By Dr. Jean Cédric Kouam (Download pdf version)
Macron’s Visit to Africa: Economic Implications for Cameroon and France
Economic relations between France and Africa have a long history, dating all the way back to the colonial era of 1880 to 1960. Despite independence in the 1960s, France has maintained close economic ties with its former colonies, particularly those of the French-speaking Countries of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC). By signing several economic and monetary cooperation agreements, France provided ‘some support’ to these countries by ensuring, among other things, the convertibility of the currency being issued, namely the CFA Franc (formerly known as the Franc des Colonies Françaises d’Afrique). In fact, the ‘umbilical cord’ linking France to these countries seems never to have been broken and some may have thought that this weighs on their economic sovereignty.
As such, France has become the main trading partner of Cameroon, a country that was not really colonized by France, but whose current eastern part before independence was placed under French trusteeship, while the current western part was placed under British trusteeship. This economic relationship between the two countries has been fostered by various French presidents over the years but seems to have been put on hold with the arrival of President Emmanuel Macron, who first took office in 2017 and claimed to want to draw a line under the whole post-colonial period and Françafrique.
Three months after his re-election to the supreme magistracy in April of 2022, President Macron’s visit to Cameroon from July 25 to July 26, 2022, marks the first stage of his official visit to Africa and a renewal in Franco-Cameroonian relations. The objective of this article is to present the context and stakes of President Macron’s official visit to Cameroon on the economic level as well as its significance in a global context strongly marked by the war in Ukraine.
The Context of Macron’s Official Visit to Cameroon
The official visit of the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, to Cameroon from July 25 to July 26, 2022, takes place in a global context, especially when looking at the Ukraine war. This event, which comes at a time when the world is barely recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, is far from being without consequences for the world’s economies. These two events have the particularity of causing unprecedented disruptions in trade between countries, notably due to the closure of borders and supply channels. The resulting decline in the supply and commercialization of goods explains the sharp price fluctuations currently observed on international markets (IMF, 2022).
Because of Cameroon’s heavy dependence on commodity exports, notably Russian and Ukrainian wheat (as is the case for most African economies), the thorny issue of food security is back on the international agenda. For Cameroon – which is considered a ‘small open economy,’ extroverted and totally dependent on the terms of trade – and France – which ensures the convertibility of the CFA franc, the currency in use in Cameroon –Macron’s official visit appears to be an opportunity to define new strategies that are undoubtedly indispensable for strengthening the resilience of both economies in the face of current shocks.
Economic Stakes of Macron’s Official Visit for Cameroon and France
Since his accession to power in 2017, the current President of the French Republic has sought to give a new stamp to the historical relations between France and its former colonies in Africa. During his speech in Ouagadougou on November 28, 2017, Emmanuel Macron declared that he belonged “to a generation where we do not come and tell Africa what it should do, what the rule of law is.” He, therefore, adopts a rather critical stance toward certain authorities, including those of Cameroon, particularly on issues of governance and management of public affairs. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine seem to have forced France to see things differently.
In the face of the global economic downturn and the resulting general rise in price levels, particularly in the energy sector, France is keen to revitalize its trade relations with Africa. President Macron’s official visit to Cameroon is at the heart of this agenda and presents high stakes not only for the host country, Cameroon, but also for France and the rest of Africa. The economic stakes of this historic visit are obvious for Cameroon as well as for France and Françafrique.
- Economic Stakes for Cameroon
France has always been a strategic economic partner of Cameroon. According to the Cameroonian authorities, in 2020, France ranked 7th among the country’s importers, absorbing nearly 6.08% of Cameroonian exports and supplying more than $580 million of manufactured goods and services. They were the third supplier to Cameroon, after China and Nigeria.
Similarly, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, nearly 11.5 million euros were granted by the French Development Agency to Cameroon, including 10 million euros in emergency budget support. In this same context, France’s advocacy within the Paris Club and the G20 has made it possible to obtain a moratorium on debt servicing for the poorest countries, which translates into CFAF 230 billion in debt relief for the Cameroonian economy, including CFAF 60 billion from France.
In addition, France ensures the convertibility of the CFA franc, the currency in use in Cameroon. Cameroon has a large number of companies owned by French nationals, which contribute to the employability of many young people and to growth. The main sectors of activity are oil exploitation, agro-industry, wood, cement, telecommunications, distribution, construction, and large-scale retailing.
- Economic Stakes for France
Cameroon is arguably the most dynamic and diversified economy in the CEMAC zone, contributing more than 50% of the region’s GDP (CEMAC, 2021). Formerly under French mandate (de facto since 1916 and de jure from 1919 until 1960), Cameroon has had a very close economic relationship with France for many years. However, these relations have weakened considerably over the years. Today, these relations are strongly challenged by the development of other economic partnerships with countries such as China, India, the Emirates and Russia, to name a few.
Macron visited Cameroon to strengthen the solid economic partnership that once existed between the two countries that is now being severely undermined by China, India, the Emirates, Russia, and more. The importance that the President of the French Republic attaches to this visit to Cameroon is indeed reflected in the composition and quality of the ministerial delegation accompanying him. This delegation is composed of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of the Armed Forces, the Minister of Foreign Trade, and the Secretary of State for Development.
Beyond the search for strategic partners in Africa to strengthen France’s economic resilience to the large-scale shocks it is currently facing, France is seeking to develop new strategies to reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas. As a first step, Paris is seeking, among other things, to dissuade Yaoundé from diversifying its economic partnerships and to revive economic relations between the two countries, which have been losing momentum. The French president also wants to promote the FARM initiative, a project to develop Cameroon’s agriculture supported by the European Union and the African Union to ensure food security, which is currently being threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
Furthermore, Cameroon is located in the Gulf of Guinea, which is recognized as having significant oil and gas resources. Faced with the war in Ukraine and Russian restrictions on oil and gas to the European Union, France now wants to reclaim the Gulf of Guinea, which not only offers better quality oil but also lower transport costs than the Middle East alternative.
Despite a serious effort by the Cameroonian government to diversify its trading partners over the past few years, France still holds a dominant position in the country’s foreign trade. As the country is linked to France by very strong economic and monetary cooperation agreements, it remains, to a certain extent, dependent on France, particularly in economic terms. In fact, without a strong structural transformation of the Cameroonian economy that would allow it to review a certain number of economic agreements with its former metropolis, it may be very difficult for Cameroon to break the cord that links it indefinitely to France.