Lots of activity in southern Cameroon

Feb 27, 1997 01:00 AM

Kribi was a small seaside resort and port in southern Cameroon and used to be considered a backwater, but businesses are now lining up to invest in it. Real estate developers have been moving into the town and, over the past year, hotels, restaurants and recreational centres have been mushrooming.The change in Kribi's fortunes has to do with its confirmation in 1995 as the site of the terminal of a petroleum pipeline between Cameroon and landlocked Chad and with the development of the Ebome oil field, located 10 km from the town of 20,000 people.
The interest was evident on Feb. 21 when thousands of people, from entrepreneurs and architects to politicians, drove to the town, which is 325 kms by road from the capital, Yaounde, to see President Paul Biya inaugurate the Ebome offshore oil field.
Ebome's three wells, which were already working before the inauguration, have the capacity to produce 10,000 bpd, which is about one-tenth of the total national production.
The latest figures on Cameroon's proven oil reserves date back to 1994, when they were estimated at 311 million barrels.
Ebome's exploitation has been made possible by the injection of 15 billion CFA francs (about $ 30 million) by Cameroon's National Hydro-Carbon's Corporation (SNH), Mobil, and Perencot Consortium of France. Petroleum and spin-off activities are expected to generate some 3,000 jobs in Kribi, whose attractions also include nearby deposits of natural gas, estimated at more than 100 bncm. Another reason for the interest in the town is that it will host the terminal of a 1,000 km pipeline through which Chad will export its oil. The terminal's construction is scheduled to begin soon. Municipal authorities are only now battling to provide modern facilities in Kribi, even though its palm-fringed beaches have attracted many tourists over the years, while Cameroon's largest rubber production company, Hevecam, is just 15 km away.
Minko is confident his team will be up to the task, with the help of business people. "Most of the investors coming in are willing to raise the finances that will be needed for social projects," he says. "So we are coming up with giant plan that should transform Kribi into a modern city by the year 2000."
It is too early to tell whether Kribi will be an exception to the general picture in Cameroon, where oil revenue has bolstered macroeconomic indicators but exacerbated structural problems.
The fragility of the country's oil-dependent development strategy was underscored when the economy went into a free-fall between 1986 and 1989, due partly to declining world market oil prices and reduced petroleum production.

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