2009 Investment Climate Statement - Cameroon
Openness to Foreign Investment
The Government of Cameroon seeks to attract foreign investment in order to create much-needed economic growth and new employment. Nonetheless, prospective foreign investors should be aware that Cameroon is still marked by endemic corruption and one of the world’s most challenging business climates.
Cameroon’s legislative body, the National Assembly, adopted a new Investment Charter in April 2002 to attract international investors. As of January 2009, the 2002 Investment Charter had not been fully implemented because of delays in passing the necessary implementing legislation. However, legislation was passed in 2008 to deal with large infrastructure projects worth more than $ 200 million. Benefits include tax incentives, such as an exemption on the Value-Added Tax (VAT). The relevant portions of the 1990 Investment Code remain in effect until the full implementation of the 2002 Investment Charter, leaving potential investors obliged to sort through sometimes conflicting and confusing frameworks.
The government has announced the creation of an Investment Promotion Agency (intended to replace the Investment Code Management Unit, or ICMU), but it had not been established as of January 2009.
When the 2002 Investment Charter becomes operational, it will establish three procedures for government screening of both foreign and domestic investments. The “automatic regime” permits investment without prior government approval. The “returns regime” permits investment after an application and the passage of two days without government objection, while the “approval regime" permits investment after an application and the expiry of fifteen days. Pending issuance of implementing regulations, however, it is unclear which process applies to which kind of investment.
In an attempt to render the Investment Charter operational, the government put in place 23 committees to draft separate sector codes. Some of the codes have already been adopted: the Forestry Sector Code (1994), the Petroleum Sector Code (1999), and the Mining Sector Code (2001). The 2008 sessions of the National Assembly failed to address the expected remaining sector codes, including the Telecommunications Sector Code.
Cameroon continues to rank poorly (172 out of 181) in the area of “Enforcing Contracts” in the World Bank’s annual Doing Business Report.
Although the 1990 Investment Code places restrictions on foreign ownership on a reciprocal basis (by nationality), the 2002 Charter does not discriminate with regard to equity ownership, permitting 100 percent foreign ownership. Nonetheless, and especially in such a challenging operational environment, substantial local equity ownership may help facilitate the investment approval process. Investors who intend to make direct investments of 100 million CFA francs (approximately USD 200,000) or more must declare their intent to do so to the Ministry of Finance (MINFI) 30 days in advance.
Foreign bidders are permitted to participate in privatization programs, including the selection of the privatization consultant. Some privatization programs are managed jointly by the government and the World Bank. Some of Cameroon’s recent privatizations (since 2004) have suffered from a lack of qualified bidders, and several of them have had to be postponed, sometimes indefinitely. Total privatizations are rare, as the government generally continues to hold 30-45 percent shares of “privatized” companies (though it is willing to reduce these ownership shares in most cases). Buyers of some former state monopolies enjoy concession rights, thus limiting the entry of competitors in the sector for specified periods.
Conversion and Transfer Policies
The unit of currency used in Cameroon is the Cooperation Financière en Afrique (CFA) franc. It is issued by the regional central bank, the Bank of Central African States (BEAC in French), and is shared with the other members of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC, the regional grouping of Chad, Central African Republic, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of Congo). Though on par with the West African CFA franc, the two currencies are not usually accepted for payment in each other’s zones. The French treasury ensures that both kinds of CFA franc are easily convertible into Euros. Since 1999, the exchange rate has been fixed at 1 Euro to 656.95 CFA francs.
