“Economic reforms and liberalisation in Cameroon have been half-hearted and primarily pushed by the IMF and World Bank. There is fear by the political class to create wealthy apolitical Cameroonians. This is dangerous for the survival of the elitist system they have created. However, Cameroonians in diaspora “have ignored the opportunities offered to create veritable private businesses in the country,” given the experiences they have accumulated outside the country. The Entrepreneur News Online’s Bright Lokenge chats with Dr Ernest Molua in his private office in Buea. Dr Ernest Molua is a Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the Department of Economics and Management of the University of Buea in Cameroon. He is a community organiser who gives regular public discourses on the virtues and culture of entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneur News Online: Can Cameroon Diaspora contribute to economic development in Cameroon?
Dr Ernest Molua: Sure. There is ample room for Cameroonian natives living abroad to be part of national economic development. The communal liberal system we operate in Cameroon allows people who are self-assertive to easily fit themselves into national civic life. To the best of my knowledge there is no law that prevents Cameroonians abroad from owning businesses in the country or setting up civil society organisations. The truth of the matter is that most of them are not available. The few that seem present, however, because of the training they got and the civil service mentality that afflicts Cameroonians in general, they all think they can contribute only by being the president of Cameroon, or a minister or a governor. You know that big-man mentality and noisy mannerisms we have cultivated that you must been seen and heard to be declared important. What I am saying is that, if you live out of Cameroon, and you think you want to engage on Cameroonian soil, your vision and mission must be well thought-out, you must then have a meaningful plan, you must work with people on the ground, and there are no sectors that bar Cameroonians abroad who want to invest.
Entrepreneur News Online:How can they facilitate private sector growth?
Dr Ernest Molua:They could either set up new business, or buy shares in existing businesses. They have travelled and seen how business empires are built across the world through thick-and-thin. They could borrow from their experiences. But they must be ready and willing. If they set up viable businesses or buy shares in existing ones, then we would not be talking of brain drain, but about direct investment. On a personal note, I do not see living abroad as brain drain, for given the advent of new technologies you could sit any where in the world and apply your expertise, if and only if, you are willing and ready to do that. What matters is the genuine will.
Entrepreneur News Online: Are you saying brain drain is not a problem?
Dr Ernest Molua: For Cameroon, it is not yet a problem. We still have plenty of idle human capacity in the country. Besides, if someone travels abroad it is another avenue for capacity building, if and only if he or she will return or if the fellow can reside abroad and makes use of his or her talents far away. Of what value is the phrase brain drain when some persons are neither useful at home nor from abroad? Or why should we wail if we have Cameroonians living abroad yet are investing massively in sectors such as education, tourism, leisure, light manufacturing, agribusiness, fashion, entertainment, transport, research and many others. The state of Israel does not complain about brain loss because members of the Jewish nation contribute directly or indirectly to the progress and wellbeing of the state of Israel.
Entrepreneur News Online: Are you honestly saying there is no brain drain problem?
Dr Ernest Molua: I am aware that Cameroon’s Prime Minister, Chief Ephraim Inoni made some public pronouncements during visits abroad to lure some Cameroonians to return home and contribute to economic development. There are no signs on the ground that this call has been heeded. Unlike some European states, Japan and Australia, we have a positive population growth rate in Cameroon. In addition, we are graduating more than 20.000 students every year from our state-owned Universities alone. People need to start being useful rather than been mere numbers. What we require is not billions of people, but creative high quality refined useful human beings, each person identifying a role to be useful. For some who have voyaged it may be good riddance and they could even be more useful to Cameroon through financial remittances. If you recall the Irish emigrants who left during the great famine, they went to the new land of the USA, empowered themselves and promoted progress at home in Ireland. Have you seen where Ireland is today?
Entrepreneur News Online: Your opinions are unconventional?
