How the Diaspora Contributes to Development in Cameroon

The ‘Sisters Hospital’, as it is known locally in Yaoundé, Cameroon is situated on Ngvobeti hill, one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in the city. You have to drive up and down the hill through dusty dirt roads to get to its entrance and yet, those who come to the hospital for medical care rarely arrive by car. Most simply walk and sometimes they arrive too late, when there is little that can be done but pray.

Sister Cristina Antolin, a Spanish national and doctor, established the St. Martin de Porres Hospital in Ngvobeti in 2008 after realizing there was no other health facility serving the area. It started off as a small facility where those in need of medical care were treated for very little cost. In just a few years, the hospital has significantly grown in capacity and today it receives over 350 patients per day and counts at least 150 staff, including doctors and nurses. However, the hospital has very few pediatricians in proportion to the number of children who need medical attention. There is no experienced radiologist and nurses are doing their best to carry out anesthesia in the absence of a specialized anesthetist.

Young European volunteers have been coming to spend several weeks during the summer months to help the sisters improve and expand the services provided to patients. According to Sister Cristina, this has proven to be quite helpful.

However, there is now a group of people willing to contribute to Cameroonian development through building the capacities of its human capital. One such individual is Dr. Chantale Fridoline Ebongo, an anesthetist/reanimation doctor of the Cameroonian diaspora in Belgium, who joined the IOM Migration for Development in Africa (MIDA) project to temporarily return to her country of origin to bring back some of her ‘savoir faire’ and to build up local capacities.

Dr. Ebongo was recently in Yaoundé for two weeks during which she worked very closely with other medical practitioners at the Sisters Hospital and delivered trainings for the nurses ensuring that her extensive knowledge was shared with the local staff. Sister Cristina was very happy with Dr. Ebongo’s asssignment saying, “Having someone who knows the culture helps a lot, as they can easily integrate and be effective even on short term missions.”

Dr. Ebongo left Cameroon for Belgium in the 80s and belongs to the diaspora group known as ‘boursistes’ – young Cameroonians who benefitted from scholarships to study in Europe and never came back to their country of origin. She is well connected and integrated with the Cameroonian diaspora in Brussels. “I am very satisfied to be bringing back something to my country of origin. Many Cameroonians living abroad would love to contribute to their countries of origin development but they simply do not know how to do so.” “To date there is no well-planned government strategy to allow the capitalization of diaspora potential,” she added.

Things, however, are changing.

The Government of Cameroon is aware of the need to develop such a strategy. The MIDA Project, implemented by IOM in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, supports the Government to develop a diaspora mobilization strategy specifically focused on the return of qualified nationals. IOM has long lasting expertise in diaspora engagement and knowledge transfer; it has implemented MIDA projects in several African countries, including Ghana and the Great Lakes Region since the end of the 90’s.

During its pilot phase in Cameroon, the project facilitates 12 Cameroonian specialists in the health and education sectors to return to Cameroon and help build up the human capital much needed by the country. Experts are selected among diaspora members in France and Belgium who have expressed interest and whose qualifications respond to the identified needs.

Dr. Ebongo was the first of seven doctors who will temporarily return to Yaoundé to support the Sisters Hospital and the Yaoundé Central Hospital. Other five experts will be deployed to the National Polytechnic School of Excellence in Yaoundé.

“I believe diaspora can play a very important role in building national human capital and I am ready and willing to continue such collaboration with IOM in the future,” said Prof. Awono, Director of the National Polytechnic School.

According to national estimates, Cameroonian diaspora accounts for about 4 million people. Over a million live and work within Africa while the rest can be found in France, Belgium, Germany, Cameroun, Canada and the United States.