Dividends can be freely remitted abroad, as can capital return, interest and principal on foreign debt, lease payments, royalties and management fees, and returns on liquidation. Liquidation of foreign direct investment, however, must be declared at the Ministry of Finance (MINFI) and BEAC 30 days in advance. Also, commercial foreign exchange transfers must be authorized by MINFI for business deals amounting to more than 100 million francs CFA (about USD 220,000). For transactions below this amount the commercial banks are required to verify that the operations are genuine before proceeding with the transfer. These authorizations are routinely granted if they conform to investment and fiscal regulations, though the process takes an average of 12 days. The BEAC has introduced a newly-centralized computerized system for electronic transactions within the banking system. This new system (SYGMA is the French acronym), has handled transactions amounting to $200,000 and above since September 2007. The system is also very useful in monitoring commercial banking compensations, succeeding in reducing transfer delays to twenty-four hours or one working day from the time the authorization has been granted.
Expropriation and Compensation
Foreign and domestic investors receive legal guarantees that substantially comply with international norms, including full and prior compensation in the event of expropriation in the public interest. Undeveloped land is more at risk for local expropriation than developed property. There are no confiscatory tax regimes or laws that could be considered detrimental to American or other investments. The 2002 Investment Charter recognizes property rights and facilitates land acquisition. Cameroonian law does not require local ownership of land.
The 1990 Investment Code states that, at the time of incorporation or application for Investment Code benefits, a firm may choose one of several procedures: adjudication by local courts, arbitration by the international courts of justice, and international arbitration centers, according to Cameroonian law and the arbitration regimes of which Cameroon is a member (described below). Arbitration as a form of dispute settlement is gaining currency in Cameroon and should be considered by prospective foreign investors who wish to avoid entanglement in the court system. Under the 2002 Charter, petitions for redress or non-compliance with the provisions of the Charter should be forwarded to a Regulation and Competition Board, which was created in September 2004. Cameroon accepts binding international arbitration of investment disputes between foreign investors and the government.
Difficulty in resolving commercial disputes, particularly the enforcement of contractual rights, remains one of the serious obstacles in promoting investment in Cameroon. American claimants are often frustrated with the slow pace of the Cameroon legal system. Local businesses routinely exert pressure on the courts, which may be swayed by large bribes or by the status of a political heavyweight. Some foreign companies have alleged that judgments against them were obtained fraudulently or as the result of frivolous lawsuits. The enforcement of judicial decisions is also slow and fraught with administrative and legal bottlenecks.
Cameroon's bankruptcy law is an integral part of its commercial law. In case of bankruptcy, negotiable, enforceable guarantee instruments cover creditors.
Cameroon is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID, also known as the Washington Convention), and is a signatory to the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (also known as the New York Convention). In May 1997, Cameroon’s Council of Business Managers and Professional Associations (GICAM), an association of 140 enterprises and 15 professional associations representing 70 percent of all formal sector business activity in the country, voted to create its own arbitration center to handle business disputes. In early 2001, CEMAC also established a court in N’djamena to adjudicate regional commercial disputes. Cameroon is a signatory to the Organization to Harmonize Business Laws in Africa Treaty (OHADA in French). Among other things, OHADA provides for a uniform business law and arbitration procedures in the 16-member signatory states: (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo). Cameroon is a signatory to the 1985 Seoul Convention that established the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), aimed at safeguarding non-commercial risks. Cameroon is also a signatory to the Lomé Convention (as revised in Mauritius in 1995), which created an arbitration mechanism to settle disputes between African, Caribbean, and Pacific states (ACP) and contractors, suppliers, and service providers financed by the European Development Fund (EDF).
In July 2008, Cameroon adopted a law on public-private partnership (PPP) agreements, providing more clarity for the administrative, financial, and judicial framework for such arrangements.
Performance Requirements and Incentives
Investment incentives are likely to change as the 2002 Investment Charter is implemented, until which time the relevant incentives for the 1990 Investment Code remain in effect. Depending on the size and nature of the investment, investment will fall under one of the following regimes of the 1990 Code, each of which has specific eligibility and performance requirements.
Under the “basic” regime, firms must export at least 25 percent of their annual production, use natural resources for at least 25 percent of the value of their inputs, and create at least one local job for every 10 million CFA francs invested (approximately $20,000).
