Cameroon: Dependence on cash may help spread Coronavirus

The coronavirus outbreak has been declared by the World Health Organization as a global health emergency. Knowing what the health systems in many African countries, especially Cameroon is like, calls for concern. 

Nigeria had its first victim detected last week as well as a recommendation from WHO congratulating them on their readiness to handle a crisis. The Nigerian Red Cross Society has also put in place one million volunteers on standby [BBC].

Cameroon is yet to have a case after two people suspected and isolated at the Yaoundé Central Hospital were tested negative. The Minister of Public Health for Cameroon, Malachie Manaouda has reiterated calls on the population to observe basic rules of hygiene.

Viruses can be spread through droplets that land on surfaces such as desks, buses, handrails, trains, seats, etc. These surfaces may be the main transmission route for Coronavirus. 

However, in sub-Sahara countries, in addition to these, cash can be a very fertile breeding ground for viruses. Viruses can be transferred from the hands to notes and coins if an infected person touches them. 

With the dependence on cash for transactions in many African countries, little has been said about it being a high risk surface coronavirus.

Governments need to reduce cash transactions

Last year, monetary authorities in Nigeria announced a national tax on cash. Up to 3% fee was imposed on individuals and businesses that made large deposits of cash at the bank. As much as 5% was imposed on those who withdrew cash. India also put such a law in 2016 to restrict the domestic use of cash.

Cameroon is yet to have such a law put in place. Most business transactions in Cameroon still rely heavily on cash. With the advent of digital cash, especially mobile money, many believed it was the end days of cash. 

However, this is not the case as many use mobile money only when they want to transfer cash. Majority of Cameroonians will favor cash transactions over technology in spite of the high mobile penetration rate in Cameroon. 

Some helpful statistics

According to Cameroon’s Ministry of Posts and Telecommunication, the mobile telephone penetration rate was 83% in 2016 (12% in 2005). In the same year, the Internet penetration was at 35.43% [Minpostel].

In 2016, mobile money had about 6.8 million subscribers with 1.5 million active users in Cameroon [Media Intelligence]. According to reports from IMF, mobile money transfers in Cameroon reached 3,500 billion francs CFA in 2017. This is much higher compared to 300 billion in 2016. This amount it said represented about 17.5% GDP.

Cameroon still holds the position of the highest mobile money user in Central Africa. In 2018, 15% of young Cameroonians owned a mobile money account. This put them behind South Africa which had 19% and far ahead of Nigeria with 6% within that same period. In contrast, more than 73% of Kenyans own a mobile payment account.

The informal sector in Cameroon dominates in the use of cash transactions. This may be because many people in this sector are excluded from financial services.  According to the Ministry of Finance, only about 10% of Cameroonians aged 15 had a bank account in 2017. Read also A bank account to make your dreams come true.

Imagine what will happen to the people of an economy that has a large informal sector and use cash for transactions (in a case where the virus reaches Cameroon).

Mobile money transactions in Cameroon

The streets, nooks and crannies of major towns and cities in Cameroon are dotted with mobile money kiosks. Streams of customers queue these kiosks on a daily basis to receive, transfer or pay bills. They prefer to drop cash than use the apps on their phones to carry out the transactions.

Many don’t trust the technology and prefer to carry out their transactions in cash. To encourage the use of these services, the tax administration has put in place systems whereby certain taxes are paid using mobile money. 

Utility companies also play a great part in encouraging its clients to pay using the service rather than queuing in their offices. Read more about mobile tax and tax payment options in Cameroon.

Will Coronavirus change things?

Coronavirus according to the WHO is “a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome” [WHO]. 

The disease is transmitted between animals and people. However, the China National Health Commission has confirmed human-to-human transmission of Covid-19.

The spread of coronavirus may change things in the near future in favor of cashless transactions. The high usage of banknotes and coins in Cameroon will help spread the virus much faster if it enters the country. This is because Cameroonians tend to prefer cash to digital money. 

The worst is not even the love for cash, but how cash is handled in Cameroon. People put cash in not-so-good places – in their pants, armpits, bras, socks, etc. These places are in contact with the body part as well as sweat from the body. 

The World Health Organization says Covid-19 can be spread when one is in contact with infected patients as well as through contaminated objects.

Coins and notes are a major public health risk and havens for transmissible diseases. According to research by Dr Paul Matewele, a professor of microbiology at the London Metropolitan University, 19 different types of bacteria were found on 36 randomly selected coins and notes across Britain [Moneywise].

How digital money can help curb the spread of Coronavirus

Chinese banks have been authorized to disinfect cash before they’re issued to the public in order to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. It should be noted that more than 3000 people have already died of the virus in China. 

The government in a press conference said banks would only be allowed to release new bills that have been sterilized. In a 2017 survey, about three-quarters of respondents in China said they could survive a whole month without using more than 100 yuan in cash [The Guardian]. 

WHO has declared that Covid-19 can be spread through contaminated objects (cash inclusive). Reason enough for us to start preparing and being used to mobile money and other digital currencies to carry out our business transactions. 

Covid-19, another advantage of mobile money

Mobile money is a digital wallet that stores your cash in a digitized format and allows you to easily make payments and other transactions that need money. You can use it to transfer money, pay for goods and services and other financial transactions.

In addition to the numerous benefits of mobile money, the most important in this coronavirus period is that it reduces the dependence on cash to carry out transactions. You can purchase goods and services without cash thereby reducing the risk of contracting the virus.

Source(s): MINPOSTEL | The Guardian | WHO | Journal du Cameroun | Image Credit: The African Exponent

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