Around the world, societies are changing, and individuals are equally migrating. According to the (I), these individuals who are living outside of their home countries are called Diaspora. They are well represented in several sub-Saharan African countries, which have a large diaspora that contributes significantly to the development and financing of their economies.
These movements present opportunities for all concerned: diversity and exchange across national borders provide the impetus for economic, political, and social progress, both in host countries and countries of origin. Migrants play an important role in building bridges between countries. Through their expertise, ideas, experience, and contacts, they stimulate sustainable change in a variety of ways. They help enterprises in their countries of origin to remain competitive, while simultaneously shaping the societies in their host countries. This interaction offers great potential for development. (II)
According to the Minister of External Relations of Cameroon (MINREX), about (III) are in the diaspora in 2022. The same source reveals that about CFAF 230 billion was received from the diaspora in the form of remittances, which represents less than 1% of Cameroon’s GDP. This contribution is considered very low compared to that of the diaspora in other sub-Saharan African countries, such as neighboring Nigeria, Gabon, and South Africa. This means that the potential of the Cameroonian diaspora is far under-exploited.
Faced with this situation, the article focuses on analyzing the role of the diaspora in fostering economic development in Cameroon. Such an analysis based on documentation and statistical data would convince the public authorities and the general public of the need to improve the business environment and create facilities for the Cameroonian economy to benefit to its full potential and open its doors to the diaspora. The rest of the article will present an overview of the Cameroon diaspora, the role of the diaspora in fostering economic development in Cameroon, and the way forward.
Brief Overview of the Cameroon Diaspora
Since 1980 the incidence of poverty and hunger has increased in Cameroon with about 40% of Cameroonians living below the poverty line and a greater portion of them being women (52%). This has been a major drive for some Cameroonians to migrate internally or externally in search of greener pastures. Those that undertake external migration constitute the Cameroon diaspora. Since the 1990s, many young Cameroonians have been migrating to Western countries, such as Nigeria, Germany, Canada, France, Switzerland, and the United States. But a greater portion of Cameroonians living out of the country settle mostly in Nigeria with about (IV) Cameroonians, (V) United States of America, and over (VI).
The massive outflow of Cameroonians is due to the crisis in the North West and South West regions that started in 2016 and the Boko Haram insurgency in the Far North region since 2014. This has intensified the movement of Cameroonians to other countries especially in the neighboring Nigeria. It is important to note that intra-African migration especially between Cameroon and South Africa is a preferred destination for young Cameroonians in search of better wages and working conditions (VII). Again, the high level of unemployment and underemployment incite young Cameroonians to move out of the country in search of decent and better-paid jobs. Moreover, the issues of unemployment and underemployment levels make some Cameroonians use formal and informal means of moving out of the country.
To better harness and benefit from the diaspora, the Cameroon government (VIII) delegated the Minister of Youth Affairs and Civic Education for a sensitization and mobilization campaign for Cameroonians in Europe to come back home and boss the business environment. Also, the government further promised to grant cheaper loans worth $10,000 and reduce the administrative procedures for the Cameroon Diaspora.
The Role of the Diaspora in Fostering Economic Development in Cameroon
The role played by the diaspora in promoting economic development in Cameroon is very essential. Citizens in the diaspora act as investors, sympathizers, innovators, and drivers of growth and expansion in sectors like agriculture, industry, health, and tourism.
The process of opening more doors to the diaspora leads to adjusted human capital development and eases the transfer of technology and funds in the form of foreign direct investment. The role plays by the diaspora in advancing economic development is examined below.
- Drivers of Financial Investments
Diaspora financial investments are drivers of development, but these investments cannot be distinguished on their productivity using the financial mechanisms that underpin them. However, diaspora financial investments are transactions on assets from abroad to the private, and public sectors and different agencies. The diaspora contributes to remittances for the development and financing of the home economy.
For Cameroon, diaspora financial investment has been weak over the years, contributing less than 0.8% to GDP. This means that the financial investment done by the diaspora takes the form of finance through remittances, inter-personal transfers of finance between migrants and their countries of origin, and diaspora investment, defined as asset-producing financial instruments.
An intensification in the role of the diaspora in terms of financial investment will lead to business creation and decent job creation, infrastructural development, and increased government revenue via taxes.
- Transfer of Technology and Expertise
The return of migrants to their country of origin is often perceived by some as a migration failure, for others, it can be part of what is called circular migration (IX), so there is every reason to believe that the physical return of Cameroonians in the diaspora is more important in their country of origin than the transfer of funds made at a distance. The most significant contribution that the return of migrants to their country of origin can produce is the transfer of skills or the transfer of human capital.
After spending time abroad and being exposed to the functioning of businesses in other contexts, migrants gain significant experience and can contribute to the dissemination of the knowledge they have accumulated, which allows for innovation.
- Business Creation
Not having forgotten their roots, the diaspora usually contribute to the creation of businesses to improve the use of remittances by family members. Here, the diaspora is an integral part of the implementation of local development projects in their country of origin. The facilities created by these organizations help to maximize diaspora involvement in the development of key sectors of activities (X).
The Way Forward
The diaspora has a critical role to play in the development agenda of Cameroon. Therefore their involvement in the production, distribution, and consumption of an economy goes beyond remittances to the transfer of skills or adjusted human capital development and the transfer of technology, but certain conditions like the absence of a dual nationality, complex procedures, and administrative bottles necks in the creation of enterprises by those in the diaspora in their home country slow down economic development and hinder their engagement development vision of the state.
The findings in this article proposed an enhancing diaspora mobilization strategy needs to be put in place where programs that involve the diaspora for them to give their inputs. Also, the article further proposed that the government can review the law on double nationality to make the diaspora feel more belonging, and finally, public authorities should build trust between the government and the diaspora.