Benefits from the regime include an initial three-year, 15 percent reduction on many establishment taxes and customs fees as well as an exemption on purchase taxes relating to production and operational equipment. Eligible companies are entitled to a number of exonerations and other exemptions for the next five years of the operational phase.
Under the small- and medium-scale enterprise (SME) regime, which applies to firms having total assets of less than 1.5 million CFA francs ($3,000), there is no requirement for job creation. SME enterprises will receive the same benefits as listed above if they fulfill the SME regime.
Under the “strategic” regime, firms must export at least 50 percent of their annual production, use natural resources of at least 50 percent of the value of their inputs, and create at least one local job for every 20 million CFA francs invested (approximately $40,000). The strategic companies will enjoy the same benefits as above for the first five years.
The reform of the taxation system in 1994 revoked almost all of the 1990 Investment Code’s tax incentives. Today, an investor can still apply for these tax breaks, but in practice receiving exonerations from the tax and customs administrations is difficult.
Additionally, the Industrial Free Zone regime, which can apply at any location, grants broad exemptions from taxation and regulation, so long as 80 percent of production is exported. This provision of the 1990 Code is still in force, though it is unclear how the awaited implementation of the 2002 Investment Charter will affect it.
Procedures for enforcing the 1990 Investment Code’s performance requirements are not clearly defined. The government has not made any public statements concerning performance requirements. It is not yet clear how the provisions of the 2002 Investment Charter, once implemented, will increase clarity on this issue.
No requirements for technology transfer or location in specific geographic areas exist. Foreign participation in government-financed and/or -subsidized programs is restricted to research and development programs that are beyond the technical capacity of Cameroonian firms. Visa, residence, and work permit requirements do not inhibit foreign investors.
Quantitative restrictions on imports, non-tariff protection, and many import licensing requirements were lifted by 1994 Tariff Code to conform to CEMAC regional customs regulations. In addition, many other price controls were abolished in 1998, and now remain only on “strategic” goods and services such as electricity, water, public transportation (roads), telecommunications, cooking gas, palm oil, imported fresh fish, pharmaceuticals, school books, and port-side activities (such as stevedoring).
Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
The government recognizes the right of private ownership, but a dysfunctional judiciary, inadequate definitions of property rights, and widespread inconsistencies in government decision-making limit property rights in practice. The Ministry for State Property and Land tenure governs land property issues. The procedures for obtaining land titles have been simplified and the authority decentralized. These documents can now be obtained at Divisional levels within a timeframe of six months. Foreign and domestic individuals and firms are legally entitled to establish and own firms; engage in remunerative activities; and establish, acquire and dispose of interests in business enterprises. Investors are permitted to dispose of their property via sale, transfer, or physical repatriation of moveable property.
Protection of Property Rights
Secured interests in property are recognized and usually enforced. The concept of mortgage exists in Cameroonian law, and the title is the legal instrument for registering such security interests, but in practice there is no system of mortgages in Cameroon because lenders do not have faith that they will be able to enforce their claims on assets given as collateral. Cameroonian law provides foreign and domestic investors with property rights protections that substantially comply with international norms and do not discriminate between foreign and domestic firms. In practice, however, Cameroonian courts and administrative agencies often grant preferential treatment to domestic firms and have been accused of corrupt practices.
Cameroon is a member of the 16-nation African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI in French), which is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization and offers patent and trademark registration in cooperation with member states. Patents in Cameroon have an initial validity of 10 years. They can be renewed every 5 years upon submission of proof that the patent was used in at least one of the OAPI member countries. Without continued use, compulsory licensing is possible after 3 years. Trademark protection is initially valid for 20 years with renewal possibilities every 10 years.
