Ethnic Positioning and Power Sharing in Kamerun 2.0

9 Feb

By Nwanatifu Nwaco


If the rumours are true, Cameroonians from all the geo-ethnic corners of the national triangle need to engage in some serious political discussion about it. It alleged that president Paul Biya will be pushing through the legislature a government bill at the next parliamentary session for yet another constitutional modification which impacts on the republican character of the state, only that this time it is not to cancel term limits but is aimed at restoring the post of the ‘Vice-President’ which had ceased to exist after 1972 not as a transitional, but in full right, authority and privilege as the legitimate constitutional successor.

REVIEW: An amendment in 1979 established the prime minister as the presidential successor, by which Paul Biya succeeded Ahmadou Ahidjo as the 2nd president of Cameroon in 1982 after the latter’s resignation. In 1984, Paul Biya pushed through a constitutional amendment which abolished the post of the prime minister, making the speaker of the National Assembly as the presidential successor or any executive member chosen under emergency. The post of prime minister was however restored though without possibility of it succeeding the president in 1992 and 1996. Cameroon revised its constitution again in 1996 to usher in a quasi-third republic. This time the senate president in descending constitutional order of hierarchy was to become the transitional presidential successor.

The only two vice-presidents in Cameroons history are John Ngu Foncha from 1961 – 1970 and Solomon Tandeng Muna 1970 – 1972, whom as it happened to be, were the prime ministers of the federated state of West Cameroon following reunification with what became the federated state of East Cameroun in 1961. The coming into existence of the 2nd republic in 1972, meant this initial power alternation agreement ceased with the president of the United Republic wielding all executive powers.

Faced with old age and a pathologically corrupt ethno-ego-centric bureaucracy, the challenge to find a political successor to Biya has been an enigmatic question that has eluded the brightest and dumbest brains of the grand flame party as well as the helter-skelter co-opted opposition collective. The dynamics of power relations and its partition forms the nucleus of the political culture of Cameroon, it is enshrined in the most referenced yet controversial ”regional balance and national integration” slogan. It is a hydra with its head popping out in every public and private service recruitment exams, nominations and appointments. The regionalism enshrined in the 1996 constitution provides a fertile niche on which it fester’s.

The balance of power in Cameroon anchors on ethnicity and official language expressions; the components lean on English for the ‘Anglophone’ and French for the ‘Francophone’. Add to these patronage, clientelism and many other manifestations of mediocrity. This is accounts in great measure for the inability of a united Cameroon front for affirmative and decisive political action against the regime in power or the institutional and political system as a whole.

Cameroon has on the basis of its policy of regional balance struck an unwritten power sharing deal between its various sub-national groups for the top leadership positions of its various constitutional institutions:

-The Centre-South-East Regions get the Presidency of the Republic.
(Ethnic groups here include the Ewondo/Beti-Bulu-Fang)

-The West Region gets the presidency of the Senate.
(Ethnic groups here include the Bamilike/Bamum)

-The Grand Northern Region gets the presidency of the National Assembly.
(Ethnic groups here include the Hausa/Fulani/Kanuri)

-The North-South Western Regions get the Prime Ministerial Office.
(The Anglophone nation: Coastal Bantus and Grassland Tikari ethnic groups)

-The Littoral Region gets the Presidency of the Supreme Court.
(Ethnic groups here include the Duala/Bassa/Bakossi)

**Other constitutional institutions like the Constitutional Council and the Economic and Social Council still have a ghostly character.**

Respectively:
-Presidency, Paul Biya from Mvomeka – South
– Senate, Niat Njifendji Marcel from Bangangte – West
-National Assemply, Cavaye Djibril from Tokombere – Far North
-Prime Minister, Philemon Yang from Oku-North West
-Supreme Court, Dipanda Mouelle from Dibombari – Littoral

The allocation isn’t constant of course! But is we have to follow the lines of the controversial yet official regional balance policy, there will always be a regional consideration and alternation as to the geo-ethnic origins of who heads any of these institutions. If the president is a southerner as the president of the senate, is interpreted by other groups as somehow unfair and a ploy towards power succession. Mediocrity or not, whether we like it or not,we’re too diverse and as such ethnic fracturing is part and parcel of our power sharing structure.

If customary practice as begun during the federal era or the logic of two nations in one state is  maintained, then the allegedly soon to be re-instituted post of Vice-President will have to go to an ‘Anglophone’ Cameroonian if the president is a ‘Francophone’. The problem with this theory however is that other power brokerages enter into play, notably from the ”Grand  North”, which in nationalism is par and parcel of French-speaking Cameroon, projects other forms of claims for the acquisition and exercise of state power. This region has a fairly homogeneous religious and linguistic character based on Islam and Hausa-Fulani hegemony. The fact that the first president of Cameroon came from this region instills in them the feeling that it is their birth right to hold power or see its return to them from the ‘Southerners’ to whom president Ahidjo had handed it to them on a platter of gold in 1982.

The contentions between the ”North-South” axis in French Cameroon go way back cliches before their unification with British Southern Cameroons. According to urban legend, Ahidjo the northerner became the second prime minister with the aid of the French colonial administration deposed Andre Marie Mbida  a southerner, who was the first prime minister of that part of Cameroon. As such the hand-over of power to Biya in 1982 seemed like a peace-offering from North to South. The seeming monopoly of power by the southerners does not sit well with the north. At the periphery of these two above are the loosely allied western highlanders and the coastal  people who criss-cross both Cameroons. Given the parity of numbers in both the senate and the national assembly representing this national  regional power factions and political parties, the odds and even are aligned to the will and favour of Biya.  The question now is who is this mysterious special one that has been groomed to incarnate in physical form, the abstraction of the state? Because all the potential favourites have either been jailed or have lost popular appeal makes it all the more very difficult to shortlist the next presidential candidate.

…”Affaire à suivre” 

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