Dr Ernest Molua: Look people residing abroad could be useful if they want. Majority of them are not useful for Cameroon because of the education they received in school and at home that is devoid of any training on civic responsibility and creativity. Yes, they can make things happen in Cameroon if they want and could marshal the will and courage. The Entrepreneur website is single handedly built, hosted and financed by a Cameroonian resident in Chicago for more than fifteen years. He has set up many organisations working on Cameroonian soil and he promotes dozens of initiatives about Cameroon. This is someone who is not residing in Cameroon but impacting directly on the lives of Cameroonians. So, he is not here in Cameroon, but he is available. Yes, it can be done. Yes, it is possible. He travelled, built his capacity and he is giving back to Cameroon that which is possible. He has not merely relied on the simplistic financial remittance to justify his contribution, his voice and ‘virtual presence’ are felt in Cameroon. But, this is only one man. Cameroon Diaspora should emulate him. Even if it means only building their retirement homes, this will create jobs, increase the velocity of circulation of money and beautify our villages, towns and cities. But very few have started building their retirement homes, they are caught up in daily bread-and-butter issues and some in obtaining their immigration papers which may take them till the end of time.
Entrepreneur News Online: When you lived abroad did you have any such experiences?
Dr Ernest Molua: I will tell you a story. In the summer of 2006, a Youngman knocked on the door of my hotel room at the Holiday Inn, East Court in Johannesburg to clean and do house-keeping. The shock of my life, it was no ordinary cleaner. It was a Cameroonian student whom in I taught at the University of Buea and he graduated in 2005. He was in the top 25% of his class with good grades. We chatted and exchanged pleasantries but unease almost suffocated him. Had he the dexterity and perseverance of the Chinese, Indian, Turks, even French, British and Americans who relocate to Cameroon to set up viable businesses he would have been a Founder and Chief Executive Officer of a firm in Cameroon that supplies cleaning detergents, cut-flowers, fresh fruits and fruit juice to the Holiday Inn Hotel in Johannesburg. But here he was, more scholarised than Ibo Businessmen in Cameroon, scooping dustbins in a place he is even unwanted. That’s a real tragedy for the human spirit. It is demoralising. There is something wrong with the education we give young men, and not necessarily with governance. You hardly find educated Chinese from dictatorial communist China or Cuba cleaning in South Africa even though they have free passage into the country. No one will motivate us to see things differently; we must do it for ourselves lest we are disgraced from one end of the earth to the other. That’s my experience.
Entrepreneur News Online: I recall you lived and studied outside Cameroon for more than twelve years, what brought you home?
Dr Ernest Molua: Cameroon offers me the best opportunity to achieve my vision, mission and objectives. I studied abroad and returned home to unleash my potentials. Cameroon is work in progress and needs my skills and my effort far more than countries that have already been built like Germany where I studied. Since, I cut my coat according to my size, I live a modest life and the income I earn in Cameroon is enough for me to grow, train my kids and do community work. I returned to Cameroon simply because I do not aspire to be a ‘big man’. Rather, I aspire to be a great man, that is, someone who impacts his community and can be remembered by posterity. My colleagues and the compatriot I left abroad expected to be ‘big men’ in Cameroon and since that position has already been taken by some Cameroonians resident in Cameroon and nothing is left for such compatriots in diaspora, they changed their plans and have melted into their new world in the back-streets of London, Berlin, Montreal, Washington DC and Beijing. This ‘big man’ mentality has infected even the young Cameroonians we train in the country. Everyone wants to be ‘big man’ by hook or by crook, perhaps attracted by the easy access ‘big men’ have to the state treasury. They’ve ignored the opportunities offered to create veritable private businesses and wealth in the country. Some of them complain about the macroeconomic situation in Cameroon.
Entrepreneur News Online: Cameroon’s President Paul Biya has always touted the soundness of Cameroon’s macro-economy; does a stable macro-economy enhance private sector development?
