By Denis Foretia, MD.MPH.MBA*
Every student of history or international development would certainly agree that my country, Cameroon, faces tremendous challenges if it is to seriously implement a growth agenda in order to regain its economic footing. These students would also agree that while structural issues diminish the prospects of an economic renaissance, significant opportunities exist to re-engineer a collective political dispensation as a necessary precursor to socio-economic prosperity. For the last decade, we have maintained a staggering unemployment rate of greater than 30 percent. In 2009, the government of Cameroon put together the Vision 2035 strategy with the goal of attaining middle-income status by 2035. For this to be remotely feasible, the country must sustain double-digit growth in its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The fact that our GDP growth has not reached 5% since the onset of this strategy is not particularly surprising. Bretton Woods institutions estimate only a 4.5% increase in GDP for 2013. It is particularly informative that the government of Cameroon, in its Vision 2035 plan has no real strategy for engaging the Cameroonians residing abroad.
While many African countries, notably Senegal, Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria have made tangible efforts to attract diasporan investments, we in Cameroon have proceeded very timidly. The recent presidential degree, issued late last year amid the October presidential elections, to extend voting rights to Cameroonians abroad was largely seen as window-dressing to a problem that should pre-occupy the government’s growth agenda.
Despite the timidity with regards to the formulation and passage of the Cameroon Diaspora Bill, efforts are underway among Cameroonian communities abroad to facilitate the country’s economic transformation. A growing consensus has emerged among Cameroonians in the United States to play such a pivotal role with regards to Diaspora-Directed Investments and the conveyor belt for foreign-direct investment, the strengthening of civil society and the spearheading of progressive economic policies.
The Cameroon Professional Society (CPS) is a key organization in the quest for substantive diaspora engagement. Some have argued that it is the singular organization with a truly “national” agenda. With its focus of “nurturing tomorrows leaders today” the CPS has expanded the playing field, energized Cameroonians from all professions and has laid a detailed framework for harnessing the socio-economic potential of Cameroonians abroad. The CPS Diaspora Proposal calls for government incentives that are not only broad in scope but equally deep in reach. It calls for the elimination of travel bottlenecks, the facilitation of land ownership, business creation and the strengthening of our legal framework.
CPS activities have demonstrated its broad reach and unique perspective on macroeconomic policies. In fact, the Distinguished Annual Congress organized in Washington D.C provides the platform for critical appraisal of our current development trajectory by Cameroonian stakeholders, development institutions and foreign partners seeking to capitalize on the investment opportunities in the country. As Cameroonians and friends of Cameroon convene this weekend in Washington D.C for the 2012 CPS Distinguished Annual Congress, they will use the opportunity to focus on the Congress theme: – “Towards an Emerging Economy – The Road Map for Cameroon.”
Participants will discuss the feasibility of the 2035 strategy given the current growth projections, the state of both hard and soft infrastructure, the challenges facing our health, social services and educational sectors, and the credibility, or lack thereof, of our legal system. The Congress provides the opportunity for attendees to examine important areas in our feeble economy with a focus on the banking and informal sectors.
The world is changing rapidly, powered by the revolution in information technology especially within the last decade. As once famously said, even if we stumble in our quest for a better future, we, as a people, would still be moving forward. The 2012 CPS Distinguished Annual Congress will demonstrate that Cameroonians abroad are ready for constructive engagement. Now is the time to become part of the solution. http://congress.cpsociety.org
*Dr. Denis Foretia is a surgeon and president of the Cameroon Professional Society (CPS). He holds a medical degree from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, a Masters in Public Health from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins as well as a Masters in Business Administration from the Carey School of Business also at the Johns Hopkins University. For more information on the CPS,visit www.cpsociety.org