By Dr Wilson L Eseme*
The main outcome of the 2019 MND was the law on decentralization, signed by the President shortly after the dialogue. Any student of recent Cameroon history and of the Anglophone crisis would be familiar with this law. Just in case, you are one of those who is still not pay attention, I will take the liberty of breaking it down into small, digestible bites.
Core of problem.
The law does not address the centrality of the problem, which is the inefficiency of hyper centralization of power. What we colloquially refer to as the ‘anglophone problem’ is actually a symptom of a syndrome, a small part of a larger problem. This problem is the uncomfortable, unrealistic, unfair, unjust, exhaustive, and totally inefficient concentration of power in the hands of one centralized institution-the presidency of the republic. In our country, the president still directly appoints university officials, local administrators, and all police officers. He also directly appoints and sanctions all members of the judiciary, who are supposed to be independent arbiters of the law. Any real solution to this problem therefore, must, at the very least transfer most of these presidential powers to locally elected office holders. The 2019 law on decentralization does no such thing. Not even close. On the contrary, it adds to the problem, by creating unasked for, unwarranted, parallel bureaucracy.
Power of the people
The regional assembly members are not directly elected by the people. There is no explanation for this bypass of democracy in the text of the law. Regional assemblymen and women are instead indirectly elected by councilors, usurping the rights of the people to directly make their own choices. Comparison can be made with the American electoral college system for President. One difference is that the indirect electoral system applies only to election for President of the United States. Secondly, the American electoral system is largely free and fair such that the electoral college almost always reflects the true will of the majority of Americans. This is not the case in Cameroon.
The President of the Republic (PRC), through his appointees exercise administrative control over regional Assemblies. Articles 296 and 297 state the PRC can suspend and eventually dissolve regional assemblies for loosely defined reasons like ‘national security’. Article 323 gives the PRC the power to appoint the main administrator of the regional assembly (general secretary) and who cannot be fired by the same. Therefore, the only purpose for this appears to implant ‘administrative spies’ in all regional assemblies.
Regarding the ‘anglophone problem’, which was the only reason for the dialogue in the first place, the law gives the northwest and southwest regions a hard-to-define ‘special status’ whose only intent seems decorative at best, deceptive at worst. Recall the origin of the ‘anglophone uprising’ in 2016 was a labor union strike by teachers and lawyers fighting for limited autonomy in the areas of Anglo-Saxon education and common law practice. The 2019 law grants the northwest and southwest a ‘house of chiefs’ with neither legislative nor traditional function. Article 328 gives the regional assemblies in the two anglophone regions the ‘right’ to ‘participate’ in defining policy in the areas of ‘development’ and ‘Anglo-Saxon’ education. However, the same law states both regions ‘can be consulted’ when it comes to framing the practice of ‘common law’.
In my opinion, the law on decentralization-the primary outcome of the major national dialogue, is more ado about nothing. It fails to address the core problem of anglophones-the right to quality education and to equality under the law. It also fails to address the core problem of the nation-the dismantling of the hyper-centralized system. In a rather bizarre twist of ingenuity, the law has added a new bureaucracy and found a way to increase spending while doing nothing about the real problem. It is a red herring.
*Dr Wilson L Eseme is of the Cameroon Federalist Society and participated at the MND in Yaoundé