Neo-liberalism is theft: the case of Cameroon. By Lumumba Chia and Shawn Hattingh

The Empire and its accompanying multinational companies have been running a brutal swindle in Cameroon. Their swindle has revolved around imposing neo-liberal capitalism onto the country so that they could loot it. In true racketeering style, the multinational corporations that have benefited from this scam have been given free reign: they are allowed to buy what they want, sell what they want, fire workers at will, and move their money in and out of the country’s borders. The man that the Empire has chosen as the local face of this racket is Paul Biya, who has been the President of the Cameroon for 27 years. Biya and his cronies – who make up the government – regularly appear in the public arena in jazzy Armani suits, donning broad smiles and using soothing words to sell the Empire’s racket to the people. In doing so, they have often assured the people that capitalism really works and that the multinational companies operating in the country are there to help the poor. Of course, most people don’t buy the garbage that Paul Biya – and his bosses in Washington, Paris, Brussels, the IMF and World Bank – churn out about capitalism being their savour. This is because they know the Empire’s racket is an attack on them – they feel it everyday. In fact, the people of Cameroon are now poorer than at anytime in their history and the environment is on the verge of collapse.  As a result, Cameroon has become a site of intense resistance with people defending their interests against the neo-liberal onslaught through strikes, demonstrations and riots.

How the racket works

The sad reality is that Cameroon has a long history of being pillaged. From the 1500s onwards, empires grew rich from exploiting its people and resources through colonialism and slavery. Formal political independence brought little relief: local elites simply emerged and enriched themselves by collaborating with new imperial powers, like the United States (US), to keep the pillaging going. By the 1980s, however, the looting was taken to a new level with the imposition of neo-liberal capitalism.

It was in 1988 that the first of a series of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) was unleashed on the people of Cameroon by the IMF and World Bank at the behest of the US[i]. Ever since this, the country has been transformed into a complete profit making haven for multinational companies. Through trade liberalisation, they have flooded Cameroon with their products much of which were, and are, subsidised. With financial and investment liberalisation, multinational banks and other financial institutions have swooped into the country and have completely taken over the finance sector. Similarly, almost all of Cameroon’s public enterprises were privatised as part of the SAPs. Everything from its railroads, to agricultural farms, to forests, to mobile telecommunications, to electricity, to water were sold off to multinational corporations[ii]. As a result, multinational corporations such as MTN, Suez, Del Monte, Somdiaa, Compagnie Fruitiere, Union Fruitiere Africaine and AES have come to completely dominate the economy and through this rake in massive profits[iii].

Of course, the entire privatisation process in Cameroon (like in every country) has been completely and utterly corrupt. Often public service-providers have been sold off to corporations with the best political connections rather than to even the highest bidder. In many cases the corporations that have purchased the privatised assets have paid prices well below the actual value of these entities. For example, when the national water service provider, SNEC, was privatised the only bidder was the French giant Suez. During the process the manager of SNEC valued the company’s assets at CFA 300 billion; while Suez successful bid was based on the company’s assets being valued at only CFA 500 million[iv]. This meant that in the end Suez bought SNEC for an absolute bargain. The example of SNEC, however, is not an isolated incident as there have been many instances where public assets have been sold for less than they were worth; or handed over to the lowest bidder[v]. As a result, through privatisation, the wealth of the Cameroonian people has been systematically looted by local and international elites.

In the most blatant instances of corruption, paper companies have simply been created by local and foreign elites to take advantage of the wholesale privatisation process. For example, when the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC) was privatising the Tole Tea Estate, the right to buy the Estate was given to a company called Brobon Finex. The owner of Brobon Finex has been identified as the South African businessman, Derrick Garvie. In the privatisation agreement between the Cameroonian state and Brobon Finex, it was claimed that the company was being awarded the tender for Tole Tea because it had capital worth of over R 20 million. Upon investigating, however, activists opposing the privatisation found that Brobon owned nothing and did not even have an office. The only thing that the company seemed to have was a postal box it was using as its main address. Indeed, it turned out that Brobon itself was not even registered as a company in South Africa at the time of Tole Tea’s privatisation. The company number it was using in its agreement with the Cameroonian state was actually that of another South African registered entity called Afritea Investments (Pty) Ltd, which only had a registered capital of R 1000[vi]. The man, however, who brokered the deal between the Cameroonian state and Brobon was the former Minister of Agriculture and head of the CDC, John Ngu. It should perhaps come as no surprise that once the deal was concluded and Tole Tea handed over to Brobon, John Ngu was awarded the position of general manager of Brobon[vii]. Clearly, Garvie and Ngu were the main beneficiaries of the privatisation of Tole Tea and for them the neo-liberal scam had paid off.

[i] Konings, P. 1999. Privatisation of agro-industrial parastatals and Anglophone opposition in Cameroon. Journal of Commonwealth & Comparative Politics Vol 34 (No 3), pp 199-217.


[iii] Nzomo, T & Nzongang, J. 2007. The process of privatization of public and para public enterprises in Cameroon: An assessment. The Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa Vol 9 (No.4) pp 229-246.

[iv] Bamenjo, J. 2002. The World Bank Presiding over Hydrocarbon, Forestry and Other Developmental Projects in the Cameroon. Global Village: Cameroon

[v] Nsom, K. Anti-privatisation sentiments on the rise. 12th September 2006

[vi] Bakweri Land Claims Committee (BLCC). 2002. Without a Trace: On the Trail of the Elusive Brobon Finex.