"We must use your talents and expertise as engineers
to develop and promote our country and our continent".

Keynote address presented by Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh
at the Cameroon Society of Engineers (CSE-USA)
7th Annual Convention
June 11-13, 2004
Houston, Texas, USA

Keynote address presented by Dr. Christopher FomunyohDr. Christopher Fomunyoh, Senior Associate for Africa at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) talked about the importance of engineers in the development of Cameroon while addressing his compatriots and guests at the 7th Annual Convention of the Cameroon Society of Engineers (CSE-USA) that held in Houston, Texas, USA from June 11-13, 2004. In the conference keynote speech that focused on "Engineering Support for Trade and Development in Cameroon," the seasoned academic and pan africanist pointed out that with today's globalization there can be no meaningful development without trade and no trade without adequate and reliable infrastructure. The crusader for democracy and good governance in Africa enjoined Cameroonian engineers to spare no efforts in creating the enabling conditions that would permit them make a lasting contribution to the development of their beloved fatherland.

Good evening and thank you.

First, let me say what an honor it is to be speaking at this important event and how pleased I am to be here. The theme of this year's conference, "Engineering Support for Trade and Development in Cameroon," is of vital importance to our country and to the entire African continent. At the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, as we work to strengthen democracies around the world, assisting civil society organizations, political parties, legislatures, and elections, we also recognize that these steps cannot be taken in a vacuum because the development of a country's economy enhances prospects for democracy to flourish. In this era of globalization, the development of Cameroon and the entire continent cannot occur without well-established trade relationships between North and South countries, as well as within the African continent itself. There can be no meaningful development without trade and there can be no trade without adequate and reliable infrastructure.

Today, Africa and its 800 million people, represents only a very small portion of global trade. According to the latest statistics from the World Trade Organization, Africa accounts for less than 2.2 percent of the world's exports and 2.1 percent of its imports 1. The question that must be asked is: given all of the natural and human resources at Africa's disposal, why are these figures so low? The third UN Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDCs) addressed this question and described the problems faced by LDCs in terms of "extreme poverty, the structural weakness of their economies.limited human, institutional and productive capacity; natural and man-made disasters and communicable diseases; limited access to education, health and other social services; poor infrastructure; and lack of access to information and communication technologies." 2 The limited human, institutional and productive capacity referred to in the program of action results in very high unemployment for the African continent. The rate of unemployment is a bleak reality for Africa as statistics show that 500 million people or approximately 65 percent of the continent's population live on less then $2 a day. Young people are particularly at risk, comprising approximately 60 percent of all unemployed persons in several African countries 3. The unemployment rate in Cameroon, for example, stands at 30 percent. 4

Poor infrastructure is a key impediment to Africa's development. I realize the disparity in GNP between the two countries — Sweden and Cameroon — that have the same size, but a comparison between them demonstrates the stark lack of physical infrastructure in Cameroon. With a population of 8.9 million inhabitants, Sweden has approximately 6 million main telephone lines and 29 Internet service providers, while Cameroon, with 16 million inhabitants, has only 95,000 telephone lines and one Internet provider. Sweden has approximately 11,500 km of railways compared to Cameroon's 1,010 km; 212,400 km of highways compared to our 34,300 km; and over 200 airports of all categories compared to our 24 or so 5. Comparing a developing country to a developed one may seem like comparing apples and oranges, but it does demonstrate the long road ahead for Cameroon and other African countries, if we are to create the infrastructure necessary to support sustainable development.

Cameroon is not alone to suffer such infrastructural shortcomings. Other countries, both developed and less developed, at one point or another faced similar challenges. The test for our country and its leadership is how we grow from a developing country with scarce resources into one that has the infrastructure to service and improve the lives and well-being of our people.

Some of you may have read about the Great Depression that the United States experienced in the late 1920s, and President Franklin Roosevelt's efforts to launch programs that created jobs and fostered a sense of pride in American workers. FDR focused on public works projects. He created the Civil Works Administration, the Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Tennessee Valley Authority Agency, and the Rural Electrification Administration - all programs with a heavy emphasis on engineering and infrastructural development, with the overall objective of creating employment opportunities and using the nation's workforce to create sustainable communities. These new agencies were tasked with repairing roads and bridges or building new ones, building schools and low cost public housing, creating the infrastructure necessary to take electricity to rural areas or building dams to provide stable irrigation sources and cheap hydroelectric power.