Cameroon is also a party to the Paris Convention on Industrial Property and the Universal Copyright Convention. The licensed copyright company (the Société Civile Nationale des Droits d'Auteurs) that formerly registered copyrights for music, books and
periodicals, paintings, and theatrical productions is currently undergoing liquidation. In its place, new structures covering specific domains have been created, including: the Cameroon Music Corporation (CMC), which has been slated for liquidation due to mismanagement. A new structure, SOCAM (Societe Civile Camerounaise de l’Art Musicale), has been announced to replace it; the Copyright Corporation for Literature and Dramatic Arts (in French, SOCILADRA) for literature and software production; the Copyright Corporation for Visual Arts (in French, SOCADAP) for paintings; and the Copyright Corporation for Audio-Visual and Photographic Arts (in French, SOCIDRAP) for audiovisual and photographic production.
IPR enforcement is challenging due to the small size of the market, the cost of enforcement, rudimentary understanding of IPR among government officials and a lack of copyright culture among the populace. U.S. industry complains that software piracy is widespread; pirated DVDs are common. Cameroon is taking steps to implement the World Trade Organization’s TRIPs agreement. Trademarks and copyrights are routinely violated. With the assistance of the United States Patent and Trade Office (USPTO), Cameroonian officials (including custom officers, magistrates, civil servant from the relevant ministries) continue to receive training in the domains of intellectual property, copyrights, and other intellectual property rights protection.
Transparency of Regulatory System
While Cameroonian business laws are clear in theory, implementation of these laws can be challenging. Under the current judicial system, local and foreign investors (including some U.S. firms) have found it complicated, time-consuming, and costly to enforce contractual rights, protect property rights, obtain a fair and expeditious hearing before the courts, or defend themselves against frivolous lawsuits. Implementation of the OHADA law -- in force since 2000 -- in French-speaking Cameroon has proven to be reassuringly satisfactory for some investors. The Anglophone regions of Cameroon, with business law inspired from common law, has sometimes shown some resistance to implementing OHADA.
American, Cameroonian, and third-country firms complain that tax audits and enforcement are predatory and prejudiced against the private sector, especially government efforts to compel companies to compromise on tax assessments, including blocking company bank accounts for temporary periods. Under the 2002 Charter, taxation and customs enforcement mechanisms apply equally to all taxpayers. The government plans to simplify tax assessment and collection procedures and to ensure that they are transparent and clear to investors, but had not done so as of January 2008.
Efficient Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
Interest rates are set by BEAC, which is closely monitored and regulated by the French Treasury. Foreign investors are able to obtain loans on the local market, but usually prefer to borrow offshore due to very high domestic interest rates and the unavailability of long-term capital in the domestic market. The Douala Stock Exchange (DSX) opened in April 2003, offering firms the opportunity to raise capital directly from domestic investors. Two companies have been listed on the DSX as of January 2009: bottled water company SEMC (also known as Tangui) and agro-forestry company SOCAPALM. A third offering, for SOCAPALM, an agroindustrial palm oil company, has been announced for 2009. All three offerings have been the sale of the Government of Cameroon’s shares in joint ventures led by the French Bolloré Group. Cameroon has 12 fully operational commercial banks, with aggregate assets of over 1,800 billion CFA francs (USD 3.6 billion). Commercial banks and a wide network of micro-finance institutions constitute the largest part of the financial sector. The amount of non-performing assets they hold is unknown. Cameroon has a number of successful micro-finance institutions, with 436 operational countrywide, grossing around 500 billion CFA (approximately USD 1 billion) in deposits. The Central African Bank Commission (COBAC) has so far granted a bank agreement to only one institution, NFC Bank..
Mergers and takeovers are undertaken through discreet negotiations. Private firms are free to associate with any partner they choose and are free to organize industry associations. Cameroon’s six privatization laws are complete, but have onerous bureaucratic requirements. The World Bank and the Cameroonian Government have jointly overseen the privatization of large companies.
Cameroon's legal and regulatory systems are inefficient and often arbitrary, and the government has not yet established a regulatory system to protect and encourage high-risk portfolio investments. Cameroonian partners of foreign firms have occasionally attempted to take over the operations of local companies via court action or through harassment and intimidation by government officials.
