Politics of Democratization, Ethnicity and its Management in Africa, with
Experience from Cameroon
or Belly Kingdom
Can a study of democratization and ethnicity in Algeria, Angola, Burundi,
Cameroon, Chad, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan , etc. hold
general lessons? Is the state of ethnicity and ethnic conflict the same
in these countries? Did democratization begin with the granting of independence
to Ghana following the fall out of Macmillan‘s famous speech of the "wind
of change blowing across the continent of Africa?" Africa since the late
1950s and early 1960s jumped on the bandwagon of democratization and good
governance for better or worse. Nkrumah’s adage of "seek ye first the
political kingdom" was practically converted to "fill ye my stomach" by
the new generation of African leaders and their subordinate citizens.
Some analysts even doubt that African states are yet to democratize. Their
argument is that African states since the attainment of political independence
have been more concerned with "politics of the belly" rather than the
proper transfer and appropriate use of power to address the changing and
challenging predicaments of the society. It is the governing elites and
not the masses that matters. As long as the elites enjoy the benefits
of the nation’s wealth, there is the presumption that all is fine with
the suffering population or the rest of society can go to hell and as
long as the power base of the ruling elites is not contested and threatened
by the suffering silent majority.
In the mythologies of Western experience, democracy means a clash of opposing
interests resulting in the voting of the "ins" out of power and instituting
of government of responsibility and accountability that respects the inalienable
rights of all citizens. So far, power in Africa is contained in a conservative
consensus- a consensus of the ganging up between the ruling elites and
the West, and in the interest of the latter. To succeed in this process
the issues of ethnic conflict and confrontation is constantly fanned by
the new stakeholders thereby penalizing civil society as the custodian
for the process of change and sustainability of democratic governance
The paper takes a look on two outstanding issues -democratization as a
concept and as a need system of governance for Africa and Cameroon in
particular: ethnicity as an input factor that moves forward or pervades
the process of good governance within the society, and as compass for
new scholarship and discourse. In this regard, what institutions and structures
are necessary to ensure a harmonious ethnic, social, economic, political
and cultural patterns of relationship in society? What alternative futures
for the society in question? The argumentative premises of departure is
that the ethnic question in Cameroon is a natural factor which has been
given greater impetus by colonialism and strongly propagated by post-colonial
and neo-colonial politics and leaders to ensure and maintain a political
power base for governance. That wrong use of ethnic diversity jeopardizes
the structural-functional base of the polity. The things fall apart as
a result of this no surprise.
The return to pluralistic party politics shows how fragile the political
base of many leaders were. Political actors deploy the transition to democracy
to fuel and exacerbated ethnic conflicts. On the other hand, globalization
of the economy equally intensifies the need for more natural resources
(most of which are scare and depleting). This has generated conflict over
natural resources and ethnic confrontation between groups and peoples
on control over land and resources.
Hence, the need for society to fashion out a co-habitation strategy and
code of conduct for the various ethnic constellations to perceive themselves
as citizens of one nation sharing its wealth as well as its predicament.
In short, national unity within the common framework of ethnic diversity
or diversity in unity. A sense of belonging is required. Institutions
must reflect and operate within the over all context of creating and sustaining
the "common sense of belonging" within the territorial boundaries of the
Conversely, the absence of that sense of belonging compromise consensus,
tolerance, acceptance, social justice and equality, rule of law and participatory
approach to good management and distribution of resources constitute an
indictment to confrontation and instability with the consequent result
of the nation falling apart. Numerous examples abound the world over of
the disastrous out come of the existence of a tyrannic minority or majority
lording it over others - Biafra, Burundi, Kosovo, Somalia, depicts nation
-states falling apart because of the lack of respect for the rights and
opinion of others. The underlying issue is that democracy and nation-states
flourish when they are tended by citizens willing to use their hard won
freedom to participate in the life of their society - adding their voices
to the public debate, electing and throwing out representatives who are
held accountable for their actions; and accepting the need for tolerance
and compromise to public life. The citizens of a democracy enjoy the right
of individual freedom, but they also share the responsibility of joining
to share a future that will continue to embrace the fundamental values
of freedom and self-government. These are issues yet to be implanted within
the political landscape of Cameroon.
Rights and Majority Rule
The departing premises builds on the slogan of majority rule and minority
rights. The rights of the minority must be respected and in no way must
minority tyrannic rule prevail over the majority. Yet rule by the majority
is not necessarily democratic. No one can, for example, tolerate or call
a system fair and just that permits say 39% of the population to oppress
36% in the name of majority; or a 20% turnout / vote cast as demonstrated
by the Cameroon presidential election of 1992 and 1997 respectively as
In a democratic society, majority rule must be coupled with guarantees
of individual human rights that, in turn, serve to protect the rights
of the minorities - whether ethnic, religious or political, or simply
the losers of the debate over a controversial issues; for example, the
creation of an independent electoral commission (IEC) to oversee the conduct
of a free and fair election as demanded by opposition parties in Cameroon,
or the institutionalization of the Ministry of Territorial Administration
as both the player, referee and spectator in handling elections in Cameroon.
What is fundamental is that the rights of minorities do not depend on
the goodwill of the majority and cannot be eliminated by majority vote.
The Anglophones in Cameroon constitute a minority. But this does not imply
that their rights should be trampled upon and eliminated or abrogated
by an existing Francophone majority. Nor does it imply that the Beti’s
as a minority in comparison to the total population of the country must
lord their hegemony over the rest of the nation just because one of them
happens to be Head of State.