One of these programs, the Civilian Conservation Corps, may have looked trivial at its launching, but turned out to be one of the most popular programs for unemployed youth. The CCC provided temporary employment to unmarried men from the ages of 18 to 25 over an eight-year period. Members of the CCC worked for the National Park Service; they also worked on the construction and maintenance of dams, park roads, water supply systems, sewers, and incinerators and other waste disposal systems, bridges and campgrounds so Americans could enjoy the beauty of their national parks. In addition to its primary purpose of relief, the conservation work was viewed by many Americans as resuscitating the health and morale of a large portion of the youth, fitting them better to be leaders of the future, and helping rebuild their confidence in the nation. The work of the CCC continues to be important in many parts of the United States today.

There are also important lessons to be drawn from the relevance of engineering and how Europe developed from a largely rural agricultural economy into the urban market driven economy that it is today. You may have read about the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century and how it marked a shift in European society, moving it from a rural handicraft economy to an urban manufacturing one. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, coal replaced humans and animals as the source of power to run machines, and the centralized factory system replaced the distributed home-centered system of production. Another important milestone in European development occurred after World War II — a war that caused massive physical destruction, economic decline, and a breakdown of moral, social, and commercial life across Europe. War-damaged industries needed machinery and capital to resume production. The U.S. worked with European leaders to design a plan to rebuild continental Europe. This idea, commonly known as the Marshall Plan, called for the U.S. to provide massive aid and assist war-torn Europe in economic recovery and reconstruction. In the four years of the Marshall Plan's implementation, U.S. $13.3 billion was spent on European recovery, providing critically needed infrastructure and materials to resume the production of goods and services.

Today, African leaders are searching for ways to create sustainable development across the continent. President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, for example, is considering using the New Deal model to boost the economy, and create jobs and development in his country. He plans to spend $15 billion over the next five years on infrastructure including rural electrification and improved rail links in the hopes of creating one million new jobs. He wants to reduce poverty and joblessness by 50 percent by 2014.

In addition to solutions for individual countries, African Nations are looking at regional approaches to development, especially on matters of trade and infrastructure. For example, West African leaders within the ECOWAS framework have agreed to designate the building of infrastructure — improvement of road and telecommunications networks and the provision of energy at affordable costs — as a high priority. ECOWAS plans to construct two highway networks with a trans-coastal highway linking Lagos, Nigeria, to Nouakchott, Mauritania, and a trans-Sahelian highway linking Dakar, Senegal, to N'Djamena, Chad. Other projects include further developing the energy sector through the construction of hydroelectric dams and thermal plants, and a West African Gas Pipeline that will service Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana, using natural gas, which is both inexpensive and environmentally friendly. All of these projects require the consummate skills of engineers in various areas of expertise.

In the same light, continent-wide initiatives of the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) seek to improve the socio-economic environment through regional integration, good governance and improved public-private partnerships. In its Short Term Action Plan for Infrastructure, NEPAD has defined the following key sectors of infrastructure as fundamental to the promotion of regional integration on the continent: energy; water; transport; and information and communications technology. NEPAD has stated that the "development of regional infrastructure is critical for sustaining regional economic development and trade. The potential for promoting regional integration in Africa through the sharing of the production, management and operations of infrastructure facilities and through hubs, development corridors or poles is considerable." 6 The Power Pool plan and the West African gas pipeline of ECOWAS countries are but a small part of NEPAD's efforts to increase the efficiency of the energy sector. Other projects that NEPAD is overseeing include construction of an oil pipeline between Kenya and Uganda, and a feasibility study for connecting the energy systems of East, West, and Central Africa. NEPAD has also developed a plan for the transport sector, based along the following themes:

1) trade corridors without borders and barriers;
2) better and safer roads to bring Africa together;
3) competitive and seamless rail services;
4) safe seas and efficient and safe ports; and
5) safe, secure and efficient skies and airports.

Several projects are underway to achieve these goals including upgrading the 160 km Mamfe-Enugu road, which is meant to connect Cameroon and Nigeria.

Where do all of these plans, lessons, and models for development leave us in Cameroon? Is Cameroon taking full advantage of opportunities to gain a foothold in the global marketplace? How well are Cameroonian businesses using the African Growth and Opportunities Act (or AGOA) to export goods to the U.S. duty free? AGOA may have helped Cameroon increase the value of exports by $29 million between 2001 and 2002 as some statistics show, but has there been a multiplier effect back home in terms of growth in employment and manufacturing? How sustainable are the encouraging signs that some have alluded to in terms of Cameroon's recovery with approximately $50 million of debt forgiveness by the World Bank and an additional $2 billion of debt relief under the HIPC plan? What bearing do statistics of annual growth rates have on the daily lives of ordinary citizens? What has been the value-added of the construction of the Chad-Cameroon pipeline to the Cameroonian economy in terms of jobs and new engineering skills? How many Cameroonians have been hired and trained for technical and engineering positions on the project, and how many local businesses have benefited through expenditures associated with the project?

