The business case for Cameroon’s first premier cinema

Amanda Jean-Baptiste, partner and head of West Africa real estate at Actis

Actis, a UK-based growth markets investor, recently announced it will bring the first premier cinema to Cameroon’s commercial capital Douala. The deal is a partnership with Nigeria’s Genesis Group. The cinema will add to the leisure and entertainment offering at the Douala Grand Mall, a retail-led, mixed-use development in the city’s Bonapriso neighbourhood.

How we made it in Africa interviewed Amanda Jean-Baptiste, partner and head of West Africa real estate at Actis, about retail property development in Cameroon and the wider West African region.

Describe the significance of the premier cinema being constructed in the mall.

Douala Grand Mall’s strategic location and the lack of comparable offerings make it attractive to the higher-income public seeking a qualitative offer in food and beverages, and entertainment. The premier cinema is a key anchor for the first-floor area dedicated to entertainment, youth, media, and food and beverages, thus making it ideal to draw footfall to the mall.

Douala Grand Mall will be part of the largest mixed-use development in Cameroon with 18,000 square metres of retail and leisure space. The full development, also including a business park hosting a five-star hotel and corporate office spaces, will be a landmark touristic spot in the city that reflects the aspirations and dynamism of Douala.

Which supermarket is anchoring the mall along with the cinema?

A leading French international retailer.

And which other brands have expressed interest in setting up in the mall?

Pre-release contracts have been signed with leading local retailers and restaurateurs, and negotiations are under way with international banners. We have been encouraged by the interest already received from retailers and restauranteurs seeking to take up space in the mall, keen to benefit from the growing consumer power.

Why did you choose Douala for this development?

We anticipate the retail sector in Cameroon to grow in the mid to long term, driven by a growing population, rapid urbanisation and rising income levels, which provides a perfect environment for the retail sector to flourish. In addition, modern retailing is a fairly new concept in Cameroon, so there is a significant opportunity for major African and international brands and fast-food chains to move into the country and tap into the potential that the country has to offer. Douala in particular, being the economic capital of the country, has very strong market fundamentals with a population of four million, youthful demographics and increasing consumer power.

What are your thoughts on the current state of retail in Cameroon and the greater West Africa region?

Despite the current economic volatility, the long-term prospects for the retail sector in West Africa remain compelling. Driven by a growing affluent middle class and rapid urbanisation, retail in West Africa continues to undergo a major shift as shoppers increasingly seek to spend their leisure time in safe, clean, well-designed environments that bring household names and activities together under one roof.

Whilst Cameroon’s retail market is yet to mature, we have witnessed many international retailers taking the first-mover advantage and setting up shop in the country. International retailers including Mango, Aldo, Spar, Casino, Intersport, Wranglers, and Puma, among others, have already established their presence in the country. The public is especially eager for French retailers, which benefit from the best recognition thanks to travel between Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire. The Côte d’Ivoire market is more mature.

Tell us about some of the dos and don’ts of commercial property development in West Africa.

Actis’ experience on the continent allows it to operate in these markets utilising on-the-ground teams across the region. It’s not that there aren’t unique challenges in these markets, it’s that Actis has a deep legacy of managing them. Starting with careful selection of the opportunities, we look for a stable macro backdrop and markets where the cities offer a combination of scale, growth, wealth and a regulatory environment that is sympathetic to international investment.

Previous investments include Garden City, East Africa’s first integrated residential, retail and office development; One Airport Square, the first green-rated building in Ghana; Heritage Place, the first LEED-certified commercial building in Nigeria; The Exchange, incorporating the first pedestrian retail high street of its kind in Ghana; Accra Mall in Ghana; and Ikeja Mall and Jabi Lake Mall in Nigeria.