The truism is that the rights of minorities are protected because democratic
laws and institutions protect the rights of all citizens. This implies
also that the laws of the nation - Constitution - is construed to limit
the powers of the government and guarantees fundamental rights to all
citizens. In such a society, the majority rules, and the right of minorities
are protected by the law and through the institutionalization of good
A pertinent issue to address is: why do some nations fail to institutionalize
political freedom, good governance and others succeed? Why some nations
to a large extent have contained ethnic fragmentation and others have
not? Should ethnic diversity be seen as a liability or an asset to a nation?
However, two explanations seem plausible and most compelling. To begin
with, democracy has conditions. And these conditions focus on the realm
of values and the socioeconomic realm. In these perspectives, without
a solid democratization and cultural heritage or a large middle class,
socioeconomic foundation, the democratic political edifice that people
attempted to erect would end up very shaky, and eventually come tumbling
down. Much illuminating scholarship ensued concerning democratic
values and middleclass cum market domination as preconditions for democratic
consolidation. Many analysts continue to seek explanations for democratization
in terms of a critical dimension distinguishing West from East (see Downing,
(1992:39); Huntington (1991); and others).
The focus is to illuminate democracy and ethnicity from a more universal
and positive perspective, one grounded in the cultural and economic particularities
of Africa within the global context. The idea therefore, is to explore
general political explanations for the different outcomes of attempts
to consolidate democracy and ethnicity as an inherent factor that should
be properly exploited for developmental rather than destructive ends.
Democracy should be understood as system and process by which citizens
freely and fairly choose their officials to run government that is accountable.
From this perspective, most African countries are not democratic and show
no signs of moving towards the democratic ideal. Admittedly, a particular
culture or economy may somehow facilitate or obstruct the building of
the political institution of democracy. The opinion is that once the political
institution of the liberal democracy is implanted within a society, it
becomes possible to study more or less successful political experiments
as well as learn how to build a stable democracy (see Horowitz, 1992).
With politics understood as the key to institutionalizing a democratic
breakthrough, one is better placed to treat the vicissitudes of democratization
and ethnicity in Africa as integral to a universal human project - democracy
as indicated by Haggard (1990). By and large, Africa is faced with the
realities of truer organic democracies or people’s democracies - Orwellian
double speak or self delusion. We see the state as either the mere violent
embodiment of a dominant class or the true embodiment of a pure community
leads to a despotic polity. Hence, we ignore the need to desaggregate
the state into diverse institutions so that an independent judiciary,
due process of law, human and civil rights can be guaranteed as protectors
of liberty. Or we ignore the need to see society as complex of ambiguous
identities and projects such that the imposition of the state defined
by a simple totalized community cannot help but have an anti -democratic
Given this understanding of democracy, Africa in general and Cameroon
in particular have failed in creating functional democratic institutions.
On the other hand, it can be argued that the continent has made progress
towards the attainment of a democratic society since the granting of independence
to many of colonies in the late 1950s, and early 1960s. This argument
is based on the following comparative analyses. Women in France started
voting only after 1945; blacks in America were kept off the voting machinery
until the mid 1960s. Both France and the United States are counted as
Apparently, franchise came to the African woman at the time of independence;
both minority and majority ethnic groups were given the right to vote
and to participate in the body politic of the society. From the word go,
a positive democratic trend was set in motion in Africa at the down of
independence. What has defeated this exemplary political development in
Cameroon? What factors have contributed to the sudden collapse or abrogation
of the political culture that was in the making less than a decade after
the attainment of independence? Why has the judiciary lost its independence,
the rule of law been set aside, human rights violated, and civil society
destroyed, with minority tyranny taking over majority rule or the tyranny
of the majority wrongly institutionalized and legalized over all principles
of democratic governance? Why have the Cameroonian people thrown away
the child (democracy) with the bath water? For the ruling party, the abrogation
of democratic principles is classified as "advanced democracy". A classification
that is not only false but betrays the notion of democracy and the general
definition of the concept as meaning different things to different people
Both Gros (1998) and Sörenson (1993) see democratization as a transition
phenomenon involving a gradual, mainly elite-driven transformation of
the formal rules that govern a political system. By and large, democracy
is not an end-game; rather, a means to an end in the view of Dahl (1971).
Furthermore, countries democratize so as to become democratic in the long
run. A democratizing country can be distinguished from a non-democratic
one mainly by differences in political culture. Hence democratization
might be described as a stage in the evolution of a country where the
rules governing power alternation and state-society relations, though
ostensibly based on democratic ideals, have not been fully internalized.
Secondly, democratization presupposes a taming and neutralization of the
elite’s anti-democratic, military and security forces. And democracy is
a process that institutionalizes fair, general rules that risk a loss
Conventional wisdom on ethnicity holds that the only way ethnicity
could be managed is to eradicate it. It is argued that because the major
consequences of ethnic conflict is nation-destroying rather than nation-building,
states bedeviled by such conflict or desirous of becoming nations must
devise ways of eradicating it. This wisdom is right to the extent that
ethnic conflict is perceived as real, not false or epiphenomenal. But
it is wrong in prescribing eradication because this presupposes that ethnic
groups and divisions which provide the bases for conflicts can themselves
The experiences of multi-ethnic societies the world over, show the impossibility
of eradication. Rather, the entire point in managing or mismanaging ethnic
conflicts is the acknowledgement that they cannot be washed away or eradicated
and at the same time, cannot be left alone because they are capable of
destroying states. Cameroon runs the risk of destroying itself in several
ways. The underlying thesis is that the democratization processes, by
its very notion of mobilizing greater participation and placing the question
of control (and sharing or distribution) of state power and resources
on top of the political agenda, exacerbate ethnic conflicts and tensions
and therefore make their management a critical matter, not only for the
success of democratization but also for the survival of the state as a
whole. There is need therefore for examining the etiology of ethnic conflicts
and how the democratization process impacts on it by heightening or reducing
these conflicts. This becomes evident in respect of exploring the situation
in terms of such variables as competition for scarce resources, uneven
development, class conflict amongst others. Equally important is to see
how ethnicity impacts on democratization processes. The empirical evidence
is drawn mainly from Cameroon, with comparative mores being provided from
the experiences of other African countries.
