For a quarter-century following independence, Cameroon was one of the most prosperous countries in Africa. The drop in commodity prices for its principal exports —petroleum, cocoa, coffee, and cotton — in the mid-1980s, combined with an overvalued currency and economic mismanagement, led to a decade-long recession. Real per capita GDP fell by more than 60% from 1986 to 1994. The current account and fiscal deficits widened, and foreign debt grew. Yet because of its oil resources and favorable agricultural conditions, Cameroon still has one of the best-endowed primary commodity economies in sub-Saharan Africa.
The government embarked upon a series of economic reform programs supported by the World Bank and IMF beginning in the late 1980s. Many of these measures have been painful; the government slashed civil service salaries by 65% in 1993. The CFA franc — the common currency of Cameroon and 13 other African states — was devalued by 50% in January 1994. The government failed to meet the conditions of the first four IMF programs.
Recent signs, however, are encouraging. As of March 1998, Cameroon's fifth IMF program — a 3-year enhanced structural adjustment program approved in August 1997 — is on track. Cameroon has rescheduled its Paris Club debt at favorable terms. GDP has grown by about 5% a year beginning in 1995. There is cautious optimism that Cameroon is emerging from its long period of economic hardship.
The Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) signed recently by the IMF and Government of Cameroon calls for greater macroeconomic planning and financial accountability; privatization of most of Cameroon's nearly 100 remaining non-financial parastatal enterprises; elimination of state marketing board monopolies on the export of cocoa, certain coffees, and cotton; privatization and price competition in the banking sector; implementation of the 1992 labor code; a vastly improved judicial system; and political liberalization to boost investment.
France is Cameroon's main trading partner and source of private investment and foreign aid. Cameroon has an investment guaranty agreement and a bilateral accord with the United States. USA investment in Cameroon is about $1 million, most of it in the oil sector. Inflation has been brought back under control.