Magazine article African Business

State Wheels Just a Little Wobbly: While on the Surface Little Seems to Be Changing in Cameroon, This Year's Presidential Elections Could Be the Beginning of Something Radically New. Analysis by Neil Ford

Magazine article African Business

State Wheels Just a Little Wobbly: While on the Surface Little Seems to Be Changing in Cameroon, This Year's Presidential Elections Could Be the Beginning of Something Radically New. Analysis by Neil Ford

Article excerpt

Little seems to change in Cameroon. Oil production continues to decline and the country's reputation as a nursery of good footballing talent continues to grow, but little else seems to alter. Yet this year could mark something of a turning point in the Central African country's history.

The next legislative election is not scheduled until 2007, but this year's presidential poll could see pressure begin to be brought on the government for a more transparent political process. President Paul Biya is likely to retain power but a combination of international pressure for a democratic poll and a single, united opposition candidate could yet unseat him.

The various opposition parties continue to discuss putting up a single candidate to oppose Biya and an alliance of anglophone and northern interests could prove sufficient to attract the support of most Cameroonians. Whether it will prove sufficient to win the election, however, remains to be seen.

Cameroon's colonial heritage continues to weigh heavily upon the country. While the original German rulers have left relatively little imprint, the later partition into French and British areas of control has left a country divided by language and culture. In recent years, the campaign for greater anglophone rights in education, employment and cultural expression has become more organised.

At the last election, the anglophone John Fru Ndi of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) proved the main challenger to the incumbent. Fru Ndi claims that another fixed election could cause so much frustration that unrest could break out.

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Although his SDF in the anglophone northwest prefers to adopt a more conciliatory tone towards national politics and is prepared to settle for greater autonomy, the Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC) in the other main anglophone stronghold, in the southwest, is more confrontational and wants full independence.

The SDF has attracted a great deal of support from francophone Cameroonians because it is seen as the most effective opposition to Biya. However, it is likely that most Cameroonians of all persuasions would rather maintain the integrity of their nation. As elsewhere in the world, secessionist sentiment is fuelled by resentment of the existing leadership, economic hardship and a lack of political freedom. A fairly contested election, a more widely supported government and increased economic growth, particularly in the poor anglophone regions, could yield more support for the one nation solution.

Outside the main political opposition, the Social Liberal Congress Party (SLC) is still to decide whether to put up its own candidate or to cooperate with the other parties. The party's national president, George Nyamndi, said: "although the SLC is not tied to any of the existing alliances, we are in permanent contact with all the centres of political action". However, he appeared to support the anti-Biya alliance when he advised the alliance partners "to be ready to look in one direction and sensible enough to allow the common good to prevail over their personal interest". Criticism of the government by the political opposition and the press is tolerated to a greater extent today than during the first 25 years of independence. Although some sources argue that the freedom of the press is respected in Cameroon, journalists and opposition politicians have been arrested at politically sensitive times, while the government refuses to give its chief critic, Cardinal Christian Tumi, a licence for radio broadcasts.

THE ECONOMY

Although non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as Transparency International, regularly attack the scale of financial irregularities in the country, the lack of organisation is often as frustrating to investors as any wilful mismanagement.

Disputes between African airlines have hampered the smooth running of the country's main airport while persistent problems and delays have affected the launch of the Douala stock exchange. …

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