Process - Basis of Argument
Dahl and Lindblom (1953:42) note hat ‘’governments are organizations that
have a sufficient monopoly of control to enforce an orderly settlement
of disputes with other organizations in the area. Whoever controls government
usually has the ‘’last word’’ on question, whoever controls government
can enforce decisions on other organizations in the area.’’ The views
of Dahl and Lindblom relate to the functionality of society. No society
is perfectly integrated, and although any social system is built on conformity
of its members to expectations, this conformity is not automatic. The
process of democratization is never completely successful - whether as
regards a particular nation or group of countries. Diverse functional
problems and cultural residue prevent the structures from having perfect
clarity, consistency, and effectiveness, delicate problems arise from
the balancing and inter-meshing of various civil society groups in the
total polity and strains are inevitably set-up.
Students of ethnicity have demonstrated that multi-ethnicity, no matter
how complex it may be, does no by itself produce conflicts (Barrows, 1976,
1992). Rephrased differently, and seen within the perspectives of groups
coming but not mixing, as well as borrowing from Smith’s (1965) description
of ethnic apartness in a plural society, people do not tear themselves
apart basically because they belong to different ethnic setting.
A further explanation is presented by Okamura (1981) and Osaghae (1994)
that ethnicity is aptly summarized by the situationality thesis that ethnic
conflicts ensue in situations which present conditions under which competing
actors -as individuals, groups or classes - find the ethnic resource expedient.
Thus in situations where the conditions do not permit of ethnic calculation
or where ethnic considerations are eclipsed by class, religious, regional
or such other contending divisive resources, ethnic conflicts are not
likely to occur. Such a situation provide some form of hope in the transformation
of cleavages from the ethnic to class or party identity a la Geertz’s
(1963) integrative revolutions as a form of addressing ethnic conflicts.
It is clear that ethnic diversity and conflicts are deep rooted. The attainment
of independence, and the failure of governments to respond positively
to the needs and aspirations of the people have only revealed the solid
ethno-undercurrents in the society. The experiences of several multi-ethnic
states in Africa: Nigeria. Cameroon, Kenya etc have shown, they do not
disappear, rather have intensified, particularly in the past decades of
economic hardship faced by many of these countries.
In some cases, ‘’they may be latent, suppressed, displaced or simply well-managed,
but they remain a sore which hurts now and soothes later’’ (Osaghae 1994).
Even in countries that have introduced socialist forms of governance and
frameworks for resolving the national question as well as managing ethnic
conflicts, have crumbled into violent crises following the release of
ethnic nationalism through democratization.
Cameroon is a nation-state engulfed with more than 230 ethnic groups and
a complicated chequered colonial and post-colonial political process-an
Achilles heel of the post-colonial state. There are at least two possible
analytically distinct phases of the democratization process and as well
as two varieties of ethnic conflicts in Cameroon. Beginning with ethnic
conflicts, we may distinguish between public realm ethnicity that centers
around determining who gets what when and how. The other concerns the
private realm which may not necessarily involve state intervention. Given
the state of limited development in the private sector in the country,
our concern here is focused on public realm ethnicity. So far this form
of public realm ethnicity has not been manifested in a civil war like
the case of Nigeria (1966 - 70) and Belgium Congo (in the early 1960s).
However the likelihood of such a development hangs in the balance in view
of the Anglophone - Francophone divide where the former are marginalized
from the political machinery of the state. In other words, any form of
secession can develop into a serious conflict between the two groups.
At the lower realm concerning tribal conflicts, this remains a constant
feature in certain parts of the country, particularly in the North West
and in the three Northern provinces and mostly centered around issues
of competition for land and scarce resources. The northern parts of Cameroon
constitute a critical source of ethnic tension and the South-West and
North-West with respect to regionalism could be regarded as a variant
of ethnicity. Because of the intricate interweaving of the related cleavages,
a regional or religious conflict can very likely emerge as ethnic it serves
to sharpen ethnic differences between the various provinces in the country.
Another realm of the competition for scarce resources can be seen within
the framework of colonialism and peripheral capitalist formation which
generated new and competitive notions of development and conflicts amongst
the various groups. It also intensified existing conflicts as well as
generated new ones between the different groups. Equally seen within this
context is the competition for public jobs, admissions into schools, especially
institutions of higher learning or specialized schools, and distribution
of state resources, appointment, other critical aspects of uneven development,
through the location of development projects amongst others are sources
So far, the pervasiveness or regularity and intensity of ethnic conflicts
in Cameroon is not as acute as in some other countries, Nigeria, Democratic
Republic of Congo, Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda where the Hutu and Tutsi
are locked in a tense power struggle suffice. The most likely answer why
ethnicity is intense and violent in some countries and not in others may
be attributed to a number of inter-related issues. Possible explanations
pivot on issues such as (i) the balance between economic and political
control; (ii) the character of ethnic demands, interest articulation;
(iii) the form of governance system which either promotes centralization
or degree of decentralization of government structures; and (iv) the extent
of legitimacy of the ethnicity and quality of management. Politically,
the demise of colonial rule in the late 1950’s saw the intense rivalry
among the emerging elites who found the ethnic weapon most expedient in
the competition for political and state power. This rivalry continues
with greater intensity following the wave of modernization and the globalization
process which impacts on the country, economically, scientifically, technologically
and industrially deficient, and weak in many aspects.
