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Cameroon: Universities Debate Unemployment

March 22, 2012

YAOUNDÉ, March 22, 2012 – More than 1000 university professors, students and administrative staff turned out to participate in a recent debate about employment led by the World Bank Cameroon Country Office, thus turning a modest initiative into a national tour.

This is the first time in the Bank’s history in Cameroon that high-ranking staff have reached out to academia and students, visiting the National School of Administration and Magistracy, the International Relations Institute of Cameroon, the Sub Regional Institute of Applied Economics and Statistics, the University of Yaoundé II and the CEMAC Catholic University.

“The fact that the World Bank has selected the Catholic University to launch its Economic Update is not a matter of chance but a proof of our long lasting cooperation since years: our University is a depository of 5769 World Bank publications out of a total of 46 975 publications these represent 12 percent of our documentation Center,” Richard Filakota, rector of the Catholic University in Central Africa, said in his welcome remarks. “My wish is for this partnership to be developed, strengthened and sustained for the good of our two institutions.”

The initiative began last year, when Raju Jan Singh, lead economist for Cameroon, Gabon, the Central African Republic, Chad and Equatorial Guinea, came up with the idea to create short country economic reports for the purpose of sharing knowledge and stimulating debate among those interested in improving the economic management of the country. Each issue of the Cameroon Economic Update, produced bi-annually, provides an analysis of recent economic developments, as well as a special focus on a topical issue. The notes offer another voice on Cameroon’s economic issues, and an additional platform for learning and exchange.

The February 2012 issue of the Cameroon Economic Updates focuses on employment – an issue that generates a lot of interest and which is pertinent to most. “Even with high growth rates, the formal sector will only be able to absorb a fraction of job-seekers,” Singh said.  “The informal sector will thus continue to provide jobs to most Cameroonians. The challenge is then to enhance the productivity - hence the earnings - of those already working, while at the same time creating more formal jobs.”

Enhancing Productivity is a Challenge for Cameroon

Cameroon’s labor market is characterized by a large share of the labor force being occupied in the informal sector and few formal jobs. Unemployment is low, because most Cameroonians cannot afford not to be working. Most of these jobs, however, have low productivity and generate little money. Thus, the challenge is to enhance the productivity – hence the earnings – of those already employed, while at the same time creating more formal jobs.

In this regard, education is a challenge, with many children leaving school without mastering basic skills such as literacy and numeracy. An unfavorable investment climate, particularly an unstable infrastructure, is also hurting the country’s employment prospects. Against this backdrop, a cross-sectoral strategy dealing with both the supply and demand constraints could help Cameroon’s economic growth faster and more inclusive.

“Formal employment has represented less than 10 percent of the labor force since the 1990s," Singh explains, adding that this group is mainly composed of men living in urban areas. "Current projections show that informal agriculture is likely to remain the main provider of employment in Cameroon in the short and medium term. Attention should therefore be focused on increasing productivity in this sector.”

The report notes that efforts are already underway in this regard. For example, cultivated areas are being expanded and work is being done to disseminate improved seeds, modernize agricultural equipment, and to teach farmers how to improve agricultural output.

“Ninety percent of working people are in the informal economy; rather than being viewed as a nuisance operating outside the regulatory framework, the informal sector should be seen as an asset for job creation and a way of giving millions of citizens the opportunity to aspire to economic mobility," Singh says.

Fostering Conditions Conducive to Job Creation

Investments in infrastructure, and particularly in roads and energy, could make Cameroon more attractive to foreign direct investment, which would have a positive effect on employment opportunities, as well as improving the business climate.

Cameroon gained seven places in the 2012 Doing Business index, making it easier to start a small or medium size business by reducing the cost, the time needed, and the relevant procedures. These changes provide reason to hope for a better future.

A match between vocational training and the needs of the labor market will also make conditions more favorable to job creation. For example, engineering students represent only five percent of total enrollment. However, a number of large investment projects are currently under preparation or implementation. The Government of Cameroon also plans to invest in a number of large projects in energy and transport over the next few years. These projects will generate a need for a higher number of skilled engineers. Similarly, young people seeking apprenticeships face a problem in that there are no formal structures in place for certifying the acquired knowledge. This on-the-job training is an important way to equip young professionals with practical skills needed for a particular job.

Between March and July 2012, the Economic Update will also be presented at the University of Douala and at the Cameroon Employers’ Association (GICAM). The report will also be taken to other regions of Cameroon, targeting more than 30 institutes of higher learning and trade associations.