Yaounde - Cameroon
No continent has recorded a false start like Africa. We live in a continent
characterised by wars, shaky democracies, captive legislative assemblies,
captured judiciary, an expanding inefficient bureaucracy, and a passive
civil society. One wonders and even questions why; what should be done
to sow the seeds of a better start for a new millennium. Which seeds must
be sown, when, how and by whom.
Scholars of the politics of the developing areas argue that the present
democratisation process in Africa places it in democracy's second wave.
An earlier attempt following of independence began and ended with the
agitation for self-governance and the granting of independence to these
territories in the 1960s. Since then, our governance path has been characterised
by "false starts", things falling apart, and above all, "politics of all
the belly" for a selected few. In some countries, this is termed as advanced
Beliefs and perceptions about regime legitimacy have long been recognised
as a critical factor in governance change, bearing particularly on the
persistence of break-down of democracy. The democratic process in Africa
has been subjected to various pressures leading to a total collapse in
some states; Burundi, Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia, amongst others. The failure
of most African governments to meet the expectations of their peoples
for relief from poverty and the democratisation; expectations which could
be satisfied only granting, decentralisation and grass roots participation.
A new partnership between state and civil society is urgently required
for these nations before things get worse and out of control. Thus the
choice of a governance system becomes imperative in meeting the aspirations,
expectations and needs of the society.
The obvious conclusion one arrives at is that the "absence of democracy"
accounts for the continent's woes and predicaments. Apart from Benin,
Botswana, Mauritius and South Africa, democracy and the democratic process
have receded from the shores of the African continent. No doubt following
the collapse of communist governments caused by peoples' power, Africans
also started to agitate for political liberation as a result of the demonstration
effect: old dictatorial autocratic and discredited regimes were forced
to acknowledge the strength of opposition and grudgingly accepted demands
for free elections and the establishment of a new political order. On
the eve of our transition to the mythical millennium and with all
its euphoria, there is still little confidence that viable structures
of democracy would be part of the continent's culture in the near future.
As we embrace the new millennium, so also we recognise the need for genuinely
experimenting with a new governance form.
From the collapse of the Berlin Wall a decade ago through the dismantling
of the apartheid system and the formation of a Government of National
Unity, in South Africa, and of recent, the bold stride made by Africa's
most populous nation Nigeria in joining the cherished club
of democratic governance, one is bound to ask the simple, yet complicated
question; what is democracy and why democracy as the Perestrioka for the
continent on the eve of a new millennium?
This paper takes critical look at the negative and positive sides of "democracy"
as a governance system. It concludes that the institutionalisation of
values and rights, the rule of law, justice, freedom of speech, accountability,
transparency, participation, respect for different views of opinions are
all prerequisites for democracy which must be nurtured and sustained.
The gap between the industrial North and poverty stricken Africa makes
the issue of democracy or the "second independence" of Africa all
the more acute. Disappointment in the rising aspiration of a battered
society that had placed their faith in the new generation of democratically
elected leaders has helped to render fragile regimes vulnerable to popular
discontent, the reimposition of authoritarian rule and the start of a
fresh cycle of incompetent and corrupt government. But is this cycle inevitable?
Is Africa to be forever condemned to political instability, wars, ethnic
confrontation, abject poverty, economic misery, corruption, dependency
and global marginalisation? Or, is there hope for a new future? Any hope
for a better Africa can only build on a vibrant civil society which for
the past five decades succumbed into a passive, captive and weak institution
in the body politic of African countries. The worries of Connolly (1987:3)
is that "democracy contains danger" and that it is a danger that "resides
within the ideal itself."
Democracy can at best be defined as government by the people in which
the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them
or by their elected agents under a free electoral system. The most common
definition of democracy using Abraham Lincoln's phrase is "government
of, by and for the people". Strange in the concept has been appropriated
by politicians of all stripes and is used to describe all forms of governance
for example, military dictatorship, totalitarian, and even unelected regimes.
Democracy, properly so-called has scored an historic victory over alternative
forms of governance. The collapse of the Berlin Wall and the governance
system of Eastern and Central European countries vindicates the position
of democracy in the world. Nearly everyone professes to be a democrat.
Political regimes of all kinds throughout the world claim to be democracies.
It seems as if political choices can only begin to be adequately recognised,
articulated and negotiated in a democracy. Thus democracy bestows an aura
of legitimacy on modern political life; laws, rules and policies appear
justified when they are "democratic".
Equally important is the fact that democracy is a remarkably difficult
form of government to create and sustain. Historically, in this century
which we are about to bid fare voyage to, fascism, Nazism and Stalinism
came extremely close to obliterating democracy altogether. The fact that
it never came tumbling down; and backed with the unannounced
revolutions which swept across countries behind the iron curtain countries
a decade ago, highlights its triumphancy and that of capitalism over all
political and economic alternatives (see Held, 1993, and Fukuyama 1989).
