Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting me to address you this afternoon.
I am always happy to come speak to the American Chamber of Commerce
because you all always eat so much better than we do in Yaounde!
Truly, though, I am always excited to attend these meetings because
it offers me the opportunity to meet with you, to hear about the
successes of American business in Cameroon and, of course, to hear
about the challenges you face.
And I do not need to tell you that these are challenging times.
Sometimes the news is slow to travel from the center of activity here
in Douala to Yaounde, but I can assure you that officials in Yaounde
are now recognizing just how much the global economic crisis will
affect Cameroon, Cameroonian households, Cameroonian companies, and the
government’s ability to implement its ambitious agenda, known as Vision
You may recall that at one point some months ago, there were those
in Cameroon who said that the crisis would not have an impact in
Cameroon, that Cameroon was insulated from the financial crisis because
Cameroonian institutions were not linked into the global financial
Some of these same voices are now complaining that Cameroon is
suffering from an economic crisis it did not create. They say
Cameroon’s economic woes are not Cameroon’s fault; they say Cameroon’s
economic problems are someone else’s responsibility.
It is certainly true that Cameroon did not “create” the global
economic crisis. And I think we all recognize that U.S. economic
problems have had a broad-reaching impact. President Obama has spoken
about the failure of responsibility in managing the U.S. economy, and
he has called for a “new era of responsibility” in the United States.
In his inaugural address to the nation, Obama said:
"What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a
recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to
ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly
accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is
nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than
giving our all to a difficult task."
President Obama has returned repeatedly to the theme of
responsibility. He did so again last week, in his speech in Cairo. He
has not sought to find excuses or scapegoats for the economic crisis
and he has emphasized that we each bear responsibility for our own
So how would we apply this call for responsibility to Cameroon?
we should be adamant that poor management decisions and
irresponsibility in the U.S. do not excuse poor management decisions
and irresponsibility in other countries, including in Cameroon.
A message of responsibility in Cameroon would emphasize that
Cameroonians–in government, in business, in civil society–are
ultimately responsible for the destiny of their country.
On the economic front, Cameroonians have the ability to make their
economy more diverse and less dependent on oil revenues. Cameroonians
have the ability to orient the economy towards its neighbors, to
protect it from the inevitable swings in the global economy and
commodity prices. Cameroonians have the ability to demand that their
budget be transparent and well-spent.
For the last several years, the Cameroonian Government has spent
less than 75% of the money it has budgeted for investment. The money
is there, the needs exist, so why are these funds not being spent and,
more importantly, what are Cameroonians in and out of the government
doing to change the situation?
The World Bank’s Doing Business report has shown that the business
climate in Cameroon has gotten worse over each of the last few years,
at the same time that Cameroon’s peers were making tremendous
improvements. This trend cannot be blamed on the economic crisis!
All this is to say that, if the economic crisis is beyond
Cameroonians’ control, no one but Cameroonians can take responsibility
for Cameroon’s economy. In my view, there are steps that Cameroon can
take, of its own accord, to strengthen the economy during these
difficult times and to prepare it for the economic rebound when it does
And the rebound will happen. That is something I think many people
miss. The time to think about the economic crisis is not now. Now, it
is too late. The time to think about this crisis, in Washington and in
Yaounde, was five years ago, when prices were high. Now is the time we
should be thinking about the rebound. In Cameroon, that means thinking
about how to position Cameroon to benefit from the rebound when it
occurs, because it most certainly will. The price for aluminum will
likely rise again. The demand for timber will rise again. The demand
for rubber will rise again. What are Cameroonians doing, now, to
prepare to be sure Cameroon is well-positioned for the next five years?
Cameroonians can influence the policies their government enacts to
shape the economy. Cameroonians can control their country’s
preparedness to take advantage of global economic good times and to
ride out global economic bad times.
Notice I say “Cameroonians” and not “the Government of Cameroon.” I
am saying that on purpose, to emphasize the fact that Cameroonians are
the master of their own destiny. We all know the imperfections of
Cameroon’s democracy, which I will not dwell on today. Nevertheless,
the Government is responsive, even if imperfectly, to the demands of
Cameroonian stakeholders, whether they be university students, labor
unions, taxi drivers, or the business community, which includes you,
the American Chamber of Commerce.
