The African Cup of Nations (CAN), which will take place in early 2022 in Cameroon, is a “beacon of hope” for the local economy, undermined by the Covid-19 pandemic. The draw, which is due to take place on Tuesday, is already arousing enthusiasm.
While the draw for CAN-2022 is due to take place on Tuesday August 17 in Yaoundé, the African competition is already in everyone’s mind in Cameroon. Fifty years since the country of the Indomitable Lions had not organized the competition. After two postponements of the event, residents hope that it will revive the economy, which is idling, hit by the Covid-19 crisis and two conflicts on its territory.
Mohammed pursues his client for several meters to convince him to enter his shop, at the artisanal market of Douala, the economic capital. “For you, my brother, it’s the sales!” He exclaims.
Wooden statues, handmade masks, pearl necklaces … Each stall looks like an Ali Baba cave, paradise for passing bargain hunters. Yet only a few merchants populate the once crowded aisles of this central African handicraft hub.
? The African Cup of Nations (CAN), which will take place in early 2022 in Cameroon, is the “beacon of hope” of one of the main economies in the region, which is idling, hit by the crisis in Cameroon. Covid and two conflicts on its territory #AFP #AFPTV ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/ydaXfz0kBe
– Agence France-Presse (@afpfr) August 17, 2021
For artisans and traders, the CAN, organized by Cameroon in January 2022 after being twice postponed, is a “glimmer of hope”, “a leitmotif”, “an objective” in a period marked by a strong economic slowdown .
“CAN can change a lot of things”
“We first had the Boko Haram crisis in the Far North, then the separatist conflict in the English-speaking zone. The Covid-19 has finished us,” breathes Mouhamadou Isolha, president of the Douala craft market. “We had very complicated months. No more visitors came. We are experiencing something unheard of,” he continues. “CAN can change a lot of things with the influx of tourists and spectators.”
In Yaoundé and Douala, the two largest cities in the country, which will host several matches of the competition, the CAN is eagerly awaited. Cameroonians welcome the return of the party, dream of the achievements of the Indomitable Lions, the national team, and hope to take advantage of the competition to do business. In the country of Paul Biya, 88 years old, including more than 38 in power, “the period looks like the end of his reign”, according to political scientist Stéphane Akoa.
An economy on the mat
The Cameroonian economy, which represents more than 40% of the GDP of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC), is the most diversified in the region. But a third of the inhabitants live on less than two euros a day and the poverty rate is almost 40%. The minimum wage is 36,200 CFA francs (55 euros).
The Covid-19 epidemic has brought down public and private investment and consumption. The tertiary sector has been the most affected, according to the World Bank, including hotels, restaurants, transport and utilities.
“We were very affected by the coronavirus and the postponement of the competition”, explains to AFP Françoise Puene, at the controls of the Franco hotel in Yaoundé. “For us, the CAN is the light at the end of the tunnel. We have invested 12 billion CFA francs (18 million euros) in the future”, she says, while workers are busy to finish the expansion works of this four-star establishment.
Same hopes for Alain Pokam, director for 15 years of the tourism and transport company Cameroon Tours Agency: “A little more than ten years ago, tourists came back regularly. With Boko Haram and the Anglophone crisis, they now have the feeling that everything can change at any time. ” “I hope that the CAN will give tourists the taste to come back to Cameroon,” he says.
“The CAN appears as an activity of sovereignty, international influence and prestige of the Cameroonian state”, according to Narcisse Mouelle Koumbi, Minister of Sports and president of the organizing committee of the CAN. “It also creates a tremendous opportunity for regional planning, in terms of sports, road and hospital infrastructures.”
A marginal impact?
But for economist Dieudonné Essomba, “CAN cannot have a strong macroeconomic effect”. “The stadiums built are prestigious investments but do not have a structuring impact on the lives of the populations,” he told AFP. “The average Cameroonian needs water, jobs, access to healthcare.”
“The impact is extremely marginal compared to the cost of the investment”, he assures, before recalling that the Cameroonian public sector debt, estimated at 10 687 billion CFA francs (about 16 billion euros) , or 44.4% of GDP, “is already very high and will be very difficult to pay”.
In the ranks of the opposition, Jean-Michel Nintcheu, a member of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), called the government to account and criticized “a vicious debt” and “potentially unproductive” with several “opaque extensions”.
“We are talking about more than 3,000 billion CFA francs (4.5 billion euros) already granted for this event,” he told AFP, a figure that the government has not confirmed.
The deputy adds “that part of this money could have been used to support economic operators, build hospitals and schools, invest heavily in agriculture, boost agribusiness and strengthen the supply of electrical energy” .
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