The failure to create and institutionalise a world socialist system left
democracy and capitalism as the unchallengeable lion in the world's governance
Intrinsic to and often used interchangeably democracy is the concept of
"freedom". But the two concepts are not synonymous. While democracy implies
a set of ideas and principles about freedom, it also consists of a set
of practices and procedures which have been experimented and nurtured
over a long period of tortuous history. "Freedom", on the
other hand, "is the power or condition of acting without compulsion. It
implies total or moderate absence of restraint or merely an unawareness
of being unduly hampered or frustrated" (Woolf 1979:454). Simply stated,
democracy is the institutionalisation of freedom. Freedom and responsibility
constitute the bedrock of democracy.
This makes it possible to identify the time-tested fundamentals of constitutional
governments, human rights, the rule of law and equality before the law
that any society must posses to be properly and genuinely perceived as
democratic. As such, democracy is not a constitutional arrangement to
be taken off the peg for immediate use but the name we give to the way
such arrangements work. In the words of Osakeshott, "democracy is not
a prescription for political practice but the distillation of practice
itself, practice comes first and the theory of what is to be democratic
simply illumines practice." The conditions under which parliamentary democracy
evolved in the West were entirely different from those in Africa today.
Democracy can not be transferred. "Oakeshott argues that "such a government
will not have native origins. It has been home grown in Western society
and to seek to transfer its beliefs and habits to an exotic soil will
always be difficult." It must be cultivated and nurtured by the people
within their own environmental setting and in cognisance of the inherent
principles, beliefs and values it entails. It goes without saying that
democracy itself guarantees nothing, it offers instead the opportunity
to succeed as well as the risk of failure. The risk of failure continues
to be too glaring in Africa half-a-century after independence, even though
this may be seen as a short time in the life span of country when compared
to the older democracies. Borrowing from the ringing but shrewd phrase
of Thomas Jefferson, the promise of democracy is "life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness".
Against this background, it is evidently clear that "democracy is both
a promise and challenge, it is a promise that free human beings, working
together, can govern themselves in a manner that will serve their aspirations
for personal freedom, economic opportunity and social justice. It is challenge
because the success of the democratic enterprise rests upon the shoulders
of its citizens and no one else" (Ravitch 1989).
Broad and complex as the subject is, one begins to question whether there
is a common silver lining in the application of Aristotle's political
system of the "rule of one and the rule of many" for the African continent.
A simple run down of political theory from Plato through Aristotle to
twenty-first century political analysts like Dahl, Easton, Mazrui and
many others, show the divergent views that exist amongst scholars between
theory and practice.
These theorists in various ways present different explanations, analysis,
on comparative studies of democracy. Outstanding in these many and varied
interpretations of democracy is the difficulty of researchers or political
analysts in arriving at a common consensus of what democracy is; and whether
there could be common generalisation or application of their conceptual
definition, interpretation and analysis for all countries. What is clear
is that democracy remains an open ended topic; a topic that unravel the
origins of autocracy, dictatorship, and other forms of governance within
a political system.
Flowing from the above, it can be argued that the absence of democracy
is a major cause of chronic underdevelopment in Africa. The problem here
is that African leaders do not separate political democracy from
economic democracy or that matter from economic well-being. They
see their political empowerment, through democratisation, as an essential
part of the process of getting the economic agenda right.
Generally, there is a deep seated conflict on whether democracy implies
a kind of popular power, i.e. form of politics in which citizens are engaged
in self-government and self-regulation; or an aid to decision-making,
i.e. a means of conferring authority on those periodically voted into
office (Held 1997). Within these two divergent opinions, at least three
basic models of democracy can be dissected as follows:
1 Variants of Democracy (USA, India, South Africa):
- Direct or Participatory Democracy (example: Ancient Africa / Old
Greek city state)
- Liberal or Representative democracy (modern State governance as in
Britain, Canada, Botswana, Sweden, etc.)
- One-Party Model - Delegative democracy (e.g. the collapsed USSR system
and most African countries before 1990)
Direct or participatory democracy implies a governance system where all
citizens without an intermediary, elected or appointed officials participate
in public decisions.
This is a system most practical in a society with a limited population
as was the case in ancient Athens and Africa. Indeed, history has it that
the origin of this type of democracy developed in ancient Athens. Athens
became the world's first democracy that practised direct or participatory
democracy with an assembly of limited population 2000-5000 physically
gathered in one particular place for effective decision-making on their
needs and development.
Both (Bernal 1987 and Springborg 1992) see the political ideals of Athens
- the city state or polis society - as equality among citizens. Liberty,
respect for the law and justice - as constituting the integral component
of western political thinking today.
The second type - liberal or representative democracy constitutes a system
of rule embracing "genuinely" elected officer who represents the interest
of the citizen by articulating and aggregating interests, formulating
laws and administering programmes for the public good. Such elected officers
in a liberal or representative democracy hold office in the name of the
people and remain accountable to the people for their actions.
