Hanging On A Shoestring: Cameroon’s Democratisation Process

Issue Date 2004
Volume 4
Issue 2
Page Numbers 3-5
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More than a decade after, Cameroon’s democratisation process is at a crossroads with the imminence of Presidential elections. It is an unpacted democracy. Since the 1996 Constitution was scripted by the government, it is not surprising that its provisions are not perceived as moral resources that generate and sustain collective solutions to politically contentious issues. Political reform has sought to privilege the will to power rather than the will to participation. Normatively unconvinced about the merits of democracy, the incumbent regime has used the rhetorical strategy to conceal its real intentions. While committing to a separation of powers, relations between democratic institutions state are still predicated on the principle of imperative coordination. This explains the enormity of the powers of the Executive as well as conscious efforts to pre-empt the press from performing its watchdog function. Elections are neither free nor fair; indeed, the emphasis is on electoralism. Administrative fiats use the allogèny/autochtony binary to enfranchise or disenfranchise voters. This has elicited an ambivalent response in the population. Among its beneficiaries, it is prompting a change in the culture of politics. Losers are choosing the exit option. Due to the foregoing, Cameroon is a weak rather than strong ‘partial democracy’. Though only the latter enables democratic consolidation, it is argued that this has vitiated but not obviated Cameroon’s democratisation process. Democratic rescue is possible if the state opts for dispersed domination. Consequently, spaces in which people engage the state and deny elite capture will and are emerging. Each victory challenges the extant mode of domination while furthering the will to participation. Fostering social citizenship also enables democracy to be seen as human development in the public sphere.

Bad governance arguably accounted for the economic meltdown, and in extreme cases state collapse, which were a prominent feature Africa’s political landscape in the 1980s. The African postcolonial state was broken and therefore had to be fixed. Claims that the one party state would enable development had not been realised. By contrast, the one-party arrangement fostered the birth of a patrimonial state, rather than a Weberian rational one. This state form was a cause of the African crisis and its victims were the African masses who bore the brunt of the free fall in human development indicators for the period. However, there was a flipside to the crisis, as in Hegelian dialectic, crisis constitutes a moment of birth and transition to a new period.125

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