| Democratic Process
This section has been updated
by Mr Boubacar Issa Abdourhamane,
a doctorate student at the CEAN, IEP Montesquieu University of Bordeaux
The year 1990 marked the
beginning of the democratic process in Cameroon with the creation of a National
Convention for Democracy and Multipartyism, a move that caused Maître Yondo Black,
a former President of the Bar, and several others to be arrested for rebellion, subversion
and insulting the Chief of State in February 1990. Their trial in front of the Yaoundé
Military Tribunal led to the first mobilisation of the Bar of Cameroon, as much in support
of the defendants themselves as of their demands.
Despite the official refusal to accept a multi-party system, John Fru NDi launched the Social Democratic Front (SDF) in May 1990 in Bamenda, on the occasion of a march which was repressed with the deaths of six people. On 3 June 1990, the Cameroonian Episcopal Conference published a pastoral letter openly criticising the government. Finally, on 4 July 1990, President Paul Biya accepted to give up the political monopoly of the Democratic Rally of the Cameroonian People (Rassemblement Démocratique du Peuple Camerounais RDPC) created in 1985 out of the ashes of the Union of the Populations of Cameroon (Union des Populations du Cameroun UPC) of former President Ahidjo. A commission responsible for revising the legislation on civil liberties was created by decree on 21 July. In December 1990, the National Assembly adopted a series of laws, among which featured a law on the freedom of association and the creation of political parties.
These measures did not prevent the authorities from carrying out a large number of arrests of opponents. From March 1991 onwards, in the wake of the intense popular mobilisation provoked by the trials, a series of local strikes were launched, paralysing the economic life of the country for six months. These operations were combined with acts of civil disobedience in order to obtain the organisation of a Sovereign National Conference (CNS). The most widely mobilised sectors were taxi drivers, students, teachers and, above all, shopkeepers. The recently-created opposition parties and these groups created a coalition called the National Coordination Committee of Opposition Parties (NCCOP) which was soon to be banned.
By April 1991, the strikes, riots and demonstrations had spread throughout the country. To try to resolve the political crisis, President P. Biya re-established the post of Prime Minister, announced that elections would be held and that the Constitution would be reformed. Faced with the scale of the demonstrations, a de facto state of emergency came into being in May 1991 with the creation of military operational commands to pacify the country. President Biya then announced that the general election would be held on 16 February 1992 and Prime Minister Sadou Hayatou opened the three-party conference (government opposition - civil society) on 30 October with the aim of defining the electoral framework and access to public media. The opposition was divided between those in favour of a national conference as a pre-requisite and those who wished the electoral competition to take place immediately.
The election was held on 1 March 1992. It was boycotted by the more radical opposition grouped around the SDF. The RDPC, the UNDP (Union Nationale pour la Démocratie et le Progrès / National Union for Democracy and Progress) of Bello Bouba Maïgari), the MDR (Mouvement pour la Défense de la République / Movement for the Defence of the Republic) and one wing of the UPC shared the 180 seats between them with 88, 68, 18 and 6 seats respectively. On 26 April 1992, a new government with the RDPC and MDR was formed under the leadership of Simon Achidi Achu, an English-speaker.
On 11 October 1992, Presidential elections were organised. President P. Biya was re-elected with 39.9% of the votes against 35.9% for J. Fru Ndi (SDF) and 19.1% for B. Bouba Maïgari (UNDP). The authorities were accused of fraud by the opposition and the validity of the elections was brought into question by the observers of an American NGO, the National Democratic Institute. Riots broke out in the north-west of the country and the state of emergency was proclaimed, with the arrest or house arrest of the leaders of the radical opposition (house arrest for J. Fru Ndi). At the same time, the government was opened up to the UPC and to UNDP dissidents.
On 18 January 1996, during the municipal election campaign, the National Assembly finally passed law n° 96-06 revising the Constitution of 2 June 1972. The municipal elections took place on 21 January 1996. Nationally, the RDPC won a wide victory, even though the opposition parties won in their electoral strongholds. These effects of these opposition victories were limited by the appointment of government delegates in towns such as Douala, Bamenda, Garoua and Bafoussam etc. The opposition replied with a call to bring the towns to a standstill, a movement that received relatively little support.