The hall-mark of liberal or representative democracy is the attempt to
justify the sovereign power of the state and at the same time place limits
on that power. It is a system which concerns and thrives on reason, lawful
government and freedom of choice properly up held by recognising
the political equality of all matured individuals. It is a system
where such equality ensures not only a secure social environment.
The third variant which some people can hardly accept as a form of democracy
is the dominant one-party model with its origins deeply rooted in the
now collapsed Soviet Union. For both Marx and Engels, the great universal
ideals, justice, equality and liberty (JEL) could not be attained by the
"free struggle for votes in the political system together with the "free"
struggle for profit in the market place. In other words, they disagreed
that liberty could be sustained and inequalities minimised under these
institutions. They argued, therefore, that capitalist economy by virtue
of its internal dynamics, inertially produces systematic inequality and
massive restrictions on real freedom.
As a result, political equality and its liberating potentials is severely
curtailed by inequalities of class. The state can hardly become
the vehicle for the pursuit of the common good and public interests. Simply
stated, their argument saw political emancipation is only a step towards
human emancipation; i.e. complete democratisation of both society and
the state. In this connection, a liberal or representative democratic
society fails when judged by its own promises.
To correct this shortcomings, Marx, Engels and other advocates of this
thought argued for the creation of the one-party state system with a "pyramid"
structure of "delegated democracy". All delegates are revocable, bound
by the instructions of their constituency and organised into a "pyramid"
of directly elected committees. The party which they see as the mouth
piece of civil society is placed above the state machinery to work
for the common good. This has not been borne out in practice as individual
good has always been privileged to the detriment of the common good.
The different variants of democracy questions the conditions conducive
for its operationalisation in Africa for example. At different stages
Africa has experimented with these variants of democracy each with its
own success or failure stories to tell. Some of the underlying factors
conducive for democracy include;
2 Conditions Conducive for Democracy (CCD) between
- Political attitudes and behaviour;
- Economic development, Political institutions;
- Inter-elite / ethnic relations;
- Social structures and interaction;
- Sequences in development;
- External and internal influences;
single factor is capable of explaining the development of democracy, nonetheless,
there has to be some form of universally acceptable standards and principles
underscoring the smooth functioning and survival of democracy and the
state. These include freedom of speech, enjoyment of full civic rights,
participation in the process of electing/dismissing a government, transparency
of government and its respect for the rule of law, protection of human
life and property amongst many others.
3 Factors essential to the development and Nurturing
- No single factor is sufficient to explain the development of democracy
in all countries or in a single country;
- No single factor is necessary to the development of democracy in
- Democratisation in each country is the result of the combination
- The combination of causes producing democracy varies from country
- The combination of causes generally responsible for one wave
of democratisation differs from that responsible for others.
Building a passion for democracy must rest on a number of inter-related
tenets. Amongst these are the centrality of the structure of public power,
of a constitution to help protect and safeguard rights and liberties and
of a diversity of power centres within and outside the state.
4 Foundations of Democracy and political pluralism
- Sovereignty of the people;
- Government based upon consent of the ruled;
- Majority rule;
- Minority rights;
- Guarantee of fundamental human rights and needs;
- Equality before the law;
- Due process of law;
- Free and fair elections;
- Constiutional limits on government;
- Social, economic cooperation;
- Values of tolerance, pragmatism
- Inclusion and not exclusion;
- Freedom of the press and speech.
In the words
of Diane Ravitch, US Secretary of Education, "when a representative democracy
operates in accordance with a constitution that limits the powers of the
government and guarantees fundamental rights to all citizens, this form
of government is a constitutional democracy. In such a society, the majority
rules, and the rights of minorities are protected by law and through the
institutionalisation of law."
A successful democracy is one where the tyranny of both the majority and
minority is checked and controlled through pluralism, the element
of coexisting within a social fabric of many and varied institutions and
forces - the separation of powers, the rule of law, a vibrant
civil society, an independent press all enjoying legitimacy and functioning
with the realms of the laws of the country. In contrast, within the confines
of "thin democracy" or single-party state, virtually all of these institutions
and organisations are controlled, watched and made accountable to the
dictates of the government.
Given that democratic politics is ever evolving, democracy does inherit
attributes which gives it a dynamic evolutionary process, for example:
- the revolutionary spirit of democracy is tied to its spontaneity, its
creativity and its responsiveness to change;
- the autonomy of democracy entails a commitment to engagement, participation,
- the communality or publicness of democratic judgement (decision making
with respect to common action) in a democracy, which mandates some form
of democratic communtarianism and common willing.
Adherence to these pillars of democracy ensures that democracy enjoys
constant, permanent motion - a gentle kind of permanent revolution, a
movable feast that affords each generation room for new appetite and new
tastes for political activities to flourish.
The type of democratic governance naturally depend on the type of transition
adopted by each African state. Judging from the kind of state-civil society
relations, failure in social engineering, backwardness of technological
achievements and a stagnated economic growth, will in different ways influence
the process of change. In some cases, it could be peaceful (Senegal, Cameroon,
Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, etc) or it could be violent, (e.g. Algeria,
Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, etc) Senegal, Cameroon and Tanzania
saw the voluntary retirement of the Head of State - Senghor, Ahidjo,
Nyerere). At least four typologies to transition in Africa are discernible
(see box 5).
