Paul Biya’s New Year’s Wishes

Cameroon’s president Paul Biya sent out his annual New Year’s message on December 31st.

It was a generally positive message, with much emphasis on the 2010 implementation of the “ten-year growth and employment strategy, the first phase of (Cameroon’s)  journey towards emergence.”

Of course for Cameroonians, who have been listening to Biya deliver solemn messages to the nation for 28 years, it’s probably hard to get excited about yet another growth and development plan. As for the “journey towards emergence,” that’s a reference to the 2009 governmental “vision” report that calls for Cameroon to become an emerging economy by 2035.  Considering that Cameroon is now slowly emerging from a twenty-year economic slump, that’s quite a challenge.

In many ways the country is worse off today than it was two decades ago and although there are many reasons for Cameroon’s economic woes, corruption and cronyism have done serious damage to the country’s economy. With Biya at the helm since 1982, it’s easy to understand why many Cameroonians don’t pay too much attention to these messages.

Nonetheless the message did give a sense of where the country could be headed, most notably regarding electricity-generating projects (Cameroon’s potential for growth in many areas is limited by a lack of electricity). Biya cited several power projects including the Lom Pangar hydroelectric dam, which he described as being “on schedule”. This is one project I’ll be looking at as it will flood a section of the Chad-Cameroon pipeline and it’s unclear who will pay for the recommended pipeline reinforcements.

In the coming months we’ll see how much of this New Year’s message translates into real action on the ground and how much if it turns out to be empty declarations made with an eye towards the upcoming presidential elections.  Unfortunately there are many electrification projects, roads and other infrastructure projects that look good on paper, sometimes even get started only to be left unfinished — or in a perpetual state of “under construction.”

The English version of Biya’s address is posted here.

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