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Cameroon realising its potential.

It is clear that Africa currently represents one of the most exciting regional investment propositions in the world; but among all the African countries that are seeking FDI, it is Cameroon that stands out from the crowd--and that is for a number of unique factors.

Top of the list and certainly one of the most important criteria is Cameroon's political stability. For more than 30 years, the President of the Republique of Cameroon, Paul Biya, has steered a path of inclusive, participatory democracy--unifying a very complex nation to ensure that peace and prosperity is equally shared amongst the many ethnic groups--numbering at least 280--that make up the population of this country.

It is a country of contrasts, occupying an area of close to half a million square kilometres, ranging from rainforests in the south to savanna in the north, and having five distinct climatic zones. This gives rise to the saying that "Cameroon is all of Africa in one country", and allows for a highly diversified agricultural sector.

There is also, of course, the fact that Cameroon is one of the few countries in the world that has both French and English as official languages (Canada is another notable example). This leads to a truly cosmopolitan outlook, and the bilingual administration is able to interact and assist investors in their language of choice.

Significantly, Cameroon is a member of the Organisation for the Harmonisation of Business Law in Africa (Ohada) that serves to strengthen investors' legal standing and encourage international capital through a business climate that is assured justice. The country also subscribes to the Common Court of Justice and Arbitration (set up within the framework of Ohada) that will, as a last resort, resolve commercial disputes.

Nevertheless, the government is determined to do even more to improve the business climate. It wants nothing less than to be a leading emerging economy by 2035, and has embarked on easing the procedures to establish and conduct business in the country, and supply the infrastructure that is so necessary for development and prosperity. Already, the Cameroon Business Forum has reported on its findings, recommending the measures that are required to make it easier to set up a business. Allied to this is the administration's determination to radically modernise the country's fiscal policies, thereby giving investors significant additional support.

A guarantee fund for SMEs has been established through the National Investment Company, which aims to boost the ability of indigenous companies to provide the goods and services that any international corporate may require, stimulating local content within various value chains and creating employment opportunities.

As for infrastructure, the government has made a concerted effort to build and rehabilitate national assets such as roads, railways, ports and harbours under its Growth and Employment Strategy Paper. As is the case in much of Africa, many of the contracts that have been awarded in recent years have gone to Chinese companies, but so much is still to be done that inevitably other international companies will be involved in future.

For example, President Biya has stated that within the next 15 years, he wants, as a national priority, to tarmac half the country's roads. The road links with neighbouring countries are also being upgraded to facilitate trade within the region.

Likewise, there are a number of large-scale rail projects being embarked upon. Government has announced plans to upgrade and extend the country's rail network to 1,000km, and public-private partnerships between the state and the many mining companies operating in the mineral-rich country are being explored as an innovative way of raising the finance that is required for this bold programme.

RELATED ARTICLE: MINERAL WEALTH AS A BASE FOR INDUSTRIALISATION

Caaneroon's extractive industries play an important role in the country's economy. Oil revenues are likely to underpin the fiscus, as recovery in production and revenues from offshore assets is deemed a distinct probability. Production is expected to rise by 9% in 2013 as new wells come into production, the head of the state oil company SNH, Adolphe Moudiki, has reported, and a number of new wells are also expected to start producing in the coming years--so much so that there are now calls for refining capacity to be developed.

Onshore, the extractive industries represent huge, untapped opportunities. The country is known to possess extensive deposits of diamonds, bauxite, iron ore, nickel, gold, titanium, uranium, copper, cobalt and manganese. The Mining Code, which underwent a substantial review in 2010, has established a very attractive tax regime with companies it exempts from corporate taxes, and taxes on industrial and commercial profits.

The artisanal sector, which provides a certain amount of informal employment, has always exploited the deposits of precious gemstones and metals scattered around the country, but these assets are rapidly being formalised--notably by a South Korean venture, C&K Mining, having begun diamond mining on an industrial scale at the end of 2012. One recent discovery creating much excitement within the international mining community is the estimated 2.4m ton iron ore deposit at Mbalam, making it the fourth-largest reserve worldwide.

At the last meeting of ministers organised by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, it was widely agreed that African countries should use their large mineral reserves as the catalyst to create a strong industrial base. This is a strategy that the Cameroonian government is currently using, putting a strong emphasis on mega-infrastructure projects, overseeing structural reforms and also building international ties. The President has been especially proactive and has made a number of state visits this year to strengthen bilateral ties, including a state visit to France, Turkey and now Japan.
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Title Annotation:CAMEROON / SPECIAL REPORT
Comment:Cameroon realising its potential.(CAMEROON / SPECIAL REPORT)
Publication:African Business
Geographic Code:6CAME
Date:Jun 1, 2013
Words:936
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