Cameroon’s Stalled Transition to Democratic Governance: Lessons for Africa’s New Democrats

This article examines Cameroon’s stalled transition to democracy since the late 1980s. It argues that most of Cameroon’s present political and economic problems can be traced to nondemocratic constitutionalism at independence. Elite-driven, top-down, nonparticipatory constitutionalism left the country with institutional arrangements that discouraged entrepreneurship but enhanced political opportunism (e.g., rent seeking and corruption). In addition, the article shows that the inability of the country’s main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF), to successfully lead the country’s transformation has been due to many factors. Some of these include poor and fractured leadership, political miscalculations, rivalry within the party and between the party and other opposition parties, Biya’s political acumen, and strong French support for the incumbent government. The most important first step toward successful institutionalization of democracy is State reconstruction through people-driven, participatory and inclusive constitutionmaking. Unless such a process is undertaken, Cameroon will not be able to provide itself with the enabling environment to deepen, consolidate and institutionalize democracy, as well as deal effectively with pressing issues such as the desire by the Anglophone minority for greater levels of political and economic autonomy. Bibliogr., sum. [Journal abstract]

Title: Cameroon’s Stalled Transition to Democratic Governance: Lessons for Africa’s New Democrats
Author: Mbaku, John M.
Year: 2002
Periodical: African and Asian Studies
Volume: 1
Issue: 3
Pages: 125-163
Language: English
Geographic term: Cameroon
External link: https://doi.org/10.1163/156921002X00031
Abstract: This article examines Cameroon’s stalled transition to democracy since the late 1980s. It argues that most of Cameroon’s present political and economic problems can be traced to nondemocratic constitutionalism at independence. Elite-driven, top-down, nonparticipatory constitutionalism left the country with institutional arrangements that discouraged entrepreneurship but enhanced political opportunism (e.g., rent seeking and corruption). In addition, the article shows that the inability of the country’s main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF), to successfully lead the country’s transformation has been due to many factors. Some of these include poor and fractured leadership, political miscalculations, rivalry within the party and between the party and other opposition parties, Biya’s political acumen, and strong French support for the incumbent government. The most important first step toward successful institutionalization of democracy is State reconstruction through people-driven, participatory and inclusive constitutionmaking. Unless such a process is undertaken, Cameroon will not be able to provide itself with the enabling environment to deepen, consolidate and institutionalize democracy, as well as deal effectively with pressing issues such as the desire by the Anglophone minority for greater levels of political and economic autonomy. Bibliogr., sum. [Journal abstract]