africa has a role to play in stemming migration flows. It starts with providing opportunities locally as well as working the various authorities to also deal with the increasing global threat from terrorism. Cameroon, alongside Niger, Nigeria and Tchad was instrumental in pushing back Boko Haram during the surge in 2016. And the war, both literally and metaphorically speaking, is by no means over.
Cameroon is also considered an important ally given its strong stance at last years’s COP 21 negotiations that led to the Paris Climate agreement. It represented a strong African voice, taking a lead role and agreeing to reduce its Green House Gas emissions by 32% by 2035. Cameroon, alongside Chad, has seen first-hand the effects of climate change.
Lake Tchad is a fraction of the size it was in the 1960s. According to a World Bank report, the lake’s water level and size have shrunk a massive 90% compared with what it was in the 1960s while its surface area has decreased from a peak of 25,000 square kilometres to approximately 1,350 sq.km today. It is no coincidence that violence and extremism often originates from areas where people have seen their land, their main source of income, turn from pasture to desert.
In a world that seems to be driven by uncertainty, Cameroon offers stability and with one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, averaging just under 6% in the last three years, immense opportunities. The World Bank’s Doing Business report has also noted the significant efforts the government has made to ease the establishment of business and removing red tape.
This will be key especially to spur local entrepreneurship. The country already offers a number of incentives for foreign investors, but as was noted by an investor during a business to government roundtable, it is not the incentives that we need, it is a conducive business environment with the right regulatory framework.
Then investors will not only come because the opportunity is there, but the government will also benefit through increased wealth for the country and higher tax returns. The Italians are already reaping the benefits of this more open business environment.