Cameroon yet to feel Chinese Development Impact

By Cameroon Correspondent – Chinese development assistance in Cameroon has come under scathing criticism as research proves insignificant observable impact in three decades.

Cameroon: China’s approach for assistance to and cooperation with Cameroon, based on a declared policy of non-interference and mutual benefit, in a win-win format is changing the rules of the Official Development Assistance game and posing unexpected competition to traditional donors – mainly Western Europe and the USA.

It is in the wake of this competition that the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development, AFRODAD, based in Zimbabwe, whose mission is to secure policies that will redress the African debt crisis based on a human rights value system, sponsored a research on Chinese development assistance in Cameroon.

Titled “A Critical Analysis of Chinese Development Assistance in Africa: Case Study of Cameroon”, the research states that while African economies face growing poverty as a result of a complex economic crisis, developed countries are still far from fulfilling their commitment to allocate 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income (GNI) to Official Development Assistance. As a result Official Development Assistance has been on the decline over the last three years; while China’s official aid target was set to double assistance to Africa by 2009.

In spite of this challenge, Martin Tsounkeu, Cameroonian-born Development and Corporate Economist who carried out the research, proves that Chinese development assistance has not had any significant and specific observable institutional impact, but has increased Cameroon’s overall trade deficit since Cameroon shifted from “diplomatic relations” with Taiwan in favour of China on March 26, 1971.

“It’s not attached with strings of policy reform but is considered likely to undermine efforts to strengthen transparency,” he said during an AFRODAD organised workshop to validate the research in Douala recently.

The aim of the research is to stimulate debate around Chinese assistance which may help shape negotiations with China to raise Cameroon’s benefits to equal those of China.

Cameroonians are living the harsh reality of this “development assistance”. Government negotiations with China is characterised by short-sightedness imputed primarily to the low long-term public loans with low interest rates, assistance without political or governance related conditionality, grants and economic private loans through Export-Import (Exim) Bank China. Projects are mostly executed by Chinese companies, with equipment from imported from China, limiting opportunities for local small size structures. Chinese assistance to Cameroon generally project related and falls in the sector of infrastructure; for example, the construction of hydroelectric dams, multipurpose sport complex, roads.

Zimbabwean-born Flona Chipunza of AFRODAD underscored China’s engagement with Africa as being driven by myriad factors including the need for new markets and investment opportunities; resource security; development assistance and cooperation; and forging strategic partnerships. She said, however, that the question of getting indebted to China in the long process raises serious questions on how accountable and transparent the cooperation is.

Even countries of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community, CEMAC, could capitalise on China’s willingness to offer assistance in infrastructure to negotiate useful infrastructure packages in the interest of their people.

Noting that priority economic sectors in Cameroon are badly in need of funding the state of competition between Chinese and Western assistance is a huge opportunity to be seized.

Development experts at the workshop called on the civil society to be proactive and help the government to make rational choices: “Projections in allocation of aid resources should ensure that the benefits provide enough added-value to make aid needless in the future and that the projects are economic sustainable.”