The Africa Cup of Nations competition is days away, and the fever is already gripping Cameroonians, especially businesses. They have their eyes on a revival and boost in revenue.
The 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), Africa's men's football championship organized by the Confederation of African Football (CAF), is set to kick off on Sunday.
Even before a ball is kicked, the AFCON soccer tournament is already breathing some life back into businesses in Cameroon.
Tens of thousands of fans are expected to visit Cameroon to cheer their national teams, and with that comes the potential of economic boost for businesses.
Some locals are already switching businesses, like 23-year old Issa Hamadou, who used to trade in boiled eggs in Yaounde.
He has now turned to sportswear because of the impending football event and believes it's a profitable business now that games are starting.
"I sell jerseys like those of Cameroon, Senegal, Ivory Coast— in fact, the jerseys of all 24 countries participating in this year's AFCON," Hamadou told DW.
He said he believes "the competition will generate a lot of enthusiasm. If the [Cameroon's Indomitable] Lions win, the country will benefit a lot. The price of jerseys will rise, and we will make more money."
Hamadou is not the only one getting ready for the AFCON. Many hotels and local trading premises are seeing significant renovation work to broaden the customer base and hopefully increase profits.
At the Melen neighborhood in Yaounde, a bar owner is also giving her structure a facelift — a new coat of paint, new furniture, and the pace of renovations have picked up steam.
"We are really working on customer service to welcome our customers well, for them to feel comfortable. We don't have TV sets, but we are planning to buy some. And make sure that the place is up to standard. We believe that we should have at least a 30% increase," the owner told DW.
Businesses already benefiting
According to the chief economist at the African Business Information Bank, Kennedy Tumemnta, some businesses are already breaking even. He said the economic spinoffs from AFCON may be huge.
"For example, talking to this lady who is the owner of a prominent Hotel in Yaounde, she said before the beginning of AFCON, she has already hosted one of the teams that is going to raise a revenue for two weeks of approximately $24,000 (€21,000), an amount that she didn't make for the whole 2020-2021 year due to the pandemic," he told DW.
Tumemnta said other artisans are excited because they know that tourists will come in. Hawkers and those in the informal sector are also enthusiastic.
The building of stadia and other infrastructures across the country provided some temporary employment to young people in Cameroon. In this country, nearly 40% of the population lives below the poverty line.
"Most of the cities that host AFCON have benefitted from not only stadiums but also road networks. It has also created jobs for some young people. However, although most of the companies that constructed some of this sports infrastructure were foreign companies, we think that the economic fallouts for the laborers and local engineers are so huge," Tumemnta added.
Besides the tournament's business potential to Cameroon, there are serious security concerns in some of the six cities hosting the football event.
Limbe, a city on the tropical Atlantic coast, is one of the cities hosting the AFCON, but armed attacks have rocked its surrounding region since war broke out in 2017.
Violence has worsened in Anglophone Cameroon, with separatists now using more improvised explosive devices.
The conflict began in the English-speaking northwestern and southwestern regions in 2016 when teachers and lawyers protested against their perceived marginalization by the primarily French-speaking national government.
A violent crackdown by security forces radicalized the movement. As a result, armed groups formed in the regions' forests and cocoa plantations.
The armed groups are seeking to form a breakaway state called Ambazonia. According to human rights group Amnesty International, the conflict has killed at least 3,000 people and forced nearly 1 million to flee.
Honore Kuma, a local journalist in Limbe, told Reuters news agency that he is worried about the security situation as the competition nears.
"My fear, the fear of many Limbe citizens, is that the recent phenomenon of bomb blasts which have been happening in other parts of Fako division like Buea can be a common phenomenon during this AFCON period," Honore said.
Readiness of stadiums
Apart from insecurity in parts of the country, there are concerns about the readiness of stadiums.
The Limbe Omnisport Stadium will host matches from Group F comprising Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, and Gambia, starting from January 12.
The nearby city of Buea, a regional capital where some Group F training will take place, was struck by two explosions last November. At least 11 students were wounded when one of the explosions hit a university.
Speaking at the AFCON trophy presentation ceremony in Limbe, Engamba Ledoux, senior divisional officer for Limbe and Buea, promised no disruption to matches.
"It is in this same context that we managed the CHAN (African Nations Championship) a few months ago. I can't reveal here the measures that are being put in place, but you should know that just as the CHAN took place under very good conditions, AFCON will also take place under very good conditions," Ledoux said.
Meanwhile, several teams taking part in the competition have recorded COVID-19 infections. In addition, most Cameroonians and Africans are yet to be vaccinated, raising the risk of spreading the omicron variant during the tournament.
Ngala Killian Chimtom contributed to this article.