Gerontocracy and Politics in Cameroon; Youth Political Socialization
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1.1 Background to the Study
The term “gerontocracy” is most conceivably as a political concept in Western sociopolitical thought, gerontocracy is a political system or a form of oligarchical rule, whereby a small group of elderly individuals are in control of power. Unpopular due to its peculiar nature, it is, in short, a rule by old men.
It was a common political practice in the communist states, especially the then Soviet Union (Gerner and Hedlund, 1989:346), where individuals who were significantly older than most of the adult population were in leadership positions. But gerontocracy is not restricted to socio-political thought alone.
There has continuously been a twist of knowledge between age and wisdom; are old people wiser, and is such wisdom that comes with time applied to statecraft? Meanwhile, the standard definition of youth as drawn from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as persons with ages between 15 to 24years without prejudice from other definition from member states whereas the African Youth Charter for purposes of implementation of local community youth programs considers youths as persons with ages between 15 to 55 years (UNR2250). It is a common terminology in Cameroon that ‘youths are the future of the country’.
From the 1960s right up to 2019, youths are still referred to as the future of the country giving one an impression that youths were in a sort of an incubator whereby, they are being trained to be handed the mantle of leadership someday which is probably when they also are in their 50s.
The relegation of youths to the background in Cameroon politics and the resulting feeling of being unable to make meaningful contributions to the decision making the process of the country has caused youths to show an apathetic nature to political participation from voting which is the formal form of political participation to more of informal forms of political participation such protests and strikes as an attempt to make their own contributions to public policy formation. (Ndongmo,2018)
During the later summer of 2017, a historical event occurred where France elected the 39-year-old Emmanuel Jean-Michel Frédéric Macron as its President. Not necessarily a guarantee that youth leadership produces good governance and development but is a positive remark that youths could have a space in the decision-making procedure. Emmanuel Macron’s victory at the polls set a fresh agenda for public debate in Africa. (Ebai, 2017:3)
While global leaders sent congratulatory messages to the newly elected president one of which included President Paul Biya of the Republic of Cameroon who became President when Macron was barely five years old. The question of youth’s involvement in mainstream politics moved to the front banner of public discourse. He was barely two years old when Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasongo of Equatorial Guinea assumed power close to four decades ago, and the same age when Jose Eduardo dos Santos assumed office as president of Angola in the late 1970s.
Recent elections on the continent do not oﬀer much hope of a generational shift. President Muhammadu Buhari has been re-elected as Nigeria’s president in 2019 at the age of 77; Ghana’s president Nana Akufo-Addo was also 73 years old at the time of his election in 2017; Malawi’s president, Peter Mutharika was elected in 2014 aged 74.
The call for concern in this research is not really the fact that the President and his government is a gerontocracy but the fact that the will of the youths which constitute the majority of the population does not seem to be reflected in terms of the results of presidential elections and so, therefore, youths believe that whether they vote and participate in political discourse, the results are already known and therefore, voting is a waste of time and rather giving more political legitimacy to a regime that derives its legitimacy from its instituted mechanism for manipulating the electoral process.
Cameroon has a record of wild post-electoral protest for dissatisfaction in the results especially that of the October 2018 presidential elections where all major opposition leaders filled petitions to the Constitutional Council for several instances where the electoral process and votes were tempered with (Fokwang 2007).
It suffices to add that there have been attempts by younger men to vie for political offices across the continent but with little or no success. For example, in the 2014 general elections in South Africa, expelled former youth leader of the African National Congress (ANC) Julius Malema, then aged 33, led the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to third position in the overall election.
The October 6th presidential race in Cameroon also witness 39 years old Cabral Libii Li Ngue who vied in for the Unity Palace of Cameroon. He was nation-wide referred to as the ‘Macron of Cameroon’ and as a candidate and saviour for the youths in Cameroon.
His campaign rallies had a significant turnout of youths especially in Douala, the economic capital and Yaounde the political capital of Cameroon. Cabral Libii of the Universe Party emerged 3rd position with 222020 votes (ELECAM 2018). His position no doubt was as a result of his over one-year campaign of 11 million citizens where he actively brought youths into developing a liking for politics.
In Cameroon, 35 in the minimum running age for the presidential race and with a deposit of 30 million XFCFA. This among other political constraints constitutes the problem of gerontocracy and youth political apathy and resulting effects in Cameroon.
The central argument of this research is that, for many reasons, a larger percentage of Cameroon’s youth have not shared in the process of governance. These range from political apathy and passivity on the part of the youth, to governments that are skewed to prevent new entrants into mainstream structures and a culture that silences the young.
This study examines the role played by the founding fathers of Cameroon’s independence and their political understudies in the emergence of a generation of acquiescent youths. These young people are frequently used to perpetrate violence before, during and after elections, rather than participating in any real political decision-making and governance.
Youth political apathy in Cameroon is fast moving from the effects of gerontocracy to becoming a political culture which started from the gerontocracy as is being handed to the next generation gradually as less interest is developed in anything political.
This study involves content and textual analysis of both primary and secondary data regarding the political involvement of the youth in Cameroon. The findings result from a study conducted in Cameroon and it would be imprudent to extrapolate these to experiences in the rest of the African continent.
1.2. Statement of the Problem
When a government has all genders and age groups represented in all processes of governance, it gives the government credibility and eventual support to the system. The case is not true in Cameroon as there exist a generational divide that has led to underdevelopment intense interclass struggle and divide.
The feeling of belonging to a state and supporting the political system derives from participation and representation. Youths in Cameroon are confronted with a society that does not take into consideration their particular needs and challenges therefore creating apathetic behaviour to the political system.
There is also the issue of sustainability and development at the pace of the 21st Century development pattern which entails a State inculcating technology in its modus operandi. Conversely is the case in Cameroon where there still exists high bureaucratic pathology and bottleneck, there is still the traditional way of production with basic production of primary goods.
This hampers the growth of the economy and therefore do no suit the taste of youths as they compare other systems of the world. An inclusive and transformed system of governance is, therefore, the only way forward to enhancing national development, participation and support to the political system.
1.3. Research Questions
This study is guided by the following questions:
- Why has it been near impossible for a generational change in Cameroon, from the old to the young or a blend of age groups?
- What has been the outcome of Gerontocracy on national development?
- What must Cameroon youths do in order to have their wills being expressed in electoral results?