Cameroon’s efforts towards what Huntington calls the ‘’third wave’’ began
perhaps with the departure of Ahidjo in November 1982. Paul Biya’s accession
to the supreme magistracy on 6 November 1982, signaled a new wave for
democratic changes particularly with the slogan of rigor, moralization
and democratization as forms of symbolic participation, regular elections
and the political devices, reinforcing the ideologies of the government
as true representatives of the people. The publication of Communal Liberalism
in 1987 by Paul Biya was well ahead of the virus that caught the nations
behind Soviet Union’s domination.
The essence of democracy is that the governed decide who governs through
a free and fair election. Thus the citizen is vested with the inalienable
rights of choosing and dismissing the government (see Lewis 1985:61-63).
Is this the situation in Cameroon? Categorically no. The rights of Cameroonian
citizens to elect and dismiss their law-makers was abrogated in September
1966 following the establishment of a single party which at no time tolerated
any form of divergent political opinions.
The reinstitution of political pluralism in 1990 following the formation
of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) brought Cameroon one-step towards
the creation of a democratic polity. Paul Biya (1987) gave green lights
in that direction with a plurality of candidates competing for parliamentary
candidacy nomination within his ruling Cameroon Peoples Democratic Movement
(CPDM). However, the ideal of the New Deal regime crumbled along the way
due to a number of inter-related factors - internal and external in character.
Internally, the politics of exclusion and ethnic hegemony had overtaken
the principles of national unity and thus destroying the underlying elements
of national cohesion and sense of belonging. Secondly and flowing from
the establishment of ethnic hegemony over the rest of the society by the
Beti group, was the institutionalization of corruption and mismanagement
with moral ethics and values destroyed. That the economy of the country
took a nose dive was not surprising as civil society lost its sense of
touch and as custodian of the rights of the people. A state of the survival
of the fittest and fattening of these who wielded power from state coffers
Externally, Cameroon’s declining economy and state of mismanagement paved
the way for the impositions of economic measures by the Bretton Woods
Financial Institutions through the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP)
which only brought serious hardship to an already abject poverty ridden
society. Many see SAP as socially added problems depicting the state of
poverty in the society. It is evidently clear that the one-party system
did minimize to a large extent ethnic conflict and confrontation. Bama
(1990:11) asserts that "during the past five years, the democratization
process, added by an ailing economy, has torn my country into pieces.
Both ethnic and socio-cultural cleavages, which were buried in the fear
of the one-party state have suddenly reappeared with much menacing force
that the very foundation of my country’s nationhood is today in serious
To a large extent, the single - party had a significant impact restraining
ethnic rivalry in a situation where the country’s bewildering diversity
in respect to geopolitics, social cultural, religious, economic and ethnic
composition and diversity is concerned. The potential resources base of
Cameroon’s 230 or more ethnic constellation was mobilized and geared towards
the common goal of national development weaknesses of certain ethnic groups
was subdued. What mattered was the total prosperity of the nation. But
behind that expected prosperity lay the ingenuity, strength and risk-taking
attitude of certain ethnic groups (Lema Forje 1993). Here the Bamileke
excel as a vibrant hard-working and economy risk taking ethnic group.
Their ingenuity has not been properly exploited by the government for
the benefit of the country. A number of authors (Mentan 1997, Lewis 1958
and others) draw attention to the fact that Cameroonian indigenous ethnic
groups have emerged as significant elements in the political division
of the country. In other words, ethnic constellation have equally adopted
some form of affinity with polical parties, interest groups and so on,
as well as they are limited to occupational categories and job allocation.
This is why individuals have been aligned and / or mobilized on ethnic
strata for political ends.
Within this parenthesis, Akinsola (1964) looks at the mobilization process
as ‘’ a set of patterned responses, adaptive adjustments to the unanticipated
consequences of the process of nation-building’’. This ethnic diversity
should be seen as an asset not a liability to nation-building and the
socioeconomic transformation of the society. Here Skinner (1967:173) observes
that ‘’the central function of ethnic affiliations is to permit people
to organize into social, cultural or political entities able to compete
with others for whatever goods and services viewed as valuable in their
environment.‘’ Behind ethnic reality lies also ethnic conflicts propelled
by many and varied factors.
In the case of Cameroon as noted by Mentan (1997: 38) competitive attitude
and behaviour has been pitched between the depoliticization of the masses
which constitutes the politics of the ruling class and the politicization,
radicalization and militarization of ethnic groups by the threatened ruling
class, and the opposition in the wings. This constitutes a serious dilemma
in the state - civil society relationship in the democratization building
process in Cameroon.
For example, the indigenizing of the bureaucracy and the marginalization
of certain ethnic groups or province has made ethnic confrontation inevitable
in Cameroon. This also has a spillover effect on the democratization process.
Kasfir (1976:51) asserts, "once ethnicity becomes a salient factor in
politics, people increase its intensity by adopting ethnic explanation
of succeeding events. Ethnicity, then becomes a self -fulfilling prophecy."
and Political Factors
The reinstitution of political pluralism in 1990 exacerbated ethnic anomisty
and political warfare between those advocating for change and those determined
to retain the existing status quo of a monolithic political system, ethnic
hegemony and elitism. A state of dual contest exists within the society.
One between the Anglophone and Francophone. The other between Center and
South Provinces (Beti) and the rest of the society. The Anglophone-Francophone
issue is a long standing one that has taken the connotation of secession
and assimilation. This is more compounding because democratization is
taking place at the same time that the country is experiencing a serious
and unprecedented economic crises and recession, mismanagement and corruption,
total loss of confidence on the administration, and a functioning regime
whose legitimacy and credibility is seriously questioned. At least three
pertinent factors seem to dominate the political agenda of democratization
and economic restructuring process, namely;(i) governance and competition
for state power;(ii) minority nationalism; and (iii) competition for scarce
and Competition for Power
The issue of democratic governance has roots in colonial legacy in respect
of the kind of governance left by the departing colonial master to their
respective colonies. The two inherited colonial governance forms pivoted
on the politics of ‘’indirect rule’’ and the politics of ‘’assimilation’’.
