Many people view Cameroonians and Sub-Saharan Africans as not ‘entrepreneurial’. As we move towards the entrepreneurship ecosystem exchange in Limbe come Saturday July 9th, Shudzeka Tewiy critically reviews entrepreneurship among youths in Cameroon and say that Cameroonians are entrepreneurial but are involved in less productive jobs.
Statistics from the National Institute of Statistics in 2014 showed that unemployment rate in Cameroon is 5.7%. With a population of over 21 million, only about 400.000 are employed by the state. Yet, unemployment is just 5.7%. I believe the majority of you reading this write up would be surprised, but I am not! Simply put, Cameroonians cannot afford to stay without working. Constant increases in fuel prices, family pressure and very expensive basic commodities put Cameroonians on the streets everyday.
We just need to look at the number of Cameroonians hawking in the streets; the truck pushers, the bike riders, those who sell locally produced stuffs in buses and cars, children selling at streetlights, for us to know Cameroonians are working. Yes, I agree, Cameroonians are entrepreneurial.
However, most of our Cameroonian youths are engaged in very unproductive jobs that cannot sustain them and their families. They are either underemployed or engaged in vulnerable employments such as selling in bars, ‘okada’ riding, hawking, etc.
Many social issues have contributed towards deterring our youths from getting into formal entrepreneurship. One of them is the perception that the society has for craftsmanship and technical education. There is the general perception that artisans and technicians are “never-do-wells”, dropouts, societal rejects or even failures that should perpetually remain at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.
Also, the formal apprenticeship practices are being eroded. Before, youths learnt trades by working with a more experienced and established business person in the domain. For example, a youth wishing to become a carpenter will enroll as an apprentice at a carpentry workshop and spend between three to five years learning the trade. Nowadays, most youths want to make fast cash and move into the moto taxi business, otherwise known as ‘okada’. To become a bike rider you need to learn only for about a week or two and you are into business. This has led most youths out of the formal apprenticeship system, thereby reducing the tendency towards entrepreneurship.
Nevertheless, many young Cameroonians are now taking the cue and are getting into entrepreneurship and doing great things for themselves. They are involved in agriculture, health business, technology, service provision and crafts.
Take for example the young farmers of Santa who produce about 10,000 tons of tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage or potatoes yearly. What of the rice farmers of Ndop, who export one of the best rice grains I have eaten to places to like Nigeria and Central African Republic? Oh, I cannot leave the agricultural page without talking about Agro Hub, the group of young people who have taken farming to a new level. They are the owners of Agro-Mart, their chain of stores where they sell cassava derivatives such as starch and Garri. They won the Nestle Prize for Share Value for 2016. Some too are getting into the technology based business. Take the University of Buea students who have started Eleconscam Ltd. They are into producing small scale equipment and software that can help farmers in irrigation. Look at the founders of Njorku.com, connecting young people to job offering organizations using the internet. There are many more of such young people engaging in business for themselves, as fashion designers, carpenters, welders, motor mechanics, etc.
I am not saying that the state of entrepreneurship in Cameroon is good; there is still a long way to go. We need to encourage young Cameroonians to get into formal entrepreneurship through education, motivation and training. We have a huge potential for our young people to exploit. The entrepreneurial landscape in Cameroon is still uncharted and unexploited. Just a few months ago, the government of Cameroon made an open call to foreign investors to come and invest in our country. Our local investors should not be left out. I am not asking our youths to have the investments of Dangote, I am asking them to be like Agro Hub, Njorku or Eleconscam. Do something small that you have the capabilities and make a move ahead.
And how do we help promote these youths? We have to provide them with education that will give them the skills necessary to start and lead an enterprise. Technical skills, goal setting skills, communication skills, and negotiation skills are what we need. By providing them with mentors and role models that can help build their resilience. Also, young entrepreneurs need interest free loans to start their businesses. I think if we top it up with business incubation, we could have a vibrant entrepreneurial network of youths.
Join the Ashoka Change Maker Scholars in Limbe on July 9th, 2016 as we bring together social entrepreneurs to inspire and share experiences on their entrepreneurial journey and to chart a way forward for promoting social entrepreneurship.
Written by Shudzeka Eric Tewiy, MBA
Treasury Accountant, Bamenda Airport
National Training Officer, Association of African Entrepreneurs, Cameroon
Ashoka Change maker Scholar, 2015
Winner of UN online volunteer of the year award, 2013
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