Despite young people’s huge interest in the profession, French speaking West African countries fail to bring enough professionals into accountancy because of a costly and complicated educational pathway, according to Niger’s professional body vice president Kader Kaneye.

The Order of National Accountants and Chartered Accountants of Niger (Ordre National des Experts Comptables et des Comptables Agréés du Niger or ONECCA) vice president Kaneye, who is also HLB KMC West Africa regional executive partner, said that accountants enjoy a very good social status in Niger.

"Young people are really attracted by the profession because being an accountant is almost like being a town mayor in term of status," he told The Accountant. However he said it was very complicated and costly to become an accountant in Niger and therefore ONECCA membership of 50 doesn’t grow nor strengthens. This is, he said, the major challenge for the profession in Niger and the French speaking West African region.

Previously to become an accountant one had to go to France to study, he recalled. But since 2000 there is a regional degree common to all countries member of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), funded by a World Bank program.

"However it is a very costly degree, because only two schools in the region have the licence to teach it, one is in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast, and the other one in Dakar, Senegal," he said. "So if you are not Senegalese or Ivorian you need to pay the degree fees of CFA 4m [$6,900], plus the travel and living expenses."

After the five years course, students have to do a three years traineeship which takes them to various countries in the region, again resulting in travel costs and living expenses. And at the end of this eight-year period students can seat the three-part exam which again is taken in different parts of the region and is so difficult that most people fail, Kaneye explained.

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"Since it was launched in 2000, only 40 people qualified," he said. However his criticism must be tempered by the fact that the degree only started to be delivered in 2011.

Nonetheless Kaneye said the picture wasn’t all dark, the regional diploma still comes cheaper than having to go to France. "My main point is that we need to make it easier for people to join the profession but harder to stay up to date and compliant with the latest standards of quality," he said.

While in countries like France, or the USA students who qualified as accountants are expected to work with known brands and large companies it makes sense to have long and difficult studies, Kaneye argued. "But in countries like Niger we need accountants with the basic skills to help SMEs to grow, SMEs constitute the vast majority of our markets in Western Africa."

He believed that ONECCA should make it easier for members to join. "Bringing in more members will unlock some financial resources as members will have to pay their membership fees, and we could use these resources to educate and train the members with the latest standards," he said. "With these resources we will also be able to provide oversight and insure that members are compliant and if they are not they get penalised or expelled of the institute."

For decades Niger has been at the bottom of the ranking of the UN Human Development Index and this has caused great pain to Kaneye, who was awarded the IAB young accountant of the year award in 2014 as well as being selected in US president Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative.

For Kaneye the wheels are turning and the economic growth of the continent over the last few years is the starting point of a new era in which Niger will be one of the leading starts.

"Today no one knows about Niger, but in a few years you will hear from us, mark my words," he concluded.

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