In February 2008, Cameroon experienced its worst violence in fifteen years, as a transportation strike expanded into a more general protest against rising food and oil prices and President Biya’s plan to amend the constitution to allow him to extend his 26 year rule. The resulting violence paralyzed dozens of cities, including shipments from the Douala Port, for more than two days. Some of the destruction targeted foreign commercial interests, but there was no sign that Americans or American interests were targeted.
Thanks to UN mediation and the June 2006 Greentree Agreement, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling on the Bakassi dispute with Nigeria has been implemented; Cameroon resumed full control of the Bakassi peninsula on August 14, 2008. Relations with Nigeria are increasingly friendly. However, 21 Cameroonian soldiers died following an attack of unidentified assailants on November 12, 2007 in Bakassi and there have been security incidents since the resumption of Cameroonian sovereignty.
Corruption is endemic in Cameroon. Cameroon regularly ranks among the most corrupt countries in both Transparency International’s index of the private sector’s perceptions of corruption and its survey of the public’s experiences with corrupt activity. Persons accused of corruption by the local press are seldom called to account before the courts, but this is changing. The government signed the U.N. Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) in April 2004 and ratified it in 2006. In November 2004 it published new anti-corruption measures on public contracts. With the assistance of international organizations and financial institutions, Cameroon has undertaken several anti-corruption and good governance initiatives. There have been some high profile corruption-related arrests, including of former ministers. There have also been corruption-related dismissals, public exposure of apparent corruption, indictments and prosecutions, but much remains to be done.
Government reforms in the public procurement process began in 2002 when observers were installed to perform systematically ex-post-facto audits on valuable procurements. Nonetheless, governance of the public procurement process remains problematic.
Corruption is a criminal offense in Cameroon, and punishment can include imprisonment (5 years to life) and a fine ($400 to $4,000). Sectors with high corruption potential include government procurement, customs, and public health facilities.
Bilateral Investment Agreements
Cameroon has bilateral investment and/or commercial agreements with the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Similar agreements also exist with other countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. A Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between Cameroon and the United States was ratified in 1986 and entered into force in 1989. While the original time frame for the agreement was 10 years, it was renewed automatically under the terms of the treaty. The U.S. invoked the BIT both in 1997 and 2004, and Cameroon acquiesced in both cases, agreeing not to implement legislation contrary to the treaty.
OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs
The U.S. government signed an Investment Guarantee Agreement with Cameroon in 1967. OPIC has been receptive to American firms seeking war, expropriation, and inconvertibility insurance, and has guaranteed several ventures in Cameroon. The 1990 Investment Code guarantees protection from non-commercial risk, and Cameroon is a signatory of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agreement (MIGA).
Cameroon’s labor-management relations are governed by the 1992 Labor Code, which restored collective bargaining in wage negotiations, eliminated fixed wage scales, abolished employment-based requirements on education levels, eliminated government control over layoffs and firings, and reduced the government’s role in the management of labor unions. The Labor Code does not apply to civil servants, employees of the judiciary, and workers responsible for national security. Though the government passed implementation decrees in 1993, the decrees remain open to legal interpretation and labor disputes are still common. In theory, the Labor Code provides a legal framework for the emergence of a flexible and efficient labor market, but such a market has not emerged.
After a long period of dissension between the government and labor unions, a new tripartite approach is being used to address labor issues. The tripartite approach includes worker and employer unions as well as government representatives. This method has substantially improved relations between the parties for the benefit of both the workers and the employers, and the government intends to further improve workers’ rights and establish a new concept of internal discussions within companies before workers resort to strikes. The Minister of Labor and Social Security refers to this policy as “Social Dialogue.” The Ministry of Labor has taken an increasingly broad view of certain aspects of the Labor Code, especially regarding payment of “legal rights” to employees in the event of a restructuring or sale.
