Government’s Offensive Moves to Valorize Craft Work

The government has devised several means of putting Cameroon’s handicraft sector in the international scene. By creating a whole ministerial department in 2004 to cater for the handicraft sector, President Paul Biya had a foresight to diversify the country’s economy and add value to Cameroon’s handicraft.

Shawn-Nathan EPANG

The government of Cameroon is conscious of the important role the handicraft sector plays in the economic life of the nation. This explains why in 2004, the President of the Republic created the Ministry of Small and Medium –sized Enterprises, Social Economy and Handicraft with the objective to promote not only small and medium sized enterprises but also the artisanal sub-sector. Since the creation of the Ministry, the handicraft sector which hitherto was obscured, now has its head above the waters. Made in Cameroon handicraft products are making waves across the world thanks to the vibrant promotional strategies put in place to valorize the sector which statistics from the Ministry of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, Social Economy and Handicraft say injected FCFA 1.6 billion into the national economy in 2017.

In a bid to give handicraft a new impetus, the government decentralized the sector by creating Artisanal centers in all the ten regions of the country. This, government sources explained, was to bring craftsmen together on the same platform at the local level. Apart from regional handicraft centers, there is also annual divisional and regional handicraft fairs that bring together artisans from the nooks and crannies of the country to showcase their work and share experiences.

Apart from the artisanal centers dotted in all the ten regions, the government also created a virtual gallery of Cameroon’s craftwork. That is to say, an online platform that exposes and markets Cameroon’s artisanal know-how to the international community with just a click on the internet.

At the national level, the International Craft Exhibition Fair code named SAIC was in its 6th edition this year. The bi-annual event which took place at the Yaounde Conference Centre on April 26 till May 5, 2018 was another opportunity for artisans to showcase their savvy in the domain and create business contacts. For the past ten years, SIAC has proven to be a veritable avenue for the craft men and women to reap from their sweat. Statistics from the Ministry further reveals that artisans who participated in the 2016 SIAC sold articles amounting to over FCFA 60 million. With such records, the objectives of the exhibition fair which includes amongst others encouraging Cameroonian label, valorizing Cameroonian arts and culture, promoting artisanal trade are largely attained. This year’s edition focused on the fair trade of handicraft works as it has been observed that middlemen make fortunes from the business while craftsmen wallow in abject poverty. Thus the theme “African Craft and Fair Trade: Stakes and Perspectives” was timely as the government wants its craftsmen to live decent lives.  According to the Minister of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, Social Economy and Handicraft, Laurent Serge Etoundi Ngoa, 510 exhibitors from Cameroon, Africa and elsewhere attended the handicraft fair. At the end of it, the Minister of External Relations, Lejuene Mbella Mbella took engagements alongside his colleague of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, Social Economy and Handicraft to use Cameroon diplomatic missions abroad (Embassies and consulates) as market place for Cameroon handicraft works in a bid to give it more visibility.

It should be noted that Cameroonian craftsmen have not only limited their scope at home but have also been taking part in international exhibitions thanks to government’s push to promote Cameroon handicraft sector. In 2016 for example, Cameroonian craftsmen won four prizes at the Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) International Handicraft Exhibition for creativity and innovation.

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