The world is yet to hear the last word from the Coronavirus pandemic. But one thing is already clear – national economies and private businesses are so affected that for Cameroonians who traded with China before, resuming their activities will certainly be a tall order. Thus, the urgency for them to be factored into any debt rescheduling arrangements, writes Kimeng Hilton NDUKONG
That China is Africa’s leading trade and economic partner is no longer news. That the raging Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic has already wreaked untold havoc on virtually all sectors – economy, personal incomes, healthcare delivery, social life, freedom of assembly and movement… is also no longer news. In fact, the breadth and depth of the impact of the pandemic is yet to be fully ascertained especially as no one can for now tell when it will all end.
Given that all the predictions by renowned international health experts that Doomsday was going to be foisted on Africa by COVID-19 in terms of casualties. More than what is being witnessed in the Western world. Are yet to come to pass!
In discussing the consequences of the Coronavirus on Africa, the tendency has been to focus on the bigger or macro picture. At the detriment of the micro level where most Africans in the informal sector fit in. One of these consequences is the huge number of Cameroonians who do business with China or retail Chinese products back home. While the outbreak lasts, local business people cannot restock because of the lockdown that most of the world has been under.
As China gradually unlocks its huge production machinery. And as local business people who traded with China before look forward to Cameroon opening up again to international business, one tall order awaits most of them. Lack of financing ability. With months of inactivity, many of them simply do not have the means to continue to ply their trades. Like before. Accumulated taxes, rents, wages, soaring interest on unpaid loans, etc, have somewhat swept away whatever was left in terms of savings and earnings.
While at the national level, the Cameroonian government has accorded some relief measures to ease the activities of traders, business people and industrialists, much, however, still remains to be done. For the economy – at the informal level – to regain its relative “lost glory” or momentum of the pre-Coronavirus era.
On the other hand, Cameroonian business people have to make an extra effort to secure funding for their activities. Or continue to lobby the government for more relief measures.
In the first instance, this is where the role of local banks, micro-finance institutions and thrift and loans outfits (commonly known as “Njangis” or “Tontines”), comes in. For example, they could offer moratorium in the payment of loans earlier contracted. Or these business people could reach private arrangements with their Chinese suppliers to sell and pay later on.
By and large, trade between Cameroon and China must resume as the pandemic is gradually brought under control. Also, the volume of trade exchange has to grow in order to grow both economies. How this happens can be facilitated by both governments as the nitty-gritties are worked out.
“China must continue to be Africa’s most important genuine development partner, in spite of the scourge of the Coronavirus pandemic,” says Dr Peter Sakwe Masumbe, a lecturer in Public Policy, International Relations and Conflict Studies with the University of Buea, Cameroon. He is also a Senior Public Policy Analyst in the Prime Minister’s Office in Cameroon. China will give Africa and the rest of the world the wrong impression if it withdraws or reduces the volume of its bilateral relations with the continent, Sakwe warns. “Rather, China must be seen at the forefront of Africa’s genuine development,” he adds. “The Coronavirus, like other diseases, must disappear for mankind to resume its normal life,” Dr Masumbe concludes.
Kimeng Hilton NDUKONG, a journalist based in Yaounde, Cameroon, is a contributor to People’s Daily English Language Online Desk. He is a 2017 Fellow of the China-Africa Press Centre.