Dutch representatives check out investment options in the country.
Dutch investors in Cameroon
Delegates from 11 Dutch companies are touring Cameroon in a probe to determine suitable potential business prospects in the central African country. The mission, slated to close by 28 May, was flagged off by the Netherlands-African Business Council, a conglomeration of Dutch companies who have been on the lookout for suitable business opportunities in various parts of Africa.
During the course of the visit, the group of businessmen had arranged meeting with numerous local businessmen and government officials. Ben Zwinkels, the head of the mission, has keyed in on the sectors which has a lot to offer to interested Dutch investors. “Trade and logistics”, he says without any further doubts.
The Netherlands-African Business Council promotes trade and investment from Dutch companies and supports African countries in their diplomatic and economic tie-ups with the Netherlands. It is a mutually beneficial arrangement since African companies in return get to connect to a network of more than 2500 European companies.
Now Senior Investment Officer at the entrepreneurial development bank of the Netherlands, FMO, Ben Zwinkels, marked the start of his glorious professional career in Cameroon. This, he says has always kept the country close to his heart and he still remains close to the country and its people.
Zwinkels stepped into the sands of Cameroon for the first time in 1975. A University freshman, the 26-year-old was on the lookout for adventure and that was when he came across the news about the opening of a Financial Controller position in Cameroon. “I thought to myself: what is Cameroon?” says Zwinkels as he remembers those days. He had to search for quite sometime on the Atlas before he could locate where the country was.
Love for the country
After three months of tropical research in Amsterdam, Zwinkels came to Cameroon with his wife, Marcelle. His work was mostly in Kumba, a remote village in the Anglophone South-Western province. “It was very hot and there were no infrastructures”, Zwinkels remembers.
Nevertheless, he resided in the country and, for four years, he was employed as an auditor and financial controller for a company resetting 27 small banks. In spite of the challenging environment, he had a great time at work. “We were giving loans to the most disadvantaged people. We were helping them start their own farms, for instance. Today, I am happy to see that these microloans helped people send their children to school, and these children are now high ranking officials in government”, he says.
Doing Business in Cameroon
Today, Zwinkels is a senior investment officer at the FMO which provides availability of to long-term credit for Dutch companies. Since 1982, he has been synergizing in business efforts with 30 African countries including Cameroon. He is therefore proficient in addressing most of the challenges that come with businesses in Africa would be a useful resource for the Dutch companies who are seeking to invest in the country.
“There is a lack of basic infrastructures such as roads. Companies would make less profit than in other countries like Tunisia, for instance. Elsewhere, there are investor-friendly customs and taxation policies in place. However, taxes in Cameroon are too high and it’s not easy to operate legitimately,” remarks Zwinkels, hinting at the corruption that is quite common among government officials in all levels in the country.
“I respect people but I find it unacceptable to be expected to pay someone 3 to 5 euros to do his job”, he says.
Development Not Good Enough
As he takes a walk down memory lane, Zwinkels is disheartened because “in 30 years, there haven’t been much infrastructural developments in Cameroon even though they were planned”. He has numerous examples to showcase in this regard like, the road connecting Loum to Kumba, in the South-Western province. “It is vital for the country because it connects the francophone and Anglophone regions. The government committed to paving that road in 1980 but in 2011, it is still not paved”, Zwinkels whines.
He had regularly penned letters with suggestions to various ministers, and even to the Prime Minister of Cameroon, but the letters had no significant effect.
The lighter side
However, the condition is not as worse as it looks. “The positive aspect that I really appreciate here is the hardworking Cameroonian people, especially women. They are able to support their families with little means. I think this country can easily become an emerging economy: it all rests on the education of the young generation”, Zwinkels says.
He continues: “Cameroon also has high quality agricultural products but they are not marketed adequately. There is also a shortage of packaging. The Netherlands has huge capabilities in both trade and logistics, and there are many opportunities in Cameroon for a company specialising in logistics and the transformation of agricultural products.” Besides, these investments could be a big relief in improving the job opportunities in the country.
A Cameroonian at heart
Zwinkels always shared a deep mental closeness with his adopted African country. Even after he was asked to relocate to Tunisia in a similar profile, he used to regularly make use of any chance to come back to Cameroon. Today, he talks about Cameroonians as “we” and insists that “after practically living there for more than 30 years, I consider myself a Cameroonian. My wife and I own a house in Bamenda (in the North-Western province) and we have a family in Cameroon.”
His wife, Marcelle, has been employed in the aviation industry for more than 25 years and presently runs her own travel agency. Zwinkels Tours Cameroon, the agency “brings around 500 tourists to the country every year. It’s not much, but we believe it has the potential to grow further”, Zwinkels says.Pin It