5 Typologies to Transition
It is not surprising
that there are cracks on the democratic walls of African states. Indeed,
any form or approach engulfing quick fixes and short-cuts or any mimicry
would be an exercise in futility. For transition to democracy to be credible
and sustainable, it must be an integral part of the transformation of the
entire political and socio-economic structures for the public interest.
Democratic governance cannot take root without the participation of civil
society in the process.
Transition through system and political collapse: defeat at elections
Transition through popular revolt
Rwanda, Uganda, Zaire, Chad, Nigeria, Ghana, Togo
Transition through negotiation between the powers that be (military
or Civilian) and the democratic forces
In his study of democracy in the Third World, Robert Pinkney (1995) looks
at various types of democracies from the following perspectives, radical,
guided, liberal, socialist and consociational (See box 6). Looking
at citizen's rights, participation and actual potential problems in the
different types of democracy, we discover different variants of citizen
participation, citizen's rights, actual and potential problems. For example,
guided democracy, is construed on the borders of authoritarianism, and of
the people's democracies - here society is perceived as an organic unit
with common interests, unlike the aggregation of undifferentiated individuals
in radical democracy.
6 Types of democracy
Capitalism depends on the rule of law. The rule of law, limited government,
separation of powers and the protection of rights of individuals and minorities
constitute basic tenets of the institutions of democracy. Again the health
of democracy is dependant on the institutions of free economy and the right
to "the pursuit of happiness". If democracies in Africa are to survive in
the 21st century, it is crucial that the health of institutions of economic
liberty be closely attended to.
& encouraged electoral contestation
rights but protected by equality before the law
of the majority
by the elite; no elections
rights seen as state interests rulers decide on state of equality
of the elite
but not encouraged
safeguards of individual rights; Equality before the law
domination of unequal distribution of resources
participation to offset elite power
to civil rights; ambiguous objective of social equality
of coercion required to achieve objective
within groups; electoral contestation
may be safeguarded by state, or within constituent groups
ment of social divisions, immobilism
of Cameroon - Where are we?
This triangular shaped nation with its chequered historical past has transverse
through the corridors of liberal - representative and thin democracy or
single party at various time periods.
Two trends emerged. In French speaking Cameroon, reforms in 1956 for democracy
and democratic governance took off on very shaky grounds - shaky because
they were entrenched with the politics of "exclusion" by the French colonial
masters who believed in nothing but the politics of assimilation, monopoly
and destruction particularly when something was beyond their reach. In
the anglophone Cameroon, liberal – representative democracy was institutionalised
at the foot of Mount Fako on 26 October, 1954. It embraced nearly all
aspects of the tenets, of Liberal-representative democracy, democratic
governance and quality management. The two territories operated
on different structural-functional frameworks of either the politics of
"inclusion" or "exclusion" with the consequences each entails.
Liberal-representative democracy flourished until September 1966 when
the two Cameroons were plunged into or joined the club of thin democracy
under the auspices of single-party democracy which lasted until 1990-1992
not even the timid transition to a quasi form of one party participatory
democracy within the ruling CPDM party which permitted more than one candidate
to run for various party posts within a constituency could stop the agitation
for the introduction of a liberal democracy.
Indeed, Cameroon's transition (glasnost or Perestroika) to democracy can
be traced back to 1987 (two years before Gorbachev bomb shell) with
the publication of Communal Liberalism. It rekindled the hope of many
people within and across the frontiers of the nation for a better tomorrow.
It equally enhanced Cameroon's position as "the political laboratory"
for democracy, peaceful coexistence, and diversity in unity" on the African
continent and within the Third World, following the giant steps taken
to reunify the two Cameroons in 1961; at a time when Britain and France
could hardly embrace each other, let alone share a common administrative
formula as they now do within the statutory framework of the European
Unfortunately, "child prestoriaka Cameroon" was thrown out with the bath
water - the result of the politics of ethnic hegemony and exclusion. Communal
liberalism as a new taste for democracy migrated to the shores of other
nations. Today Cameroon is not harvesting the fruits of its pioneership
but leaking the wounds of its failure and inflexibility to act and push
forward or nurture the child it conceived some 15 years ago. Yet flexibility
turns out to be democracy's great virtue by adapting to society's evolution.
Generally, 1990 is the turning point for the country's second wind of
democracy and political transformation. Beginning with the arrest of Yondo
Black in February and culminating on 26 May 1990, with the birth of the
Social Democratic Front (SDF), significant strides have been made towards
establishing a democratic society: for example, the conduct of multi-party
parliamentary and presidential elections in 1992 and 1997; and local council
elections in 1996. Whether these elections were free and fair and whether
the other ingredients of the pillars of democracy were adhered to is not
the contention here. The reports of the various observers at these elections
speak for themselves (see NDI 1992; West Africa 1992, Azonga 1992 and
others). The writing is on the wall for any one to draw conclusions on
whether or not democracy is fragile or consolidated in the country.
