The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2019

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2019 37 Ebony for Taylor Guitars Cameroon, 2015 By Michael S. Hoza In 2015 Cameroon was an island of rela- tive stability in a very troubled subregion, hosting half a million refugees from conflicts in neighboring states. It was besieged by many of the ills afflicting its neighbors: piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, Boko Haram’s violent extremism in the Lake Chad Basin, waves of infectious disease threatening its population and rapacious neocolonial trade practices by many Chinese compa- nies. The U.S. government had gained a measure of access and influence with the government of Cameroon through our part- nerships to fight piracy, violent extremism and health pandem- ics. We found dedicated Cameroonian professionals who used our training and equipment to drive piracy out of Cameroonian waters, drive Boko Haram back into Nigeria, eradicate polio and stop outbreaks of bird flu virus and Ebola. The United States was increasingly seen as a reliable partner, and we used that cred- ibility to open the door for American companies hoping to do business in Cameroon, a country that was widely disparaged for its unwelcoming business environment. Chinese business practices in Cameroon had been ruinous for the country. First, Chinese companies did not create jobs for Cameroonians. They imported their own labor from China, and often left the laborers stranded in Cameroon after the project was completed. Second, China extracted raw materials, but never transferred technology to enable Cameroonians to develop value-added manufacturing. Third, Chinese companies were directly responsible for an overwhelming rate of corruption that was choking the socioeconomic environment. And, finally, Chinese companies did not engage in any form of corporate social responsibility. For more and more Cameroonians, it was increasingly evident that the bloom was off the Chinese invest- ment rose. Our embassy approached the government of Cameroon with an alternative—American companies and investors. We pro- moted U.S. companies based on “four points”: they would create jobs for Cameroonians; they would transfer technology to Cam- eroon; they would adhere to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and maintain transparent accounting; and they would engage in corporate social responsibility for the betterment of the Camer- oonian people, flora and fauna. One of our greatest success stories was Taylor Guitars, one of the leading manufacturers of acoustic guitars in America. As a young man many years ago, Bob Taylor went into his father’s garage and made his first guitar. By 2015 he was selling well over 140,000 guitars a year in the United States alone, and he got all of the ebony that he needed for his guitars from the trees of Cameroon. Bob Taylor’s vision for ebony production from Cameroon dovetailed with our embassy’s “four points” policy for commer- cial advocacy. He began by assuming ownership (with Spanish partner Madinter) of the ebony mill, Crelicam. In addition to the 75 Cameroonians directly on Crelicam’s payroll, he worked with banks to establish transparent payment mechanisms for thousands of individual Cameroonian suppliers. Bob walked the talk of creating jobs for Cameroonians—and the jobs he created were good jobs. He brought in state-of-the-art machinery to process the ebony to the exacting specifications demanded by his guitar factory, and trained Crelicam employ- ees to operate and maintain the machines. Bob was often in Cameroon, not in a suit and tie, but in overalls, working along- side his Cameroonian partners. As much as he enjoyed seeing the Crelicam operation grow TheFruitsof EconomicDiplomacy