By Decree No. 2023/147 of March 2, 2023 (1), the President of the Republic of Cameroon promulgated the law to lay down the modalities of the application of Law No. 97/012 of January 10, 1997, on the conditions of entry, stay, and exit of foreigners in Cameroon. This law supplements certain provisions of Law No. 2022/015 of July 14, 2022, and modernizes Cameroonian diplomacy.
Oriented toward the development of the country, the economic and social policies currently initiated in Cameroon give an important place to access information in general, although they are still limited with regard to free access and the development of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).
The visa digitalization process in Cameroon is a component of the Digital Cameroon 2020 strategic plan (2) initiated by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MINPOSTEL) in 2016, as a vast project to industrialize Cameroon through digital technology. The main objective of this initiative is to catch up in the development of the digital economy.
The manual process was cumbersome in terms of procedure and generated additional costs for both the final consumer and the administration and posed certain security problems. This could reduce the choice of destination to Cameroon. It is therefore important to look at the potential of such a reform.
This study allows us to analyze the socio-economic implications of this transition from manual to digital procedures for obtaining a visa in Cameroon. Thus, it is necessary to present, firstly, the social implications of such a change before looking, secondly, at their economic implications.
The Social Implications of the Visa Digitalization Process in Cameroon
With the highly sensitive nature of visas, the digital solution provides an important security framework. This transition is socially very beneficial for Cameroon for several reasons.
Firstly, the digitalization of visas could be an important factor in social development, as its implementation should lead to an improvement in the level and quality of internet access. In this context, one could observe an increase in the percentage of households with internet access, an increase in the speed, and even a decrease in the cost of internet access. It will therefore lead to a change in usage.
People of all ages are increasingly becoming interested in digital technology. Smartphones, which a few years ago were not accessible to everyone, are now within the reach of all generations, even the oldest. According to a report by Digital Business Africa (3), the digital penetration rate in Cameroon would be 45.6% in January 2023, or 13.8% of the total population.
This rate was 36.5% in 2022 and 4.3% in 2010. Similarly, because of its alignment with international standards, online visa applications will pose fewer problems. On the administrative side, data storage and archiving will be easier and access times to files will be reduced.
Secondly, with regard to diplomatic services per se, this law will make it possible to promote a certain number of changes, in particular with regard to the security of visas and recorded data, and thus improve the cyber security index, which is an important element of confidence in a country’s digital activity. For example, the law provides for dual security – simple security and additional security for personalization. Also, this change allows for a reduction in queues at embassies.
Finally, there could be more travelers and tour operators in the country. Cameroon is now in line with international standards (ICAO, 2021) (3). If the number of international tourists arriving in Cameroon has increased from 451,000 in 2006 to 1,021,000 in 2019 (World Bank, 2023) (4)), this number has more than doubled in this time frame. So it is expected that with digitalization, the numbers will more than triple in the future.
Economic Implications of Visa Digitalization in Cameroon
Overall, digitalization impacts growth and employment. The transition to visa digitalization in Cameroon can have several economic implications for the country, including the improvement in the productivity of certain companies and the generation of value added.
This transition could, for example, generate value added in the telecommunication sector and improve the living conditions and well-being of the population to some extent. As the telecommunication sector is one of the important growth sectors in Cameroon, this change requires a little more investment in digital infrastructure.
This means improving the quality, cost, and speed of the provision of information technology services. This could increase the penetration rate of ICTs and increase public revenues. It should be recalled that telecommunications alone contribute to about 5% of Cameroon’s GDP (MINPOSTEL, 2020).
Furthermore, this measure could indirectly improve the productivity and competitiveness of businesses. Indeed, the lack of access to quality internet connection is one of the problems faced by companies in Cameroon to develop their activities and innovate. Thanks to the digitalization of the visa, there could be an improvement in the quality of the internet signal provided by the operators.
This improvement will not only facilitate entry and exit into the country but also strengthen the visibility of companies that will be able to position themselves in the vast market offered by digital technology. Similarly, the openness of the country to the world through Foreign Direct Investment can be added. Foreign Direct Investment is a strong factor in economic and social development for economies. Not only does it allow technology sharing, but it also facilitates economic openness to the world.
Due to a number of difficulties related mainly to security problems, the pandemic, and sometimes administrative bureaucracy, fluctuations in the level of FDI have been observed, placing it at 2.1% of GDP in 2021 (World Bank, 2022). With visa digitalization, Cameroon will be a more attractive destination, leading to numerous trade and investment flows.
However, this new reform could encounter certain difficulties due to the poor quality of the infrastructure. Indeed, an initiative of this scale requires adapted, modern, and sustainable infrastructures. According to ART (2018), more than 10,000 kilometers of fiber optic cable would still need to be built in order to achieve sufficient coverage at low cost. This should facilitate access to electronic visas.
Visa digitalization is advantageous for Cameroon, both socially and economically. It should bring the country up to international standards in terms of the digitalization of the visa system and reduce the queues and the administrative hassle that characterized manual access to the visa.
However, several reforms need to be implemented for this law to have the expected effect. The government should therefore:
- Improve the quality of digital infrastructure to facilitate internet access and ensure the effectiveness of digital visas
- Ensure the development of human capital and governance for the sustainability of this new procedure
Dr. Hervé Ondoua
Hervé Nicanor ONDOUA, est titulaire d’un Doctorat Ph.D en Economie de Développement obtenu en Janvier 2021 à l’Université de Yaoundé II-Soa (Cameroun). Il a dans la même université obtenue un Master en Gouvernance et Développement Economique et une Licence en Economie publique.