There appears to be a growing scarcity of passport booklets in Cameroon and this has tripled the cost of securing one.
A passport is one of the most difficult documents to get in Cameroon. This list also includes most official documents such as the national identity card, birth certificate, national examination certificates among others.
A major reason for this lies in the process itself which has been made “intentionally” opaque and leads to an underground economy of facilitators – with officials inflating the figures for private gain. It is only outside of the country that the cost of getting a passport is published by the embassies or consulates as required by international standards.
Within Cameroon itself, there is no available document that clearly states how much citizens are expected to pay to get a passport. Or if such a document does exist, then laying hands on a copy is certainly a rarity.
The first problem is what is required to secure a passport. If one does not have a Cameroonian birth certificate, this changes the process for them even if they were born elsewhere but bred in Cameroon by Cameroonian parents.
During our research, it was revealed that if such an individual brings their birth certificate with the birth certificates of their parents to certify they are Cameroonians, then they can apply for a Cameroon passport.
National identity (ID) cards are another document one can use for the passport application. This is because, in order to get an ID card, you need to provide the birth certificates as proof of nationality. However, getting a national ID card itself is not so easy, especially since the process was digitalized in 2016.
At the international level, the requirements are clear as indicated on this Cameroon High Commission UK web page. Applicants need to bring their original and photocopy of Cameroon birth certificate, current passport and photocopy of photo and identification pages, original and photocopy of residence permit or entry visa, current Cameroon National ID (CNI) and photocopy thereof, if applicable, four (04) coloured photos of 5 cm (length) x 4 cm (width), (certified by a photographer of your choosing). The photo should be taken against a white background; full facial view with ears clearly visible; no hat, headscarf or lenses; Names of the applicant must be written at the back; original of marriage certificate and photocopy (applicable to married women opting for name change) and finally, two passport application forms to be collected and filled at the High Commission.
The issue here is that with the biometric passport or electronic passport, one MUST go to the High Commission for a copy of the application form even though there is an online version which is still not considered. This is a problem because, in the United Kingdom, there is just one embassy in London meaning those in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland need to fly into London to do this transaction.
Most countries process this online, saving time and money for their citizens. Benin recently set up such a system and this was announced by the office of the President on their Twitter account.
Those in the United States of America have complained of a similar concern. The embassy is based in Washington DC and with the USA being such a vast country, it requires a flight from other states into the Federal District of Columbia. This inflates the cost of getting a passport astronomically.
Cost of Getting a Cameroonian Passport
Jeune Afrique in 2017 did a piece titled ‘Card: how much do passports cost in Africa?’ In it, they indicated that Cameroon was the 4th most expensive African passport at 114 Euros which is almost 75,000frs CFA. Ghana and Namibia have some of the cheapest rates for biometric passports at less than 11 Euros.
Most Southern African countries charge their citizens less than 30 Euros. Central African countries have some of the highest costs with Chad as the most expensive on the continent, charging around 228 Euros. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, current estimates stand at 213 Euros.
The cost of passports has been linked to a lot of corruption as seen in this DRC investigation by Reuters. A biometric passport can be produced for between 17 – 35 Euros depending on how much the government is willing to spare its citizens heavy costs. There are passport suppliers who are affordable but the decision on who wins the contract is often a political one rather than due to cost- sensitivities.
According to passport-collector.com, passport fees are generally calculated using the average yearly income of the country’s citizens. The passport offices usually charge between 2 – 4 per cent, with very few charging 1 per cent.
With this in mind, it means that the cost of a passport in the DRC is more than 40 per cent of average income which stands at $460. In Cameroon, the average income is $1,340 and makes the standard cost of $134 to be 10 per cent of the average income. But this is when this pricing is followed, which since 2017 has not been the case for most people especially those in the diaspora or frequent travellers based in Cameroon.
In Cameroon, getting the real cost of a passport is unfortunately similar to understanding the country’s convoluted tax codes. The explanation is subjective and changes, based on the interpretation of the officer you meet on the day. During MMI’s investigation into this, the responses from various quarters did not produce a single standard price for a passport in Cameroon.
The last time the cost was publicly mentioned was in 2016 when it increased by 50 per cent from 50,000frs CFA ($90,23) to 75,000frs CFA. The government attributed this hike to a need to improve security and modernize travel documentations.
In the last four years, this cost has vacillated between 80,000frs to 150,000frs with no one source being able to pin down that elusive standard price. But generally, people have testified paying way higher than this from 200,000frs CFA to 850,000frs CFA due to middlemen fees or unofficial expedition costs.
For those who get their passports through the back door using facilitators, there is a reluctance to share their ‘reseaux’ as is popularly called in Cameroon (loosely translated into English as a network), including how much they paid for it. They tend to be vague with their answers.
A Cameroonian based in Australia talks about needing to get a passport quickly but with his brother working at the passport office, he received it within 2 weeks after paying 850,000frs for the express service. The commenter on the Trip Advisor site by the name of Rene said his passport was processed after he sent a copy of his ID card, birth certificate, passport photo and put his fingerprints on a clean white A4 paper. For those not able to afford the express service and have someone on the inside to follow-up on their behalf, then it takes two to six months to get a new passport. This has become a lucrative black market business.
