Cameroon will hold elections in October 2011. President Paul Biya, who has ruled since 1982, won the previous elections in 2004 with over 70% of the vote. In 2004 the BBC characterized Biya as a “reluctant campaigner” because he only made a few appearances on the trail. This time around, though, he has already started campaigning: this week he traveled to the north west part of the country and began his re-election bid. Amidst “rising public frustration,” this trip to “a region traditionally hostile to his rule” suggests that Biya feels he must now do more to assuage anger in Cameroon. His visit to the north served partly to honor the military on the fiftieth anniversary of its creation, but also afforded him an opportunity to make new pledges regarding infrastructure and development and to make a symbolic gesture toward national unity.
The elections themselves may not worry Biya. Given his landslide win in 2004 and the fact that ten out of twelve members of the electoral commission belong to the ruling party (audio), some observers believe that Biya is guaranteed re-election whether by fair or foul means.
What might worry the president more is the aforementioned discontent with his regime, which could manifest in other arenas than just the ballot box. The International Crisis Group gave its take on Cameroon’s situation this summer:
After 28 years of the Biya presidency, Cameroon faces potential instability in the run up to the presidential elections scheduled for late 2011. Constitutional and legal uncertainty; rivalries between the regime’s leading figures; the government’s attempts to control the electoral process; the rupture of the political contract between leaders and the population; widespread poverty and frustration; extensive corruption; and the frustration of a large part of the army all point to the possibility of a major crisis.
The ruling party is increasingly divided. Although it dominates political life, it knows that it lacks legitimacy, and it is weakened by intense internal rivalries over control of resources and positioning for the post-Biya period. Having done away with the constitutional limitation on the number of presidential terms, Biya, who is at the same time feared and opposed in his own party, is deliberately maintaining uncertainty over whether he will stand again. Many members of his party harbour their own presidential ambitions.
The security forces, a pillar of support for the regime, are also divided. A small number of elite units have good equipment and training, while the rest, although they do receive their correct salaries on a regular basis, lack resources and are poorly prepared. The military as a whole suffers from tensions between generations, not least because the refusal of older generals to retire blocks promotions for more junior officers. Some members of the security forces are also widely believed to be involved in criminal activities.
With the country afflicted by high levels of corruption, a clientelist political system and a heavy security presence in all areas of life, many citizens feel excluded from the system. Fully half the population is younger than twenty, so the high level of youth unemployment and under-employment is a considerable source of social tension. Given such fissures, were Biya to die in office a serious crisis could unfold, aggravated by the unclear constitutional provisions for a transition. Such an event may not occur for some time, but, with democracy at an impasse, the immediate post-Biya period is already a significant factor in intra-regime politics, and acknowledged as a major potential cause of instability. In any event, the 2011 elections could easily lead to conflict if they are poorly organised or lack transparency. The organising body has no legitimacy and has already made a bad start in the preparations. If there is no option for democratic political change, there is a good chance ordinary citizens, members of the political class and/or military elements will eventually choose violence as a way out of the current impasse.
Serious issues lie before the country in 2011, and Cameroon has already seen political troubles in recent years. A series of riots in 2008, sparked by anger over fuel and Biya’s extended tenure in office, claimed at least forty lives and shook the regime’s legitimacy. That anger still exists in some quarters, and the regime undoubtedly knows that. In light of ICG’s commentary and Cameroon’s recent political history, then, Biya’s decision to begin his re-election bid with a simultaneous tribute to the security forces and a nod to national unity dramatically illustrates the perils of the road ahead.
Bamenda, Cameroon, site of President Biya’s visit this week:
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Your analysis of the geopolitical situation of Cameroon is completely wrong and very far from reality. It seems your analysis does not target informing Cameroonians but misleading them. I think this analysis comes from your rich imagination. Mr. Paul Biya is not at stake in his party and there is no division in the army.