Cameroon has a high literacy rate and offers a relatively well-educated labor force alongside a surplus of unskilled and non-technical labor. According to a 2005 survey conducted by the National Institute of Statistics in the two major cities, Yaounde and Douala, the unemployment rates (ILO criteria) in these cities are 14.7 percent and 12.5 percent, respectively. ( ILO defines an unemployed person as one who fulfills three conditions: a) be without work, i.e. not having worked a single hour in a reference week; b) be available for work in the coming 15 days; c) be actively seeking employment or having found one that will start later.) About 50 percent of adult Cameroonians speak both French and English. Due to inadequate vocational and technical training, however, some industries have experienced difficulties in recruiting skilled labor in the domestic market. Also, the ready availability of unskilled labor means that technology used in many sectors, especially construction, remains basic.
Cameroon is a party to the ILO Conventions 87 and 98 permitting the freedom to form unions and the right to collective bargaining.
An individual raising a discrimination case against an employer may elect to bring the case either in the town where he resides or where he works. In practice most of these cases are filed in the complainant’s place of residence. This compels the company to dispatch officials to sometimes distant places where the individual might have better local contacts than the company.
In recent years, Section 42 of the Cameroon Labor Code has posed some challenges to foreign companies selling their assets in Cameroon, notably to Shell and Mobil as they sold their service station chains. Section 42(2)(b) allows employees or their labor organizations to demand compensation from the selling entity in advance of the sale of the asset. They may ask for termination of their contract and severance pay prior to the transfer, knowing that the new acquirer would still hire them or would need their acquired experience and service. This is seen as detrimental to foreign investment, especially in sectors where human resources costs are high, as it can make it difficult to disinvest.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports
While Cameroon presently has no designated foreign trade zones or free ports, it has an Industrial Free Zone (IFZ) regime applicable at any location through “industrial parks” or “single-factory” zones. Created in 1990 to promote internationally competitive export industries, the IFZ regime creates certain broad regulatory and tax exemptions for investors. It is unclear how the 2002 Investment Charter will affect the IFZ regime privileges.
To qualify for IFZ status, the goods or services produced by an enterprise must not have detrimental effects on the environment, and 80 percent of production must be exported. IFZ firms receive a 10-year exemption from taxes and are subject only to a flat tax of 15 percent on corporate profits beginning in the eleventh year. They have a right to tax-free repatriation of all funds earned and invested in Cameroon and are exempt from foreign exchange regulations. They are also exempt from existing and future customs duties and taxes, including those on locally purchased production inputs. The National Agency for Industrial Free Zones is the non-profit regulatory body established to oversee and administer Cameroon’s IFZ program.
Though well-intentioned, the IFZ regime has never really been implemented since its original sponsor (the USAID mission in Cameroon) closed in 1994. At inception there was strong opposition to the program from one major European partner that feared the IFZ would cut into its trade with Cameroon. Attempts to apply the IFZ to timber mills prompted strong opposition from the World Bank and an audit to determine whether timber mills are eligible for such preferential tax treatment. (The results are not yet known.)
Foreign Direct Investment StatisticsThough Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) clearly plays a key role in the Cameroonian economy, reliable FDI statistics are not available. Neither the government nor the Chamber of Commerce has compiled a comprehensive list of foreign investments in Cameroon or estimates of current values. While France is commonly seen as the main economic player in Cameroon, French foreign direct investment in Cameroon is actually smaller than that of the United States, in large part thanks to big ticket investments in the Chad-Cameroon pipeline and national power company AES-SONEL. The role of American investors is particularly strong in the energy sector, as noted below. Furthermore, with the sale of former French interests like the ALUCAM facilities in Edea to the Anglo-Australian group Rio Tinto, and the Meridien hotel chain to the U.S. group Starwood, French investments in Cameroon are declining. Meanwhile, American investment appears to be rising, on the basis of a number of pending U.S. investments in the mining sector.