Too often, people coming to the Embassy ask us what we are doing to
fight corruption, to build roads, to improve infrastructure and
I will increasingly respond with a question of my
own: What are you doing? What is the American Chamber of Commerce
doing to make its views known to the Government regarding the pressing
need for infrastructure improvements?
You will notice a common theme in the public statements that I and
other U.S. officials will make in Cameroon over the coming year. We
are going to focus on this theme, that Cameroon belongs to
Cameroonians, that Cameroonians possess the power to shape the course
of their own nation, that Cameroonians should stop talking about their
country as though it is separate from them, their government as though
it is not their own.
Often, when the Government of Cameroon takes a particular decision,
we receive phone calls, emails, letters and personal entreaties asking
us to pressure the Government of Cameroon to change its decision or to
take a new decision.
Cameroonians call on the U.S. Embassy as though we are the
appropriate way to influence their own government, as though we should
be the ones to speak and act for them.
That is not to say that we do not take an interest in the challenges
that confront the Cameroonian people. We are proud of the strong and
growing friendship between Cameroon and the United States.
But the biggest obstacle to Cameroon’s development, the biggest
obstacle that prevents Cameroon from achieving its full potential, is
Cameroonians’ lack of ownership for their own nation, their own
government, their own communities.
This is not a dilemma unique to Cameroon. Barack Obama reenergized
the United States with his determined insistence that “Yes, We Can.”
“Yes, We Can” is more than a partisan political slogan, and its
significance is more lasting than a presidential campaign. It is an
affirmation of hope, of responsibility, of ownership. When we say
“yes, we can,” it means also, that yes, we should, and yes, we will.
I am troubled by the spirit of resignation, almost of despair, that
seems to prevail among many of my Cameroonian friends these days. Like
everyone else in Cameroon, I was disappointed that the Indomitable
Lions did not notch a victory in Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium last Sunday.
But I was amazed to see how many people were ready to give up, to say
that it is all over, that Cameroon is finished. There are still four
games remaining, and Cameroon’s prospects are still very much alive. I
am looking forward to the next match, with a spirit of “Yes, We Can!”,
and I believe Cameroon should still be aiming to be a part of the World
Cup next year in South Africa. I hope that Cameroonians—the players on
the pitch and the supporters cheering them on—will adopt the same
attitude, not just for football, but for all of the challenges that
confront Cameroon today.
I know the obstacles that exist in Cameroon as they do in every
country around the world. After almost two years in Cameroon, I know
about the problems, but the problems do not interest me any longer. I
am more interested in learning what Cameroonians have in mind as
solutions, how Cameroonians intend to take charge of their country’s
It was the great American businessman, Henry Ford, who said “Whether you think you can, or think you cannot, you will be right.”
This is a message I hope to deliver throughout Cameroon over the
coming months, and I deliver to the American Chamber of Commerce today.
Your membership represents diverse nationalities and a broad range
of sectors, but you have a shared stake in the future of Cameroon and a
shared responsibility to do what you can to help Cameroon recognize its
The global economic crisis has, in fact, presented you with an
opportunity that I hope you will seize. With a renewed focus on how to
jumpstart economic growth and create jobs, Cameroonian decision makers
will be more open than ever to the recommendations of the business
community. The AMCHAM, this room, is filled with leaders who possess
invaluable knowledge, who can provide wise advice about what steps are
needed to put Cameroon on better economic footing. What are you doing
to be sure your wisdom is heard? What are you doing to be sure
Cameroon is better positioned for the next global economic swing,
whatever it may be?
I will admit: I am not coming to you with solutions. I am coming
instead with a call to action. The AMCHAM has a responsibility to
advance American business interests in Cameroon, but that entails a
broader responsibility, to help Cameroon recognize its potential as a
leader in the region. The AMCHAM can play a crucial role in shaping
Cameroon’s future for the better. I hope you all will take on that
responsibility. Thank you.