On 17 and 18 May 1997, general elections were held. By the end of the process, the RDPC had 116 seats, the SDF 43, the UNDP 13, the UDC 5, the MLJC 1, the UPC-K 1 and the DR 1. These elections were preceded by modifications made to the electoral law with the adoption of law n° 97/013 of 19 March 1997, as well as the special division of certain constituencies. Finally, after a modification of the law, the presidential election took place on 12 October 1997. Standing for his first seven-year term, Paul Biya won with 92.54% of the votes, against 2.5% for next best placed candidate Pr. Henri Hogbe Nlend. The election was boycotted by the SDF, the UNDP and the UDC who had not been granted the creation of an autonomous national electoral commission. These different elections all led to a large number of complaints made in different jurisdictions, although none of the results ended up being brought into question. In December 2000, the RDPC in power and its ally the UNDP approved, by 126 votes out of 180 in the National Assembly, the law creating the National Election Observatory (Observatoire National des Elections ONEL) which is to be the neutral body that will regulate the whole of the electoral process. It will be composed of 11 members appointed by decree by the President of the Republic. The adoption of this law was boycotted by the 5 opposition parties (SDF, UDC, MFDR, UPC, MLDC).
The democratic process in Cameroon is plagued by division and conflict between a dominant party in power, suspected of constantly manipulating the political game, and an opposition divided by leadership quarrels. The institutional set-up is not accepted by all and, despite calls from President Biya for a peaceful democracy, the system is not very institutionalised. Discussions with the opposition, and in particular with the SDF, have their ups and downs, but the general climate remains dominated by a feeling of political tension.
Under the terms of the
Constitution of 18 January 1996, Cameroon is a decentralised, unitary State. This
provision is supposed to put an end to the debate about federalism instigated by the
English-speaking north. The law created a semi-presidential regime. The President of the
Republic of Cameroon is elected in a single-round first-past-the-post system for a term of
office of seven years that can be renewed once. He has the power to dissolve the National
Assembly. The Prime Minister applies national policy as defined by the President of the
Republic, but his government is responsible to the National Assembly. However, the
Constitution does stipulate that the Head of State can confirm him in his position, even
if the members of the Assembly have voted him down, thus creating potential problems when
the parliamentary and presidential majorities do not coincide.
The parliament has two chambers and, like the President of the Republic, may take the initiative to propose laws. The National Assembly has 180 members elected for 5 years. The Senate has still not been installed, but should have 100 members on the basis of 10 members per region, of whom 7 are elected and 3 appointed by the President of the Republic for 5 years. The National Assembly can overthrow the Prime Minister by a vote of no-confidence.
The Constitutional Council is composed of 11 members appointed for a single term of 9 years, as well as of the former Presidents of the Republic who have a seat for life. It is the competent body in constitutional matters and decides on the constitutional conformity of laws, international treaties, domestic regulations and conflicts of competence between State institutions, between the State and the regions and between the regions themselves. It is also competent in matters of electoral disputes relating to presidential and general elections or referendums, and its decisions are not subject to appeal. Cases may be referred to it only by the President of the Republic, by the Speakers of the two chambers of Parliament or by one-tenth of the members of the Assembly and it is not directly accessible to ordinary citizens.
There is also a High Court of Justice which may judge the President of the Republic in cases of high treason or members of the government in cases of plots against State security, and an Economic and Social Council which plays a consultative role.
The Constitution of 18
January established a judicial branch whose highest authority is the Supreme Court. The
Supreme Court comprises judiciary, administrative and audit departments. In each province
there is an Appeal Court and courts of first instance. Common law is applied insofar as it
is compatible with the law and human rights.
The magistrates are appointed by the President of the Republic on proposal by the Judicial High Council. The Supreme Court serves for appeals in disputes relating to regional and municipal elections.
Decentralisation and Devolution
The decentralised local
authorities are the region and the commune, which enjoy financial autonomy and the status
of legal entities. There are 10 regions and they correspond to the borders of the former
provinces. At the head of each is a Regional Council with a President. The term of office
of the regional councillors is 5 years. They are either representatives of the departments
elected by indirect universal suffrage or representatives of the traditional authorities,
elected by their peers. The communes are managed by Municipal Councils elected by direct
universal suffrage and led by a Mayor. Some are subject to a special regime and are
managed by representatives of the government. It is through these delegates that the State
exercises its power via the devolution of its territorial departments.
