Cameroonian President Paul Biya sent a delegation to Europe for the first time to try to encourage wealthy Cameroonians living there to invest in their homeland. But members of the Cameroonian diaspora say Biya’s undemocratic practices and corruption are deterring investors.
Government officials say a delegation led by Youth and Civic Education Minister Munona Futsu was sent to Germany this week to ask Cameroonians to invest in their country of origin.
Futsu said his desire is for all Cameroonians in the diaspora to put aside their differences and help develop Cameroon.
“The head of state reiterated his call for the Cameroonian diaspora to come and build Cameroon. We take this opportunity to come and exchange with the entire Cameroonian diaspora here in Europe so that we can present the various opportunities offered by the President of the Republic and his government so that the Cameroonian diaspora can return and participate in the development of the nation,” said Futsu.
Futsu said the government will offer tax breaks of up to 40 percent for diaspora investments in Cameroon and interest-free loans of up to $10,000 for diaspora young people who return to invest in agriculture and livestock.
Kennedy Tumenta is a Cameroonian investor based in Germany. He said many in the diaspora find it difficult to trust the promises made by their government.
He said corruption, high taxes and lack of confidence in President Biya, who has been in power for 40 years, are scaring investors.
“Freedom is limited and they are afraid to move around in Cameroon, run their business and speak freely. Most diasporas believe that there is widespread corruption when it comes to starting a business in the country, or that the crisis between the Northwest and the Southwest is not taken seriously. It upsets them, and the only way to express this frustration is to either withdraw their investment in the country or attack the head of state,” Tumenta said.
Separatists have been fighting to establish an independent English-speaking state in predominantly French-speaking Cameroon since 2016. According to the UN, 3,300 people died in the fighting.
Some disgruntled Cameroonians in the diaspora have become hostile to the government, and since January 2020, at least seven Cameroonian embassies have been attacked or looted.
Felix Mbayu is a senior official in the Cameroonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He said Cameroonians participating in such protests are damaging the country’s image.
“Those who left Cameroon unhappy and were unable to get there are the ones who speak badly of Cameroon. Those who left Cameroon to improve their lives and made it there are the ones who come back to invest in Cameroon. That’s why you see doctors who have built hospitals, built polyclinics who bring medicines home. You don’t see them on idle marches abroad. In fact, when you talk bad about your home, you tarnish your image,” Mbayu said.
An estimated five million Cameroonians live abroad. The government says the largest diaspora is in Nigeria, which has about two million people.
Also high concentrations are observed in Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain and the USA.