Cameroon: Tensions Loom Large as December 6 No-Stakes Regional Elections Approach, Deadly Clashes Feared
Cameroonians go to the polls December 6 to elect representatives to ten regional councils. Traditional leaders in the Once Independent State of Southern Cameroons will also elect members to the newly created Houses of Chiefs.
The government touts the elections as a milestone in the country’s decentralization process as enshrined in the 1996 constitution. Government has also said the election will go a long way to resolving the Southern Cameroons Question. Critics are less optimistic.
By official figures, over 3,000 people have been killed in the Once Independent State of Southern Cameroons, although several NGOs estimate upward of 12,000 people killed, as the Southern Cameroons war of independence, or perhaps self-determination, rages on.
The Yaounde government, long opposed to the idea of losing a morsel of power to the regions, is now organizing regional elections as “a significant step in the decentralization process.” Government officials on the campaign trail have touted the elections a solution to the Southern Cameroons Question or Anglophone problem as some refer to it.
“The most important thing as I speak to you now is the regional elections. After the Regional Elections, you have the putting in place of the Special Status for the North West and South-West Regions, where you have a regional House of Representatives, a House of Chiefs. These are nostalgic houses that the former Southern Cameroons had in those days, and which the government is now bringing back,” said George Ewane, Spokesperson for the so-called Major National Dialogue held in 2019 in efforts to resolve the crisis.
Fon Fobuzi Martin of Chomba told Timescape Magazine that the regional elections “will mean people will begin to define their own priorities and own their own development…I believe it will resolve this problem and I urge anglophones to see these elections as an opportunity.”
He also argued that the Houses of Chiefs that has been reinstated in the Once Independent State of Southern Cameroons means people will feel much more involved in the development process.
Fanso Verkijika, Professor Emeritus of History at the Yaounde University in Cameroon (C) ANICHRA
But these are arguments that do not sink well with Cameroon’s acclaimed professor of History, Verkijika Fanso. The retired professor told Timescape Magazine that the regional elections “cannot solve the Anglophone Problem.”
“The Anglophone Crisis has never been about creating regional councils. The only thing to bring closer to what the Anglophones needed, what the Southern Cameroonians needed is the restoration of the Southern Cameroons House of Assembly, not regional elections. They will not solve the problem,” he warned.
The Professor threw cold water on the notion that instituting a House of Chiefs in the North West region and another in the South-West Region would result in devolution of power to traditional authority.
“Houses of Chiefs will not reinstate the Southern Cameroons House of Chiefs. By creating a North West House of Chiefs and a South West House of Chiefs, these are attempts to divide the North West and South West from being considered as Southern Cameroons, as part of one people that were before unification,” he said.
He noted that the way forward towards resolving the problem would be to “restore the Southern Cameroons House of Assembly, give them autonomy and then go for discussions before credible international mediators.”
And so regional elections that are touted as a solution to the Anglophone Problem could end up just further inflaming it. But that is not the only problem that authorities in Yaounde are grappling with, and which could upend the regional elections or its outcomes.
Guibai Gatama, Newspaper Publisher and Promoter of the Movement 10 Million de Nordistes (C) Camer.be
Perhaps the government’s biggest headache could be coming from the country’s northern regions where journalist, Guibai Gatama leads a movement called ‘10 Millions des Nordistes” or Ten million northerners. It is a reference to the ten million inhabitants of the three northern regions, and which according to Mr. Gatama, should translate into political influence. After all, 2,5 million of Cameroon’s seven million registered voters come from there.
The Movement has been pushing for the northerners to have a bigger share in the state budget, a larger share in recruitment to professional schools and a bigger share in government positions. They have also called for a redrawing of the political map, to grant the regions more administrative units, and parliamentary seats.
Paul Atanga Nji, Cameroon’s Territorial Administration Minister banned the movement on November 18, complaining that its activities constituted an affront to national unity.
The government believes the regional elections, by providing ordinary people with the platform to participate in nation-building, could help douse the rising regional tensions. But there are fears that the elections could end up further inflaming the tensions.