Central Africa Says Economic Bloc Poorest, Integration Stagnant at 4%

YAOUNDE, CAMEROON — The Central African Economic and Monetary Community, CEMAC, marks its 30th anniversary this week but by some measures has little to celebrate. The bloc says member countries conduct most of their trade with outside countries and have made little attempt to break down economic barriers between them, leaving CEMAC the least developed and poorest economic bloc in Africa.

Officials say the Central African Economic and Monetary Community remains the least integrated economic bloc in Africa, despite its very strong economic and social potential.

CEMAC officials say member countries conduct more than 80 percent of their foreign trade with Europe, China and Russia – and only 4 percent with each other.

The CEMAC countries — Cameroon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Congo, Gabon and the Central African Republic — created the bloc in 1994 to promote the free movement of goods and persons across borders and promote regional integration. 

Sylvestre Michel Nkou is an economic adviser to the Congo government and CEMAC. He spoke during celebrations marking the economic bloc’s 30th anniversary in Yaounde Thursday.  

Nkou says CEMAC member states should emulate the Economic Community of West African States, in which civilians and merchants move from one country to the other without fear of police harassment, brutality or the confiscation of their goods. He says poverty will be reduced in central Africa and the economic bloc will cease to become the poorest on the continent when integration becomes a reality, not a political slogan.  

Nkou said CEMAC countries continue to erroneously believe that each state can develop on its own. He said CEMACs close to 70 million population constitute a large market which remains underused. 

Achingale Queen Anyifuet, an international relations scholar at Cameroon’s International Relations Institute, says insecurity, Boko Haram conflicts affecting Chad and Cameroon, political tensions and armed attacks in the CAR and the military juntas in Chad and Gabon have diverted the CEMAC leaders’ attention from economic development.  

“If you look at the rankings of ‘Ease to do Business’ countries in the world, the CEMAC region is far below,” saod Achingale. “Out of the 197 countries, Cameroon which is the first [among CEMAC states], is ranked 167, so there is a lot to do. We have to put in place programs that address the key roots of conflicts, we have to look at security, ensuring a stable environment which is very key to economic development. We need to promote peace, which is one of the objectives of CEMAC.”

Achingale said the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report quantitatively measures the ease of doing business in countries around the world, focusing on business regulations and property rights protections. 

Thierry Ndong, an expert in regional integration and analyst working with CEMAC, says the regional economic bloc has also failed to create a regional airline, build roads linking capitals of CEMAC member states and create a regional stock exchange.

Ndong says a program to develop an economic zone in the border towns of Kye-Ossi, in Cameroon, Bitam in Gabon and Ebebiyin in Equatorial Guinea is among failed projects initiated by CEMAC officials. He says he is surprised that CEMAC keeps money to organize seminars to evaluate nonexistent projects that were initiated 15 years ago as a sign of economic integration without consulting the people who are the main beneficiaries.

CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadera, who is also the CEMAC president, is expected to address issues concerning the underdevelopment of the economic bloc in a March 16 message. 


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