By Mwalimu George Ngwane (Originally published in the maiden issue of the Africa Star magazine of 12 March 2011)
The July 22 and September 30th 2007 twin elections in Cameroon confirmed an earlier appraisal of our electoral democracy-one characterized by the increasing rate of voter apathy in our elections. From a 60.6 % voter turn out in the Parliamentary elections in 1992, through a less than 45 % in the twin elections of July 2007 to a ridiculous 20% participation in the twin re-run of September 30th 2007 the electorate seems to be now voting with their feet.
Analysts have been quick at advancing reasons for this downward trend some of which include lack of a neutral and independent election body, disenfranchisement, nonchalant international community, mass rigging, to sterile political debates occasioned by the trading of accusations of illegitimacy between the ruling party and the Opposition parties. Yet another very fundamental reason for voter apathy in Cameroon is the loss of faith in the party system by Cameroonians. This is leading our country to a dominant party state reminiscent of the one party system. In my opinion therefore, the real battle for the sustenance of democracy in Cameroon lies on what happens between now and October 2011 (when new Presidential elections are to be held and the Golden Jubilee of our Reunification commemorated). In other words we are confronted by three challenges: the Reunification Jubilee Pact, the leveling of the electoral playing field and the resurgence of a new dynamic leadership in Cameroon.
The Reunification Jubilee Pact
As Cameroonians look forward to commemorating the Golden Jubilee of the Reunification between West Cameroon and East Cameroon in October 2011,we either face the Reunification debate with frank, fair and fruitful discussions or submerge it in our national subconscious hoping that it melts away like butter in the sun. President Paul Biya’s rare recognition of and clarion call for the commemoration of fifty years of Reunification is indicative of how the symbol can often give way to the sublime and how history is not merely the narration of events but how those events impact on people and their environment. Like Chinua Achebe puts it “unless the lion recruits its own historian, the story of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter”.
The Reunification debate is first and foremost about the state of union between the expunged West Cameroon and the defunct East Cameroon states since 20 May 1972. It is about the commonwealth and common weal of West Cameroonians who without their exclusive consent were herded onto a Pact called the Peaceful Revolution and who out of patriotic fervour continue to congregate around the one red-starred flag as a common entity. Unfortunately more often than not, this patriotic fervour has been misconstrued at worst as sheepish docility or even sacrificed on the altar of identity-based marginalization or at best as a leverage for political tokenism or mere pontifications rendered to massage our epileptic memories.
I make bold to say that nothing was so wrong with our Federated structure that justified its demise. The Reunification Pact was built on a solid rock of separate, equal and convergent sovereignty not on the shifting sand of unitarist architecture. What the Reunification Pact requires today is a restoration of a West Cameroon value system that was founded on national cohesion, a rehabilitation of a West Cameroon development infrastructure that is floundering in despicable rubble and a reinvention of a Cameroon political paradigm shift that defuses the omnipresent binary chasm of the host and the hostage, of parity not patronage, of unification not assimilation, of brotherhood not bondagehood and of what Mola Njoh Litumbe calls the ‘official’ not ‘njumba’ marriage.
Level playing field
If the political class in Cameroon chooses the positive peaceful avenue, President Paul Biya would have to assume a neutral states man status. He has always wanted to be remembered as the person who brought democracy to Cameroon and it would be in his interest to leave the scene with that legacy.
Ahmed Tedjan Kabbah of Sierra Leone, in spite of his lackluster performance as President of Sierra Leone for over ten years has been praised for his non- interference in the 2007 electoral process which eventually gave the Opposition a resounding victory. Alpha Oumar Konare of Mali, Mathieu Kerekou of Benin and Ould Ahmed Taya of Mauritania are of this same democratic school.
It would also be necessary for ELECAM (the election body that will manage the 2011 elections) in spite of some of its shortcomings to recruit people of courage, independent stance, integrity and sterling patriotic qualities to manage the body. In other words it is not the name of the institution that makes it independent it is the people chosen to manage it. Related to this would be the need for a second round or run-off electoral process to be introduced during the 2011 Presidential elections. Still in this connection the civil service, the judiciary and the army must be depoliticised. I also propose that a law be enacted before 2011 that gives a special status (immunity, allowances etc,) to ex-Presidents of the country.
Furthermore, while the elite should resist the peddling of compensatory development advantages by parties, the Cameroonian electorate would have to rise above its present inertia blind party adherence and refuse to be cheaply bought over by allurements and material inducements (bags of rice and bottles of beer etc). The youth in particular must see the long term advantage of building a sustainable development policy for Cameroon rather than trivial immediate interests that border on greed and gluttony. This means constant political education should be provided by activist elements of the civil society with funding assistance from Development Agents.
Lastly and to quote Peter Vakunta “the democratic impasse in Cameroon is not just systemic; the personalities running the show are obsolete and should be gotten rid off without further ado. Anything short of that would be tantamount to political suicide for as all.