The two systems transcend into a contest and representing ‘’federalism’’
and ‘’centralism’’ -a system cherished by the Anglophone and Francophone
communities respectively. However, reunification gave the centralized
system a stronger edge in the governance system as well as it contributed
to serious maladministrative practices. The virtues of indirect rule are
yet to be grasped by Francophones.
Analytically, ethnic conflict was produced more by the state’s threatening
actions regarding the various communities which sustained peoples
lives than by an intrinsic hostility among the Cameroon people (see Bates
1981; Chazan 1983). In addition, since the reunification of the two Cameroon,
and particularly following the abolition of the pluralistic political
party structure and federal system (1972), the centralization of production
and distribution of resources, patronage and privileges has become an
object of fierce competition among the various ethnic and interest groups.
The situation has grown worse since the abortive coup of April 1984, when
the new governing ethnic hegemony desperate to create a material base,
the emergent bourgeoisie turned on the state in a process of primitive
capital accumulation, see (Ake 1978, 1981). People of the ethnic group
of the former president were hunted, molested and killed or what is known
as "la chasse aux Haussas" (see Ministry of Culture 1984:10). The massacre
of Northerners by Southerners creates a North-South cleavage which though
is forgiven but not forgotten within the political dimensions of the process
of democratization and the sustainability of democratic institutions in
the country. Both Takougang (1997:169) and the (Cameroon Post (February
24 - March 3 1994) report that;" since the advent of multi-parties politics
in Cameroon, many citizens who have dared to take sides with opposition
political parties have always had it rough from the CPDM or RDPC government
or the so call presidential majority who are doing everything to stay
in power. It has not only been a mere arrests and torture with flimsy
or no explanation at all, but also deaths, a situation which has forced
many Cameroonians to flee the country to strange land for safety.
Was Biya’s "New Deal Package" as exposed at the 1985 CNU-CPDM Bamenda
Congress, and his 1987 vision of liberalization as well as the call for
rigor, integrity and moralization in the conduct of all state affairs
and private sector activities just one of those ploys of individual self
-enrichment and a disguised obstacle to freedom and democracy in Cameroon
or what? Events thereafter show that Biya’s political reforms were more
symbolic than real. Apparently in the late 1980s, he continued to resist
calls for the introduction of multiparty party democracy in Cameroon .
Even though he encouraged competition within his CPDM Party , but opposed
demands by Cameroonians for the creation of a functional multiparty system
,describing this as simply a ‘distasteful passing fetish’. (Simpson 1991.653).
Like most African leaders, Biya perceived political party pluralism both
as threat to his authority and as a politically divisive factor detrimental
to social and economic development .The argument advanced by Biya was
the one party system appears to be the only suitable institutional
framework for bringing together Cameroonians of all origins. It should
therefore, give birth to a new brand of Cameroonians devoid of any tribal
or regional allegiances. It is necessary for the mobilization of human
resources, especially intellectual resources, which though soinvaluable,
are still in our country. For how could we ensure the efficient running
of the state machinery if the political leanings of the few senior officials
Cameroon now has were to torn between several opposition parties, thus
creating for any ruling regime an insurmountable crises of power? (ESSTI
fragile political institutions, the silence of civil society, and the
weak national political cultures, and backed with the newly emerged ethnic
hegemony, the state was quickly transformed by the new political constellation
into an instrument for pursuing personal, ethnic and other sectional interests
at the expense of national and other groups interests. Thus the democratization
process is often thwarted and captured by ethnic hegemony and an apparent
ganging up process by individuals who continue to benefit from the existing
spoiled governance system, or by an ethnic group that has succeeded to
seize control over the centralized state. The danger of dominance of the
Beti hegemony and the ruling CPDM (RDPC in French) party remains foretold.
Cameroon has so far been spared the agony and dilemmas of civil war caused
by the ethnicization of state power. But the ethnicization of state power
under a monolithic party system enhanced an authoritarian regime to successfully
clamped down on the opposition, oppressed and silenced civil society either
through marginalization or co-optation. Civil Society is both weak and
Cameroon is characterized by a number of minority nationalistic tendencies.
To begin with there is the Anglophone- Francophone divide. In respect
of nationalism, the Anglophone minority has stood at the forefront of
the struggle for the democratization of the country. Its strong believe
in federalism and good governance has much to do with the kind of colonial
system instituted by the British. Within the new political constellation
of the country, it has been marginalized and oppressed. In contrast to
the Anglophones, the Beti (who can be considered as a minority group vis-à-vis
the rest of the population) wield sufficient power and now feel as constituted
relevant claimants groups to power and privileges within the society.
One point deducible from the discussion above, the two groups show that
the Beti have emerged as a circumstantial powerful minority group opposed
to any form of political liberalization, and the Anglophone community
a marginalized and oppressed group dedicated to democratic change and
good governance . Generally, where minorities find no channels for expressing
their grievances, they often pursue violent, underground means of seeking
justice. In some cases, they become separatist. The Southern Cameroon
National Council (SCNC) is a typical example.
