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Tackling the urbanisation quagmire in the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa, by Chofor Che, published in French at LibreAfrique.org, 31 October 2014


The Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (or CEMAC from its name in French: Communauté Économique et Monétaire de l’Afrique Centrale,) is an organization of states of Central Africa established by Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon to promote economic integration among countries that share a common currency, the CFA franc. CEMAC’s objectives are the promotion of trade, the institution of a genuine common market, and greater solidarity among peoples and towards under-privileged countries and regions

There is no gainsaying that CEMAC states face a growing urbanisation problem especially as the United Nations Habitat (UN Habitat) Chief recently predicted that in ten years to come, capital cities like Yaoundé in Cameroon would not be able to contain the growing population. Some states like Cameroon, in partnership with UN Habitat, have even held a national summit like the National Urbanisation Summit, which took place in October 2014 in a bid to redress the growing urbanisation challenges in the state. Does it suffice to keep on holding such summits? Is the affair of tackling growing challenges of urbanisation in the CEMAC region an affair solely for big governments?

Prior to independence most African states including states in the CEMAC region did not have adequate urbanisation plans especially for the capital cities. Most of the towns especially in the CEMAC zone were built without adequate urban planning. In addition to this lacuna most government leaders especially in CEMAC states like Cameroon, Gabon and Chad did not see the necessity to upgrade major cities not to talk about smaller towns. This predicament has started catching up on these states which has triggered the need for brain storming.

In addition to the poor urbanisation planning, the decentralisation process which states like Cameroon, Chad and Gabon embarked on remains timid. Mayors complain on a daily basis of difficulties for them to adequately engage in urbanisation efforts in their various municipalities because the transfer of human and financial resources from central governments remains timid. During the last National Decentralisation Council which took place in Cameroon in September 2014, the Prime Minister, Head of Government re-echoed the need for various government ministers to ensure that human and financial resources are expeditiously transferred to councils all over the country. This position was buttressed upon by the Minister of Urbanisation of Cameroon, Jean Claude Mbwentchou during a programme on the 20 October 2014 broadcast on Cameroon Radio Television Broadcasting Corporation, CRTV.

Indeed the challenges facing urbanisation in the CEMAC region are humongous as expounded above. A start off point in redressing this melee may be to ensure that cities in CEMAC states have an adequate urbanisation plan which will entail redesigning most states in the CEMAC region. Redesigning cities does not mean individual rights should be trampled upon. Most individuals have obtained land and built in conformity with state rules and regulations. It would thus be prudent for states to work hand in glove with concerned populations before destroying property of innocent citizens. States in the CEMAC zone can learn from durable measures in tacking urbanisation challenges like Rabat in Morocco and Durban in South Africa. In Rabat for instance the town has been restructured in such a way that in the next ten years the growing population would be easily accommodated. The state of Morocco in partnership with individuals and business persons has created nearby residential areas very close to Rabat, so as to cater for the growing accommodation dilemma facing Rabat. A tramp system which is eco friendly has also been created in the city to decongest traffic and make inhabitants have quick access to the city.
Accelerating the decentralisation process is also germane in redressing the urbanisation quagmire in the CEMAC zone. There is thus need for central governments in the CEMAC zone to accelerate the transfer of adequate human and financial resources to councils so as to enable the Mayors and their collaborators restructure their communities. For such an endeavour to be successful there is also need for professionalisation of actors engaged in the urbanisation process, be it at the central, regional or local levels. These officials must be trained on state of the art urbanisation processes as well as to manage finances without getting involved in corrupt practices. It may also be important to ensure that lead roles are accorded to women in urbanisation planning in the CEMAC zone.

If such measures are taken into consideration, rather than holding workshops and summits, then tackling the urbanisation quagmire in the CEMAC zone may be sustainably attainable. A lot of tax payers’ money would thus be used judiciously for a durable and sustainable cause.

This article is published in French at http://www.libreafrique.org/ as CEMAC : Sortir du bourbier de l’urbanisation anarchique

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2014 in Africa Development

 

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Will the Central African bloc grow by up to 5.5 percent in 2014 as predicted by the International Monetary Fund? By Chofor Che, 7 June 2014


On the 5 of June 2014, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted that economic growth in the six-nation Central African CEMAC bloc is set to double to between 5 and 5.5 percent in 2014. According to an article by Reuters dated the 6 of June 2014, this growth is supposed to be pivoted on the back of increased oil production.
The CEMAC zone is composed of Central African Republic, Gabon, Cameroon, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville and Equatorial Guinea. Reuters reports that five of these states produce oil, which accounts for 36 percent of the region’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 87 percent of total exports. Growth reduced to around 2.5 percent in 2013 because of a substantial drop in oil output. The CEMAC zone’s central bank forecast 2014 GDP growth at 6.7 percent in March.
In an IMF statement at the end of a two-week evaluation mission, the team said “The outlook for the remainder of 2014 points to a pick-up in economic growth. Regional real GDP growth is projected at 5 to 5.5 percent, as oil production will increase. The team added that inflation is expected to remain below 3 percent.

