© Ross and Helen photographers
By entering the formal market, Cameroonian businesses and their employees may gain access to loans, insurance and legal protection even amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Over 25,000 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Cameroon have joined the formal sector by registering their operations through UNCTAD’s eRegistrations online platform launched in the country in 2016.
The platform has allowed residents of Douala, Yaoundé, Garoua and surrounding regions to conveniently register businesses and create jobs even amid the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Funded by the European Union, the platform is marketed by the national SME promotion agency (APME) as mybusiness.cm, via its network of business creation centres (CFCEs).
Cameroonian SMEs mostly operate in the informal sector, limiting interactions with public authorities. By formalizing their operations, the SMEs and their employees may have access to loans, insurance and legal protection, and contribute taxes and social security.
The use of the platform has also led to the standardization of operations in the CFCEs. The automation of business registration online means the process can be finalized within 72 hours. This compares favourably with the 3.1-day average across the European Union.
Real-time and accurate data on businesses
The platform offers real-time and accurate data on the businesses being created across the north, central and coastal regions of Cameroon.
“We can now collect information on what companies are being created and in which sectors. We also know more about the age, gender and location of our entrepreneurs. This is going to help us design our economic policies, particularly for our post-COVID-19 recovery,” said Jean-Marie Badga, director-general of APME.
The shift from paper-based systems to an online platform has brought other benefits too.
“With an online platform my staff could continue operating during the COVID-19 crisis. Further, this tool helped them become more productive. They spend more time advising entrepreneurs and less time doing administration,” Mr. Badga added.
Private sector adoption surges
The platform has been enthusiastically adopted by Cameroon’s private sector. Accountant Aboubakar Ousmane, 28, helps clients create 20 to 30 companies a year.
“The MyBusiness platform allowed me to save time and money,” he says. “I can submit my file through my office and follow it without travelling and the feedback allows me to know precisely when to go to the CFCE to withdraw my file.”
“I think that we must encourage the use of this platform both for (business services) professionals and the average Cameroonian, who will find enormous advantages,” he said.
Katie Taga manages a construction company set up through the platform. “I could get the documents necessary to launch my business in 72 hours. With the platform, business owners save time and money. We should encourage more of such initiatives here.”
Since 2016, the European Union has supported Cameroon to strengthen the capacities of its economic operators and to promote an institutional environment that is more conducive to business.
The European delegation in the country recently announced that the programme, in the three regions, had achieved positive results and that it would be extended to four other CFCEs, in Maroua, Limbe, Bertoua and Ngaoundere.
It said the extension would be an opportunity to improve the platform by integrating more services set aside during its pilot phase.