Cameroon’s one-man state has uncertain future
TWO decades of repressive government under President Ahmadou Ahidjo have been followed by 32 years under President Paul Biya, one of Africa’s most entrenched leaders, who had served as Cameroon’s prime minister under the previous regime, writes World Review expert Professor Dr Jaime Pinto.
President Biya has ruled Cameroon’s 20 million population since 1982, the first 10 years under a single-party system.
His career began as a bureaucrat before serving as secretary general of the presidency and prime minister under President Ahidjo, and then succeeding to the presidency.
Massive popular discontent under a single party system led President Biya to allow Cameroon’s first multi-party elections in 1992. He has been consecutively re-elected in 1997, 2004 and 2011.
Cameroon has been ranked by Freedom House as ‘not free’ for almost 40 years. There are long-held social and political grievances and general discontent became clear in 2011, in the context of a controversial presidential election.
Legal and institutional reforms were set in place including a new electoral code and a second legislative chamber, the Senate, was created.
Parliamentary and local elections in 2013 went smoothly helping to boost social and political stability.
The ruling party, the Cameroon Peoples’ Democratic Movement, won 148 seats giving the president a comfortable parliamentary majority. The main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front, won 18 seats.
Cameroon, in the west central Africa region, is bordered by Nigeria to the west, Chad to the northeast, the Central African Republic to the east and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo to the south. It remains stable in a region marked by political and security crisis.
Cameroon remains pretty much a one-man regime.
Political apathy rules and opposition offers no viable alternative to political disenchantment.
Cameroon still has one of the world’s highest rates of corruption. Poverty affects almost 40 per cent of the population according to the 2014 African Economic Outlook, with unemployment, especially among the young, standing as a major cause of concern for future peace and development.
Economic growth has been stable. Oil discoveries have been a major driver of Cameroon’s growth and government revenues. The oil sector accounted for almost half of its exports in 2012 and gas, construction and agriculture have all contributed to growth along with forestry, livestock and fisheries.
But progress could be undermined if corruption, nepotism and unemployment are not tackled. The security environment is another major concern.
Cameroon has faced domestic tensions from some southern formerly British-governed provinces.
The Southern Cameroon National Council, created in the 1990’s to fight for greater autonomy, has been declared illegal by the government. But some fear the possibility that greater autonomy could turn into aspirations for secession from the largely francophone north.
The rise of border insecurity in the largely Muslim north - due to threats from Nigeria from the militant Islamist group Boko Haram - stands as the main security problem.
The extreme north of Cameroon is one of Boko Haram’s theatres of operations. The region borders the Nigerian state of Borno and there is a cultural and linguistic relationship between the Kanury ethnicity from the Borno region and the Cameroonian Kanury from Sava and Tsanaga. The bulk of Boko Haram’s militants originate from Kanury, including its current leader - Abubakar Shekau.
Boko Haram has been in Cameroon since 2011 using it for arms trafficking from Sudan and Libya, passing through Chad and into Cameroon through Goulfey and on to Nigeria via Fotokol.
Boko Haram’s threat level was increased in 2014 as it escalated activities and confront the armed forces directly after kidnapping the wife of Cameroon’s Deputy Prime Minister Amadou Ali in July.
The Cameroon authorities initially underestimated the threat of Boko Haram. Now it is pushing for a regional approach to include neighbours such as Chad, Nigeria and Niger, in its fight against the terrorists.
There is further border insecurity in east Cameroon following the fall of Francois Bozize, President of the Central African Republic, in 2013.
One of the main unknowns regarding Cameroon’s political stability and economic sustainability is what to expect in a post-Biya period.
It is uncertain whether President Biya, 81, will run for election in four years in 2018. Nothing indicates he wants to hand over. But even if he decides to run it is unlikely given his age that he will complete another seven-year tenure.
Paul Biya does not seem ready to hand over power at the moment or prepared for political dialogue.
There are no obvious political heirs of the right stature. The party is deeply divided at all tiers. The possibility of political crisis and violence should not be overlooked.
Additional research by Carlota Ahrens Teixeira