The medium-term outlook seemed solid because of strong growth in non-oil sectors, but a projected decline in oil production was expected to bring overall growth down, observed Reuters. It is sad how states in the CEMAC zone depend on oil production to boast their GDP whereas there are sectors which can fire GDP up if harnessed such as the agricultural sector which remains under-exploited. The IMF confirmed that the deteriorating security situation due to conflict in Central African Republic and attacks by the Boko Haram Islamist group in Nigeria could also cut into growth.

The Central African region especially the CEMAC zone needs to get serious about other sectors of the economy rather than just relying on oil production. This zone has great potential in revamping the agricultural sector but has instead open room for land grabbing. Instead of ensuring that the populace in this zone benefits from vast arable farm land, governments in the CEMAC zone are giving away the land while their people languish in poverty.
Countries in the CEMAC zone still have a long way to go with respect to South-South cooperation. Rather than depending heavily on oil production to attain a 5.5 percent growth, which is not so evident, this zone needs to encourage trade amongst states in the zone and beyond. In recent weeks there have been tensions along the Gabonese and Cameroonian boarders. Both countries have accused each other of illegal poaching and trade which have led to arrests and repatriation of citizens from both states. There is need to encourage free trade among members states of this zone. Tensions amongst member states, such as that between Gabon and Cameroon will instead shrink growth in 2014 instead of boasting it.

Corruption also remains a serious reason why I remain pessimistic about the IMF’s predicted 5.5 percent growth in 2014. A recap on the Doing Business Report of 2013 and 2014 shows that states in the CEMAC zone are tailing the list when it comes to doing business. For instance, according to the AtlasFreeTrade.org initiative, Cameroon’s trade freedom ranks 128 out of 158 states and both the cost of doing business and tariffs remain extremely high. This picture mirrors itself with other states in the zone.

There is indeed high potential for states in the CEMAC zone to attain the 5.5 percent growth as predicted by the IMF. The zone is not only blessed with oil production, but has other sectors which need to be exploited. If the CEMAC zone is really serious about attaining the predicted 5.5 percent growth and more, then it is time for a policy rethink and shift. Government leaders need to also concentrate more in encouraging trade between member states as well as revamping their various agricultural systems. Government leaders need to be serious about true privatization and free trade. There is also need for the corruption canker worm to be curbed. Only such measures may project the CEMAC zone to the 5.5 percent target .

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2014 in Africa Development

 

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Pessimism still surrounds the ‘Visa free travel in Africa’ initiative, by Chofor Che, 03 June 2014


Africans especially in the Central African region have always wished to travel visa free. Many argue that if this were possible, it would be a speedy panacea to regional integration. How possible and true is this assertion? I wonder.

The ‘Visa free travel Africa’ initiative was launched by Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank (ADB), Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya and Nigerian businessman Aliko Dangote, during the World Economic Forum on Africa. According to an article by Biztechafrica of May 2014, the idea behind this initiative is to encourage travel across the continent by curbing on visa constraints.

The ADB’s Chief Executive remains optimistic about this initiative. According to him, the ‘Visa free travel Africa’ initiative will spearhead regional integration across Africa and speed up Africa’s economic development. Kaberuka however opines that African leaders need to take action to make this happen.

There have equally been panel discussions all over the continent to engineer the ‘Visa free travel in Africa’ initiative. During one of such panel discussions in Nigeria, the ADB’s Chief Economist, Mthuli Ncube, encouraged Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa to harness their developmental drive and make speedy growth on the continent a reality especially by ensuring that Africans are able to travel without visa constraints. According to Biztechafrica, this call was made during a panel discussion on ‘Forging Inclusive growth, Creating Jobs’. Ncube’s topic was on, ‘Driving Competitiveness through Cooperation, integration and Economic growth’.

The ‘Visa free travel Africa’ initiative is a very laudable idea but the continent still faces a lot of challenges especially governance issues. Lack of political will on the part of African leaders remains a gigantic hurdle. This explains why such an initiative is spearheaded by just two African leaders instead by all African leaders. In addition to this, continental bodies like the African Union have not strongly added their voice to the ‘Visa free travel Africa’ initiative. A scenario such as this makes one to wonder if this is not just brutum fulmen (an empty noise) on the part of Kaberuka, Kagame, Kenyatta and Dangote.