This is not the case with the Anglophone community. Their quest for a
return to federalism (and the secessionist aspiration) is carried out
within the framework of non- violence and within the principles of the
constitutional democratic ideals. Equally interesting is the fact that
some Anglophones (South West in particular) have not construed the concept
of democratic transition and federalism based on the principles of the
rich oil wealth and other natural resources in this part of Cameroon to
assert their right to better treatment within the existing discriminative
centralized system, but because of their inherent belief in the nation
- state of Cameroon under democratic rule and governance. The National
Oil Company (SONARA) located in the South-West is manned by Bassas from
the Littoral province.
The violence attitude of the Beti minority group is due to the fear of
loosing existing privileged positions in the society that genuine constitutional
democratic changes is bound to usher. It is not surprising why at the
start of Cameroon third wave to democratization, the Beti (center and
South Provinces) expressed alignment with their kin and kith in central
African Republic, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea in what they envisaged as
a "Fang" State. The commonness of language and culture being a motivating
It should be noted that ethnicity is instigated and intensified by competition
for control of state power which is necessary for attaining desirable
goals of development. The anglophone differ with the francophone on this
point. For the Francophone, any move by the Anglophone for democratic
change is generally perceived as a movement towards the capturing and
control of state power by the latter. But the intention of the Anglophone
community and those Francophones who have come realize the values of democratic
governance, is to ensure social and economic justice, rule of law and
the sustainability of the country. Their overall intention is not
to capture the control of State power for the Anglophones to ensure the
practice and sustainability of democratic governance for the country,
through a democratically elected government which could either be a one
party controlled or a multiplicity of parties in a union government.
for scarce Resources
Competition for scarce resources constitutes a major avenue for ethnic
conflict as well as it thwarts the transition to democratic governance.
The situation in Cameroon is that the integration of different groups
through colonialism into a peripheral capitalist formation brought new
competitive notions of development as well as it heightened existing conflicts
and produced new ones amongst the groups (see Melson and Wolp 1970).
The position taken by Kirk-Greene, (1980) concerning the indigenization
of organs of government and even within the private society, notably in
the armed forces including the police and prison warders, holds true of
Cameroon. The indigenization of the civil service in Cameroon particularly
since 1984 is total. Even if one should see this a fatal legacy of colonialism
(the use of available human power and capacity to ensure colonial administration),
this attitude by subsequent Cameroonian administration has continued to
affect inter - ethnic relations especially because of the rampant abuse
of power government officials to fill positions with their kinsfolk.
Specifically, structured inequalities that abound among groups can be
identified as the main bases for retarding the democratization process
and promoting ethnic conflicts in Cameroon. Appointments to key
administration posts within the government and influential managerial
positions in parastatals and even in the private sector is indicative
of what Adam (1971:21 - 22) sees as the "result of efforts by underprivileged
groups to preserve the privileges they enjoy by exploiting subjected groups."
Table 1 shows how the Beti being a minority population in comparison to
the rest of the society exploit both the competition for state power and
scarce resources by virtue of one of them wielding power to their advantage
(Onomo 1997: 102).
d’Entreprises Publiques et Parapubliques
Director Generals. %
Note: Centre-Sud Provinces is inhabited by the Beti.
state has been under serious pressure as a result of the government’s
failed promises, and of not matching words with action or doing so but
in the opposite direction. The unfair distribution of posts and resources
as indicated in Table 1, is indicative that the process of building a
democratic and economically viable society is of course in Cameroon. Apparently,
Communal Liberalism raised the hopes of many Cameroonians, but never satisfied
their aspirations of living in a state of freedom, dignity, justice, respect
of human rights and with a sense of rigour in the appropriate and sustainable
management of the resources of the nation. It became clear that communal
solidarity, national unity and a sense of belonging had been converted
into ethnic hatred and assassinations, the so called’’ come-no-go’’ phenomenon,
the hatred of the Anglophones and Bamilekes by the Betis that gripped
the country as wild fire, and with moral rectitude reduced into moral
decadence portrayed Cameroon as a nation evolving under a state of painful
nightmare. Instead of quality management, the virus of corruption and
maladministration gripped the country.
Unfortunately, nothing was done on the part of nation’s leadership to
address the malaise that had gripped the nation nor implement into concrete
terms vital strategic watchwords as ‘’internal dialogue, the free exchange
of ideas, tolerance of opinion, promotion of our national culture, the
local economy and social justice’’ as propounded in the slogan of the
New Deal Government ( Cameroon Post August 12-19,1991). Sad enough, for
many Cameroonians, by the late 1980s, Biya’s early welcome reforms strategic
approach under what was known as ‘’the New Deal’’ governance style was
by all standard noting short of ‘’consolidating’’ total power and fanning
ethnic hegemony and divide within the Cameroon polity. Instead of participatory
democracy, Guided democracy became the secret weapon for change. Political
change was guided and dictated by the pace that made it more comfortable
for the ruling elites to derail the democratization wagon started in 1990.
Failed promises and the illusion of democratic reform worked in favour
of two groups, namely the francophone against the anglophone, and, Beti
against the society. Furthermore, derailing the democratic process added
to economic recession and the total collapse of the state thereby prompting
the restructuring policy strategy imposed by the Bretton Wood Financial
Institutions on Cameroon. The outcome is well noted by Osaghae (1994:22-23)
that ‘’although economic restructuring has in some cases preceded independently
of democratization, the realization by the people that economic power
is the basis of political power has made conflicts over scarce resources
an integral part of democratization. In many countries, democratization
afforded marginalized, disadvantaged and oppressed groups opportunities
to finally seek economic redress. The process of doing so in the face
of serious economic recession and deprivation intensified conflict over
control of state power and other resources.’’
So far, the politics of democratization and ethnicity in Cameroon remains
a complicated one. Each transition toward democracy has its own unique
characteristics. It is left for each country to develop these characteristics
towards the achievement of democratic governance and good management.
