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“Provide Assets To Businesses Not Cash”

Marvin R.R. Cole, Chief Executive Officer, OVAMBA

What is your view on the situation of SMEs in Cameroon as far as financing is concerned ? The situation is not so good and it is not good anywhere in the world because majority of companies all over the world struggle to get finances. It is everywhere, Nigeria, South Africa, America, Europe, China, Japan etc. I think Cameroon is more difficult in that the burden of being a professional organised business is very high, because of the rules.  But often I think the company start with a great idea based on what they see as objective. Locally it could be the city, quarter or in Cameroon generally. However the people they go to for money have experiences from the outside world that thousands of them may not work.  Can you give a brief balance-sheet of your activities in Cameroon ? We are an international company that provide assets or the things that businesses need to grow. If you are a trader, we buy your inventory for you and sell to you with a margin, if you are a manufacturer, we buy the equipment and raw materials, and if a farmer we buy your input like fertilizer, tractor etc. when businesses ask for money it means they want to buy something and we give them the direct benefit but not the cash because we are not a bank, a lender or a microfinance. We work out capital issues for them by giving them what they need to grow their businesses. For the past four years, we have been very successful by bringing international investors to Cameroon, which brought in a bit more than 30 million Euros into the country and we have helped SMEs get access to money through us. In my view, there is actually a lot of cash in Cameroon and what is missing is usually trust for the people that have the money.  For lending to be successful, there should be radical transparency.  Are you aware of the bank set up in Cameroon to assist SMEs, if yes, what is your appraisal? Yes. It is really a great effort, but in nowhere in the world are governments able to create start-ups but it can only create a system that removes barriers to their favour. I think that is the primary role of the government. So, government is doing a great job of simplifying information and creating SME bank. But this is why I think the steps to the SME initiative comes down to the right SME team which should be able to be strong enough. Business in my view should be one that is strong enough on its own so that when the government removes the barriers, the businessman then work to build a very strong and capable system.       What advice to SMEs and start-ups ? The biggest advice is embrace criticism, take your ideas to the public place and if anyone tells you why it will fail, listen, think about it and develop how to make that point impossible for you so that your business works. The worst thing is to take gold-digging idea and everyone says it is a good idea. If everyone says it is a good idea, then something is wrong.  Interviewed by Jean Baptiste Ketchateng   

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