@ Henry, your analysis is approximate. Your analysis relies on gossips which emanate from people who have as main objective to slow down the progress of our country and discredit President Paul Biya. Do you really think President Biya faces opposition in his party? A handful of hunger mongers with no sense of patriotism want to take our country hostage and President Biya who loves his people will not let that happen, so no doubt about his candidacy. If there were tensions in the army, then I don’t think there should have been that warm communion with the army at the celebration of the golden jubilee of the armed forces in Bamenda, and you obviously know the decisions he took met expectations of each and every one in the army. In every country there are strategic elite units, don’t give the impression it is peculiar to Cameroon, except you don’t know the meaning of elite!
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If it pleases you to prophesize on Cameroon’s potential instability in the run of the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for 2011, then go ahead. There is one leader in the CPDM acknowledged and recognized by all other members and there are no internal rivalries noted in the party. I think so as not to interfere with the electoral process, the government put in place an independent electoral board, made up of men and women of moral rectitude. I wonder what you mean by frustration of a large part of the army. If you think that army will rise against her leader, because I see that is your wish then you are misleading yourself. Cameroonians want their President Paul Biya, and I think you should better keep that in your mind.
@Sharon, your comments are in line with those who are trying to discredit President Paul Biya and his government, but don’t think they are welcome by Cameroonians. In your analysis you are simply expressing your wishes and not talking facts. President Biya faces no opposition in his party and the forces of security and the military have no problem in their running. I think the armed forces have always received the best possible treatment and thus do not complain as you say. I know your wish is that these should be true for President Paul Biya to crumble but I’m sorry for you, it is not the case.
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Most of you commenting here have sold your concience or lack an understanding of what democracy is. In America, a president has a maximum of two terms as stipulated by the constitution and in Cameroon, before the amended constitution, the president has two terms. The question now is how can Biya violet the constitution for so long without any agitation from the people. The CPDM as a party can rule for 28 years but not Biya. If the party has democratic rules, other members will be willing to challenge Biya because he is not the only CPDM who can lead the party or the Country. SO guys I strongly belief that because of tax payers money given to you by CPDM, you have become blind and cannot see the reality anymore. For your information, your children and grand children may not have the opportunity to be connected to the devils as you do now. Think of the future of your country, the well being of your people and not your stomach and that of your immediate family. Try to reason out of the box and get the real picture of events and things happening around you. However, you have the right of your opinion.
Your analysis of the political situation in Cameroon is very correct. The president has missmanaged our resources in buying the army and spending lavishly in order to secure his position as president for eternity. He controls state covers as if it is a personal bank account. That is why he can buy some of us without conscience to blog in his favour. I strongly belief that some of us trying to defend this regime and it’s set up are part of it and are doing very well in contributing to the downfall of the country. They are afraid of change since they are guilty of their dids. They will do everything to stop any positive change coming to Cameroon for that will bring an end to their ill gotten riches.
Unanimously, President Paul Biya is the CPDM candidate for the moment, there’s no other challenger. There are no divisions in the security forces in Cameroon, they receive the best treatment ever and the President took recently in Bamenda actions to meet their expectations. Concerning elite forces, it is normal that they should have special equipment because they have special missions so I don’t see why there the problem lies.
I think those who are in support of Biya have been give 5.00 cfa to post false comments. I urge you brothers and sisters to get out of your stagnant mentality of feeding fat, dance and gossip and think about the future of your country.
Corrupt minds will always approve of corrupt behaviors and actions. Stand up this up coming election and lets make a change. It is not too late to make a positive change on how you want your country should look like. You need good roads, better education facilities and resources all over Cameroon. You need a better governance and better checks and balance in your administrative system. You need your sisters and brothers to have freedom of expression and press. It is not sufficient to have all these promises on papers but there is a need for action. Act now, Now is the time to act.
@Didi, how do you explain the fact that a divided party continues to dominate the political scene. CPDM members are one behind their president. I think your wish is to see CPDM is to see President Biya’s regime crumble but that will not happen. Never do people appreciate the efforts of the government, they always give the impression nothing has ever been done. It is but normal for every organization to have strengths and shortcomings and CPDM is not an exception, so give the impression her shortcomings are a crime.