What has been characteristic of Cameroon could be X-rayed under the following
factors: guided and restricted democracies; frail and unconsolidated democratics;
democracies plagued by acute social and economic problems.
of Transition and Consolidation
From the foregoing discussions, the condition unity and the process of
transition from authoritarian or non-democratic rule to democracy in Cameroon
has been crowded with a number of phases that overlap. So far, the country
is still within phase one - the preparatory phase characterized by a political
struggle leading to the breakdown of the non-democratic order and regime
and ethnic conflict: The other phases of significant importance which
the country has yet to roll through is that of the ‘’ decision phase’’
which should institute clear-cut elements of a democratic order and the
final state, that of ‘’the consolidated phase’’ where the new democracy
is further developed and, eventually, democratic practices finally established
as an inherent part of the political culture of the country. There is
no historical law that can best define the transition process as a natural
order of things. Each country has to map out its own path through the
uneasy seesaw between authoritarian and consolidated democracy. Anything
short of consolidated democracy is unaccepted for a country like Cameroon
within a very challenging and rapidly changing global system.
As of present, democracy in Cameroon has been under the tutelage of ‘’guided
or restricted democracy’’ with the Head of State and his ruling CPDM dictating
the pace under very careful guided and controlled strategic system of
manipulating a divided opposition and coerced civil society that limits
competition, participation and the liberties of the people. The ruling
CPDM has taken it as rule and right to interfere in the democratic process
in order to protect its interests even in the wake of total lost of confidence
in the administration which is seen as not having the legitimacy and consent
of people. The true results of the 1992 Presidential, 1996 Local Council
and the 1997 Parliamentary elections depict this.
The manipulation of the 1991 Tripartite Accord to establish a concerted
constitutional framework for the country show the kind of manipulative
machinery the government had created to frustrate any positive movements
towards the consolidation of democratic governance and good management
in Cameroon. Frail, unconsolidated democracies in Africa is a common phenomenon
because the anvil on which democracy should be construed in terms of the
existing institutions of state and their positions in society remains
extremely weak and fragile. In the case of Cameroon, the state has failed
woefully both economically and politically. This is very sad as Cameroon
was once looked upon as the emerging political laboratory for Africa following
the peaceful reunification of the British and French administered United
Nations Trust territories.
In general, Cameroonians are poverty ridden today, if not far worse as
they were thirty years ago. For the Anglophone community, they are worse
of more than in the 1950s. Cameroon like a number of African countries
has failed to effectively institutionalized any form of effective democratic
rule and good management. Rather they excel in authoritarian regime form.
What can be the possible problem? Most outstanding among many possible
plausible answers is that the total lack of legitimacy characterizing
most of these governments. The case of Cameroon remains crystal clear
to the extent that the leader of the SDF, Ni John Fru Ndi has openly called
upon the French (the political broker and space setter for political changes
in Cameroon) to intervene in the country‘s political impasse (Ndifor 1999:1
- 2 and Ni John Fru Ndi 1999: 11 - 12).
Secondly, the departure of the colonial masters created a vacuum in the
political system which unfortunately was filled by a form of neo- patrimonialistic
regime structure. This has been described by max Weber as a type of governance
originating from a royal dynasty and which rather treats matters of state
as a personal affair. The governance system in Cameroon since reunification
in 1961 has been one of personal rule and could therefore be interpreted
as neo-patrimonialism. This personal rule has intensified and received
greater impetus and impact since 1984. The coming into being of advanced
communication and information technology has contributed to this form
of personal rule based on personal royalty especially toward the strong
man -the head of state- who now controls both the competition for state
power and competition for scarce resources. In all key positions and important
appointments in the civil service and armed forces are filled with the
loyal followers clansfolk, friends, relatives, and ethnic groups of the
man at the helm of the state magistracy. In return, the loyalty of persons
to the strongman (Head of state) is reinforced by their sharing in the
spoils of office.
Significant here also is the fact that the head of state commands a web
of informal networks or patron -client relationships through which the
spoils of office are distributed. The greatest beneficiaries here are
first and foremost kinsmen, hence the Beti hegemony within the body polity
of the country, like the Hausa hegemony during the days of Ahidjo though
that was not as pronounced and discriminative as what exists today. Comparatively,
the distribution of resources attained some degree of fairness than now.
Whichever way, personal rule and patron client relationship remains an
important factor within the body politic of Cameroon and many other African
What is significant to observe here are two factors, "belly politics"
and the institutionalization and mystification of the strongman as the
embodiment of national purpose and around whom every thing must evolve.
Given the Cameroon situation, the President is above and apart from the
civil society. He can do what ever pleases him without a reprimand from
the constitutional legalized institutions of government and the state.
The financial coffers of the state remains his personal property and at
no time accountable to any one in society. It is within his prerogative
to change at will the constitution, all depending on his night dreams
and the influence of his spouse or phone call from the external custodian
of the country amongst others. With a flick of his head, the citizen can
be disposed or done away like that. This embodiment of absolute power
in personality is traceable to the interview given by the head of state,
President Paul Biya to Eric Chinje (CRTV 1987).
This absolute control of the state's machinery impedes any form of democratic
rule. But enhances the avenues for corruption and of mismanagement through
illegal access to the state's resources in the form of jobs, contracts.
Favorable loans, opportunity for illegal gain, and access to resources
not directly controlled by the state but subject to state regulation,
such as import permit and business licenses (Sörenson, 1993). The
collapse of Credit Agricole Bank being a typical example amongst many
such inappropriate business activities under the new deal regime.
