By Boris Esono Nwenfor
Experts say if Cameroon applies the decentralisation process effectively it can lead to good governance. Others hold the opinion that in the present context Cameroon finds itself, the idea of decentralisation can never be a solution.
The public dialogue (web seminar) that took place September 17 was on the theme “Effective decentralisation: A sustainable solution to the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon?” It was organized by the Nkafu Policy Institute of the Denis and Lenora Foretia Foundation and moderated by Mkong Immaculate, Programs Assistant UPEACE-Africa.
One of the key resolutions from the Major National Dialogue that took place from September 30 to October 4, 2019, to look for a peaceful and sustainable solution to the ongoing Anglophone crisis in Cameroon was the proposal for a “special status” for the two conflict-affected regions due to their cultural and linguistic specificities. This subsequently led to the adoption by parliament of the Decentralization Code of Regional and Local Authorities (Law No. 2019/024 of 24 December 2019). Nevertheless, debates have continued till date over the role of decentralization in restoring peace and security especially in the restive Anglophone regions of the country.
Dr Emmanuel Sundjo, Senior Lecturer at the University of Buea, Governance and Regional integration Fellow at the Nkafu Policy Institute said the idea of decentralization involves the transfer of power from the central government to local authorities in terms of resources and others. If done right “Effective Decentralisation can lead to good governance.” In Cameroon, what is seen is administrative decentralisation.
The regional elections in the country have been programmed for December 6. Observers say there is a need to ensure that the process of choosing representatives is very transparent. For effective decentralisation to be effective, there are some fundamental issues regarding elections need to be handled. “The issue of Cameroon is identity. The government needs to take into consideration minority groups with Anglophones part of that group. The decentralisation process should be looked at from an individual region’s perspective, looking at peculiarities in each Region,” Dr Emmanuel Sundjo said.
What has been noticed in Cameroon in the various legislative, senatorial and municipal elections is that those elected always pay allegiance to the central government and not to the local population that voted them. “There cannot be effective decentralisation when we have election malpractices. It is important that we employ effective decentralisation as the electoral code has major cracks and we should go back to mend these cracks,” one participant said.
On the issue of the electoral process seen as one with irregularities, Ambe Kingsley, a participant noted that there are legal channels to challenge undemocratic elections in Cameroon. “Anyone contesting any undemocratic election should use the legal action. The courts are always there to resolve the electoral issues.” “What measurable achievement has decentralisation brought on the table,” He questioned.
Speaking, Duchel Zapfack, Co-founder of a Youth-led Association Promise Africa said decentralisation can be seen as a tool for conflict resolution, to foster stability, and managing diversity. To her, with the present decentralisation process, there has been an increase in funds from less than one per cent to more than fifteen per cent to local authorities which according to her is quite laudable.
She added that the effectiveness of the decentralisation process in Cameroon is questionable. “There is no de facto devolution of power. There is no decentralisation when the councils lack the competence to decide on issues,” She said.
In a Question and Answers session, participants noted that youths should be an integral part of the decentralisation process. To them, youths are not involved in the process in their local communities.
“Let’s stop complaining and accusing. Let us read the code on decentralisation. It is important to arm ourselves with knowledge, so as not to be excluded from ignorance and underdevelopment,” Sebeyiam Georges, a participant said.
Herve Wouapi, a participant said “… Our government is reluctant to decentralize because they view decentralisation as a zero-sum game. They see it as a platform that opposition political parties would use to challenge them or take a visible role in the governance process…” “Successful development can be achieved if Cameroon puts in place functioning governance systems that ensure transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability of decision-making process.”
This webinar is in line with the mission of the Nkafu Policy Institute, a Think Tank of the Denis and Lenora Foretia Foundation, which pivots around carrying out independent research to provide in-depth and insightful evidence-based policy recommendations that advance the development of Cameroon and other Sub-Saharan African countries.