By Boris Esono Nwenfor
The 2019 edition of the international day of democracy has been celebrated with a call for the government of Cameroon to create a favourable environment for the participation of everyone in the democratic process. During the celebration on September 15, organized by the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights in Africa, CHRDA on the theme “Strengthening inclusive participation in democratic participation in Cameroon”, speakers talked about the shortcomings that have characterized the democracy in Cameroon.
This day comes at a vital point in Cameroon’s history where the country is characterized by crisis such as the Boko Haram insurgencies, the crisis in Anglophone Cameroon, marginalization of various groups of persons amongst others.
The International Day of Democracy is celebrated on September 15 every year since the resolution was passed on November 8, 2007, in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The day is celebrating for promoting the tenets of democracy with this year’s theme being “Participation”.
During the event women and youths were called upon to be part of the political process. To Shey Lesley, Founder of Lesley Foundation, the youths should get themselves register on the electoral register so as to take part in the upcoming elections such as the legislative, regional and municipal elections.
Speaking to Fah Elvis Tayong, journalist, political analyst and member of the opposition MRC Party he said the government has not respected the rights of active, substantive and meaningful participation in the country. “The key actors in the conflict are not present and the environment is not favourable because you cannot tell me the Diaspora that is sponsoring the fighters in the bush to come for a meeting in Yaounde – it cannot go.”
“In the present instance, the principle of neutrality is expected; those to chair the dialogue are to be acted by both parties in the conflict. We need a neutral environment whereby neutral persons come in who doesn’t have any interest to the parties. But now that we are not seeing this, the dialogue is heading towards a total failure.”
On the issue of inclusive democracy in Cameroon, Fah Elvis is of the opinion that is a term in Cameroon that works on paper but practically it is zero. He wondered, “How many youths are in? How many conditions have been made favourable for people to be in? How many women hold key positions- 63 ministries are there but how many are there for women, disabled? At the end of it, the issue moves but on theory but practically it is zero.”
“We are encouraging all the women to actively participate in democracy because this is the only medium through which their voices can be heard” said Nyonsue Ebi Epey, Founder/CEO of Centre for Reintegration, Empowerment and Transformation Cameroon (CREET CAM), while adding that, “The best we can do is continuous sensitization and advocacy for these women. To my fellow activists, you should not be discouraged when talking to women because most at times when we talk to women, they feel like there is a system already in place which will not listen to their opinions…”
She went further to call on the government to create an enabling environment which will make women want to participate in the democratic process. “An enabling environment means creating structures that are accommodating. There are structures already in place but these structures are not accommodating”, she said while adding that, “Women are not participating fully because the system in one way or the other hinders them from participating and they do not see the need for starting something that their voices will not be heard.”
To violet Yigha Fokum CHRDA Gender Officer and Deputy Executive Director, the main problem hindering women from participating in democracy stems from the socialization issue. She said, “Most women have been socialized to belief that they are always in the kitchen and they cannot be at the decision making table. CSOs have been doing a lot to make women know that they have to pick up. It is time for them to make their voices heard, let the world know that experiences and their worth because they are the ones bearing the brunt of the ongoing crisis in Cameroon.”
The UN Secretary General on his part has urged each Government to respect its citizens’ right to “meaningful participation” in the political process. He said, “At heart, democracy is about people”. “It is built on inclusion, equal treatment and participation, and it is a fundamental building block for peace, sustainable development and human rights”.
While saluting all who “strive tirelessly to make this happen”, he affirmed that these values and aspirations “cannot be seen as tokens or lip service” but must instead be “real in people’s lives”. “Yet the International Day of Democracy takes place at a time when trust is low and anxiety is high”, Mr. Guterres continued. “People are frustrated by growing inequalities and unsettled by sweeping changes from globalization and technology”.
He attributed this to their seeing “conflicts going unresolved, a climate emergency going unanswered, injustice going unaddressed, and civic space shrinking”. “As we mark Democracy Day, I urge all Governments to respect the right to active, substantive and meaningful participation”, concluded the Secretary-General`