Judging from statutory provisions, the press, both spoken is free from
a practical point of view, there has been some improvement but the press
is not truly free. The gross absence of the separation of powers and good
government, the rule of law, the non-existence of an independent judiciary
worries any advocate or strong believer in the principles and practice
of democracy. The disentanglement of state bureaucracy from the sledge
hammer of party machinery and influence is yet to take place. Without
these and other related issues guaranteed, democracy can hardly hold its
ground. It will, of course, not be "liberal-representative" democracy
but "delegated or thin democracy" in practice.
The establishment of "political liberty" involves a process whereby "political
rights" previously a monopoly for a select few and denied civil society
are rightly restored to where they belongs - the people - and not
the government. James Madison states in the Federalist that "liberty may
be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as by the abuse of power."
And the single party system is a source of power abuse.
The preamble of the Cameroon's constitution establishes a government in
order to secure the blessings of liberty. Thus the constitution avow that
it is solely to secure their inalienable rights that men institute governments,
which must thus derive just powers from the consent of the governed. We
all agree that government is preceded by and founded upon rights, which
become its central rationalising principle and the measure by which all
of its institutions, acts, and laws are legitimated. The Cameroon constitution
states; "Everyone has equal rights and obligations. The State endeavours
to assure for all its citizens the conditions necessary to their development.
Freedom and security are guaranteed to each individual subject to respect
for the rights of others and the higher interest of the State."
and Party Politics
Sustainable democracy builds on party politics. In the case of Cameroon,
political pluralism was reduced to single-party centralised system between
1966 and 1990. The traditional machine of party politics as democratic
instrument embedding the people was transformed into "personality or cult
politics." The devolution of power is also required to match with the
prevailing state of political pluralism.
The period 1996-1990 constitutes one of crisis afflicting party and government
as a "deadlock of democracy" that paralysed democracy and the effective
use of power for national policy making. It was used for vindictive purposes.
The fear of the erosion of the power base of the existing system by those
Multiparty pluralism was legalised on 19 December 1990. Ironically, on
that day Law No. 90/052 regulating the independent press came in effect
with section 4 (17) of the law stipulating that the Minister of territorial
Administration had the right to seize or ban any publication or issue
that failed to follow the review process. The censorship process being
the right of District Officers to review newspapers before publication.
The existence of 158 political parties does not argue well for the proper
functioning of democracy nor is the presence of a monolithic party system
a better prescription for democracy. These two developments in different
ways impede the rationality of democracy as a governance system. Some
may see it as means of perfecting democracy in the country.
However, a major problem in Cameroon's democracy is that of a "divided
and weak" opposition; and of political parties lacking any ideological
orientation. Rather the country's politics is screwed within the parameters
of "ethnic and belly" politics. The ruling party is just too glad
to see the emergence of many mushroom parties that it can best manipulate
to obtain a presidential majority in order to remain in office. The main
Opposition parties too are worried with the proliferation of small
parties as this helps in eroding their grass roots support. The two scenario
explain what politics is all about.
To be more precise, between 1982-1990, political reforms were initiated
within the ruling party to promote a more liberal and democratic society
where tolerance and greater individual freedom and the exchange of ideas
could prevail (see Biya 1987:36-38). The period leading to the first multiparty
elections (1990-1992) was dominated by two factors:
? A period of political reform perceived in certain quarters as a danger
to democracy. The proliferation or opening up of politics to grass-roots
seen as a healthy development for democracy. Reform became a problem;
? It was also a period characterised by regulative politics. Political
reform had to be regulated, guided, controlled and by opening the flood
gates for the emergence of mushroom political parties - the country
ended up with more than 150 parties. In certain quarters it was seen as
"advanced democracy" because it gave equalised access" for public interests
groups as opposed to special interests that monopolised the system to
participate in the democratic process.
? Constitutional-making or reform was conducted by the use of
the latest gadgets of information and communication technology. Democracy
in Cameroon had already entered the super-sonic age of the 21st century.
Did it imply the end or evolution of democracy in Cameroon?
It was progress that failed since the endless frontiers of modern technology
was not extended to cover (i) registration of voters; (ii) voting, and
vote counting, and (iii) the immediate reporting of the results
as they unfolded with the aid of these gadgets. This move could have
restored legitimacy, confidence and credibility in the regime as
well as avoided the degree of suspicion surrounding the conduct and real
results of the elections.
This aspect of transparency has yet to be incorporated in the body politic,
evolution of democracy and the democratic process in Cameroon. If technology
is to make a political difference, it is the politics that will first
have to be changed. Furthermore, and even where it can be shown that technology
inherently holds out the promise of civic and democratic potential, it
is not likely to reflect the tin, representative alienating version of
democracy that currently dominates political thinking. For without a will
toward a more participatory and boots civic system, why should technologically
enhanced politics not produce the same incivility and cynicism that characterised
politics on the older technologies. The inappropriate use of modern technology
as a mechanism for political reform can become a danger to democracy.