Resurgence of a new dynamic leadership
While political parties should consider the option of limiting Presidential/Chairmanship mandates within their party structures, the civil society would have to make its voice heard and in a more peaceful manner through the revision of the electoral law to allow Independent Candidates to run for Presidential elections without the infamous 300 signature clause.
Constraints of the 300 signature condition
It has been argued that the 300 signature condition is:
(a) Discriminatory, in the light of the constitution which determines the fundamental rules with regards to elections.
(b) Unrealistic, considering the prevailing situation in Cameroon where some Provinces cannot produce 30 of such “special high profile voters”,
(c) Unconvincing, because none of these “special high profile voters” is Independent enough to endorse an Independent candidate. Almost all of them are members of parties who would rather maintain party discipline or toe party line.
Yet between 1945 – 1966, individuals stood as Independents for elections in Cameroon in both what was then West and East Cameroon without this controversial clause that stipulates that any candidate vying for Independent status must produce 300 legalised signatures from the electoral college (voters) who should be members of the National Assembly, Consular Chambers, Councilors, and First class Chiefs (special high profile voters) from all the Provinces, making 30 per Province.
Reasons for Independent Candidate participation in Elections in Cameroon
(i) Article 2.1 of the 18 January 1996 Constitution prescribes that “National Sovereignty shall be vested in the people of Cameroon (….) no section of the people shall arrogate to itself the exercise thereof”.
Making eligibility for election conditional only to membership in political parties is excluding a great section of the people since political parties represent only a section of the people.
(ii) Article 2.2 of the 1996 Constitution stipulates “the authorities responsible for the management of the state shall derive powers from the people through elections”.
People can organize themselves as parties or Independents since parties are only one of the ways through which universal suffrage can be expressed. To reduce elections merely through parties is to penalise citizens who do not belong to political parties.
(iii) Part II, chapter 1, Article 5.5 of the 1996 constitution says “Candidates for the office of President of the Republic must be Cameroonians by birth”
Article 20.3 says Candidates for the post of Senator and personalities appointed for the post of a senator by the President of the Republic…(…)…, In both cases the word “Candidate” is not specific to party candidates; it could therefore be extended to cover Independent candidates. Moreover, the same constitution through Article 48.2 reads “Any challenges in respect of the regularity of one of the elections (…) may be brought before the Constitutional Council by any candidate, political party that participated in the election in the constituency concerned”.
It is therefore clear that the 18th January 1996 constitution is Independent candidate – friendly. The real problem lies with an Electoral code (Law) that should provide humane and realistic conditions for the participation of Independent candidates in elections in Cameroon as from 2007.
(iv) The OAU (now African Union) during its 38th session in Durban on 8th July 2002 resolved that:
- Individuals and political parties shall have the right to freedom of movement to campaign and to express political opinions with full access and information within the limits of the laws of the land.
- Every individual and political party participating in elections shall recognize the authority of the Electoral Commission.
The emphasis here is on the two carefully separated words of “individuals” and “political parties”
(v) Article 21(1) of the United Nation Declaration on Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives”.
These representatives can therefore be chosen either through party–centered electoral system or through candidate-based electoral system or both.
(vi) A candidate – based electoral system would enhance competition and expand the democratic space that is already being narrowed by party-centered system in Cameroon.
(vii) In addition to a party – based system, a candidate – centered election would permit the electorate to focus on individual merit and independent philosophical or political opinions.
(viii) Independent Candidature would act as a buffer to party candidates who, out of their veiled personal interest or contradictory party ideology are obliged to defect from one party to another.
(ix) So far party – centered elections have only favoured an old generation that has monopolized the political arena in Cameroon. Independent candidature would therefore provide the young generation with the opportunity of bringing a new vision and fresh agenda to the body-politic of our country. Indeed Independent candidature is now regarded as an antidote to gerontocratic politics and a rite of passage to generational democracy.
(x) Through Independent Candidate participation, the process of building a consociational democracy based on power – sharing not only among political parties, regions and ethnic groups, but also between the state society and the civil society will be enhanced.
From all indications, the fruits of the second independence have still not been borne and may be a new democratic transition bringing all active forces together in an ALL Cameroonian Congress may help chart a new course that would go beyond routine elections and usher in bold, creative and indigenous development programs that resonate with human and infrastructural development. Even where the pendulum of leadership has oscillated between ruling party and the Opposition or between state actors and civil society actors in most African countries (recycled prebendalism) the masses have still not felt the impact of people driven programs and nation building projects.
It is therefore my hope that what happens between now and 2011 (and this means every patriotic Cameroonian should speak up and out) would lay a solid democratic foundation that would give birth to a leadership that shall inspire citizen confidence and national solidarity so that Cameroonians can put behind them the two decades of “the elections of rigging and ranting” and “the politics of party clientelism and state failure”.