The FEICOM, a public administrative body, is responsible for solidarity between the communes and is increasingly playing the role of the bank of the communes. Municipal elections were held in January 1996, but the process came up against many obstacles, both economic (the communes had financing difficulties) and political (the authorities evicted certain opposition mayors, replacing them by government representatives).
The municipal elections scheduled for January 2001 have been postponed by 12 months.
The Cameroonian system is dominated by the ruling party, the RDPC. Officially, as of October 2000, 168 parties have been legalised since 1991. The election results show the differences between the parties in terms of influence and only 7 of them are represented in the National Assembly. Since May 1997, only the RDPC and the SDF have had parliamentary groups. The UNDP has lost considerable ground, going from 68 to 13 members of the Assembly. The UPC has collapsed, with its division into the UPC-K (under Kodock) and the UPC-N (led by Ntumamazah, then Hogbe Nlend), from 18 seats to just 1. In the Assembly, the MDR is represented only by its leader, Dakolé Daïssala; the UDC has 5 seats, those of Noun, the homeland of its President, Adamou Njoya; the MLJC is represented by its President, Marcel Yondo. The alliances between parties are fragile and internal strife is widespread. Relations between party leaders and the elected representatives are dominated by the question of the imperative mandate to which the answers given by the Constitution and the electoral laws differ. Cameroon is in search of a stable party system that is less tainted by recurrent debates between different populations.
The country is rediscovering a pluralist union system. Alongside the generalist unions such as the Confédération Syndicale des Travailleurs du Cameroun (CSTC) and the Union Syndicale des Travailleurs du Cameroun (USTC), there are many unions organised on a sector basis, such as the Syndicat National des Enseignants du Supérieur (SYNES), the Syndicat National des Agents et Enseignants du Secondaire (SNAES), the Organisation Nationale des Enseignants du Cameroun, the Teachers Association of Cameroon, the Syndicat National des Fonctionnaires des Services Civils et Financiers, the Syndicat National des Contractuels dAdministration et des Agents de lEtat, the Cameroonian Public Servants Union, the Association Nationale Autonome des Chauffeurs dAutobus, de Taxis et de Cars du Cameroun. All these unions are seeking to establish solid roots and, in some cases, are regularly faced with attempts on the part of the authorities to take control (as was the case of the CSTC, which went through a veritable leadership crisis after its 1997 congress, thought to have been instigated by the government) or suffer from the slow administrative authorisation process (as was the case of the SYNES when it sought to register officially). In August 2000, the CSTC was reunited thanks to a congress that brought the two opposed factions together. The new President of the CSTC is Maximilien Diaboti Ntoné.
The current situation in terms of human rights in Cameroon oscillates between the extension of the protective legislation and the weakness of the protection mechanisms themselves. Cameroon is continuing with the ratification of human rights conventions: the African Charter on Childrens Rights and Welfare, the UN Convention on Torture etc. A Presidential decree in June 1998 set up a National Committee to monitor these international instruments, alongside the National Human Rights and Liberties Committee (Comité National des Droits de lHomme et des Libertés) created in 1990. Particular attention is given to the situation of the minorities and native populations. However, we should note the strict limits applied to the right to strike and the accusations that have been made by Amnesty International and the US Congress against Cameroon. Amnesty also regularly denounces the fact that there are prisoners of conscience, in particular journalists (such as Paul Njawé, imprisoned for insulting the Head of State), human rights militants and opposition party members.
The situation of the media in Cameroon has changed with the opening up of the political system. The written press is abundant. Alongside the government daily Cameroon Tribune, a few private newspapers stand out by their serious approach: LExpression Mutations, Le Messager, Cameroon Post and LEffort Camerounais. In the audiovisual sector, CRTV still has a virtual monopoly. With law n° 96/04 of 4 January 1996 complementing that of 1990 on the freedom of social communication, prior administrative censorship was abandoned in favour of supervision by the judiciary, but some repressive provisions still remain, such as that relating to attacks on the honour of the Head of State. The press and journalists have therefore not been freed from all pressure. Reporters sans Frontières regularly accuses Cameroon of attacks on press freedom by imprisoning or exiling journalists.