U.S. trade with Cameroon is on the rise again after two years of stagnation. The U.S. goods trade deficit with Cameroon was $41 million in 2007*, a change of $112 million from the $153 million deficit in 2006. U.S. goods exports in 2007* were $128 million, up 6.4 percent from the previous year. Corresponding U.S. imports from Cameroon were $169 million*, down 38.2 percent. (Note: *Annualized 9 month data). Cameroon is currently the 130th* largest export market for U.S. goods. The stock of U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in Cameroon was $231 million in 2006 (latest data available), up from $99 million in 2005. Major French export products are pharmaceutical products, a market in which France holds 70% of the Cameroon market share and where the U.S. is totally absent. Last year, French exports in this category amounted to $83 million.
The French Embassy in Yaounde reports that the stock of French foreign direct investment in Cameroon came to 417 million euros in 2002, the most recent year for which statistics are available. At the 2005 exchange rate, that was approximately USD 542 million. According to the French Embassy, this figure accounted for one-third of all FDI in Cameroon in 2002. In USTR’s recently published National Trade Estimate, the stock of U.S. foreign direct investment in Cameroon in 2003 was USD 3.7 billion, up from USD 2.8 billion in 2002.
The majority of American business activity is in Cameroon's petroleum sector. The Chad-Cameroon pipeline, which runs over 1,000 kilometers from Chad’s Doba oil fields to the sea at Kribi, is the largest U.S. investment in sub-Saharan Africa, estimated at USD 4.4 billion. Exxon/Mobil and Chevron/Texaco jointly hold a majority interest in the pipeline company, with Petronas of Malaysia as their partner; this single project accounts for the lion’s share of American investment in Cameroon. Exxon-Mobil has sold its retail network to TAMOIL of Libya.
Outside of the petroleum sector, U.S.-based AES Corporation owns a majority stake in SONEL, the privatized national power producer and distributor. In August 2008, AES announced that it would create the “African Power Development Corporation,” headquartered in Douala, as a holding and investment vehicle for both its operations in Cameroon and planned activities elsewhere in Africa. American entity Dole has equity in a French firm that produces bananas and pineapples for export, while Del Monte, which has a U.S. equity stake, produces bananas. Colgate-Palmolive produces oral care/hygiene products for the local and regional markets at its Cameroon plant. In April 2003, the government awarded a permit to Geovic, a U.S. mining firm, to extract rich deposits of cobalt and nickel in Cameroon’s East Province. Hydromine, an American-led project development consortium, is planning to develop bauxite resources in Cameroon’s Adamoua region in a multibillion dollar project that will entail investments in the rail, port and power sectors. Additionally, several dozen U.S. companies are currently represented in Cameroon either directly or through agents or distributors.
Despite its declining investment, France is still a major economic partner in Cameroon. In the banking sector, out of twelve operating banks, three are majority French-owned. French interests are present in sugar production plants and in the French telecommunications firm Orange, which operates one of Cameroon’s three GSM mobile telephone companies. French interests are also found in Camrail, the privatized rail network, alongside a majority South African stake. In all, there are more than 160 French branch companies in Cameroon employing some 30,000 people, and more than 200 enterprises owned by French nationals.
China, South Korea, South Africa, Morocco and India are increasing their involvement in Cameroon’s economy. Air Maroc has regular flights to Douala and Yaounde, a Moroccan investment bank has opened a regional office, and a Moroccan company was awarded the management contract for the national water utility. Chinese and Korean companies are exploring mining opportunities and projects to manufacture cement. The state-owned telecommunication corporation CAMTEL and the South African MTN operate Cameroon’s other mobile telephone companies. A South African group has also acquired the Cameroon Development Corporation’s tea sector and is now known as Cameroon Tea Estates (CTE). Indian nationals are involved in retail sales and the Aditya Birla group is involved in a bauxite mining and related infrastructure projects.