Others have reported using facilitators and getting their passports within a matter of days at a cost of 300,000frs CFA. Effectively, how quickly you get a new passport is based on who you know – your network. It becomes obvious why this is a terrible system for public service.
Generally in Europe, the cost of getting a Cameroon passport in the UK is £160 (GBP) or 160 Euros for France, 175 Euros in the Netherlands, in Canada $195 Canadian dollars and in the USA, it is $138 US dollars. It varies from country to country but the prices are shared by the Embassies or consulates on some of the websites.
Too centralised to be effective
It does not matter where in the world Cameroonians are based, all the passports get processed in Yaounde. Due to this centralised system of management, it has made the process very slow, bureaucratic and painful for those who need passports during emergency situations such as unscheduled travel and/or renewing of residence permits in the countries of residence.
An advantage would have probably been in the management information system with all the information registered in one place. On the contrary, it has been chaotic and applying for a passport requires all the details that the central system should already contain from previous applications.
For example, items such as birth certificates, Cameroon National Identity (CNI) cards and fingerprints should already be on the system. Applicants are requested to provide this information each time they put through an application.
This centralised way in which information is managed by the Cameroon government has resulted in a terrible backlog of documents not yet processed. This, in turn, has created a black economy where some fixers or facilitators are working together with those in passport offices to generate a lot of money from overcharging desperate citizens. It is no longer first-come, first-serve but rather who you know and the highest bidders getting the service. It becomes clear how this financial economy has become a disincentive for restoring efficiency in service provision.
Cameroonians wonder why the consulates and embassies cannot have booklets for passports to quickly process the needs of citizens. In addition, the fact that the processed passports are only transported from Yaounde to the various embassies using consular officers who put them in a diplomatic suitcase causes extended delays.
The process could take over six months and there is no sense of urgency on the needs of those who need these passports either for business travels or renewing their stay. Many Cameroonians have wondered why it is difficult for the embassies to use logistics carriers which would be a simpler solution.
For those who travel a lot, there have been calls for the Ministry of External Relations to issue passport booklets with more pages but the government has not made any moves towards this direction. This means that for those who travel for work, they have to face the arduous task every 6 months.
Given how difficult it is to get a Cameroon passport, you would think the end of the problem once you have the passport in hand. According to the 2020 Henley’s Index, Cameroon is ranked 93rd and its holders have access to 23 countries visa-free, with just 7 African countries visa-free and requires visas for 169 countries.
The treatment Cameroonians have faced abroad for simply possessing the passport is an added pressure point that leads some to decide on getting naturalised to secure a ‘less-taxing’ passport.
The Dual Nationality Saga
Given the problems with getting a Cameroon passport, acquiring another nationality is a solution to two problems – securing your residency in the host country and having access to a passport service process that is efficient. The issue of dual nationality is a highly political one in Cameroon and the government uses it to silence dissent.
In Cameroon, dual nationality is not accepted except, for a Cameroonian woman who acquires it by marriage. She may adopt her husband’s country nationality and still retain her Cameroonian nationality, according to Article 31 of Law n° 1968-LF-3 of June 11, 1968, on the Code of Cameroonian nationality.
The same law which was enacted by President Ahmadou Ahidjo in 1968 states that you lose your nationality when you intentionally take up another nationality thereby relinquishing or ‘repudiating’ the Cameroon nationality.
The times are changing and the dual nationality debate can no longer be ignored. In the current global climate, this subject must be faced. Football is an important national symbol to Cameroon and it is a sphere which has brought out the hypocrisy of the lack of a dual nationality law for all.
Former Indomitable Lions player Mohamadou Idrissou, revealed recently in an interview with Naja TV‘s Jean-Bruno Tagne, that most players have two nationalities. Idrissou highlighted that he is the only Cameroon footballer of the national football team with only the Cameroonian nationality. Roger Milla (French), Samuel Eto’o Fils (Spanish), Jeremy Njitap (Spanish), Carlos Kameni (French), Aurélien Chedjou (French), Rigobert Song (French) and Bill Tchato (French).
This is no secret as many Cameroonians are aware that footballers have other passports even though the law in Cameroon states that to play in the national team, one must be Cameroonian.
Having another nationality invalidates this but it appears exceptions are made for star footballers, politicians and their children, well-connected Cameroonians. The law of no dual nationality only applies to ordinary Cameroonians.
With its growing diaspora, the Cameroon government is coming under pressure to review this and change the law accepting dual nationality. During the 10th legislative assembly in June 2020, the members of parliament reviewed some 1245 articles of the law published in a 421-page document.
Among these was the nationality code which was last promulgated on 11th June 1968. It has been proposed in article 81 of the document that “Any Cameroonian proving of another nationality retains the Cameroonian nationality, except repudiation of this one”. This has been seen as some kind of acquiescence of the principle of dual nationality.
Cameroonians are looking forward to the day when having dual nationality is recognized and becomes law. Most importantly, they hope the government will make their lives easier and less costly, by delegating the process of creating passports to the embassies, consulates and various regions of the country, not centralizing it all in Yaounde.