By Mwalimu George Ngwane
Being a Discussion paper presented at the Buea Town Hall meeting, Cameroon.
Why is there decrease in voter turnout in local elections and increase in Presidential elections?
- Highly centralised system where the prestige, perks and prebends of power still reside in the Executive. No effective power and decision making process at local governments.
- Non- existence of party rallies and where there are citizens are reluctant to attend them. The affluence of the early 90s has petered out.
- Parties are reticent about organising their own Congresses and when they do they end up with rubber stamp recommendations already decided by a select privileged few.
- Platforms for debate among party officials do not attract electorate as ideas are so stale and stereotyped.
Is there any shred of doubt that party politics has become moribund; citizens are losing faith; and there is apathy and disillusionment?
Why are citizens opting out of the political process or voting with their feet?
1) State Factors
- No Independent Election Commission even if the introduction of biometric electoral system has raised some negligible level of optimism.
- No respect for the supreme law of the land with arbitrary amendments of the 1972 constitution; change of appellation of the name of the country in 1984; the piece meal implementation of the 1996 constitution and the abrogation of the article on the limited tenure of office as President of the Republic are some examples.
- Lack of a glaring political will to implement the long term National Development Document called “Vision 2035”.
- The West Cameroon or the Anglophone problem continues to exclude a group of voters.
- There is still so much talk on decentralisation but little to show.
- Youths are getting more disillusioned as they see their avenues of opportunities being plugged by a recycled gerontocracy.
2) Party Factors
- -Lack of internal democracy especially at the top (all Founding chairmen and Presidents of parties have hardly been changed and decisions on grassroots representation are now carried out by top political class through what they call Party Investitures and democracy by consensus. This has given rise to agitations at the lower rungs of most parties as the militants see this policy as democracy by coercion.
- Party sycophancy is overriding state development: party citizenship rather than state citizenship has overtaken national governance creating a cabal of political politicians and a weird mindset of career upward mobility. This is manifested through the frivolous celebration of party emblems and orgies of triumphalism rather than the conception and implementation of innovative and people-oriented projects.
- A kind of leadership by patronage rather than leadership by participation is gradually emerging within party structures with the risk of creating a country of servile politicians rather than patriotic statespersons.
- Cameroonians and especially party politicians need to re-examine the rationale for routine elections whose results are often predictable and elected officials whose performance is often lacklustre. We all need to recognise that elections are a means to an end not an end in itself otherwise the citizenry would be obliged to show preference for a stable and benevolent despotism over a chaotic and cosmetic democracy.
In the light of the above anyone can arguably predict that 2013 will be business as usual with the scenario of Ruling party declaring victory, opposition protesting, then life going on as usual.
What guarantees are there that 2013 elections shall be voter attractive, electorate friendly and participatory development-focussed?
In the immediate term little or nothing but in the long term:
- We need to re-examine the content, concept and expected outcome of our political system (Is multiparty politics achieving its goal of democratic development?) How about organising a public discussion on the state and future of twenty-five years of multiparty democracy in 2015?
- How about considering the introduction of Independent candidates at all levels of our political system?
- There is a need for a coordinated civil society political pressure group that is proactive and affirmative in state matters.
- There is a still room for the adoption of a consensual Electoral body.
What are the Challenges of local elected officials after 2013?
Participatory development begins where party politics ends. Local officials need to see beyond party victories after elections and holistic and inclusive Development without party victimisation or exclusion or vengeance.
Needless to emphasize the importance of elected officials consulting with their collaborators instead of transforming local state machinery into a solo plantation of griotism, greed and graft.
Local officials would have to adopt a realistic strategic pro-poor development program by bringing key partners on board. I am sceptical about these Western concepts of party manifestoes or party programs because the rural Africans have a common manifesto (farm to market roads, portable water, employment, healthcare, clean environment, culture and sports festivities, gender and youth mainstreaming programs etc)
Deliberative governance requires that local elected officials establish neighbourhood assemblies where citizens within their neighbourhoods debate and prioritise their development checklists.
Leadership is imbued with a corporate vision that sees every activity as a Project with Aims, Objectives and Outcomes. Gone are the days when leaders navigated blindly and called wherever their shots land their targets. At regular intervals there must be monitoring and Evaluation tools to measure benchmarks as well as assess shortcomings in governance.
In a society of Information and Communication Technology local officials would need to create websites and other social media outlets for opinions from the public.
Local elected Officials would need to engage civil society organisations, Non Governmental Organisations, Community based Organisations and Common Initiative Groups for areas of technical competence and grassroots implementation in their localities. The trend today is to synergise actions and visions between state and non-state actors.
With the cultural industry blossoming into vibrancy, local officials must tap into the human resources in the areas of art and culture especially with young people in the vanguard. In Germany enterprise from cultural and creative industries represented 7.4% of the value added to the economy in 2009. In Mali, the cultural sector contributed 2.38% to the GDP in 2006. Who is oblivious of the huge economic and employment market the film sector has created in Nigeria?
As elected officials you are there to speak and act on behalf of your community not to collude or connive with human predators. So when things go wrong in your community you must be the first to speak up and speak out. It is the people who elected you and you owe them a duty to speak to issues that advance and articulate their interests in rights violation, Corporate Social Responsibility, law of derivation and basic social amenities.
There are many local officials who shall be both on physical exile and social exile simply because their activities have no impact on the population and their doors of power are not accessible to the public. Five years are too short to play the political ostrich and though the population may have a long spell of patience they also have a short memory of forgiveness.
It is important for local elected officials to periodically organise Town Hall meetings, public discussions, Council sessions or is it budgetary sessions where they are less defensive and adopt the “Talk less, Listen more and Act fast” policy
Nothing is more successful than borrowing the success story of other local elected officials. This cross-fertilisation of ideas and programs can be achieved through networking, partnering and twinning vertically with other municipalities in the country and horizontally with other municipalities out of the country.
I am sure these forms of governance can result in participatory development. I am aware that the Quality of leadership at local government has improved but the quantity of basic service delivery is not matched.
I am aware of the constraints of pseudo-decentralisation that local authorities are going through but in times like these Mayors and even Government Delegates must think out of the box, they must be creative, innovative and farsighted measuring their achievements Not by the quantity of years they have put in office but by the quality of outreach programmes they have given out to their community.
Finally, I am of the opinion that we can stall elections in Cameroon for ten years and all the funds meant for elections be transmitted to development projects. In this way elections may remain business as usual but development shall become business as required.