Dr Ernest Molua: Yes, credit policy must be managed flexibly and be resolutely oriented toward fighting inflation. Exchange and interest rates must also be as realistic as possible, reflecting internal cyclical variations while staying connected to international market conditions. The success of a credible monetary policy depends crucially on a central bank that is wholly independent of political pressure. In addition, because of their significant role in the collection of savings and the financing of economic activity, microfinance institutions and commercial banks' operations need to be supported by a secure regulatory framework that meets three criteria: first, freedom of action that excludes any intervention by political powers in the distribution of credit; second, development of and compliance with prudential standards comparable to those used internationally; and third, establishment of a banking oversight committee specifically responsible for monitoring strict compliance with approved banking management methods.
Entrepreneur News Online: Cameroon has been undergoing economic reforms since the early 1990s, but the progress is not visible. Why?
Dr Ernest Molua: Economic reforms and liberalisation have been half-hearted and primarily pushed by the IMF and World Bank. There is fear by the political class to create wealthy apolitical Cameroonians. This is dangerous for the survival of the elitist system they have created. The on-going reforms in the public sector must be guided by earnest desire to liberalise economic activities and promote free enterprise. Therefore, the state must encourage healthy competition among businesses while eliminating economic rents and mechanisms that legally confer a dominant position to particular firms or economic agents. All these reforms have extremely high financial and social costs that far exceed the country's current resources. However, for speedy progress, government needs to consider repaying the domestic debt to help refinance economic agents in the country.
Entrepreneur News Online: Why is national debt important?
Dr Ernest Molua: Particular attention must be paid to managing the external debt that weighs heavily on public finances and considerably reduces the manoeuvring room the government needs to generate financing for infrastructure and poverty reduction. For the domestic debt, it is an enormous constraint on local businesses since the government owes domestic enterprises more than 5 billion US dollars. This is a significant amount which if paid can catalyse business activities in the country.
Entrepreneur News Online: What are the plans for your community organisation in the years ahead?
Dr Ernest Molua: We will intensify our effort in preaching the virtues of entrepreneurship and private sector development. In addition to the annual Entrepreneur Business Week we have the annual Cameroon Economic Forum in Summer at the Hotel Parfait Gardens in Douala, the Buea Investment Forum in Autumn at Capitol Hotel in Buea and the Entrepreneur Youth Day in early Spring at the French Cultural Centre in Buea. We will combine these with mobile caravans and visits to businesses in rural Cameroon. These projects will be facilitated by The Entrepreneur Academy, The Entrepreneur Finance: Savings and Loans Ltd and The Entrepreneur Newspaper Ltd. We view these activities with passion, for more entrepreneurs mean more jobs. They boost economic growth, create more economic opportunities, strengthen our community and improve the quality of our lives. They are a source of business inspiration, and a source of community pride. These achievers are also role models and leaders. And we need them.
Entrepreneur News Online: So, is there hope for a real private sector development in Cameroon?
Dr Ernest Molua: Yes, there is. Given the positive externalities emanating from global economic growth in the years ahead, Cameroon will be pulled along, whether we are ready or not. Look at the proliferation of mobile phones and satellite television in the country; we never participated in the development of the new technologies but today even our grandparents in villages with some having two mobile phones and easy access to CNN and BBC. Same will happen in other sectors of economic life, but we must be prepared to reap any meaningful benefits. If the private sector is to become the engine of growth in Cameroon, there needs to be formulated in partnership with Government, a ‘private sector development strategy’ that will guide the expansion and improvement of capacity, with special focus on opening access to new markets and developing small and medium size enterprises. Unless this strategy is urgently developed and sincerely implemented, Cameroon and its people could find themselves in the near future stranded on a muddy motorway in a rusted Volkswagen car equipped with a motorcycle engine and towed by elephants, while the rest of humankind is on Express Motorways, especially the Asians with foresighted policy making, speeding pass us in their super-oiled Toyota economic engines.© The Entrepreneur Newspaper 2008. All Rights Reserved