Pushing the debate further is the issue of "political poison", particularly
as manifested in respect of the "poison of money in politics." "On
February 16, 1992, just two weeks before the March legislative elections,
the Administration made available 500 million CFA francs to be divided
among all parties that participated in the elections. Although this seems
to have been a generous gesture by the administration, it appears that
the real motive of the offer was to improve the chances of electing CPDM
candidates by encouraging many opposition candidates as possible to run."
The idea of granting the state financial support to political parties
contesting elections contributed to the proliferation of political parties
and enhanced the issue of "politics of the belly". Many parties were formed
and contested the elections not that they had anything to offer to society
in terms of ideological orientation or addressing the pertinent issues
plaguing the society, but because money could be made out of the exercise.
If the idea was restoring to the people the means to actively participate
and enhance liberal-representative democracy, it turned out to have a
boomerang effect because:
- it helped to promote the corrupt influence of the government in the
- it contributed to an fostering enlarged "politics of the belly and the
- it did not advance democracy but threw the nation in a state of
political uncertainty and made a mockery of the concept of democracy;
- the result of the boomerang effect is very visible following Cameroon's
classification, second year running, as the number one corrupt nation
in the world. The country may begin the new millennium by keep the "corruption
cup" for good.
The explanation of the cause of the present state of democracy and political
system in Cameroon is traceable to the degree and result of its corruption
by special interest money, either from individuals and big businesses
who want to gain certain favours from government, or from the State to
individuals to buy their votes and support to disrupt the emergence of
an organised and effective Opposition. The concept of a "loyal opposition"
or a "government in waiting" is absent in the political jargon and dispensation
of the country. In addition, government fails to employ the special qualities
of the Opposition to ensure its own credibility and legitimacy. A progressive
government is one that recognises the role of the Opposition. And a successful
opposition is one that is constructive and ready at any time to assume
office and do better than its predecessor.
Democracy and political reforms in Cameroon have become a problem because
of the covert corruption - special interests of "poison money". Can any
one deny that the results of elections since 1992 is not the outcome of
"poison money in Cameroon politics"? Or that the problem of widespread
poverty and unemployment have not been effectively addressed because our
political leaders have succumbed to the flood lights of "narrow interests."
Such an analysis reflects an inability and unwillingness to come to grips
with the political roots of these problems. That there is a growing apathy
within civil society is significant recognition of something wrong
with the state of democracy and political transformation process in Cameroon.
Political reforms and the inherent tenets, objectives or focus of democracy
is not trickling down to meet the needs of the people. Rather it is trickling
upwards to enhance and cement the "Mathew effect" In short, the problem
of democracy in Cameroon is not with the "have-nots", "buy and sellers"
but with the educated class who have lost their sense of ethical and moral
professionalism to succumb to the dictates of the politicians because
of belly and survival politics. To state that the state of democracy and
the democratic governance in Cameroon has come close to disaster and total
collapse is no exaggeration.
With ethnic hegemony and exclusion, the continent remains a patchwork
of civil war victims, tyrants, ex-dictators, middle-of-the-road politicians,
would be reforms and semi-democratic governments. At the end of this tunnel
of failed democracies is the beaming light being nurtured by Botswana,
Benin, Mauritius, South Africa and hopefully Nigeria. But this is not
enough. How can a continent with over 54 states record only four states
that have embraced the virtues of democracy and good governance?
There is a daunting challenge for both state and civil society to advance
the traditions of democratic thinking and practice in Cameroon and the
rest of the continent. Statements preaching the politics of "enemies in
the house" or "return to where you belong" only fan a function of the
bankruptcy of citizenship and exclusion in the democratic process. With
this, the idea of service to country or obligations to the institutions
by which rights and liberties are maintained has fairly vanished. With
such attitude and perception, the reputation of government declines, a
sense of non-belonging, apathy and rejection develops. These are unhealthy
signs for a functional democracy, but become a beautiful bride for
delegated democracy (single party) which thrives on divide and rule, coercion,
control and imposition that destroys all institutions of the body politic
of the society.
Government becomes afflicted with every social malfunction from corruption
to unintended consequences. Yet the meaning and ideals of democracy is
construed on citizenship, sense of belonging and participation not
exclusion in all forms. On this count Barber (1998:187) notes; "The long
term effect of representative institutions which have been crucial in
the preservation of accountability and a thin version of democracy in
mass societies where more participatory forms of government seen untenable,
has often been to undermine a vigorous participatory citizenship and to
reinforce distance between voters and governors."
These observations notwithstanding, are ample signs of a burgeoning interests
for the institutionalisation strong and genuine democracy in Cameroon.
It only requires political will from the various stake holders. Without
active citizen participation, no democracy can function properly, or in
the long run, even survive. Political pluralism with 158 political parties
is just as dangerous as a single party - i.e. the tyranny of the majority
and minority is not healthy for democracy.
