Economy of Cameroon

Cameroon’s per-capita GDP (Purchasing power parity) was estimated as US$2,300 in 2008, one of the ten highest in sub-Saharan Africa.

Major export markets include France, Italy, South Korea, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Cameroon is aiming to become an emerging country by 2035.

Cameroon has had a decade of strong economic performance, with GDP growing at an average of 4% per year. During the 2004–2008, public debt was reduced from over 60% of GDP to 10% and official reserves quadrupled to over USD 3 billion.

Cameroon is part of the Bank of Central African States (of which it is the dominant economy), the Customs and Economic Union of Central Africa (UDEAC) and the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA). Its currency is the CFA franc.

Unemployment was estimated at 4.4% in 2014 and about a third of the population was living below the international poverty threshold of US$1.25 a day in 2009.

Since the late 1980s, Cameroon has been following programmes advocated by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reduce poverty, privatise industries, and increase economic growth. The government has taken measures to encourage tourism in the country.

Cameroon’s natural resources are very well suited to agriculture and arboriculture. An estimated 70% of the population farms, and agriculture comprised an estimated 19.8% of GDP in 2009. Most agriculture is done at the subsistence scale by local farmers using simple tools.

They sell their surplus produce, and some maintain separate fields for commercial use. Urban centres are particularly reliant on peasant agriculture for their foodstuffs.

Soils and climate on the coast encourage extensive commercial cultivation of bananas, cocoa, oil palms, rubber, and tea. Inland on the South Cameroon Plateau, cash crops include coffee, sugar, and tobacco.

Coffee is a major cash crop in the western highlands, and in the north, natural conditions favour crops such as cotton, groundnuts, and rice. Reliance on agricultural exports makes Cameroon vulnerable to shifts in their prices.

Livestock are raised throughout the country. Fishing employs 5,000 people and provides over 100,000 tons of seafood each year. Bushmeat, long a staple food for rural Cameroonians, is today a delicacy in the country’s urban centres. The commercial bushmeat trade has now surpassed deforestation as the main threat to wildlife in Cameroon.

The southern rainforest has vast timber reserves, estimated to cover 37% of Cameroon’s total land area. However, large areas of the forest are difficult to reach.

Logging largely handled by foreign-owned firms provides the government US$60 million a year in taxes (as of 1998), and laws mandate the safe and sustainable exploitation of timber. Nevertheless, in practice, the industry is one of the least regulated in Cameroon.

Factory-based industry accounted for an estimated 29.7% of GDP in 2009. More than 75% of Cameroon’s industrial strength is located in Douala and Bonabéri. Cameroon possesses substantial mineral resources, but these are not extensively mined (see Mining in Cameroon).

Petroleum exploitation has fallen since 1986, but this is still a substantial sector such that dips in prices have a strong effect on the economy. Rapids and waterfalls obstruct the southern rivers, but these sites offer opportunities for hydroelectric development and supply most of Cameroon’s energy.

The Sanaga River powers the largest hydroelectric station, located at Edéa. The rest of Cameroon’s energy comes from oil-powered thermal engines. Much of the country remains without reliable power supplies.

Transport in Cameroon is often difficult. Except for the several relatively good toll roads which connect major cities (all of them one-lane) roads are poorly maintained and subject to inclement weather, since only 10% of the roadways are tarred.

Roadblocks often serve little other purpose than to allow police and gendarmes to collect bribes from travellers. Road banditry has long hampered transport along the eastern and western borders, and since 2005, the problem has intensified in the east as the Central African Republic has further destabilised.

Intercity bus services run by multiple private companies connect all major cities. They are the most popular means of transportation followed by the rail service Camrail.

Rail service runs from Kumba in the west to Bélabo in the east and north to Ngaoundéré. International airports are located in Douala and Yaoundé, with a third under construction in Maroua.

Douala is the country’s principal seaport. In the north, the Bénoué River is seasonally navigable from Garoua across into Nigeria.

Although press freedoms have improved since the first decade of the 21st century, the press is corrupt and beholden to special interests and political groups. Newspapers routinely self-censor to avoid government reprisals.

The major radio and television stations are state-run and other communications, such as land-based telephones and telegraphs, are largely under government control.

However, cell phone networks and Internet providers have increased dramatically since the first decade of the 21st century and are largely unregulated.