Cameroon developed rapidly from 1978 thanks to its oil wealth, agricultural diversity and well-developed agro-industries. However, after the mid-1980s, the economy declined and debt rose. From the late 1980s, the World Bank and IMF supported a series of economic reform programmes, which included cuts in public expenditure (public-sector wages were reduced by 70 per cent in 1993), structural adjustment, privatisation of the many publicly owned enterprises, and rescheduling external debt.
In the run-up to privatisation, some 70 state-owned enterprises were closed down and others restructured, with a loss of about 20,000 jobs. Then from the late 1990s the state-owned rail company Régifercam (having been streamlined by halving its staff), CAMSUCO (sugar), SOCAPALM (palm oil), BICEC (the last remaining state-owned bank) and SONEL (electricity) were privatised; SNEC (water) was restructured as a public–private partnership; and Cameroon Airlines was liquidated (2006).
Cameroon reached the IMF/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative completion point in 2006, qualifying for present value debt-relief of US$1.3 billion.
From the mid-1990s, growth was sustained at four to five per cent p.a. in a climate of relatively low inflation, as a result of the prudent monetary policies of the regional central bank. From 2003 the Cameroon economy grew more slowly, growth averaging 3.3 per cent p.a. 2003–07. It slowed again in response to the global economic downturn in 2008–09, before recovering from 2010; it then continued to grow at four to six per cent p.a. during 2011–15.
Oil production began in 1978 but fell steadily from its peak of 186,000 barrels a day in 1985 to about 62,000 barrels a day in 2012, although government has made exploitation of marginal oilfields more viable and new small fields have boosted production. Crude oil is, nevertheless, the largest foreign-currency earner and accounted for 45 per cent of export earnings in 2011.
Oil is found in the Rio del Rey basin, close to the Nigerian border, natural gas at Rio del Rey and in the basin extending to the south of Douala. Prospects for large offshore finds of oil and gas were dramatically improved in 2006 when Nigeria agreed that the Bakassi peninsula would be ceded to Cameroon.