Cameroon’s long-serving Nonagenarian President Paul Biya has talked up the dangers of fleeing the country in search of “greener pasture” as he addressed Cameroonian youths on the occasion of the 2024 National Youth Day.
Cameroon has in recent decades seen a surge in youth emigration, with the International Organization for Migration reporting that Cameroon had an estimated 381,984 international migrants in 2015, representing a 32.13% increase from 2010 when the number was 289,091.
Some of those fleeing the country are skilled workers, leaving the country in dire need of skilled labor.
According to the Cameroon Medical Association, some 4,200 Cameroonian doctors, mostly specialists, have chosen to work abroad, leaving the country with a mere 800 doctors-too small a number to cater to the health needs of a rising Cameroonian population.
The doctor-patient ratio in urban areas for instance stands at one doctor for every 10,000 to 20,000 inhabitants. It’s even worse in rural areas where one doctor has to take charge of every 40,000 to 50,000 people.
The trend indicates a growing desire among Cameroonian youths to explore opportunities beyond their home country. Economic factors, political instability, and limited job prospects often drive young people to seek greener pastures elsewhere.
Figures from the Cameroon National Institute of Statistics indicate that approximately 11% of Cameroonian youths aged 15 to 29 years are unemployed, particularly in urban areas. Additionally, underemployment affects approximately 94% of young people aged 15 to 19 years and 84% of those between 20 and 24 years. While this data doesn’t directly represent the percentage of youths who want to leave the country, it highlights the challenges faced by young Cameroonians in terms of employment opportunities.
Mr. Biya, who has been in power for over 41 years and still seems poised to take another mandate in 2025, told Cameroon’s young people that he understands their plight, but moving out of the country isn’t the only option.
“The growing desire of a fringe of our youths to emigrate to other countries is increasingly a cause for concern, especially when it becomes an obsession and even affects people who are well integrated into their local communities,” Biya said.
“Obviously, our country, like many others around the world, is facing difficulties. However, leaving is not always the solution. Emigrate? Yes, but not at all costs,” he warned.
He talked about “the illusions and perils of emigration at all costs,” but stopped short of giving details. But it was clearly a reference to the hundreds of especially African emigrants who have died by drowning in the high seas or died from thirst and starvation as they struggle to get to Europe through the Sahara.
Mr. Biya said it was ironical that as Cameroonians desperately want to leave the country, “many foreigners are trying to settle in Cameroon, thereby confirming that ours is a hospitable country and a land of opportunities.”
Yet, the President didn’t come up with any actionable strategies to retain and empower young Cameroonians. The president surprised many when he referenced iconic heavy weight lifter and boxer, Francis Ngannou, a man who had to take to the dangerous high seas through Lampedusa to change his fortunes and become a global household name.
Instead, a recent slur of measures designed to increase government revenue are likely to drive up emigration. Government recently removed or at least reduced government subsidies on fuel and jacked up taxes, thereby making the environment even more hostile to the emergence of the private sector which is critical to youth employment.
Also, Biya failed to mention any plans of a generational transition-an omission that further tells Cameroonian youths that they cannot aspire to positions of leadership in a country where for decades; they have been described as ‘leaders of tomorrow.”
Paul Biya is already 91 years old. He came to power on November 6, 1982, when 60% of Cameroon’s population (they are under 40 years) weren’t yet born. Avoiding talking about the possibility of younger leader taking over is a clear message that this chunk of the population could still be excluded from public life.