Civic education and awareness creation are necessary for the cultivation
and of building a culture of democracy. So far our schools are the neglected
forges of our future, they are also the abandoned workshops of our democracy.
There is nothing sadder than a country that turns its back on its children;
for in doing so, it turns away from its own future. In building up public
awareness, we are also strengthening the very foundation of our democratic
civic culture. Forges of our citizenship and sense of belonging constitute
the bedrock of our democracy. Do not throw it away. The government
rules, and its legitimacy is sustained, by the consent of individuals
who make up civil society.
With the collapse of the communist system, one simply identifies liberal-representative
democracy as the most viable governance system that has stood the test
of time. But this form of governance is not friction free. It depends
on the participation of civil society and its constituent elements in
the individual wills - the desire for self preservation - it cannot be
perfect. It is a slow process for decision-making particularly when serious
and urgent issues are to be handled.
As stated in the Federalist No 51 (349) "....if men were angels, no government
would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor
internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government
which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies
in this: You must first enable government to control the government; and
in the next place oblige it to control itself." Furthermore, as pointed
out by James Madison, "the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive
and judiciary, in the same hands may justly be pronounced as the very
definition of tyranny.
The tyranny of the majority and minority must be resented. In other words,
minority and majority power should be such that it is
not the power to command, but the power to persuade to get all on board
for the common good. Indeed, the two essential criteria for any democracy
is the degree of political freedom and civil liberties within each country.
Only people can perfect their imperfection. To perfect imperfection
requires a democratic governance system of inclusion and not exclusion.
With democracy the sovereign authority retains the absolute power possessed
by each person in the state of nature, while every party to the convenient
gives up his natural rights to all things into the hands of the sovereign
State. The essence of checks and balances through the separation of powers
and the independence of each institution constitute and highlight the
significance of democracy - separated institutions sharing power.
The consolidation of democracy in Cameroon need not be over-emphasised.
For seeking to strengthen democracy and reinforcing democratic governance,
particularly from within, puts the society on a path to sustainable development
that meets the needs of the people. The rights and obligations which inhere
in democracy require a decision or commitment by citizens of political
communities to determine freely the conditions of their own association
and the course of their polity.
Democracy can only be adequately entrenched if a division of powers and
competencies is recognised at different levels of political interaction
and interconnectedness - levels which correspond to the degrees to which
public issues stretch across and affect population. Africa is just embracing
the tenets of democracy. And its future depends upon how well informed
civil society is; the degree to which the fallout of democracy relate
or trickle down to address and meet their basic needs.
Hence the idea of democracy is durable, but its practice is precarious.
Precarious because a healthy democratic polity is not simply an arena
in which individuals pursue their personal interests and goals,
but that of the common interest. Democracy flourishes when and how individual
citizens willingly deploy their hard-won freedom and liberty to participate
in the life of their society - by way of electing or rejecting their representatives,
participating in public debate, as well as accepting the need for tolerance
and compromise in public life. It goes without saying that democracy is
an instrument for conflict, compromise and consensus - a set of rules
for conflict management with certain limits and acceptable as legitimate
by all parties.
A democracy lives by compromises; and nowhere has political compromise
been more successful than in the field of partnership that binds the governing
and opposition parties into a common home framework for the socio-cultural
and eco-political progress of the nation. Can political parties in Africa
enter into such a political accord for the common good of the country?
By doing so, they shall be building a healthy and sustainable society
for present and future generations (Forje, forthcoming).
Following a few fleeting years of democratic rule after independence,
dictatorship, autocracy and military rule as well as its grinding poverty,
came to be viewed as much as part of the African social landscape. The
end of the cold war and the sudden collapse of the communist system breathed
new life into campaigns for democracy in Africa.
Addressing the African plight in his capacity as OUA Chairman (1991) President
Yoweri Museveni of Uganda noted: "So far, the litany of Africa's woes
is awful, painful and agonising....while the rest of the world is modernising,
Africa remains a museum piece. If Africa is in dire straits, it is less
a museum than a kaleidoscope of shifting fortunes." Claude Ake (1993)
argues that in order for African democracy to be relevant and sustainable
it will have to be radically different from liberal democracy." From these
statements, one concludes that there is an emerging political theory
of the democracy in Africa which sees the economic regression of the continent
as the other side of political regression. It thus recognises that the
cause of development is better served by a democratic approach that engages
the energy and commitments of the people who alone can make development
and democracy possible and sustainable.
The conclusion of over 500 African groups at the 1990 Arusha conference
strongly argued that the absence of democracy is a major cause of chronic
underdevelopment in Africa ( ECA - Arusha 1990). It is clear from this
declaration that Africans are seeking democracy not only as a condition
for survival, but also for the realisation that they must fend for themselves
or perish. Because development must now be self-reliant at both the national
and grass roots level, it has to be based on political democracy. The
inter-marriage between political democracy and economic development
in Africa is not surprising given the state of abject poverty and misery
that looms over the continent and its marginalisation in global affairs
both economically and technologically.