As a result of the state's lack of legitimacy, and in view of the fact
that many Cameroonian are excluded from the rewards and benefits emanating
from clientelism, the government resort to coercion or threat of it for
survival. In determining the degree of democracy and ethnicity in Cameroon
and in many African states, one should perhaps focus less on the differences
between civilian and military regimes and more on the direct and indirect
political influence on the arm forces (Collier, 1975:22). Since reunification
one can rightly conclude that the democratization process in Cameroon
is best x-rayed by "the study of the collapse of the tutelary democratic
regimes introduced during the decolonialization and the emergence of various
types of authoritarian regime form and leadership style - Ahidjo and Biya.
Cameroon's transition to democratic governance is confronted with serious
economic and social problems. Since mid 1980, Cameroon has been subjected
to its own lost decade - with declining living standards and increased
poverty for the vast majority of the marginalized poor. It will take some
time for the country to recover from its current economic and social decline.
Thus, the country's democratization process is plagued by acute social
and economic problems with no sign for solutions and since rooms is not
created for popular mobilization and participation of the masses in the
process of change and development.
Cameroon’s has been subjected to its own lost decade - with declining
living standards and increased poverty for the vast majority of the marginalized
poor. It will take some time for the country to recover from its current
economic and social decline. Thus the country’s democratization process
is plagued by acute social and economic problems with no sign for solutions
and since room is not created for popular mobilization partnership and
participation of the masses in the process of change and development.
A new from of social movement and popular mobilization is necessary to
inject new ideological coherence, vision and structuring of the system
is imperative otherwise the country has no chance of positively surviving
in the new millennium. New forms of ethnic conflict management should
be put in place to better handle arising issues that thwart the democratization
Cameroon’s approach towards the third wave of democratization is indicative
of the fact that single factor is accountable for the contemporary surge
and quest for democratic governance and good management. Above all, that
the country has yet to articulate and aggregate strategic policy measures
for ethnic conflict management as it impacts on the democratization and
Socio-economic, technological and industrial process.
In addressing these issues, there is an urgent need to unravel Cameroon’s
specific problems some of which have been addressed here and better summarized
as the ‘’preparatory stage’’ characterized by a political struggle which
can either lead to a break down or step forward in the third wave of democratization.
In this preparatory stage, the breakdown of the non-democratic regime
has still not yet occurred. Until this breakdown or collapse takes place,
the country cannot move forward to the second stage - ‘’the decision phase’’
where clearcut decisions are made to establish a solid platform for democratic
The attempt by civil society and the constructive opposition parties -
the SDF for example, has been to create a process of comprehensive and
concerted bases for the breakdown of existing non - democratic regime
form in Cameroon. For some time, civil society has been active in that
process. However, civil society has equally been caught or gripped by
the ‘’frustration shock phenomenon’’ that compromises its continued efforts
towards change. The vision of an all -powerful Head of State and coercive
mechanisms put in place has also been responsible for the frustration
shock that has gripped civil society.
The non -democratic regime form that the country has since the reunification
of the two Cameroons did pregnant civil society with spoil attitudes hence
the state of frustration. Civil society has yet to overcome that stage
of shock. Cameroon civil society has yet to give birth to the pregnancy
of non -democratic governance style. Secondly Cameroon should move from
its present nation-state practice to city-state governance from where
each city builds and operates on the basis of autonomy and independent
strategy as a possible way of addressing ethnicity and transcending the
ethnic boundary if the nation-state has to survive and make its impact
as a governance structure for the country.
So far, the typical pattern confronting Cameroon is that of an established
uneasy fluctuation between authoritarianism and frail democracy. Under
the Biya regime, there is an expanded form of restricted or guided democracy
that is frail, unconsolidated and plagued by acute social, economic and
management problems. What seems to paint a more optimistic democratization
process and ethnic conflict management picture in the hope created out
of frustrating state of affairs by mobilizing and organizing civil society
(grass roots) in the struggle for democratization. The Cameroon civil
society is better informed today than before 26 May 1990.
But this hope born out of the frustration runs a further risk of sinking
into serious apathy if the economic and social conditions of the people
are not drastically improved. The present state of economic and social
crisis impedes a smooth passage of the democratization process. There
is a long – way to attaining consolidated democracy in Cameroon.
The ultimate search for democratization and in managing ethnic conflicts
in Cameroon is for the country to drastically reduce the sole formation
and dependence of political parties on a particular ethnic group (particularly
that of the leader) to build a national political base and bridges across
ethnic boundaries and social strata in the society. Such a search can
only be produced within the framework of social justice, the rule of law
and respect for human dignity as well as economic and political deregulation,
for the state to relinquish much of its control of the political and economic
The current dilemmas of the process of democratization rest mostly
on the shoulders of Cameroonian, who must take the first step towards
breaking the basis of a non- democratic regime form that characterized
the country for four decades; industrial and technological awakening
of the country and to build a culture vital for the sustainable development
of the country.
1. Civil society has to reassert itself in the process of change and development
and to remain an active participant in the democratization and economic
2. Increased participation and empowerment of the poor constitute an important
factor in a process of democratization where a sense of belonging not
alienation must be cultivated;
3. Civil society must learn to take its own share of responsibility and
to contribute positively towards the emergence of a conductive environment
for the consolidated stage to take place;
4. There is a serious but imperative need toward greater political, cultural
and economic empowerment of the poor, underprivileged and marginalized
5. Recognition of the existence of minorities not as a liability but as
an assert to the overall wellbeing of the nation;
6. Limit the powers of majority rule with a focus on respect for minority
rights, participation and responsibility. The minority should not establish
itself as a tyranny in society either. Majority opinion must also be respected
and never used as a tyrannic mechanism for development;
7. The need to develop accommodative practices and political parties
should not bee made coercive instruments in the hands of bureaucrats.
8. The separation of powers amongst the three institutions of government
being essential for the growth and sustainability of democratic governance;
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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.