In as much as the ‘Visa free travel Africa’ initiative is a laudable one, African leaders are still to curb internal barriers in their various states especially barriers to trade and development. If circulating in various African states remain a nightmare, what more of travelling on the continent. Most states especially states in the Central African region cannot even boast of domestic air travel facilities especially infrastructure. Most of the personnel in African states are not trained with state of the art air travel measures especially ways of combating against terrorist activities. Citizens still have to pay exorbitant air port taxes despite having paid heavy visa fees and purchased expensive air tickets. Such impediments affect the ‘Visa free travel Africa’ initiative’ from transgressing from an ‘initiative stage’ to a ‘reality stage’.

It is thus important for African leaders to bring on board more private actors. True privatisation of the airport sector with minimal control from big governments on the continent can make the ‘Visa free travel Africa’ initiative a reality and thus speed up Africa’s development. African leaders need to curb internal barriers such as heavy taxes in their various states especially barriers to trade and development. Circulating in various African states should not be a nightmare. Most states especially states in the Central African region need to start rethinking their modus operandi on domestic air travel facilities especially infrastructure. Most airports in states especially in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and the conflict ridden Central African Republic have been abandoned. It is time for most African states to revamp structures in these airports and begin with boasting domestic air travel before thinking of adding their voice to the ‘Visa free travel Africa’ initiative. Most of the personnel in African states need to be trained with state of the art air travel measures especially ways of combating against terrorist activities. Governments in African states need to also ensure that citizens do not have to pay exorbitant air port taxes especially having paid heavy visa fees and purchased expensive air tickets. If such measures are taken into consideration especially partnering with the private sector, then attaining the ‘Visa free travel Africa’ initiative’ would be possible.

 
 

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The end of the visa quagmire plaguing six member states circulating within the Economic Community for Central Africa, By Chofor Che, 24 July 2013


Lying over about one third of the African continent, Central Africa is adjacent to all of Africa’s sub regions. This sub region is the region in Africa most endowed with natural resources especially crude oil and forests reserves. It also holds the largest water reserves on the African continent. Despite such wealth, the manufacturing base in the Central African sub region remains very narrow and although there is availability of relatively good agricultural land, food production is still below the needs of the population.

Many organisations have been created in the sub region with the aim of attaining economic cooperation among the member states. This is notably with the case of the Economic Community for Central African States (ECCAS) which was founded in 1983 and became operational in 1985. Six out of the eleven member states of the sub region share a common currency zone (the CFA Franc) and a monetary zone union known as CEMAC (Communauté economique et monetaire d’Afrique centrale). These six states include Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Chad. The large population in these six member states makes it potentially a huge consumer market, yet sub regional cooperation arrangements have not succeeded in unleashing this full economic potential and move it towards economic integration. Goods manufactured in Central Africa do not circulate easily in the ECCAS zone. Citizens for instance, of Cameroon, are still requested to obtain visas before travelling to Gabon. In contrast citizens of other sub regional groups like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are not requested to obtain visas to circulate in member states. This precarious situation in the above mentioned six member states of ECCAS, impinge on the development of the market for consumer goods while stifling local entrepreneurship. Local producers are left with no choice than to be involved with smuggling and illicit exportation.

The Head of States for the above mentioned six states of the Economic Community for Central Africa (ECCAS) met during their last summit in June 2013. During this meeting the Heads of State for the six states in the ECCAS zone, agreed that visa requirements would henceforth not be obligatory for citizens of member states circulating in these states. This move is to take effect as from January 1, 2004.

Eradicating visa requirements for these six member states is indeed a laudable initiative which would go a long way to facilitate business transactions and economic ties amongst member states of the ECCAS zone. This would indeed unleash the full economic potential and facilitate the move towards economic integration in the sub region. It is also hoped that the eradication of the visa requirements for these six concerned states would facilitate the circulation of goods and agricultural produce in these member states. Eradicating visa requirements without ensuring that stringent barriers like heavy taxation of goods and agricultural produce are equally dismantled would serve no purpose. While citizens of the six member states of ECCAS that share the CFA franc await to benefit from the ‘no visa’ requirement move, it is important that Heads of State of these member states also put in place other measures like curbing heavy taxes. It is also important for these Heads of State to encourage partnership cooperation among the private sectors of these member states so as to facilitate rapid regional integration and economic growth.

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2013 in Africa Development

 

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