So far we have heard government plans in the five sectors of infrastructure development outlined in the NEPAD action plan. In the energy sector, the Cameroonian government has announced a plan to build a repair yard for oil platforms in order to take advantage of the increasing hydrocarbons activity in the Gulf of Guinea. We have heard, for several years now, about a desire to improve performance in the transport sector through the restructuring of the national airlines and national port; and we have seen the privatization of the national railroads through a management agreement with CAMRAIL. South Africa is not the only country that can benefit from the New Deal model. Cameroon too can use this model to create badly needed infrastructure, provide electricity, preserve our forests, protect our water supplies and create a sense of community while drastically lowering the unemployment rate, especially among the young people of our country.

You only have to travel by road from Maroua through Garoua down to Ngaoundere on the one major road that links the three northern provinces to the rest of the country, or from Yaounde to Abong Mbang and Bertoua in the East Province, or even try crossing the one bridge that we have had since independence over the Wouri River into the commercial capital of Douala, to see for yourselves how staggering the needs are. You only have to experience the power outages in Yaounde, Douala and Limbe to imagine the negative impact that a shortage or rationing of electricity can have on businesses and life in general.

Much work remains ahead for our country. The expertise of engineers such as here gathered will be crucial in bringing sustainable development to our country. We cannot afford to become complacent. We must all work together to grow Cameroon, most importantly for Cameroonian entrepreneurs, but also to make the country more attractive to foreign investors. Cameroon needs you to prepare her to benefit from NEPAD initiatives toward improving the various sectors of infrastructural development. We need to work with the AU, ECOWAS, CEMAC and other regional organizations to increase regional integration. Cameroon needs engineers to assess and advise the private and, even more importantly, the public sector on projects that could have the greatest impact on building communities and protecting Cameroon's natural resources. This entails that we have a political leadership that listens and values the input of the engineering sector. We need to lobby and help educate our government to allocate resources in a way that puts the country to work in constructing roads and bridges, developing and diversifying our energy resources, protecting our forests, and the multitude of other projects that will improve our country, help it find a place in the global marketplace, and revive hope for a brighter future among our increasingly desperate and destitute younger generation.

While these challenges may seem daunting, they are not insurmountable. Several countries that are now part of the developed world have faced similar challenges and were able to emerge from them stronger and more united. In this country (the United States), that is so hospitable to all of us, the stock market crash of October 1929 began a dark period of history known as the Great Depression. During that period people lost jobs in great numbers, reaching a peak at one point with over 25 percent of the American workforce unemployed.7 People lost all of their savings as banks crashed too. Homeowners and farmers could no longer pay mortgages. During that entire time, then-U.S. President Herbert Hoover believed that the government should play only a very limited role in helping the nation to recover. Herbert Hoover was wrong; and when given the opportunity, the people of the United States voted him out of office in favor of a dynamic new leader, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who promised "a new deal for the American people". At his second inaugural address, Franklin Roosevelt said, "I see one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little".8 At some point in Cameroon's history, if not now, our country will face that test of progress; and I would like to hope that with the help of each and every one of you here, we will meet the challenge and be the shining example on the African continent that we rightly and proudly should be. We must use your talents and expertise as engineers; your patriotism, love of country and desire to give back something to our communities and those we left behind, to develop and promote our country and our continent. I know that the Cameroonian Society of Engineers is already working on several projects that will contribute to these noble goals. I thank you most sincerely for your steadfastness of purpose, and look forward to a rich and rewarding future for your association and our country.

Thank you.



[1] 1 Table 1.8 of World Trade in 2002 - Overview by WTO.

[2] Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, Program of Action For The Least Developed Countries, adopted in Brussels on 20 May 2001.

[3] ILO factsheet on Poverty in Africa.

[4] CIA World Factbook on Cameroon.

[5] Facts from CIA world factbook.

[6] NEPAD exec summary pg 2.

[7] Learning Page from LOC "Great Depression and WWII, 1929-1945".

[8] Washington post pg 4.