Admittedly, there is no perfect governance system. However, this is no
excuse for Africa to remain within the camp of a system that does not
move it forward. The continent must adopt one that has proven to stand
the test of time; representative democracy. An attempt has been made to
place "democracy" under x-ray and why Africa should join the universal
club of liberal-representative democratic governance system. How each
country goes about it depends on its internal socio-economic and environmental
dynamics and of its external connectedness. Each African country must
fashion its own path within the universally accepted norms of democratic
Democracy in Africa must be recreated within the framework of the
given realities and in political arrangements that fit the cultural context,
but without sacrificing its universal values and inherent principles if
by this it means creating a unique African democracy, then it is not something
that will emerge from a rational blueprint. For it to succeed, it will
have to emerge from practical experience and improvisation in the course
of a hard struggle. "The process towards democracy must be shaped by the
singular reality that those whose democratic participation is at issue
are the ordinary people of Africa - many are illiterate, and almost all
are poor, rural dwellers in an essentially pre-industrial and communal
society. So long as this fact is kept steadfastly in focus, democracy
will evolve in ways that will enhance its meaning and give birth and sustainability"
There is a daunting challenge facing democracy today: At issue is rethinking,
the nature, form and content of democratic politics in the face of the
complex intermeshing of local, national, regional and global relations
and processes. Is democracy a precious thing, knowledge, hunger or what?
As Cameroon cries in the wilderness, longing to taste of it, and experience
the beatitudes of good governance.
Drawing aspiration from Oliver Goldsmith's "The Deserted Village" in which
he wrote these words:
fare the land to hastening ills a prey, where wealth accumulates, and
Building on the words of two South Africans; Alan Paton in "Cry Thy
Beloved Country "and Makeba's Song of "Cameroon - What a Beautiful Country…,"
My perception of Cameroon's unique path to democracy and good governance
is simply this;
I think the Masters the Cameroonian Heart and sense they Broke;
Never shall we break the heart and will of the poor Marginalised minority;
We haven't come close to it, for blowing the wind of democracy;
The minority, powerful and haves may flourish or may fade;
But a bold minority, their will, their country's pride;
When once destroyed, can never be replenished.
Liberty, freedom, responsibility depart us; decay we are,
Shout advance democracy that never has been;
But corrupt we sink as the cup forever remain ours.
Poor in plenty we are, The France hidden we accept,
And the reward we make to the hidders
But why? So the game of democracy and politics.
we must the initiative and risk takers ;
Holding different views we take them for enemies ;
For nothing so blind as a colonised Mind we have ,
Remain the faithful students of our colonial masters,
But poor teachers to our democratic emancipation,
But why? So the game of democracy and politics.
to weaken the strong and strengthen the weak,
Opportunities we often miss to advance our democracy
Here we are crying in the wilderness;
Other nations we watch as forward they march,
Crying for democracy we must, but for how long?
So the game of democracy and politics the Cameroon way.
voyage autocracy, dictatorship and ethnocracy
Fare voyage twentieth century, as we hail.
The State is dead - Long live the State,
Dawn a new era for democracy we hope,
But how by whom when and for what purpose
Twentieth First century we welcome
So the game of democratic governance and politics.
1. As the continent embraces the new millennium, member states should
articulate a new agenda for rethinking democracy in relation to the inter-connectedness
between state and civil society for the common good;
2. The bases of politics must be recast on the framework of the separation
of powers and good governance. That is, the meaning and nature of power,
authority and accountability should be adequately re-examined in respect
of (i) the effective mobilisation and participation of the citizens in
the democratic process; (ii) enlightened understanding where citizens
enjoy adequate and equal opportunities; (iii) control over the agenda,
where the citizens have the right to elect and reject their representatives
in a free and fair election; (iv) inclusiveness - the right of each
citizen to contribute and benefit from democracy and democratic governance;
3. Adequate measures should be put in place to redress the existing global
marginalisation of Africa as well as ensure that the continent adopt a
democratic governance system with the primary purpose of promoting and
defending the national interests, ensuring quality life pattern for its
4. Governments should endeavour to ensure that they constantly enjoy legitimacy,
confidence and credibility from those who elected them and remain accountable
and transparent to the sovereign rights of the governed which must be
constantly adhered to;
5. Bear in mind that democracy is not a machine that runs by itself once
the proper principles and procedures are inserted, but one that requires
the total commitment of its population to accept the inevitability of
conflict or confrontation and the necessity for compromise and tolerance
for its own survival;
6. Each country should from its own geo-political, environmental, cultural
economic and other factors tailor its own path towards the institutionalisation
of a democratic governance system that ensures and sustains the fundamental
issues of liberty, freedom. participation and benefit-sharing in the development
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The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author
and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNESCO.
Les idées et opinions exprimées dans cette article sont
celles de l'auteur
et n’engagent pas la responsabilité de l´UNESCO.