Cameroon:SMEs Must Innovate to Survive Past COVID-19 – Experts Say at SBEC Webinar

By Boris Esono Nwenfor

Participants at the SBE Webinar on Surviving Beyond the COVID 19 Pandemic as an Entrepreneur in Cameroon

(Yaounde, Cameroon) Entrepreneurs say innovation is very important to ensure that businesses survive through this present health pandemic. The entrepreneurs were speaking during the webinar “Surviving Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic as an Entrepreneur in Cameroon” this September 11, 2020, organized by the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Centre, SBEC of the Denis and Lenora Foretia Foundation.

According to the speakers, the COVID pandemic has come with a lot of issues and businesses have to adapt to ensure they are there for the long haul. It has been a tough period to many businesses, with some born at the heart of the pandemic.

SMEs represent about 90 per cent of Africa’s business and provide about 60 per cent of jobs on the continent. According to a World Bank 2020 report, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic is an economic crisis that could cause sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP growth rate to drop from 2.4 per cent in 2019 to -5.1 per cent in 2020.

“Innovation is the key for businesses. If you are not innovative you risk going out of business in the long run,” Nji Mabih Helvisia, Entrepreneur and Founder of Mabs & Smalls Kitchen said. “No matter how small it is, every day make sure that there are things that you are adding to the market. Nothing can stop people from going down. You have to be faster than the COVID pandemic.”

She added: “Being an entrepreneur in Cameroon is not easy with so many restrictions that are in place, the business persons say. SMEs have to go beyond the difficulty and give their best in everything that they do which will involve them being innovative and be smart about their activities.”

The government has moved to assist some of the SMEs to help them survive post-COVID. The government has put in place FCFA 25 billion for businesses with bad debts. “The government has moved to suspend the paying of property tax. This tax was unusually paid in June but has been postponed. Businesses that gave grants to the government to help them provide for the needy have had their taxes being reduced. Those involved in the hospitality sector have also benefited. The tourist tax has been exempted for some businesses for the next three quarters of the year. Others have also been exempted to pay the parking tax or discharge tax,” Dr Neba Noela Buwah, Lecturer UB and a Research Associate at the Nkafu Policy Institute noted.  

The COVID-19 has led to a change in the habits of many customers. Things that used to be the norm before the COVID have drastically reduced, while other norms have slowly entered the attitude of many. “SMEs need to change with the mindset of the customers. Businesses cannot continue doing the work as before when others continue to change. SMEs need to also check on the safety of their workers to make sure that they are all secured. They can buy masks, or use hand sanitizers. When the employee is sick it goes around affecting the businesses,” Dr Neba Noela said.

Many of the entrepreneurs have had to result online to carry out their business. This involves the use of social media sites to help them sell their businesses. “With the COVID pandemic, many customers have withdrawn from visiting some places physically. To survive I have had to carry my works online to survive with the use of social media sites,” Yongwa Guilaine, Entrepreneur, Beautician and CEO of Guika said.

The COVID-19 was first detected in March in Cameroon with its first case. The Minister of Public Health puts the number of cases in the country so far at twenty thousand. Cameroon is one of the most affected cases in Sub-Saharan Africa and the first in the CEMAC sector.

The Cameroon government in curbing the pandemic moved to put some stringent measures. These involve the reduction in gatherings and contacts amongst persons. In a study conducted by GAICAM, 92% said the COVID-19 was very harmful while 42% said it has hurt their results. Majority of companies have had to institute a work from home policy, all in a bit to prevent the spread of the virus.

“I think it is time for the Cameroon government to overhaul the taxation system, indeed the current taxation systems need to be phased out,” Arnold Epanty, a participant advised.

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